R3’s CordaCon Event Sees Big News, Packed Talks and Blockchain Converts

14 September 2018

If R3 really is struggling, as rumored in recent months, you wouldn’t know it from the crowd at CordaCon 2018.

The annual London gathering hosted by R3 to celebrate everything happening on the Corda platform and its developer community, appeared to be in rude health this year with standing room only in many of the presentations.

The event saw some 1,150 registrations over the two days – exponential growth from last year, noted R3 CEO David Rutter, adding:

“At this rate I should be addressing you from a packed O2 Arena in two years’ time.”

The headline news was the launch of Corda Marketplace, “a pseudo app store” or storefront for solutions on Corda (CorDapps) comprising over 200 companies and “a place where you can discover new partners to help you build CorDapps,” according to Rutter.

The other big announcement was that the U.K. government’s HM Land Registry (which safeguards land and property ownership worth in excess of £4 trillion, including around £1 trillion of mortgages) has chosen Corda as part of its Digital Street project, to make the house buying process simpler, faster, cheaper and more transparent.

“I’m a commercial guy,” said Rutter, “and I started trying to figuring it out at like £1 a house, say – and it’s actually damn good.”

Also announced was the R3 Global Trade Finance Forum to be launched in October. The first topic to be discussed will be, “How blockchain can support EU trade post Brexit” (the popular term for the U.K.’s imminent withdrawal from the European Union).

Corda converts

Two major plays on Corda are insurance and trade finance. On the trade finance front, there were presentations from TradeIX, part of Marco Polo, and Voltron, the banking group digitizing letters of credit. The insurance stream ran all day, featuring the likes of reinsurance group B3i and U.S.-based insurance consortium RiskBlock

It’s notable that both B3i and TradeIX started out building on Hyperledger’s Fabric platform before later converting to Corda.

Asked what, if anything, was salvageable from the original work done on Fabric, Sylvain De Crom, chief product officer B3i, said, “Clearly some of the functional requirements are completely reusable because they don’t change with technology. But the language was completely different, the structures were different.”

De Crom said Corda “provides a ton of tools that are readily usable for developers,” but added the caveat that B3i used Corda a year later than the work being done on Hyperledger Fabric. “You are comparing start of 2018 Corda, with start of 2017 Fabric. So some of the tools we had to code ourselves in Fabric were already available in Corda,” he said.

Developers building trade finance solutions are divided mainly between R3 Corda on the one hand (with Marco Polo and Voltron), and Hyperledger Fabric on the other with groups like we.trade and Batavia.

David Sutter, head of platform strategy at TradeIX, said the goal with Marco Polo was to create “a cloud agnostic, infrastructure agnostic Android for trade finance – which is clearly not the goal of a we.trade.”

Regarding his own company switching from Hyperledger to Corda, Sutter said, “Fabric is an open-source protocol, yes, but the way it is supported and operationalized is not done in an open-source manner.”

“In terms of validating and ordering transactions,” he added, “you are really relying on IBM; in terms of deploying a node, you are relying on IBM BlueMix. Corda is cloud agnostic with an open and decentralized governance.”

Code and law

Giving a regulatory perspective on DLT, Chris Woolard, director of strategy and competition at U.K. regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, said the technology has been far and away the most popular with the cohorts of its regulatory sandbox.

Over a third of all participants in the past three years have used blockchain in one form or another, he said, with 14 out of the 29 in the current batch also doing so. He also referenced a mortgages project the FCA undertook with R3.

Woolard said the FCA looks at the question of accountability with new tech like blockchain and AI, and as such he found the ethereum DAO to be a troubling concept, stating:

“Instead of code is law, we need code that works with law.”

He also pointed out that, whenever a firm outsources some function, they have to tell the FCA, which has come up a lot regarding cloud computing, for instance. He said the regulator is still deliberating whether DLT constitutes material outsourcing.

Finally, a central banker’s view on blockchain came from Dirk Bullmann, fintech co-ordinator at the European Central Bank (ECB). Bullmann said the ECB has decided it’s difficult to rely on a technology that is relatively nascent.

“This is not meant to be negative,” he said. “We see a lot of development and are sure that one day the technology will be ready for prime time – right now we feel it isn’t.”

David Rutter image via Ian Allison for CoinDesk