It seems that Catherine Bessant, the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Bank of America (“BofA”), the second largest bank in the U.S. and the holder of more blockchain technology patents than any other financial services firm, is “bearish” on blockchain technology.
As of November 2018, Bank of America had over 50 blockchain-related patents. The first such patent (“Wire Transfers Using Cryptocurrency”) was filed in March 2014 and published in September 2015. During that month, BofA joined the R3 consortium.
In January 2016, the BofA CTO told CNBC during an interview at Davos 2016:
“Blockchain’s very intriguing and for us it’s a balance between not wanting to be Neanderthal but not wanting to put something out in a commercial application where the commercial application is still very unclear as a technologist, the technology is fascinating. And we have tried to stay on the forefront, I think we have somewhere around 15 patents, most people would be surprised at Bank of America with patents in the blockchain or cryptocurrency space. (It’s) very important in the intellectual property world to reserve our spot even before we know what the commercial application might be.”
By 19 June 2018, according to research by Marc Kaufman, “an attorney who co-chairs the Blockchain Intellectual Property Council at the U.S. Chamber of Digital Commerce,” BofA had 45 “live” blockchain-related patents (more than any other company in the world).
On 20 June 2018, while attending the CB Insights Future of Fintech event in New York, Bessant said:
“We’ve got under 50 patents in the blockchain/distributed ledger space. While we’ve not found large-scale opportunities, we want to be ahead of it we want to be prepared.”
Earlier today, CNBC published a report that says Bessant told them at a recent interview:
“What I am is open-minded. In my private scoreboard, in the closet, I am bearish.”
CNBC says that Bessant, who was “named the most powerful woman in banking last year,” is a “pragmatist,” and that she has been running “the bank’s global technology and operations division since 2010.” Apparently, she thinks that blockchain technology is a solution looking for a problem:
“I haven’t seen one [use case] that even scales beyond an individual or a small set of transactions. All of the big tech companies will come and say ‘blockchain, blockchain, blockchain.’ I say, ‘Show me the use case. You bring me the use case and I’ll try it’. I want it to work. Spiritually, I want it to make us better, faster, cheaper, more transparent, more, you know, all of those things.”
Although she is slightly less skeptical when it comes to private blockchains, even here, she has doubts about the utility of the technology. Here is what she told CNBC about JPM Coin:
“I will be curious to see what the actual volume of usage is on the JPM Coin in a year.”