Microsoft and Merrill Lynch are adding more heavyweight muscle to the effort to speed up financial transactions by using digital cash over the blockchain.
The two companies announced Tuesday they will build and test technology, create frameworks, and establish best practices for blockchain-powered exchanges between businesses and their customers and banks. Microsoft’s cloud-based Azure platform will be used for the project.
“By working with Bank of America Merrill Lynch on cloud-based blockchain technology, we aim to increase efficiency and reduce risk in our own treasury operations,” Microsoft CFO Amy Hood said in a news release. “Businesses across the globe — including Microsoft — are undergoing digital transformation to grow, compete, and be more agile, and we see significant potential for blockchain to drive this transformation.”
Other banks have been working on blockchain technology. UBS announced last month that it was teaming up with BNY Mellon, Deutsche Bank, and Santander to advance its utility settlement coin concept, with a view to a commercial launch by early 2018.
Barclays and an Israel-based start-up said this month they had carried out the first real-word trade deal using blockchain technology.
Microsoft and Merrill noted that currently, “underlying trade finance processes are highly manual, time-consuming and costly. With blockchain, processes can be digitized and automated, transaction settlement times shortened, and business logic applied to related data, creating a host of potential benefits for businesses and financial institutions.”
“We thought this would be a good opportunity to streamline the way trade transactions are processed,” Percy Batliwalla, Merrill Lynch’s head of global trade and supply chain finance, told Reuters.
Microsoft Azure Blockchain as a Service was first introduced in November 2015 and more than 80% percent of the world’s largest banks — and more than 75% of global systemically important financial institutions — are Azure customers.
Microsoft is currently testing a blockchain application for the standby letter of credit process and expects to work with Merrill to “refine the technology and evaluate applications to include more complex use cases and additional financial instruments.”