The blockchain boom is well and truly here. Blockchain is no longer a technological concept but a real-life application that is fast becoming mainstream – especially in financial services, where its decentralised technology transparently records the intricacies of transactions on a shared network.
For example, this promises huge value in investment management, helping companies trade faster and cheaper, while improving efficiency through near-instant settlement, greater transparency and less room for error.
Touted as a technology that will revolutionise the sector, it is not surprising that the financial services industry has embraced blockchain – and Ireland has been positioning itself at the forefront to meet industry demand. The country occupies a unique position here, able to bring together all the actors required to create a successful blockchain environment – including a skilled and experienced technology talent base, a thriving fintech hub and strong regulatory support.
As a result, Ireland is proving useful as a blockchain hub demonstrated by the growing number of major financial institutions, including Citi, JP Morgan, Mastercard and Fidelity Investments who are developing technology solutions from there. So how has this come about and what’s next for the industry?
A perfect match
With respect to the financial services and technology, access to a young, highly educated and skilled workforce is pivotal – and this is particularly true for the blockchain industry. According to the 2020 LinkedIn Emerging Jobs report, blockchain (as well as AI and data security) is one of the top emerging industries in the English-speaking world.
Ireland has the skilled and experienced talent pool required. The country is already known for its top universities as well as its young, well-educated and productive workforce, with 33.3% of the population under 25 years old. Beyond this, the Irish government has been actively supporting the growth of the blockchain industry in Ireland, creating industry-driven higher education programmes to ensure the workforce is keeping pace with the fast-changing landscape and skill requirements of the sector.
Technology Ireland ICT Skillnet & Dublin City University launched Ireland’s first blockchain Master’s course two years ago, for instance, while Dundalk IT launched a Certificate in Blockchain and Distributive Ledger Technology – showcasing how Irish academia is eager to collaborate with industry to create a globally competitive environment.
With other industry-driven programmes being developed – including a Master’s programme in Immersive Software Engineering initiated by the Collison Brothers at Stripe and University of Limerick – Ireland is gearing up to provide the skills and knowledge that can drive innovative blockchain and other fintech investment solutions in the coming years.
This top talent hub is creating a vibrant fintech sector, which is made up of technology and financial services firms that established their EU headquarters and R&D operations in the country over the past decades. And as a result, a highly skilled, cross-sectoral ecosystem has emerged. Businesses in the country also benefit from organisations such as Blockchain Ireland, Ireland’s industry body for the sector.
Blockchain labs in Ireland find themselves alongside other cutting-edge technology centre in areas such as AI, data analytics and machine learning, as well as industry experts in insurance, trade finance and digital assets – such as Blackrock, Fidelity Investments, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, IBM, Mastercard, Facebook, Microsoft, Deloitte, and Accenture. This means we can expect to see blockchain being deployed in an increasing number of application areas.
For instance, in the fast-paced digital assets space, many industry leaders are choosing Ireland to create their innovative blockchain products. Some recent activity in digital currencies includes Facebook’s development of the ‘Novi’ wallet in Dublin and R3’s work, on a solution to integrate cross boarder payments for CBDCs from their Dublin based European R&D hub. These are just a couple of examples of the kind of solutions under development in the country, with numerous potentially revolutionary initiatives under way.
Ireland’s strong position as a blockchain hub is primarily due to the strength of its financial services and technology industries. For instance, according to IDA Ireland – the country’s inward investment agency – there are over 430 indigenous and multinational financial services firms employing 48,000 staff alongside upwards of 105,000 in the technology sector.
Blockchain is a nascent technology, still in the process of moving from proof-of-concept to actually deployment. Yet as more and more successful examples emerge – and especially as more funding and research flows into the space – Ireland, with its skilled talent pool, vibrant ecosystem and strong regulatory environment, will be ready to support this next wave of technology deployments and the new business models that they enable.
Dr Nicola Stokes is financial services technologist at IDA Ireland