FinTank Panel: Blockchain Beyond Banking

Co-hosts Trudie Kanter (far left) and Kimberly Wolfson (far right) with FinTank panelists (from left to right): Colleen Sullivan, Matthew Chapdelaine and Alexandra Prodromos

From a local level to a global scale; from individual networks to intertwining ones; from government-implemented to startup-created — these are just a few of the countless ways blockchain can be used, outlined at Crowe LLP and FinTank’s Women in Fintech Initiative in Chicago on Tuesday. The overriding theme? A focus on use cases for blockchain technology outside the financial services industry.

One example stems from countries such as Venezuela and Greece, where the fiat currency is not as stable as the U.S. dollar. Here, the possibility for blockchain’s positive impact is immense, according to Alexandra Prodromos, executive director of the Chicago Blockchain Center.

Blockchain has also been proposed as a safety net for refugees escaping strife-torn countries, said FinTank panelist Colleen Sullivan, a partner at CMT Digital Holdings, LLC. She went on to outline the proposal, at a March 2018 United Nations event that she attended, that, by utilizing the technology to record digital identities and legal information, refugees could access that data. This information may help them start new lives in new countries.

Matthew Chapdelaine, founder and CEO of real estate-focused CartoFront, referenced BanQu – a company working to create personal blockchains for individuals in third world countries. Theoretically, Banqu’s protocol could be implemented in the U.S. mandated efforts to reunite immigrant children, being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with their lost parents, says Chapdelaine.

When asked about what draws certain countries to blockchain, Sullivan offered the example of Dubai, where the government is working to widely implement the technology in as many feasible ways as possible by 2020. “[Dubai’s] mantra is that they want to make their citizens happy,” she said. “Reducing government friction, in their mind, makes people happy…  I think governments see that, through blockchain technology, they can make citizens’ lives a little bit easier.”

Use cases for blockchain are plentiful in Chicago, a city that is “definitely ahead of the game,” according to Chapdelaine. Just one example involves the Illinois government partnering with identity startup Evernym to put birth certificate information on the blockchain for easier access.

Limitations & Drawbacks of Blockchain

Although there are seemingly infinite ways to use blockchain, there are also limitations. “Blockchain is not a panaceum [sic]. It’s not a solution for every single business problem that occurs,” Prodromos says. 

Chapdelaine said his work in blockchain real estate, specifically in Chicago, has exposed him to both the good and bad sides of the technology. While transactions are immensely fast in comparison to the traditional 60 days to process a real estate payment, there is the danger of overly-transparent data, he believes: “Every time we touch our phones, we’re creating data, and there’s somebody out there who’s listening to it”.

Despite this well-known data issue, Chapdelaine says that society needs to get used to it “for better or worse” because blockchain is here to stay.