Big Banks Team Up on Digital Cash Project

UBS and its partners believe using blockchain technology can reduce the time and cost of post-trade settlement and clearing.
Matthew HellerAugust 24, 2016

UBS announced Wednesday that three other banks have joined its effort to speed up financial market payments by using digital cash over the blockchain.

The Swiss bank has pioneered the so-called utility settlement coin (USC), a digital cash equivalent of each of the major currencies backed by central banks. It is now teaming up with BNY Mellon, Deutsche Bank, and Santander to advance the concept and test it in a real-market environment, with a view to a commercial launch by early 2018.

“Today trading between banks and institutions is difficult, time-consuming and costly, which is why we all have big back offices,” Julio Faura, head of R&D and innovation at Santander, told The Financial Times. “This is about streamlining it and making it more efficient.”

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USC is convertible at parity with a bank deposit in the corresponding currency and is fully backed by cash assets held at a central bank. With its new partners, UBS will pitch the concept to central banks.

According to the FT, the partnership “is one of the most concrete examples of banks co-operating on a specific blockchain technology to harness the power of decentralized computer networks and improve the efficiency of financial market plumbing.”

“Having initially been skeptical about it because of worries over fraud, banks are now exploring how they can exploit the technology to speed up back-office settlement systems and free billions in capital tied up supporting trades on global markets,” the FT added.

The clearing and settling of trades costs the financial industry from $65 billion to $80 billion a year, according to the consulting firm Oscar Wyman.

UBS launched the USC concept in September 2015 with London-based blockchain company Clearmatics. By allowing financial institutions to pay for securities without waiting for traditional money transfers to be completed, it would reduce the time and cost of post-trade settlement and clearing.

USC has some competition from, among others, Setl, a London-based group founded by hedge fund investors and trading executives last year. Citigroup is working on its own “Citicoin” solution, while Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan are working on similar projects.