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Santander Conducts Proxy Voting Blockchain Pilot at AGM

Banco Santander has completed a blockchain pilot that it says improves the process of proxy voting during annual general meetings (AGMs).

For the project, announced Thursday, Santander partnered with global fintech firm Broadridge and custodian banks JPMorgan and Northern Trust, describing it in a press release as the “first practical use of blockchain” for shareholder voting.

However, it should be noted that other entities such as Nasdaq, the Abu Dhabi Stock Exchange and a group of central securities depositories, including Russia’s National Settlement Depository, have all conducted pilots, are developing systems or have launched platforms around the use case.

The Broadridge-built solution – piloted previously in April of last year – aims to improve transparency in the global proxy voting system, while also increasing security, efficiency, security and analytics, the release says.

The pilot was concluded on March 23 for the Spanish banking giant’s AGM and saw participation from Santander’s blockchain lab and Corporate Services, which acted as the issuer’s agent. The blockchain solution was used to produce a “shadow” digital register of the proxy voting system taking place in parallel using the conventional voting model.

Sergio Gamez, global head of shareholders and investor relations at Santander, said that, for a listed company like Santander, the AGM is one of the most important corporate governance events.

Gamez explained:

“It is very important to ensure the participation by investors and shareholders, and this year using blockchain technology for the institutional vote has been a great help in terms of transparency and agility across the vote life cycle.”

As mentioned above, Broadridge executed a similar pilot focused on proxy voting in collaboration with the same partners last April. The project used a private version of the ethereum blockchain as a backup system to more traditional voting software. The trial was conducted at an annual meeting at Santander Investments.

“The successful completion of a second pilot along with the next phase of our blockchain-based proxy voting solution demonstrates Broadridge’s continued commitment to developing innovative technology solutions in the re-imagination and improvement of global proxy,” said Patricia Rosch, president of investor communications at Broadridge.

Santander image via Shutterstock

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Infosys Partners with 7 Banks for Blockchain Trade Finance Network

Indian IT giant Infosys is exploring the potential of blockchain technology to bring new efficiencies in trade finance.

Infosys Finacle, a subsidiary of the firm, announced Wednesday the development of a trade network called India Trade Connect (ITC) in partnership with seven Indian private banks, including ICICI, Axis Bank, South Indian Bank and Yes Bank.

The blockchain-based network has been designed to digitize trade finance business processes and covers areas such as ownership validation, certification of documents and payments.

ITC is currently being used by the banks for a pilot project, using the blockchain-based solution to, a release states, increase automation and transparency, and help manage risks in trade and supply chain financing. According to Infosys, ITC has been built to be blockchain “agnostic” in order to “future-proof” the network against future changes in technology.

Sanat Rao, chief business officer at Infosys Finacle, said he hopes to bring more banks into the consortium in order so they can learn about the potential benefits of blockchain systems.

Rao said:

“Digitization of trade finance processes using distributed ledger technology offers immense potential to eliminate the friction, cut costs and increase revenue through new business products that are now viable using the modern technologies.”

ICICI bank, which recently announced a blockchain trade finance initiative involving over 250 companies, said that the partnership “will enable automation, increase transparency as well as enhance efficiency across trade and supply chain operations.”

Going forward, the group aims to create a “comprehensive blockchain ecosystem, thereby contributing towards greater adoption of this technology,” said Ajay Gupta, senior general manager at ICICI Bank.

Infosys building image via Shutterstock

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Bahrain Hopes to Cut Vehicle Data Storage Costs Using Blockchain

The Kingdom of Bahrain is eyeing the adoption blockchain technology in bid to cut the cost of maintaining the country’s vehicle registration data.

Bahrain’s General Directorate of Traffic (GDT) announced on Thursday a new plan to develop a blockchain-based vehicle registration system in the country and is now looking for a technical partner to focus on the system’s design and implementation.

Shaikh Abdulrahman bin Abdulwahab Al Khalifa, director general of the GDT, said in a statement:

“This registry will be a vital advancement in reducing the overall cost of maintaining critical vehicle information, offer greater efficiency in terms of supply chain management, and ensure a high level of transparency for all stakeholders in the vehicle registration ecosystem.”

Announced during the Gateway Gulf Forum backed by the country’s crown prince, the GDT’s plan comes as part of a wider push by the Bahrain government to deliver advanced technologies through partnerships with the private sector.

Indeed, the Middle East country has already seen major financial institutions pursuing potential blockchain initiatives. As reported by CoinDesk in August 2017, the Bahrain-based Arab Banking Corporation has joined the R3 distributed ledger consortium in a bid to provide additional services to customers.

Earlier last year, the Bahrain government had also started a dialogue with the Monetary Authority of Singapore,  the country’s de facto central bank, seeking advice it sought to deploy a national blockchain pilot, according to a local news report.

“The ability for blockchain to be adopted at the country level is a huge opportunity for Bahrain to move into the spotlight as a pioneer in this space,” CEO of Bahrain Economic Development Board, Khalid Al Rumaihi, said at the time.

Bahrain image via Shutterstock

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Ripple: XRP Payment Pilots Cut Fees by 40-70 Percent

Distributed ledger startup Ripple published the results of its xRapid pilot programs on Thursday,

The report focused on the company’s offering centered around the cryptocurrency XRP, stating that pilot-takers saw significant savings on fees as well as overall transaction times. The company has announced a number of partnerships in recent months with companies piloting xRapid as well as xCurrent, another offering that does not utilize XRP.

Head of product Asheesh Birla told CoinDesk that the company looked at seven pilot projects, finding that the results were fairly similar across the board. As a result, the startup aggregated the data into the 40-70 percent savings released in its report on Thursday. He also noted that transactions across borders only took a few minutes, compared to a period of several days for traditional payments of that kind.

The platforms piloting xRapid recognized that speed, he said, adding “they were like, ‘Wow, this entire thing is happening in a matter of seconds all the way through,’ and that’s just not possible given the way the current legacy financial system works.”

While the transactions from one financial institution to another took a few minutes, the portion actually involving the XRP ledger only took a few seconds, Birla said. The bulk of the time spent was caused by the institutions converting fiat to XRP and back through local exchanges.

“It takes a few minutes to process and send out into local rails,” he said.

Now Ripple plans to focus on moving from pilot programs to full-scale launches, he said, though there is no firm timeline yet for those plans.

“We’re going to continue running pilots and we’re working on putting the final touches on the product. The next step now is moving those customers from pilot to production,” Birla explained, adding:

“With financial products and payments, there is no Silicon Valley ‘move fast and break things,’ we really have to make sure we’re buttoned up from security standpoint, from the compliance standpoint.”

XRP token image via Shutterstock

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Chile Is Using Ethereum's Blockchain to Track Energy Data

Chile will use ethereum’s blockchain as a way to record energy sector statistics, its government announced Thursday.

The National Energy Commission, which is a part of the country’s Energy Ministry, said it would commit data to the public ethereum ledger in order to “augment levels of security, integrity, traceability and confidence in the information available to the public,” according to a statement.

The commission is particularly concerned that its databases can be hacked and manipulated. The ethereum-based approach represents an alternative method for data storage, given that distributing records among a large number of nodes helps to alleviate that concern.

The commission has already begun committing some data to the blockchain, including information about installed electricity-generating capacity, average market prices, marginal costs, hydrocarbon prices and compliance with laws requiring that renewables account for a certain share of electricity generation.

Following this first stage of the project, known as “Energia Abierta” or “Open Energy,” the commission will study the results and share them with other companies and government bodies in the sector.

Susana Jimenez, Chile’s energy minister, said in a statement:

“We are interested in taking this technology from a conceptual level to a concrete case, understanding that it’s considered to be the most disruptive technology of the last decade by world-class experts, and that it could be part of day-to-day life in the next few years.”

The commission’s decision to use an open blockchain like ethereum as opposed to a so-called permissioned network stands out. The statement explained that having “hundreds of thousands of servers” authenticating the data makes it more trustworthy and difficult to alter.

Note: Statements in this article were translated from Spanish.

Power lines image via Shutterstock.

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Commodity Merchant Louis Dreyfus Trials Blockchain for Soybean Trade

Louis Dreyfus, a major commodities trading company, has announced that it has piloted a blockchain-based transaction system developed by a group of financial institutions including ING.

In addition to Louis Dreyfus, one of the world’s largest commodities traders, the test involved Shandong Bohi Industry Co., Ltd (Bohi) and financial institutions ING, Societe Generale and ABN Amro. The Easy Trade Connect (ETC) platform, as previously reported by CoinDesk, grew out of efforts at ING and has been subject to testing by firms like Mercuria.

Yet instead of oil, the latest test focused on agricultural products such as soybeans, of which Bohi is a significant trader. According to the companies that took part, the test involved a shipment of soybeans from the U.S. to China, with all of the relevant documentation (including the sales contract and the letter of credit) existing within the platform.

Shipping firms Russell Marine Group and Blue Water Shipping also took part, according to today’s announcement.

“Distributed ledger technologies have been evolving rapidly, bringing more efficiency and security to our transactions, and immense expected benefits for our customers and everyone along the supply chain as a result,” Gonzalo Ramírez Martiarena, Louis Dreyfus’ CEO, said in a statement.

In remarks, Martiarena suggested that the company would play a role in future developments around the project, including on the standardization front.

“The next step is to harness the potential for further development through the adoption of common standards, and welcome a truly new era of digital trade flow management on a global level,” he was quoted as saying.

Soybean farm image via Shutterstock

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Australian Government Grants $8 Million for Blockchain Energy Pilot

The Australian government has announced that it will provide over AU$8 million (around US$6 million) in grants for a blockchain-powered smart utilities project.

The funding will see a grant of AU$2.57 million go directly to the project, which will be set up in the City of Fremantle. A futher AU$5.68 million will be provided via project partners including blockchain firm Power Ledger.

According to the company’s blog, the pilot has been set up to explore how cities can use blockchain technology and data analytics to power distributed energy and water systems. The trial is being conducted with academic and technology partners, including Curtin University, Murdoch University, LandCorp, CSIRO and Cisco.

Curtin University is to oversee project management and carry out research supporting the trial.

According Curtin’s Prof. Greg Morrison:

“We will develop a smart metering, battery storage and blockchain trading system to allow energy and water efficiencies between critical dispersed infrastructures that would otherwise have required physical co-location.”

Power Ledger, the post states, is providing a transactional platform for renewable assets, as well as the ownership model for the “precinct sized” battery.

Image via Power Ledger

The federal grants are being provided as part of the government’s Smart Cities and Suburbs Program, with support also coming from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), Western Power, and the CRC for Low Carbon Living.

The pilot is expected to commence within two months, and will last for two years, the post states.

Power cables image via Shutterstock

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Thai Bank Taps IBM for Contract Management Blockchain Pilot

Thailand-based Bank of Ayudhya (Krungsri), in partnership with tech giant IBM, has completed a blockchain pilot aimed to streamline the contract management process.

According to the bank, the pilot, which was planned to rationalize the bank’s related party transaction (RPT) capability, resulted in improved transparency and data security, as well as speeding up operations, a press release said.

According to Voranuch Dejakaisaya, Krungsri’s chief information and operations officer, the trial explored the potential benefits of blockchain technology in boosting efficiencies internal processes and improving “customer convenience.”

Dejakaisaya said in the release:

“We started conducting test runs of the pilot project last year and the results have been satisfactory. The goal is to digitize the paperwork process, store document contents with authentication and approval information in the blockchain-based database, and expand this service platform across the bank and our subsidiaries.”

The pilot saw Krungsri working with IBM’s Cloud Garage team and used Hyperledger Composer as a framework to simplify development of the blockchain application.

The bank, Thailand’s fifth largest, concluded that it could “turn the initial concepts into reality” within several months using Hyperledger Fabric and blockchain services provided on IBM Cloud.

Krungsri bank image via Shutterstock

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Malaysia's Securities Watchdog Plans Cryptocurrency Regulations

Malaysia’s securities regulator has revealed it is planning a regulatory framework for cryptocurrencies.

Speaking yesterday at the SCxSC Digital Finance Conference in Kuala Lumpur, the chairman of Securities Commission Malaysia (SC), Tan Sri Ranjit Ajit Singh, explained that SC is working on “relevant regulations and guidelines” for functional use cases of digital assets. These include “secondary market trading of established cryptocurrency and digital assets” in the capital market, he said.

According to a report by Edge Markets, Ranjit indicated that SC is working closely with the country’s central bank, Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), to sketch out a framework on cryptocurrencies that it expects to finalize in the coming months.

He reportedly said:

“Together with BNM, we will look at the area carefully and as SC is in charge of the secondary market, we would craft regulations to ensure that the trading values have the right conditions in place for market integrity and investor projection purposes”.

According to the report, Ranjit further said that various cryptocurrency exchanges have approached the regulator and that, once the framework is outlined, the SC would then see which exchanges are registered.

The SC chairman also revealed that his agency is working on a pilot project to explore distributed ledger technology (DLT) for unlisted and OTC markets.

Planned to boost digital innovation in Malaysia’s capital markets, Ranjit said the findings from the pilot would be published as an “industry blueprint.”

The news may mark a softening of the country’s previous stance on the trading of cryptocurrencies. Just a month ago, the central bank indicated it make a decision on whether to ban the trading of cryptocurrencies “before the end of the year.”

Kuala Lumpur image via Shutterstock

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Russian Bank VEB Turns to Blockchain for E-Procurement Project

Russian government-owned development bank, Vnesheconombank (VEB), and e-procurement resource platform Roseltorg are teaming up on a new blockchain project.

Using blockchain technology, the project aims to build a platform for transparent electronic transactions between the government departments and businesses. The project would also facilitate new methods for storing and verifying information as part of the move towards a digital economy, a press release states.

The new tool is intended to aid the bank in various areas of its business, including investments, project monitoring, procurement, electronic contracting and supply chain.

The news comes days after Russian President Vladimir Putin mandated new rules for cryptocurrencies and ICOs, including use of the tech to create a “single payment space” for the Eurasian Economic Union countries.

According to Vnesheconombank chairman Sergey Gorkov, the blockchain tool will help in achieving “zero human factor impact” for transactions, helping them become more accurate, secure and transparent.

He further added:

“The system will be useful not only to the government, but also to business customers. The new mechanism will help businesses interact with their clients and suppliers, improve the document exchange quality, enable stronger data confidentiality and underpin the customers’ confidence in the product suppliers.”

The first phase of the project is expected to be carried out by the end of this year or by the start of 2018, the release adds.

Blockchain technology is attracting increased interest from Russian financial institutions and IT companies, among other industries. Government authorities in the country have recently started eyeing potential use cases of the nascent technology in areas of anti-corruption, anti-money laundering, risk management and others.

Last week, the Russian government announced plans to begin a blockchain-based land registry pilot test, by early 2018.

Sergey Gorkov image via Shutterstock

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