Blockchain Tech Lead – Investec Bank
Blockchain technology is set to revolutionise currency but what does that mean for business and the banking sector?


CIARAN RYAN This is CFO talks and today I’m delighted to be joined by Chris Becker, he is a blockchain tech lead for Investec Bank. I asked Chris to come into the studio and talk to us about what blockchain means, particularly from a banking and a business point of view. Welcome, Chris.

CHRIS BECKER: Thanks, Ciaran, it’s good to be here.

CIARAN RYAN First of all, could you kick off and just explain what blockchain is, it’s a term that is thrown around, but I think it’s a very misunderstood term.

CHRIS BECKER: I think for most people they shouldn’t really be trying to understand what blockchain technology is and how it works. To illustrate, do you know what the simple mail transfer protocol is or the hypertext transfer protocol or TCP/IP protocol?

CIARAN RYAN No, I don’t.

CHRIS BECKER: So you use these daily, you use them to download websites, to move information over the internet, to send emails, there’s no need to know precisely how they work. I think where a lot of people get confused and stuck is in trying to understand what this blockchain protocol is and how it works. I think we need to think about it in terms of a tool, what does it do, how can we use this thing. So when we start thinking about it and describing it in these terms, what the blockchain is, is an electronic ledger or database that is self-governed and secure. It’s an open source protocol of the internet that effectively enables us to move value over the internet. So if you really want to get to it, it’s an open source protocol of the internet that allows us to move value over the internet. So in addition to communicating and sending information, we can actually send value over the internet. That’s effectively what blockchain is as a tool, that’s how we can use this thing.


‘We have the technology in order to keep digital information scarce’


CIARAN RYAN You say it’s self-governed, that’s obviously a crucial part of the technology. Previously when we had these transfer mechanisms they were not self-governed, is that correct?

CHRIS BECKER: If we think about electronic money today and we’re going to contrast the two electronic value systems, when you deposit money in a bank and you log into online banking, you’ll hopefully see a positive balance, that’s reflective of a claim on value that you have in a bank. So when you make a deposit at a bank today you are effectively making a loan to the bank and the balance in your account says you can claim, let’s say, R1000 from us in physical bank notes in cash, if you wanted to. When I make a payment, I am effectively asking that bank to move that claim on value from bank A. to bank B. But me, as a client or a user, accessing and logging into the bank systems need to trust that the ledgers that they are keeping are sound, accurate, there’s no fraud taking place, that money isn’t being created out of thin air, like what happened at VBS Bank, for example, about R1 billion was created out of nothing. So what money is today is electronic government issued money that the banks keep track of, it needs a huge legal and regulatory construct in order to make sure that the banks are sound, that they are not overissuing money, that they are sticking to the laws and regulations because there’s no other way of keeping electronic information scarce. So if you are a bank, you can, like VBS did, they ran their biggest loan book in an Excel spreadsheet, and you can create money out of nothing. So you need laws and regulations to prevent that from taking place. You need a lot of law and regulation in order to make sure that the financial system is sound and that end users and consumers of that system are protected. So that’s currently how the banking system works. What blockchain does is it introduces a new way of doing things, of having electronically issued money that people can access. So let’s use Bitcoin as an example, if I own Bitcoin I can run a copy of the ledger on my computer at home and keep track of exactly what’s happening in this database, in this ledger of value. You can also keep track of it, so when you want to send money to me on Bitcoin, for example, you can submit it to your computer that’s connected to mine and both of our ledgers will update almost simultaneously, as well as everybody else’s all around the world who are running the Bitcoin protocol. So now suddenly you don’t have to trust an intermediary to move electronic value around the world and that’s the big innovation of this. It’s the first time since the introduction of computing and digital information that we have the technology in order to keep digital information scarce.

CIARAN RYAN I don’t know if you know the international writer and investor, Doug Casey, he wrote some time ago that with Bitcoin basically every single individual on the planet can become his own bank, I think for the reasons that you’ve just described there. I think what is also clear is that banking itself is going through a revolution because of this technology. If everybody has Bitcoin and you can store it on a flash drive and you can be your own bank, we’re starting to then look at what is banking itself. It has been described as an elaborate piece of software with some branches and head offices. That may be a bit simplistic, but I think that’s kind of where the financial system is going. Maybe you can just outline how you think this blockchain technology or cryptocurrency or both of them together are going to redefine the world of banking and business.

CHRIS BECKER: It’s hard to see exactly how that’s going to play out, the future is a closed book and when I look at where blockchain technology is today, it feels a lot like the early computers. The first computers were abacuses in China but moving through to the 1800s when Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace were producing these huge computing systems that filled entire rooms or fast forward into the 1950s I think the first computer that could store memory actually stored it on a punch card, the punch card was like a floppy disk, which was effectively the memory storage device for a computer, it needed about a ton of equipment to store five megabytes of information, to give you a sense. People were critical of that technology at the time, that was the first electronic computer, a ton of equipment to store five megabytes of information, highly inefficient, didn’t scale, couldn’t do interesting things with it, there was nothing like the internet at the time, there was nothing like mobile phones at the time, all these things still had to be invented and innovated. It feels a lot like where blockchain technology is today, but you can certainly see where this is going. To your point, what banks are today are effectively large organisations that have systems and technologies that keep track of debits and credits and have businesses like Visa and Mastercard and Bankserv that create interoperability between those technologies and systems. In other words, if you want to move value from one bank to another bank, you need to go through an intermediary in order to affect that value transfer.

CIARAN RYAN And that intermediary is Bankserv, that would be the clearing house?

CHRIS BECKER: Exactly, so what banking is today is there are large systems that keep track of debits and credits, and that move electronic messages around amongst them. So what banking has become, as banking is becoming increasingly digitised, is just software and hardware that can facilitate these types of transactions. But the thing is that none of these technologies that are currently used by the banks are native protocols to the internet. In other words, to illustrate, when you use these protocols that we referred to earlier today, to communicate with other people, what those protocols enable and facilitate is the movement of information, so banks use those internet protocols widely and their clients use those internet protocols to log into an online banking system, which then gives the user access to the private proprietary databases that no one else can get access to, that are closed, that aren’t internet protocols. In other words, there were no stateful protocols that could store information that were native to the internet before blockchain. So we could use the internet to communicate and send information between us but we couldn’t use the internet protocols to store information, so you had to rely on banks to store information, you have to rely on Facebook servers to store information, you have to rely on all these companies to have effectively walled gardens where information gets stored and you have to ask and request those servers to download your information. That’s obviously given rise to a whole host of privacy issues and how data is being used and regulations around that. What public blockchains are, what they introduce to the world are internet protocols that can do that, that can store information. So I don’t need to use a company now to store information, I can actually use a protocol of the internet to store my financial information, to store information about social media, to form agreements with people and store those agreements so that they can be called on and verified that we’ve signed it, that different parties have signed these agreements and we haven’t even scratched the surface around the possibilities of what could be stored in these databases and the business models that could evolve from this. So at a high level, stateful protocols for the web is a massive deal, data is probably going to shift from private servers and companies onto these public open source systems and it will be far easier to communicate value, to enter agreements with people, you can minimise trust now in moving value around the world and forming agreements, whether they’re loan agreements, legal agreements, whatever it might be. I think it’s going to change the way we do things.


Blockchain offers a real-time audit trail on a public ledger


CIARAN RYAN I think this is one area that I certainly have battled with to some degree, imagining a future where all your agreements are stored on an open source blockchain type system and I know that there are certain cryptocurrencies or certain blockchain technologies, which have been developed with that in mind. I suppose one of the ways that I can possibly imagine what you are talking about is that we are talking about a new protocol, so it’s like imagining your old postal system, where I want to send a letter to you through the mail and it has to get picked up by the postman and it goes through a transport system to your address and it eventually gets delivered by another postman to your address. What we’re really talking about with blockchain is getting rid of the postman and I am just passing my letter onto you straight away. If one extrapolates that and then you look at what effect this is going to have on businesses going forward, legal risk has become a huge issue in a lot of businesses and the reliance on the courts to arbitrate or to decide on who has been offended when there’s been a breach in an agreement and I think this is something that chief financial officers are paying a lot of attention to, is legal risk because they are becoming bigger and bigger. Can you just spell out, in broad terms, what kind of relationship can we expect going forward between two parties who enter into an agreement and how is the blockchain going to be able to do that, is it just simply a storage mechanism or is there more to it? It’s not just a simple I need to have a look at the agreement I signed with my supplier and call it up, is there something more to it than that and more trust that we can vest in those types of agreements?

CHRIS BECKER: I’m not saying that all information is now going to be stored on public databases, there will clearly be a place for storing information on private closed databases that other people can’t access. What you can, however, do now is you can have access to this public ledger where you can prove that something happened in a point in time. So let’s say we enter a legal agreement today, we don’t want to store that data with an intermediary because if the data is now stored with the intermediary, they face legal risk, they are liable if they get hacked and their systems get breached and the information gets leaked. What we can do is I can store a copy of a legal agreement, you can keep a copy of the legal agreement and we both have things called digital signatures that we can use to sign that agreement and then we can record the signing of that agreement onto the blockchain ledger and once it’s entered into the ledger and recorded there and new blocks get built on top of the old block where our agreement has been verified and timestamped and recorded, anyone at any point in the time in future can come back to it and verify that something has taken place. So it’s almost like when you have concrete being poured in a road and as a kid you want to go and put a handprint on there and prove that you were there and write your name next to it, and as that concrete hardens people can come back and you can say, hey, look, we were here at that point in time and we did something. That’s effectively the concept of a blockchain, it’s this censorship-resistant ledger that’s public, that we can leverage now in order to prove that something happened in a point in time. So it will change the way that data is stored because clearly the trend is the more data that a company and an entity stores, the more legal risk and liability risk they face. So the business model could change where you effectively disintermediate how data is stored, decentralise the storage of data onto end users who sign agreements and then obviously there needs to be some innovation around how to keep that secure and give people the tools to do that, and then we prove that things have taken place and we just keep track of it, we pour that concrete and we just keep recording information as we move along. That’s effectively what a blockchain can do.

CIARAN RYAN At the moment these agreements are very much paper-based, aren’t they, and you often see disputes entering court, did you have the special resolution that you required in order to transact. A lot of this is coming out in the Zondo commission of inquiry, no resolutions, there was no authorisation for doing that particular deal. That kind of risk, therefore, would presumably pass away if you had timestamps and you could verify that all of these legal requirements are in place.

CHRIS BECKER: You’ll have this real-time audit trail that’s on a public ledger, you won’t necessarily know what the bits of information are but if some people want to reveal that they did do something they can now prove it. In fact, in China they found that information recorded on the Bitcoin blockchain can hold up in court as being enough proof and evidence that something did take place. For example, people talk about this, the first Bitcoin block in the head of the transaction of the block, there was this quote taken from a newspaper at that point in time it was something about the UK bailing out the banks and that was timestamped in the blockchain. You can put other bits of information like that, we can say Ciaran and Chris, we can sign a transaction with our digital signatures and we did this interview on this day, in this studio and we both agreed to that, sign it, submit it to the blockchain and record it there for posterity. People don’t need to know what that information is because it will be encrypted but if somebody disputes that we had this conversation in the future, I can say hey, but I can decrypt this information, that’s what it says, and look, Ciaran signed this transaction, so we did do this.

CIARAN RYAN One of the things you mentioned a little bit earlier and I want to go back to, it’s got to do with banking and you’re with Investec Bank and Investec is known as a fairly progressive, forward-thinking bank, so they are clearly taking this evolution in technology quite seriously. But you mentioned VBS Bank, for people who don’t know VBS Bank was a bank that has effectively gone bust or is under administration and the senior executives in that bank are accused of I think stealing about R2 billion, you said their whole system was managed on an Excel spreadsheet.

CHRIS BECKER: The biggest loan book, yes.


‘We are looking at a vastly changed landscape going forward’


CIARAN RYAN On an Excel spreadsheet, so this comes back to legal tender laws because banks are in effect allowed to create money, provided they meet the Reserve requirements and they have a banking licence they can actually create money. In your opinion, what is the future of banking? When you look at the blockchain technology that you’ve just been describing and you have these legal tender laws, which allow for the creation of money, does it open the door for new competitors to come in, are we looking at a vastly changed landscape going forward?

CHRIS BECKER: Look, I do think we are looking at a vastly changed landscape going forward. It’s going to be an evolution though, when you study the history of technological revolutions it takes on average 50 years for a real fundamental technological innovation like this to diffuse through society. To give you a sense, in the 1800s when whale oil was the primary energy source for lighting in the developed economies, they were discovering crude in the US and some of the applications of it. There were guys going around to sell the applications and the benefits of using refined crude oil products to industry, and industry laughed at them because all their capital and infrastructure was set up in order to monetise whale oil. It took a whole 50 years before we really saw the benefits of it and it needed an invention like an internal combustion engine for people to really get it and go aha, okay, maybe this is a superior energy source than whale oil. You can look at many other examples, it takes on average 50 years and we are only ten years into this. We’re like on the ground floor here and we’re building a new way of doing things in the blockchain community, if I can put it that way. I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent and I’m not sure if I’m answering your question here.

CIARAN RYAN I think what I’m trying to do is just extrapolate, what is the world going to look like at the end of that 50-year period?

CHRIS BECKER: We’ve got this new internet protocol that enables us to move value around the world, where you don’t need to pay somebody to do it, you pay this decentralised system effectively and you can trust it. I think in the same way that we’re connected to people through the internet with communication, eliminate the postman, we can communicate directly with people anywhere in the world instantaneously and there are so many ways to do it and there are so many different social platforms through which you can do it. What’s interesting about social media is that you’ve got platforms like Twitter that’s got its own unique characteristics, you use it for specific purposes and you have other things like Instagram, and other places like Facebook and YouTube, and you’ve got this variety of platforms that connect people in different ways and it allows people to express themselves in different ways. We can’t really do that with value, think about value, how do you connect to people in a value sense, how do you move money, you’ve got to log into something but it’s very restrictive in terms of what it allows you to do. I think what we are going to see evolving is a suite of services that are not dissimilar to the social media platforms that we use, they will be built and will be leveraging these blockchain protocols where anyone can innovate and build these things and that’s the other fascinating aspect to it. If you want to innovate and build a financial services product today you’ve got to work for a bank to do it, you can’t really do it or you’ve got to start a fintech company but you’ve then got to sell that product to a bank because you’ve got to access the currency in order to offer value transfer and credit mediation or whatever services to people. Suddenly Facebook can now build their own currency and part of their roadmap is to start doing savings and loans and doing more traditional financial services but they’ve got the ability to make value transfers fun and to connect people instantly, maybe you can send money around the world and attach emojis or cool messages, you can make value transfers fun and you can connect people in many different ways on different types of platforms where you know that if you log into this application on the Bitcoin blockchain, for example, you are going to get a specific kind of interaction. So if you are into ESG or impact investing there is going to be a specific platform for you with a very specific community where you are going to be able to very easily and seamlessly move money in order to fund projects that you are passionate about and earn a return from it. So that’s kind of the way that I see this moving and it’s going to be accessing these blockchain protocols through mobile phones, through any web browser effectively. So today on Google Chrome I can do it from my mobile device, and I can connect up to these different networks and start engaging in very interesting and unique ways of value transfer and investing that I’m not able to do in the traditional system. But, like I say, we are only on the ground floor of building out this new technology stack.

CIARAN RYAN A couple of questions because we’ve only got about five minutes, I remember going back to the beginning of the tech boom, if we go to the year 2000 when we had all of these companies that sprung up and we were persuaded for a period of time to just abandon traditional accounting methodologies, it wasn’t so much profit that was important, it was revenue or it was the size of the network. A lot of the research papers that I read at the time were trying to persuade us that here you’ve got a company, yes it’s not making any profit but it’s got great potential, why has it got potential, because it’s technology. Of course it was bogus and I think Warren Buffett punctured a hole in that whole thing and there were various methodologies that were introduced to try and put a value on the size of a network, how big is the network, how many users does this thing have, that’s how you are going to measure the value of this thing and, in fact, they weren’t entirely wrong. It was just a question of how do you monetise that, how do you make money out of that network, which they hadn’t really solved 20 years ago. Now I think with Google, Facebook, Twitter and with various other technology companies that have come about you’ve seen how they’ve monetised it through advertising and I think what you’re talking about here is that there are now other layers of monetisation coming on top of that value, where you can offer financial services, you can offer loans, deposit accounts and various things like that. I think maybe if you can just expand on that and is there value in a network in itself, is the technology that important, are we still talking about things like how big is your network and how do you make money from it, is it as simple as that?

CHRIS BECKER: I think your point earlier is right, in the late ‘90s when we had this tech mania bubble, something like 85% of the companies at the time went bust, these companies were trading at ridiculous valuations, there was no real business value or proposition, they weren’t generating any revenue, 85% of those companies went bust. I think we are going to see a similar thing happening in the crypto space, there are a lot of companies trying to build applications to make money off this new protocol. We haven’t seen the dominant business model emerge here, I think it’s still too early, I don’t think people have quite figured this out, there’s going to be some significant winners that come out of some of the companies that are around today building on the blockchain. But there are going to be 90% of these companies that go to naught. So you’ve got to think about that we are still in this phase where we’ve got to figure out what it is that lands, that sticks, that works as a business. The incumbent technology companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter and the like are potentially at risk because the data that’s been stored there, that’s been monetised through advertising, doesn’t necessarily have to be stored there. So if you have a new generation of people who prioritise privacy over storing data with a company and where ads get shown back to them. that creeps them out, I am seeing increasingly people talking about this, I was on this platform, I looked at something and then suddenly I was on my mobile device and another service and I saw an ad that related to this other thing I was looking at.


‘If someone is going to show an ad to you, they must pay you directly’


CIARAN RYAN Yes, they follow you.

CHRIS BECKER: What’s going on, it feels creepy. I think what you might start seeing is instead of accessing these “free services” where they monetise your data and information, you might want to actually pay a price to store your data on, say, the Bitcoin or Atrium blockchain and if someone is going to show an ad to you they must pay you directly and so you can start monetising your attention, you can monetise your data directly, which is a game changer and I think that’s where the change in business model from the internet as we know it today to the internet as it might evolve is going to shift, it’s where people will bet paid for their attention directly by companies, and the protocols are now in place to facilitate and enable that to happen.

CIARAN RYAN I think the privacy thing is huge because of the massive abuses that we have seen and read about with Facebook and Google. In fact, talking about creepy, I watched a video about a guy who claimed that Google is listening to your phone while it just happens to be sitting next to you on the table. He did this little experiment and whether it’s true or not, but he just talked about dogs’ toys and he mentioned that a few times and then he logged onto his Chrome browser and up pop a couple of ads for dog toys. Now, is that just a random thing, it’s very difficult to imagine because that’s quite a specific thing. But I think in this age that we’re living in people are going to value privacy a lot more. What’s your take on that? You do think that people eventually for their attention will want to be remunerated directly. So if I’m going to visit that website I want to be paid for that. So the whole revenue model is going to change.

CHRIS BECKER: I think the revenue model is going to change and it’s going to become more peer-to-peer, so if you want to show me something, pay me. Interestingly, Jaguar Land Rover are experimenting and testing cryptocurrency payments for sharing your vehicle information with them. So instead of just passively sharing this information, you can now opt in to say yes, I’ll share it but pay me, and I can opt out if I want to. So the way that you’re going to engage and share your information I think is going to change significantly. It seems like people are waking up to the privacy issues around this massive data trail that we leave because we’re constantly leaving data all over the place, as software eats the world and as we interact with that software, we’re leaving a data trail. We’re only really 20 years into this, probably even slightly less and so we, as a society, are starting to figure out how to interact with this new technology and where the lines should be and where they are, and I don’t think we’ve reached a steady state. I think blockchain now introduces a new tool where we can start pushing that line a little bit to start experimenting with different privacy models, different ways of monetising data, which means different business models and so if you are very entrenched and stuck in the existing way of doing things and the world suddenly shifts in the next ten to 20 years, which it could do as it has in the last 20 years, clearly you are extremely vulnerable.

CIARAN RYAN I read this article recently about the biggest companies in the world and, of course, it was Apple, Microsoft and Facebook, these are the dominant companies at the moment but if you go back ten years ago it was General Electric and companies like that. The basis of the article was saying that every ten years you get this tidal shift, which are the dominant, the biggest companies in the world. He was basically saying that although Apple and Facebook and Google are up there at the moment, they probably won’t be in ten years and it’s a very interesting thing to imagine, what kind of company is going to be dominant and how dominant is that. Just look at the valuations of Apple, it’s bigger than most countries in the world in terms of its valuation. Where do you see that ten years from now, in ten years from now is blockchain going to be part of everybody’s life, every chief executive, every chief financial officer is going to understand it and is going to be using it?

CHRIS BECKER: I think we are in this phase where the technoeconomic paradigm hasn’t yet been set, we’re figuring it out. What that means is we’re figuring out the business models, we’re figuring out how this thing works and how we can leverage it and how we can make it useful to society so that people will value it. The people that figure that out are going to be the ones that are the dominant companies in the next ten to 20 years. That’s my belief but I would also say that a lot of these large companies, you mentioned Apple, Apple’s value, well, a large part because of the hardware and the software devices that they roll out around the world but there are a lot of companies that literally just provide software online services like Twitter and Google and these guys that are extremely valuable, they are valuable because they sit on so much data. So data has value and if the data moves away from those companies onto open source protocols, then the protocols are going to be valuable and what that means is the Bitcoin blockchain becomes extremely valuable. A lot of people are left scratching their heads and saying how can this thing that’s out of “thin air”…it’s not, it’s actual data and there’s ten years’ worth of data in that database and as more people start using it the value of that database increases. The way that you value these networks, we spoke about it earlier, is through something called Metcalfe’s law, so the value of a network like this goes up by the square of the number of users. There are some academics who have mapped the Bitcoin protocols’ value relative to the number of users and there’s something like a 99% correlation there, so Metcalfe’s law is actually playing out here.


‘The value will sit in the protocol…and then there are going to be companies that make the protocol valuable’


CIARAN RYAN Bitcoin valuation?

CHRIS BECKER: Yes, in terms of its valuation and so we need to think which of these protocols are going to be the most valuable, the value will sit in the protocol, in the actual asset that secures the protocol itself and then there are going to be companies that make the protocol valuable that sit on top but there is likely to be far less value that sits on the company that builds on the protocol than we saw in the past, and because the data now sits on an open protocol, not with Facebook, to opt out of Facebook service you can’t take your data with you. But if I want to opt out of one application built on top of the Bitcoin blockchain to use another version, the data still sits on the blockchain, so it’s going to be far easier for people to switch. So what you might see happen is intense competition, there will be great services and innovations that become extremely valuable and that threaten the current incumbents but they are going to have to stay on top of their game in order to entrench their user base, they’re going to have to constantly be adding features and value to their customer base in order to remain incumbents. So what I think we might start seeing happening is that there’s just far more competition, the leaders at the top change more frequently, which won’t be that different to what happened in the ‘90s with the browser wars and with Myspace and the different and new social media platforms that we use. It’s going to be very fluid, a lot is going to change, people have to be nimble, it’s a brave new world but it’s very exciting too.

CIARAN RYAN Final question, do you see national currencies surviving, will the rand still be here 50 years from now?

CHRIS BECKER: Look, currencies, let’s take South Africa as an example, the currency that we use in this part of Africa has changed a lot. I say this part of Africa because before South Africa was incorporated as a union in 1910, we were on the gold standard. If you go to the mid-1800s, for example, you had the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek and you had the Cape Colony and all that stuff, there were 32 private banks issuing bank notes that operated in the economy alongside each other. There was no rand yet, the first rand was created in 1961.

CIARAN RYAN That’s interesting.

CHRIS BECKER: So there were private banks issuing money and those bank notes, if you had a Standard Bank bank note back then it was a claim on gold in the vault of Standard Bank but you can then spend that money and let’s say you were going to pay me with Standard Bank bank notes and I trusted Standard Bank, I would accept it in payment. But there were 32 other banks, one trading company and three mining houses that also issued money back then. Then you go to the late 1700s and the currency in the Cape was the rix-dollar, it was a silver currency, those bank notes were handwritten because the printing press technology only came about in the early 1800s. The central bank then was the Lombard Bank, it was put in place to manage this currency.

CIARAN RYAN What was the function of the central bank?

CHRIS BECKER: Well, just to make sure that the banks that issued the rix-dollar or bank notes that were a claim on the rix-dollar were solvent and weren’t defrauding their customers. Consumer protection. In the province of KwaZulu-Natal people were using assegais, spears…

CIARAN RYAN Is that right?

CHRIS BECKER: Yes, spear tips, copper. The Koi people used ostrich shell beads, you can go and analyse it but all over Southern Africa there were different currencies and niches and markets that were operating. Coming into the 1800s it became more standardised with the gold standard, silver also operated as money. The South African Reserve Bank was created in 1921, it didn’t issue money yet, the first rands were created in 1961 and the R1 and R2 coins in 1961 were gold specie, actual gold, imagine that. So a R2 coin was around – I forget the weight of gold – but the actual rand value today of that coin is around R3000 to R4000. So that R2 coin, the actual purchasing power of it back then, in today’s equivalent money was around R3000, R4000. Then obviously we have been on this journey where the gold backing, the physical money backing to currencies have gradually just been cut to a world today where money is just digital entries, like ledger entries in licensed banks and there’s no constraints on how much money can be created. That’s why you see the Argentine peso collapsing since 1985 and another 40% earlier this week on the back of an election. The people didn’t deserve that, it was just an election result, but the currency has collapsed and the assets priced on that currency have collapsed with it. So I’ve given this little historical overview to say that definitely the currency can change in the next 50 years. I don’t know exactly which currency it’s going to be but certainly what I am seeing in the world of blockchain and cryptocurrencies and crypto assets is that there’s a new way of issuing money and moving value over the internet and if that offers value to society and to South Africans over what the rand and the traditional financial system can offer, people are going to switch. So we need to come up with ways to facilitate and enable that to happen in a way that we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater either, there are regulations and laws in place that protect consumers and keep the system sound, and try to avoid people from being defrauded if they’re not financially literate or aware of the risks. So those are the problems we need to solve with this new system. But, certainly, as the currency has been changing, as technologies change, as society changes currencies change with it and I think we might be in a phase where currency is changing again.

CIARAN RYAN Great, Chris Becker, blockchain technology lead from Investec Bank, thanks very much for coming into the studio.

CHRIS BECKER: Good to be here Ciaran, thanks for having me.

Ciaran is a seasoned journalist and podcast host. He has a back-ground in finance and mining, having pre-viously headed up a gold mining operation in Ghana.In this podcast he interviews various CFOs, get-ting more detail on the role of the CFO and their daily challenges and solutions.


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