Thursday, August 30, 2018

Diverse blockchain community converges on Chicago’s Navy Pier to explore the digital ledger’s many challenges and vast potential

By Brad Rosen, J.D.

The Voice of Blockchain conference recently held on Chicago’s Navy Pier over two days featured over forty panels and speakers in a high-energy, fast-paced, non-stop format and ambitiously covered just about everything related to the digital ledger. The content-rich conference was broken down into four tracks including fintech and markets, innovation, social good, and building (aka #buidl). In opening remarks, the conference’s main organizer, “Disruption” Joe Hernandez emphasized the collaborative nature of the blockchain community which fosters diversity, trust through decentralization, and great ideas.

Navigating the legal landscape; finding practical solutions. In a recent industry survey, the U.S. is most often cited as getting crypto regulation wrong (followed by China and India). Nonetheless, business still needs to get done and practical approaches as for dealing with regulators need to be identified and developed. This Wolters Kluwer Writer Analyst moderated a panel titled Finding Regulatory Solutions Working with Government which explored these very issues.

Fellow panelist Lilya Tessler, a partner and head of the blockchain practice at Sidley and Austin, observed, “Blockchain technology companies and digital asset exchanges are working collaboratively with the SEC on regulatory issues impacting these emerging technologies. It is important for industry participants to perform a regulatory assessment or seek guidance from regulators prior to launching blockchain solutions.”

Jim Falvey, a co-panelist and a longtime financial services attorney active in the ICO and cryptocurrency space, echoed these sentiments and advised “still a number of issues in this realm remain unsettled, and they grow by the day. Experts hold different views on legal and regulatory matters, so it is imperative that you seek out regulators when doing business in this space.”

Below are some of the other highlights and key takeaways from the conference.

Crypto derivatives—the future looks vertical. Julie Winkler, Chief Commercial Officer at the CME, while taking part in a panel titled Crypto Derivatives, noted the exchange is happy with the performance of its Bitcoin futures contract which was introduced in December of last year. Winkler indicated they are seeing an average of around 3500 contracts trading per day which represents around $30 million in Bitcoin equivalents. When asked about the exchange’s next move in the crypto-derivative space, Winkler indicated there were multiple paths to consider including options on Bitcoin, or perhaps futures on Ether or Ripple. Winkler’s fellow panelist unanimously expressed their desire to see options on Bitcoin to be introduced next, as well as vertically building out the Bitcoin complex to perhaps include a Bitcoin exchange traded fund (ETF). Fellow panelist, Tony Saliba, a longtime trader, asserted that options on Bitcoin futures contracts were necessary to build volume and liquidity and foster the maturation of that market.

The last mile. Chuck Mackie, a writer with John Lothian News and industry consultant, sat down with Scott Nelson, CEO of Sweetbridge, to discuss the problem of the last mile—connecting the digital world to the real world and the barriers to overcome. Sweetbridge describes itself as an economic platform for market networks, designed to unlock value in assets, commerce and supply chains.

Nelson sees tremendous inefficiencies in the global supply chain for goods where total yearly sales are estimated between $120-180 trillion which blockchain solutions can address. In responding to Mackie’s query about overcoming current obstacles, Nelson indicated we must address the fear about the blockchain space emanating from the government. He also noted that parties must be willing to give up anonymity, as well as charging significant sums of money each time ownership passes hands.

Make no little plans—Chicago as a blockchain leader. Rumi Morales of Outlier Ventures is looking for the convergence of the blockchain technologies with the internet of things, but in ways that we might not be able to currently imagine. Morales, a former executive at the CME, sees the city of Chicago playing a key role in blockchain’s future. She identified the city’s exchanges and financial institutions, headquarters for major companies, educational institutions, and vast talent pool as key factors to drive this growth. To underscore her point, Morales quoted from Daniel Burnam’s famous 1909 Plan of Chicago, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood.”

Final thoughts from an organizer. “We had a great turn out of influential leaders in the blockchain, digital assets and ICO industries noted Jessica Titlebaum Darmoni, Founder of The Title Connection LLC, and one of the main Voice of Blockchain conference organizers. She added, “We covered an array of topics from real estate, construction, finance, trading and social good. We also had global professionals in this space from all over the U.S., China and Russia just to name a few countries in attendance.” Titlebaum Darmoni concluded, “We had a great team that successfully managed the challenges of a first-time event of this size and believe these annual efforts will position Chicago as the Blockchain capital of the world."