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美国道富银行寻求利用区块链简化证券借贷业务

美国大型托管银行——道富银行(State Street)正寻求利用区块链简化复杂的证券借贷业务,这已不是秘密了。证券金融作为一个有着数十年历史的行业,涉及一系列市场参与者和贷款参数。自2008年金融危机以来,这些因素变得更加复杂了。

从理论上来看,分布式账本技术(DLT)消除了对多进程和大量中介参与者的需求。但这一定不会是一个简单的过渡。银行不同部门的高管就此达成了一致。

就P2P证券借贷的部署方式而言,技术架构和产品团队的人对这些他们认为不可避免的变化倒是持乐观态度。

全球交易和算法策略主管Nick Delikaris表示,在产品开发方面,整个行业都在关注点对点的证券贷款,因此,基于区块链的解决方案肯定已在计划之中。

Nick Delikaris承认这项挑战的重大并对CoinDesk表示说希望看到产品和服务的结合。Delikaris表示:

不同的交易者风格各不相同,而从某种程度上来说,这种技术可能会让事情变得更难。这就是我们现在正在经历的。但最终,我们将建立一个更好的产业。

与此同时,可能会更多地占据传统市场的位置的实用主义者们对这种转变持谨慎态度。道富银行另类融资解决方案主管Doug Brown表示:

如果你观察过这个市场和那些借入证券的人,就会发现,现在很少有机构拥有自己的技术或运营基础设施,或者说能够做到这一点的很少。

Brown补充说:

他们是否值得花时间来建设这些基础设施、成本、人员?或者他们现在使用的模式是否足够有效?这些都是真正的问题。

退一步说,在这种情况下,P2P贷款意味着,想要贷款证券的客户(这些客户通常是大型共同基金或养老金计划)直接面对借款人(借款人通常是对冲基金),而不是让中间的经纪交易商管理整个业务。

Delikaris表示,道富银行有两种大部分机构都没有的功能。他表示:

我们有一个名为增强型托管的部门,与一级经纪商类似,是为对冲基金提供专门服务的机构。我们还有世界上最大的代理贷款机构。

他指的是道富银行代表客户向机构发放证券的业务。

道富银行从2016年开始采用“概念性验证”(PoC),该行对区块链的概念性验证已经发展到这样一个阶段:正在为潜在的转型规划整个证券融资生态系统。

反过来,这也导致了银行内部对于该行动利弊的不同看法。从Brown的角度来看,他承认P2P模式可能会让借入证券的成本降低一点,而道富的传统贷款客户可能会在这笔交易中获得更多收益。但他也列举了一系列挑战,比如中介和经纪人给市场带来的真正好处。例如,大宗经纪商负责管理流动性的所有方面,并负责在需要时寻找替代抵押品。此外,在没有任何人介入的情况下使用P2P,意味着交易双方需要相互进行信用尽职调查。

Brown还指出,借款人违约赔偿也将不复存在,这在整个行业都是意料之中的事。换句话说,如果P2P交易中的借款人未能归还贷款资产,贷款人就会倒霉,而在今天的市场中,像道富银行这样的中介机构会承担损失。Brown表示:

P2P模式不太可能是一个广泛的行业解决方案。人人都面对彼此,协商合同,保护措施消失,双方现在都需要信贷团队。这种模式可能适用于一小部分机构。但如果只有少数机构参与进来,我认为说服人们相信有足够的流动性来真正大幅推动市场,可能是一项挑战。

Delikaris接受了他同事真正关心的问题,同意“这不能简单地在实验室里完成”,而是要和客户交谈,找出“是什么让他们晚上睡不着”。

不过,他为P2P模式进行了辩护。他说,P2P模式可以提供给那些愿意承担更多风险的银行,而这些银行可能并不关心赔偿问题。他表示:

我个人的感觉是,如果一些东西因为这项技术而发生改变,那么,大家会看到其他的产品和服务会随之出现,然后利用这项技术解决一些特定的问题。

今年3月,荷兰国际集团(ING)和瑞士信贷(Credit Suisse)利用HQLAx和R3共同开发的抵押贷款区块链应用程序,完成了一项实时证券贷款交易。荷兰国际集团区块链倡议负责人Herve Francois表示,目前该行“正在利用三方代理和托管人现有的基础设施,以便更快地投入使用。”Francois承认,如果市场参与者转向P2P模式,他们可能会失去服务,在这种情况下,他们可能需要把业务外包给当前的中介机构。

HQLAx首席执行官Guido Stroemer表示,未来一些资产会比其他资产更适合于DLT,首先是有价证券,然后是现金,或许还有黄金。他总结道:

只有进入的门槛相对较低,实际用例在取得成功之后,就会在现实世界中茁壮成长。任何需要用户经历‘大爆炸’变化的东西最终都不可能被市场广泛采用。

There's no shortage of breathless hype about blockchain.

What's harder to find is a sober and nuanced discussion of the technology's merits and drawbacks for a particular use case. For such a perspective, it can help to talk to different people at the same company who have been studying the matter and reached divergent conclusions.

It's not a secret that State Street, the giant U.S. custody bank, is looking to streamline the complex business of securities lending using blockchain. A decades-old industry, securities finance today is a continual dance of manual reconciliation, involving a string of market participants and lending parameters, all of which has become even more complicated since the 2008 financial crash.

In theory, distributed ledger technology (DLT), with its shared view of the truth, removes the need for multiple processes and lots of intermediary players. But it was never going to be a simple transition – and that's one thing at least that executives from different parts of the bank can agree on.

In terms of how peer-to-peer securities lending could be deployed, people from the technology architecture and product teams are bullish about what they consider an inevitable change.

From the product development side, Nick Delikaris, head of global trading and algorithmic strategies, said that "the whole industry" is looking at a peer-to-peer version of securities lending, and blockchain based solutions are definitely on the cards.

He also acknowledged the scale of the challenge, telling CoinDesk,

"It's not an on-off button, like you can wake tomorrow and be doing everything peer-to-peer."

Delikaris said he expects to see a mix of products and services. "Different counterparties will have different flavors, and to start with some of this tech may actually make things harder," he said.

"I think that's what we are going through right this second. But at the end of the day, we will have a better industry set up."

Meanwhile, the pragmatists in the front office, who perhaps take more of a legacy marketplace position, remain wary of such a transformation.

Doug Brown, head of alternative financing solutions at State Street, said he sees potential value in using blockchain to enable P2P lending of securities, but cautioned that most of the market isn't ready for it.

"If you look at that marketplace and the people who borrow securities, there are very few institutions that have the technology or the operational infrastructure in place to do that themselves today," he said.

Brown added that "there is a real question about whether it's worth their time to build that infrastructure, the cost to do it, the staffing to do it – or whether the model they are using today is efficient enough."

Pros and cons

Taking a step back, "peer-to-peer" lending in this context means a client who wants to lend securities (typically a large mutual fund or pension plan) directly faces the borrower (normally a hedge fund), as opposed to having a broker-dealer in the middle managing the whole operation.

State Street has a panoramic view of the securities lending landscape; the bank has two components under its roof that most people don't have, explained Delikaris.

"We have an arm called enhanced custody, which is basically akin to a prime broker," i.e. a provider of specialized services to hedge funds, he said.

"We also have the biggest agent lender in the world," he added, referring to State Street's business of lending securities to institutions on behalf of its clients.

This means that testing out a blockchain idea – which State Street began doing in 2016 with a proof of concept (PoC) for digital tokens to post collateral – has evolved to a point where the bank is mapping out the entire securities financing ecosystem for potential transformation.

And this, in turn, has led to markedly different views inside the bank on the pros and cons.

From his front-office perspective, Brown conceded a P2P model might make it a little cheaper to borrow securities, while State Street's traditional lending clients might make a bit more on the transaction.

But he also reeled off a list of challenges, and in so doing told a familiar story about the real benefits intermediaries and brokers bring to a market.

Prime brokers, for example, manage all aspects of liquidity and are charged with finding substitute collateral when required to do so. In addition, going P2P without anyone in between means counterparties would need to do credit due diligence on each other.

Plus there would no longer be borrower default indemnification, which is pretty much expected across the industry, noted Brown. In other words, if the borrower in a P2P transaction fails to return the borrowed assets, the lender is out of luck, whereas in today's market an intermediary like State Street will cover the loss.

"A P2P model, where everybody faces each other and negotiates contracts, where the protection is gone and both parties now need credit teams, would likely not be a broad industry solution," said Brown.

"That model might work for a small subset of institutions. But if you only had a small number of institutions participating I think it might be challenging to convince people there was enough liquidity to really move that market in a large way," he said.

Delikaris took on board the very real concerns of his colleague, agreeing "this can't simply be done in a lab" but involves talking to clients to find out "what keeps them up at night."

However, he defended a P2P model which he said could be offered to lenders with an appetite for more risk, who might not care about the indemnity – adding that things could be priced differently because of that.

"My own personal feeling is that if some things get transformed because of this technology I think what you'll see are other products and services that will come and piggyback off that to help where those issues arise," he said.

Evolution, not revolution

Meanwhile, other banks are forging ahead with securities lending using blockchain, but like State Street, they expect a long transition period.

Back in March this year, ING and Credit Suisse completed a live securities lending transaction using a collateral-lending blockchain application co-developed by HQLAx and R3.

Herve Francois, blockchain initiative lead at ING, said that for now his bank is "leveraging the existing infrastructure of tri-party agents and custodians in order to go to production faster, as this constitutes a legal framework by itself."

Francois acknowledged that market participants might be left with missing services if they moved to a P2P model, and in the event may need to outsource to the current intermediaries.

"That could be a way for those actors to still play a role in the short- to medium-term," he said. "It's a step in the blockchain evolution which in the long run should be able to disintermediate them."

Guido Stroemer, CEO of HQLAx, which is focused on tokenizing baskets of securities to help bank treasurers manage and transfer liquidity better, agreed the legacy marketplace requires many operational stages to be carried out in a well-established manner

Going forward, Stroemer said some assets lend themselves to DLT better than others, with securities first, then cash, and maybe gold.

"Successful use cases will only thrive in the real world when they have relatively low barriers to entry," said Stroemer, concluding:

"Anything that requires a market user to go through a 'big bang' change has no chance of creating market wide adoption."

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