Fintech, Blockchain and ICOs : adapting to the changing landscape

Date

29 Mar 2018

Sections

Euro & Finance

Press release

Experts, regulators and decision-makers discussed the latest policy developments on Fintech and blockchain alongside the risks and opportunities of ICOs at joint ACCA-EY conference in Brussels

Beside impacting nearly all aspects of everyday life, new technologies are also changing and disrupting the financial industry and the way consumers and firms access financial services.

But while technological innovation in finance is not new, investment in technology and the pace of innovation has increased significantly in recent years. These include a wide array of developments ranging from social networks, artificial intelligence, machine learning, mobile applications, distributed ledger technology (DLT), cloud computing or big data analytics. FinTech also gives rise to new services and business models. At an international level, FinTech is a priority area for the G20, and the European Commission recently published its Action Plan on Fintech, which includes a series of legislative and non-legislative actions to be pursued in the short, medium and long term.

However, a substantial amount of uncertainty and confusion remains. Blockchain, for instance, is a topic that inspires equal parts fear and excitement. The aim of the conference jointly organised by ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and EY in Brussels was to shed informed light on the latest policy development on Fintech and blockchain as well as risks and opportunities of ICOs.

The debate confirmed that despite many challenges and risks to be addressed - such as fraud, market manipulation and money laundering - crypto assets, ICO and blockchain will play a key role in the future. FinTech has the potential to transform the way financial markets and market participants operate with a number of positive outcomes for consumers, like enhanced services and reduced costs. Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT) but also Artificial Intelligence and RegTech are among the most prominent FinTech developments. ICOs could provide a useful alternative funding source for new or innovative businesses, as well as an attractive investment opportunity for consumers.

Gaël Denis, Partner, TMT & FinTech Leader, EY Luxembourg said : ‘Blockchain is raising several challenges and opportunities. It can bring more reliability on certain information, and also easier access to relevant information. But we also identified several risks, such as security on the custody on the crypto asset.  There is also a valuation risk, linked to its volatility. Last but certainly not least, risk around anti money laundering and financing of terrorism, linked to the  anonymity of transactions, which is making the application of laws in regards to Know Your Customer (KYC) due diligence and transaction monitoring quite challenging.

‘For the audit profession, we already anticipate certain trends: the certification of non-financial information will increase, and we will see the emergence of blockchain/crypto assets ecosytems with higher quality standards. This implies that blockchain will request certification of nodes, certification of algorithm underlying smart contracts.’

Blockchain technology allows users to develop peer-to-peer applications and run decentralised economic systems in a way that was never thought possible before, but the technology is still at a very early stage. There was a consensus amongs speakers that a balanced approach is needed, to understand the economic functions of innovations and the risks and benefits that they may bring. Legal certainty is needed, but an overly prescriptive framework, not adapted to this environment could lead to delocalisation of  interesting, innovative projects outside of Europe, while not necessarily preventing European investors to subscribe to these instruments. Regulators are looking at how these innovations map to the existing rules and whether there may be gaps and issues in the current regulatory framework that would need to be addressed.

Maggie McGhee, Director of Professional Insights at ACCA said : ‘The European Commission is currently assessing whether regulatory action at EU level is required for crypto-currencies and related services. A key challenge will be to strike the right balance. While it’s vital to create a supportive environment to enable innovation - and not hamper it-  and encourage job creation,  threats  to citizens, investors or unsophisticated consumers as well as to financial stability have to be taken seriously. That is not an easy task, bearing in mind that cryptocurrencies do not know any borders.

‘It’s also important to avoid blaming the house for the fault of the people living in it. The underlying Blockchain and Distributed Ledger technology behind Bitcoin could revolutionise how financial transactions are done and have a positive impact on business globally. This potential must be viewed separately from the risks of Bitcoin”.

The debate also revealed the urgent need to invest in the skills of people in companies and universities, as with Fintechs, financial knowledge is interdependent with IT competencies. Finance professionals and professional accountants will need to adapt to this fast-moving landscape and maintain an up-to-date understanding of developments to be able guide their clients and organisations who are seeking funding.

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Notes to Editors

About ACCA

 ACCA recently published its latest Technology report:  ICOs: real deal or token gesture?

For media enquiries, contact: Cecile Bonino, head of EU Affairs; +32 (0) 2 286 11 37 or cecile.bonino@accaglobal.com

ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) is the global body for professional accountants, offering business-relevant, first-choice qualifications to people of application, ability and ambition around the world who seek a rewarding career in accountancy, finance and management.

ACCA supports its 200,000 members and 486,000 students in 180 countries, helping them to develop successful careers in accounting and business, with the skills required by employers. ACCA works through a network of 101 offices and centres and more than 7,200 Approved Employers worldwide, who provide high standards of employee learning and development. Through its public interest remit, ACCA promotes appropriate regulation of accounting and conducts relevant research to ensure accountancy continues to grow in reputation and influence.

ACCA is currently introducing major innovations to its flagship qualification to ensure its members and future members continue to be the most valued, up to date and sought-after accountancy professionals globally.