A blockchain is a digitized, decentralized, public ledger of all cryptocurrency transactions. Constantly growing as ‘completed’ blocks (the most recent transactions) are recorded and added to it in chronological order, it allows market participants to keep track of digital currency transactions without central recordkeeping. Each node (a computer connected to the network) gets a copy of the blockchain, which is downloaded automatically.
Originally developed as the accounting method for the virtual currency Bitcoin, blockchains – which use what’s known as distributed ledger technology (DLT) – are appearing in a variety of commercial applications today. Currently, the technology is primarily used to verify transactions, within digital currencies though it is possible to digitize, code and insert practically any document into the blockchain. Doing so creates an indelible record that cannot be changed; furthermore, the record’s authenticity can be verified by the entire community using the blockchain instead of a single centralized authority.
A block is the ‘current’ part of a blockchain, which records some or all of the recent transactions. Once completed, a block goes into the blockchain as a permanent database. Each time a block gets completed, a new one is generated. There is a countless number of such blocks in the blockchain, connected to each other (like links in a chain) in proper linear, chronological order. Every block contains a hash of the previous block. The blockchain has complete information about different user addresses and their balances right from the genesis block to the most recently completed block.
The blockchain was designed so these transactions are immutable, meaning they cannot be deleted. The blocks are added through cryptography, ensuring that they remain meddle-proof: The data can be distributed, but not copied. However, the ever-growing size of the blockchain is considered by some to be a problem, creating issues of storage and synchronization.
The widespread adoption of DLT will bring enormous cost savings in three areas, advocates say:
- Electronic ledgers are much cheaper to maintain than traditional accounting systems; the employee headcount in back offices can be greatly reduced.
- Nearly fully automated DLT systems result in far fewer errors and the elimination of repetitive confirmation steps.
- Minimizing the processing delay also means less capital being held against the risks of pending transactions.
In addition, some smaller number of millions will be saved by shrinking the amount of capital that broker/dealers are required to put up to back unsettled, outstanding trades. Greater transparency and ease of auditing should lead to savings in anti-money laundering regulatory compliance costs, too.
Given the incredible opportunity for decentralization, blockchain technology offers the ability to create businesses and operations that are both flexible and secure. Whether companies will succeed in deploying blockchain technology to create products and services consumers will trust and adopt remains to be seen. Nevertheless, this is definitely a space investors should watch. The demand for blockchain-based services is on the rise, and the technology is maturing and advancing at a rapid pace.