Web3 Innovators

Blockchain Innovators - Conor Svensson and John Whelan

September 01, 2021 Season 1 Episode 8
Web3 Innovators
Blockchain Innovators - Conor Svensson and John Whelan
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Blockchain Innovators, Conor Svensson - founder and CEO of Web3 Labs, talks to John Whelan - Managing Director of Digital Assets at Santander, Chair Enterprise Ethereum Alliance.

Conor and John discuss the areas of the financial system where blockchain will truly leave its mark and the opportunities for institutional DeFi and decentralized identity.

John has been very involved in blockchain initiatives over the past five years including wholesale money market payments and lending. John has an unprecedented understanding of the financial world and the blockchain ecosystem which makes this podcast great fun to listen to!

Watch this video on our YouTube channel here.

You can also watch John speak at a recent EEA Virtual Meetup here.

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Hi, it's Conor Svensson here, founder and CEO of  Web3 Labs. This is a conversation I had with John   Whelan, Managing Director of Digital Assets at  Santander and Chair of the Enterprise Ethereum   Alliance. In our conversation, we discussed the  areas of the financial system where blockchain   will truly leave its mark and the opportunities  for institutional DeFi and decentralized identity.   John has been very involved in blockchain  initiatives during the past five years covering   wholesale money market payments and lending.  He really understands both the financial world   as well as the blockchain ecosystem which  is why he's always so much fun to talk to.   Well John, it's great to  have you here on the podcast.   Thanks a million Conor, delighted to be here. You  and I have known each other for several years,   been interesting times I guess in the world of  enterprise blockchain. Definitely! I wanted to   unpack some of your journey to get to where we  are today because, I know in our conversations   previously, before working at Santander you  actually worked at a crypto startup and that   was back in 2013. Was that the first time you got  involved in the technology or were you already   looking at it before that point? Yeah, I mean that  was the time I got let's say meaningfully involved   in the tech and crypto. I'd been interested in  bitcoin for a couple of years but really just   from a tangential point of view. I thought it  was an interesting experiment, in some respects   it still is, although it's probably gone a lot  further than an experiment and I'd been running   a small technology startup in Chicago  that actually was focused on creating   ratings for management consultants. If you can  believe that. Because you know, I thought that   that might be a useful tool, having been in the  management consulting business, that maybe other   businesses would like to know how good the various  consulting firms that they would be working with.   And, it was pretty clear that whatever business  model we had figured out at that time was not   going to work so a pivot was needed. It was an  interesting observation at that time you know,   there was kind of an explosion of altcoins and  different types of issuers of these products and   the first let's say meta protocols, which at  the time were Mastercoin on bitcoin and Omni,   which Mastercoin became, and Counterparty and the  fact that there were new blockchain or distributed   ledger technology platforms out there like  Ripple and shortly thereafter Stellar and others   that allowed the issue of digital tokens  that represented something other than the   native token itself whatever that might be. And  it dawned on me that perhaps it would be useful   to have some kind of rating system for these  particular issuers platforms tokens etc. Now   all of that in hindsight seems obvious but,  in 2013 was probably a little bit early.   That business that we pivoted to was called  Coinist and ended up doing a small round of second   round of funding with that business actually from  the captive venture capital arm of Ripple Labs at   the time, that venture capital firm which is  no longer in existence I think, was called   Crosscoin Ventures. So a small injection  of capital allowed that business to pivot   and we spent a couple of years then working on  Coinist to become this kind of crypto rating,   services ratings agency. Ultimately, we ended up  in a position where that business needed to be   liquidated, it was not successful. So, shut  it down, return some of the capital to the   original shareholders which was better than I  guess most venture funded companies actually do   and in the course of this I'd actually  been started to do some consulting work   with mainstream financial companies at three or  four banks as clients. A couple in the United   States, couple in Asia and one in Europe. That  client in Europe was called Michael Santander   which in early 2016 ultimately became my employer.  So that really was the the cycle of you know,   beginning to get interested in the crypto space  let's say 2012 just from reading about it and   thinking 'hey, this sounds interesting and cool'  and then actually pivoting an existing startup   into the crypto space more directly and then  ultimately liquidating that and joining a bank,   large global financial institution to become one  of the first at the time let's say, blockchain lab   directors, working on these things from inside  the industry. So that's the high-level picture.   And at that stage when you joined Santander,  what was the corporate view of cryptocurrency   and blockchain technology? I guess  originally noises had been made about   it since sort of 2014/ 2015 but what was your  own experience at that point? Well, I think the technology teams and the researchers in  financial institutions had started to begin with   asking the question 'what is the potential  impact of cryptocurrencies on banks?'   and I think we're seeing some of that play out  now. It's logical conclusion particularly around   bitcoin and similar as potential stores of value.  It's debatable they're very volatile but it is a   valid discussion to have. And then I think more  recently, this idea of fully automated finance   commonly known as DeFi, decentralized finance.  This idea of building blocks that you can plug   together to create on top of stable coins all  kinds of interesting financial products which   in many respects are similar enough to what the  traditional financial industry already offers,   although in a completely automated  decentralized manner. But none of that   was really clear back then I think in 2015/  2016 when the first bank started forming   the early blockchain labs. I think the opinion was   this is something that is an interesting  technology from a financial point of view,   from a technology point of view  and we need to learn about it.   So we saw some of the first labs launch,  begin to explore with internal experiments.   I think banks very quickly concluded that it's not  so much about the coin that's interesting, it's   more about the ledger. This idea that you could  have a universal golden record that serves as the   ledger system among parties that don't necessarily  fully trust each other. Because in many respects,   the banking industry has some of those  characteristics. We do business with each other,   we don't fully trust each other. We do business  with each other and we have a huge complex set of record-keeping systems, core bank systems  etc., that have been replicated by all the banks   in the world, replicated again by all the  non-bank financial institutions in the world.   And the idea is simply there  to make sure that my books and   records are the same but opposite of  your books and records, multiplied by   30,000 banks in the world, multiplied by a million  non-bank financial institutions etc. So, this   idea that the system that we have today of many  banks, many ledgers, many record-keeping systems,   which has kind of grown organically, it hasn't  really been designed that way but it's grown   organically over hundreds of years that  maybe there's an opportunity to re-architect   some of it as we move from a system of many banks,  many ledgers to maybe many banks, fewer ledgers,   simple as that. I don't think that there'll be one  single ledger that's a record-keeping system for   everything in the financial industry.  Maybe there's a ledger for payments,   maybe there's a ledger for private securities,  maybe there's another one for public securities   or equities or bonds or derivatives etc., we  will see that story tell itself out. But, I think   that's what started to get the banks interested  in the beginning going back to 2015/ 2016, beyond   what's a cryptocurrency, which I think we  understood fairly well from the beginning. There   are challenges for mainstream finance with regards  to cryptocurrencies, mostly around compliance,   financial crime compliance, anti-money laundering,  know your customer etc., which many of the large   exchanges now have begun to solve those issues  as well. But, early days it was more about   the potential of the ledger, this idea that you  could represent assets programmatically using   smart contracts which are not smart and are not  contracts, in the legal sense yet they're called   smart contracts and do interesting things  - atomic DVP (delivery versus payment),   the simultaneous irrevocable exchange of title of  cash and securities which today we actually have   to rely on centralized CCPS (central clearing  parties), CSD (central securities depositories)   etc. to perform these vital functions for the  financial industry. We learned pretty early   on that perhaps some of those functions become  possible to perform in a purely automated manner   with suitably programmable shared ledger  systems otherwise known as blockchains. Now I   understand there's a difference between a DLT and  a blockchain but let's not split hairs today. In   some of the earlier pieces of work, I know one of  the projects that you've certainly been involved   in and you currently sit on the board of, was  originally where Fnality came from, the utility   settlement coin, and that's obviously a great use  case in terms of blockchain and DLT technology.   Yeah, so I think in all of this, we've recognized  that you can represent assets of different types   on blockchains. You can represent the native  token themselves, which serves as the crypto   economic incentive mechanism for driving your  your shared ledger if it's a public ledger,   but you can also represent bonds and equities  and other forms of derivatives on these shared   ledgers. But in order to do anything you  first of all need some kind of cash leg.   The crypto community would call the cash leg a  stable coin and there's algorithmic versions of   stable coins and there are backed versions of  stable coins we all know who they are, but the   best stable coin of all is at least for wholesale  purposes. Maybe stablecoin is even the wrong   word to use because it didn't even exist a few  years ago, the term itself would be some kind of   digital cash mechanism represented on a blockchain  and that is backed and has the characteristics   of some of the characteristics of central bank  money - zero credit risk, zero counterparty risk,   settlement finality, the things that would be  needed in the financial industry for DVP (delivery   versus payment) and PVP (payment versus payment)  and it was in that regard that going back to 2016,   actually I remember the day well, it was the  18th of February 2016 my second day at work,   actually third day at work, where  a few small numbers of banks and a few technologists met over coffee at  the Santander Headquarters in Triton Square in   London and we had this kind of idea - well what  if you could create a tokenized digital payment   system running on a blockchain where the token was  actually backed by pounds or euros or dollars and   designed in a mechanism that was more about  serving the financial industry as a kind   of utility. That's where the name utility  settlement coin came from in the beginning   and there was a bunch of research that was  done over the subsequent years, technical   research but actually more importantly, legal and  regulatory research and very strong engagement   with the various regulators around the world  to ask them 'is something like this possible?'   and if it was possible what kind of regulatory  environment would need to exist in order for it to   be valid. That project then became  in 2019 Fnality International,   when 15 global financial institutions actually  invested in the Series A. Necessarily an entity   like Fnality doesn't operate in the public domain,  it kind of operates a little bit quietly behind   the scenes and things are moving along quite  nicely I think, in that regard. The dialogue   with regulators of course, has been ongoing  and is maturing hopefully as we speak. Yeah,   and so apart from utility settlement coin and the  wholesale markets, there's a lot of talk about   central bank digital currencies. At the recent  EEA meetup, you spoke a lot about the history of   the bond on the blockchain. What is it that has  created the interest in bonds and what is it   that's got you so focused on it? Because certainly  there seems to be a lot of the initiatives you've   been involved in that have happened over the last  few years. Yeah, so I think bonds are one of the   kind of standard securities that has traded  around the world. Their life cycle is actually   quite complex. You've got the origination  structuring and negotiation registration,   trade allocation and then the whole post-trade  life cycle which involves a myriad of different   parties really - CSDC (central securities  depositories custodians) paying agents,   calculation agents and you've got issuers of  bonds, you've got various investors and bonds,   a lot of the exchanges offer secondary  market liquidity and bonds etc. So it's not a bad starting point to try and figure  out how all of this works, at least to tokenize   or digitize a significant part of the capital  markets, let's say. Do I think that bonds are   the first and last stop on this journey, no I  do not, but I think there's enough energy around   starting at that, with that particular asset class  as a way of learning along the way. If you can do   digital securities issuances on blockchains with  bonds you can probably do it with any security   you can imagine or any financial instrument for  that matter, not all financial instruments are   securities for example. But, could it be that  there are other let's say private equity funds   type investment products that are interesting  to do the same thing with, that maybe there   could be more initial traction? The answer  is absolutely yes. I think we started with   bonds somewhat arbitrarily. Large existing  marketplace and it turned out actually at   the time when Santander was going down this  path, we had some colleagues internally in   the part of the bank called the assets and  liabilities management group which actually is   responsible for funding of the bank that said 'you  know if we're going to do some experiments in this   area we'd be happy to participate'. So you know,  once we have internal sponsorship for projects   that has this kind of complexity. It  becomes easy to say 'yes let's do this'. With the most recent issuance that  happened from the European Investment Bank,   they used CBDC that was coming from Bank of  France and it was supported as well of course   by Santander but then Goldman Sachs and Society  Generale. Was this the first time that there was a   CBDC, albeit within a contained environment  in the mix with the bond issuance process?   It was not the very first time that a CBDC  (central bank digital currency) had been used   in an experimental fashion to clear and settle the  wholesale leg of the transaction. Actually several   months beforehand, our good friends at Society  Generale had done a bond issuance internally   to Soc Gen where they had tested the CBDC from  the Banque de France that was used also with   the European Investment Bank issuance. What made  the EIB issuance I think, particularly complex,   were five components. Each of which individually  maybe had been done before, not everything,   but together actually was very significant step  forward in terms of blockchain-based securities   issuance. Number one, top-tier triple A name  brand issuer European Investment Bank is one of   the largest super national issuers in the world.  Number two, this was the first transaction ever   on a blockchain public or private, that was a  multi-dealer. There were three separate dealers   that brought this to market, Goldman Sachs,  Society Generale and Banco Santander. That regard   was quite challenging from an implementation  and set up and legal and regulatory point of   view. But, we figured it out. Number three, this  particular issuance was brought to market in front   of investors just like any ordinary bond issuance  would be. Obviously there was a certain amount   of additional explanation that we were having in  the roadshow process around what it is, what the   mechanism for clearing and settling the  transaction etc. would look like. Number four,   this was the first multi-dealer investment,  well as it was the first multi-dealer investment   anyway, it was the first multi-dealer investment  or transaction that was brought to market   where an experimental CBDC (central bank  digital currency), a digital euro, programmable   digital euro as part of the Banque de France's  experimental CBDC program we used to clear and   settle the first step of the transaction. With  a typical bond issuance, there's an underwriting   step where the underwriters effectively purchase  the bond from the issuer and later they resell   those instruments to the investors. In this case,  we did the underwriting step using the CBDC. The   fifth thing that made this particularly  interesting and challenging, I might add,   is that we did the whole transaction cash leg and  security leg on the public Ethereum blockchain.   You know, people ask me all the time 'why use a  public chain for something like this?' and the   easy answer is, it's just there you don't need to  set up a private permission chain and then commit   to running it for years if you can use public  infrastructure now. Having said that, public   infrastructure is still not really private enough,  permissioned enough or performant enough for these   types of transactions at scale but we're on that  path and we can see huge amount of innovation I   think, particularly around roll-up technology and  side chains and different things. So that kind of   sets the scene maybe a little bit of the picture  of what we did with European Investment Bank. I   want to say by the way, thanks so much to the  colleagues at the European Investment Bank for   pushing this project forward because   it takes top-tier issuers and banks and investors  to actually show the world at scale that this type   of technology is in fact usable and can work  in the next evolution of the capital markets.   Yeah, and talking about the evolutions, what  would be the next logical step right now?   You said there was a number  of unique properties about it   but the fact you've got multiple institutions  involved in it, you're using not a real CBDC, but   close to it. Where do you think that the  next big milestones are? Yeah, I think there are lots of opportunities for let's  say, exploring the edges of what comes next.   This particular instrument is not  actually listed on a regulated venue   so the only liquidity that exists in limited  fashion is OTC (over the counter) liquidity   listing and having these instruments available  for trading on regulated secondary market venues   I think, would be a huge step forward. Certainly  makes the whole prospect more appealing to the buy   side, the investor group. I think actually having  a properly natively issued CBDC (central bank   digital currency) would be interesting although  I suspect that that's probably going to take a   couple more years to come into existence outside  of experimental form just because there's very   significant let's say, monetary policy concerns,  that have to be really considered properly. Way   beyond the technology that might be chosen or  anything like that and also I think that there are   quite significant systemic risk considerations  that really have to be analyzed properly about   what does putting the CBDC, which is a digital  form of cash, directly into the hands of consumers   mean. How does that happen? Is it you know, one  step from a central bank? Is it two steps by the   existing let's say, commercial bank infrastructure  that's out there? Perhaps other potential licensed   issuers that could be certain forms of PSPs  (payment service providers) etc. So the interplay   between the financial system of today and  whatever the digital currency supporting   financial system of the future I think there's  a lot of analysis that has to be done there.   It is going to happen, I'm absolutely  certain about that, I just think it'll be   some time before all of these different questions  are figured out to the point at which the various   central banks are fully confident in the approach  that they've selected and chosen. It may well be   the different central banks select slightly  different approaches for the issuance of   what becomes a central bank, digital form of  central bank money. Probably led by the PBOC   (the People's Bank of China) which is already  a couple years ahead. Yeah, certainly because   they already have their digital currency  live for certain applications over there, so   it seems to be moving at quite a rate with  it compared with everywhere else. Yeah. So, one of the things as well, you're the chairman  of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance. You've   spoken a lot in the past with with respect  to different technology stacks and so on.   You've worked with a lot of different ones through  the initiatives that you've led at Santander, what is it that's kind of stuck with you about  Ethereum and made you decide that you wanted   to take on that role when it came up? Because of  course, you're more of a business guy rather than   the tech guy in that respect. So what was it  that's drawn you to Ethereum in terms of the   promise of the technology that makes you want to  put weight behind it like that? Well I would say   first and foremost that Santander is technology  agnostic. We think about using technology   for any applications, what's  fit for purpose and what suits. When the Enterprise Ethereum  Alliance was formed in 2017, it was one of the very first programmable blockchains that had captured the  public consciousness, if not the first and that   was the public Ethereum network. It became pretty  clear that in order to be usable at scale, it   needed to solve the 'three ps', which I mentioned  previously, privacy, permissioning, performance,   right? The idea behind the Enterprise Ethereum  Alliance in the beginning and this by the way has   has changed substantially, but the idea behind the  Enterprise Ethereum Alliance in the beginning was   maybe the users of this technology should  get together with the idea that they would   encourage a certain set of standards to promote  interoperability between Ethereum variant   distributed ledgers. There are quite a  few in operation now in private industry   in consortia etc. Ethereum for all its flaws,  and a lot of people would point out that there   are still a lot of flaws with Ethereum, it's  become the de facto smart contracts platform.   Many of the side chains, the Polygons  of the world, are running Ethereum   EVM compatible virtual machines. Solidity  has become kind of the de facto programming   language for building smart contracts. The same  is true for Avalanche and Near Protocol. We're   seeing Ethereum bridges in different fashions to  different other types of programmable blockchains.   In that regard, I think the energy that was  originally there behind the Enterprise Ethereum   Alliance is still there from a technology point of  view. But, having said that, working for a bank we   will use any technology that is appropriate or fit  for use and there are other technologies out there   that many are familiar with including  Corda from r3 and Hyperledger Fabric and   the Digital Asset Stack and DAML, the  digital assets modeling language, that   our colleagues at digital assets have been  promoting that all look very interesting   from an application point of view. A lot of this  has got to do with where's the critical mass for   a particular use case or application and in the  same way the bank is not prescriptive around   whether employees use iphones or androids or ios  or windows, if we think about a blockchain stack   or platform as being analogous in  some respects to an operating system,   there are several to choose from. I think the  number to choose from potentially is increasing,   not daily, but as the years go by it appears  that there will be different options out there.   But, it's pretty clear that from a public ledger  point of view and I believe strongly that there   will be convergence between private ledgers and  public ledgers and I said that at the foundation   meeting of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance in  2017. I more strongly believe that than ever.   Kind of in the same way corporate intranets  and the internet communicate seamlessly,   I think exactly the same will happen with private  permission networks and public permission networks   and fully public permissionless networks. In that  regard, even today after three or four years,   Ethereum is one of the leaders. But, as I said  that there are other interesting technologies out   there that are also good to use too and we will  use them for the right use cases and applications.   With all of the success of Ethereum, the  DeFi markets appeared. I wanted to steer   the conversation towards institutional DeFi  and getting your views on that. Because,   when you see what protocols like Aave are doing  with their pro platform, where they're providing   you an institution friendly KYC process and in  effect putting participants into lending pools,   which is not that dissimilar from what banks  have always done in terms of whether it's   facilitating the OTC markets or overnight lending  between one another, establishing dark pools for   the trading... yes it's decentralized  and it's on a public network, but do you   think that that sort of model is actually going  to be attractive to these large organizations? I do potentially, with any financial product  order flow goes to liquidity. So if they achieve   sufficient liquidity, it will begin to get let's  say, institutional interest, if for no other   reason that we have to be aware about what's going  on. The big challenge with institutional DeFi,   it's the big challenge for anything that's related  to crypto and regulated financial institutions,   it's KYC (know your customer) and AML (anti-money  laundering) and things like sanction screening   and PEPS checks (politically exposed person  screening) and all of the kind of things that   a bank would need to consider in its compliance  approach as we do with anything that we deliver   or bring to market. I mean, up until now, DeFi  has been entirely permissionless. As it gains in   scope and size, that will not remain the case for  very long because regulators are not going away.   Regulators are responsible for the jurisdictions  in which they serve the citizenry that via their   governments empowers the regulators to operate  and they've got good reasons for being there.   I think that in the same way we have seen a  maturation in the exchange space, the crypto   exchanges in the beginning you know did very  little or any KYC but now all of the big reliable   exchanges are performing very high grades of KYC  and AML and all the things that they would need to   do as regulated non-bank financial institutions.  I think a lot of the DeFi protocols, or companies   that have created them, will probably need to do  the same. Simply because DeFi has hit that tipping   point where regulators now understand what's going  on and see that perhaps there may be certain risks   associated with it that regulation of some  form will probably help ameliorate against.   Yeah, and with that certainly on the the KYC  fronts, the potential for technology such as   decentralized identity to in effect, provide more  easily a common platform for KYC individuals or   organizations and thus significantly  potentially reducing the KYC burden.   Do you see that as being something that's going  to happen soon or it's going to take a while for   it to catch up? Because there's certainly a lot  of great potential in that space as well. Yeah,   I agree. I actually think that if you look  about what enables the real economy to work,   you need three things. You need some form  of value to transact - we call that money,   that could be a cryptocurrency, it could be a  stable coin, but some form of value to transact   in the real world. We also need enforceable  agreements in the real world that's handled by   the legal system where if you and I enter into  transaction and I disagree with the outcome of   that transaction, we can go to court and have  that, whatever our agreement, we can have it   adjudicated in the digital world. Enforceable  agreements have been replaced by smart contracts,   little code snippets that sit in public or  private blockchain networks. The third thing   and I've pointed this out now many times  and I think it's missing in the real world,   we also need identity who or what am I  dealing with. We have yet to see at scale   some form of decentralized identity that can  be used seamlessly with the blockchain version   of money. Whatever that might be with the  blockchain version of enforceable agreements,   plus blockchain version of decentralized  identity. I think there are two forms of identity   that perhaps together can work. One is what I  would call government-issued identity. It's your   passport or your birth certificate or your  driving license that says 'hey this is John   and this is a real person', and it's  verified by the government. But there's   also another form of identity which may be  more useful for financial services products,   probably would need to be matched with  government identity, is reputational identity.   Which is 'I don't know who this person is but  based on the history that they have of repaying   or performing under certain agreement  scenarios', whether they're financial   or otherwise. That person has a reputation that  they've built up over time and therefore maybe   we can use that in some kind of mechanism to  score credit or these kinds of things. Now,   I've seen many different attempts at  decentralized identity. I think that   there are some that are coming close, there's a  project in Spain which looks really interesting   called Project Dalion actually, it's on a private  permissioned approach to self-sovereign identity   where you've got claims, proofs and attestations  that are issued in a decentralized manner.   There's the Sovereign Network and Evernum.  We've seen efforts that were originally on the   Ethereum blockchain as well, but haven't  seen anything really reach the kind of scale   and I think that it's that piece, solving the  identity problem is really what's going to   accelerate wide scale usage of DeFi. But again,  just an opinion, I could be entirely wrong.   Yeah, and you mentioned though it hasn't quite got  to that point. I mean, is there anything obvious   on the surface for why people or organizations  haven't managed to reach that point? Well, I think   it's difficult to solve, I mean first of all, the  regulations around identity and privacy are very,   very high and challenging. People point to GDPR  in the European Union, you've got HIPAA regs let's   say, related to healthcare in the United States.  It's an important topic, privacy. So anything that   gets implemented on a public blockchain will need  to be regulation friendly. I also think that maybe because there's been such an amount of growth in  DeFi without the identity problem being solved,   it's only now that we're beginning to see  that it's likely to be a potential barrier   or a challenge. The first adopters of any new  technology are always the easy ones to win   over. It's that mainstreaming approach  is a little bit more more challenging.   You know, people like myself and yourself  Conor, we're first adopters of technology.   This is our job, this is what we do. But  you know we've all got family members,   parents, brothers and sisters, friends who have no  idea. They can barely use the app on their phone,   you know. Asking them to to step up to use  some kind of interesting new technology   from the financial world could be a bit of a  challenge. So, I think they'll expect to use   the forms of identity that they already do and  until it becomes seamless enough and the user   experience around these new technologies  becomes painless enough I think we'll... there's an opportunity to solve the various  UX problems of which identity is part of that.   And there's another thing comes up again and  again it's almost the most pressing need,   is to get over these UX hurdles where people  aren't twiddling their thumbs for half a minute   waiting to see if something goes through or not.  So, apart from the digital identity opportunities,   what's your take on NFTs for instance? Somewhat  orthogonal to what's happening in finance but,   there's a lot of interest in them. Well, an NFT is  not really that new, it's a digital intellectual   property right or property right that points to  something that exists in the real world. You know,   even if it is a digital art, that digital art  lives somewhere else, probably an IPFS as a   gif or something or a JPEG or a .mov MPEG and  the NFT is a representation of ownership. If you   think about it, in the United Kingdom and in Spain  and Ireland, the United States, property records   are NFTs. The title to your house is  a non-fungible token. It's actually a   token. It's not a digital token but it's a  token, when you get the title printed out.   So representing ownership in a way that first of  all recognizes the unique aspect of whatever the   real world asset is, if it's art fine, if it's  property fine, if it's something else could be   intellectual property rights, royalties to a  song, the fact that you could maybe make an NFT   potentially divisible becomes interesting. I  read recently that there's a Picasso currently   being tokenized and sold off in chunks as  NFTs so an NFT, a divisible NFT makes sense   for perhaps shared ownership. I think it broadens  access to different asset classes that maybe   would not have access to asset classes they might  find interesting. I would not have access to the   Picasso art market for example, I'm sure you  wouldn't either, but it might be interesting   to be able to get some exposure to it. As an  example, I think that the opportunity for NFTs   is at least as big as the opportunity for their  fungible cousins in securities markets etc. and   I think we're beginning to see that there's  a huge amount of interest there, if for no   other reason than NFT creators, particularly  artists who create digital art or even digital   versions of existing art, automatically  can have an interest in the secondary   market art sales that happen for the lifespan  of the art. So that if they become famous and   their first art creation that they ever made 20  years previously now is worth tens of millions,   they can participate in some fashion and receive  a commission from secondary market art sales.   That makes it interesting to artists alone.  I think there's a huge opportunity there now.   How's it going to play out, it'll probably start  as digital collectibles from video games and we're   seeing some of that already. We've seen digital  land sales and Decentraland and others, all of   it looks very interesting. The mainstreaming of  NFTs, that'll probably happen in a way that real   world users won't even know that there are NFTs  underneath. There'll just be NFTs inside a machine   and we interact with an app with a nice user  experience that tells us that the property that we   purchased for vacation is now ours and if I want  to sell half of it to my brother, I can do that. Yeah, absolutely. And so apart from what we've covered so far, are  there any other areas of the blockchain landscape   or bigger purposes associated with it that you're  very interested in? I appreciate that we've   already touched on identity so that's a huge one  because it can affect so many people in the world.   I think you know the world, we need to  figure out the climate change issue.   I think that for that to happen, we're going  to need large-scale carbon markets that are   just a normal course of our lives. When we buy  something, anything there'll be some offsetting   carbon credit that indicates  that a tree was planted somewhere   and it's real and verified and enforceable. I  think there's an opportunity to have a single   global carbon market that perhaps is blockchain  based, perhaps not. But any time you say single   global anything, well we have some single global  smart contracts platforms out there now that maybe   a smart engineering team could possibly develop  something new on and find a way to make it a   seamless part of our daily lives. I do think it's  necessary. I think many of us would agree with   that and certainly large companies are beginning  to take this very, very seriously. I know that   Santander has, as well. Now, that's not to say  that anything that the bank would do from an   environmental standpoint would have anything to  do with a blockchain based carbon market, that's   very premature. But I think that we will see  blockchain-based carbon markets come into being   and probably more quickly than we might think  and perhaps more meaningfully. It's very needed.   Yeah, absolutely. So, it's a big one. Yeah, so   just in terms of bringing your conversation to  a close. If people want to keep up with what   you're up to, I know you're very active on  Twitter. You love a poll on Twitter as well,   which is great to see some of the things you put  out there. But, is that the best way for people to   keep in touch with you or are there other things  that you'd like to encourage people to go to as   well? Yeah, I think Twitter is the easiest.  I'm active on Twitter, you know I speak for   myself not the institution for whom I work. I'm  interested in topics like technology of course,   energy, finance, politics, as most people are  right? Kind of the the main thing! Sports,   biking... and you can easily find  me on Twitter, it is @_JohnWhelan   and easy to find. We'll certainly link to  that as well on the the show notes too. Well,   John thank you so much for your time. It's always  a pleasure to hear what you've been up to and   also as someone who I think really understands,  well is pragmatic about what's possible with the   technology but also understands it as well.  I think it's quite rare to have that sort of   combination so you can actually drive these  initiatives and then still change, great to   chat. Likewise Conor, thank you very much for  the invitation. No worries, speak soon, cheers.