Q&A: Steve Davies, PwC: On creating value through blockchain amid uncertainties

James is editor in chief of TechForge Media, with a passion for how technologies influence business and several Mobile World Congress events under his belt. James has interviewed a variety of leading figures in his career, from former Mafia boss Michael Franzese, to Steve Wozniak, and Jean Michel Jarre. James can be found tweeting at @James_T_Bourne.

“Is your business ready for blockchain?” asks PwC on its portal page, adding: “The most exciting thing about blockchain is that its true potential is still unknown.”

If you’re not ready, then the consultancy giant is more than ready to help, offering expertise across cryptocurrencies and payments, smart contracts, DLT assurance, the supply chain, as well as identity and security. Earlier this month it was reported that PwC was testing blockchain technology for validation of job candidates’ credentials, while recent research found the company was the top recruiter for blockchain-related jobs on recruitment platform Indeed.

Steve Davies (left), global blockchain leader at PwC, has more than two decades’ experience at the company across financial services in various countries. Ahead of his appearance at Blockchain Expo Global in London on April 25-26, The Block caught up with Davies to discuss his role at the company in more detail, as well as trends across the financial industry and beyond.

The Block: Hi Steve. Firstly, could you run through your career to date, personal interest in blockchain technologies and what your role as Global Blockchain Leader entails?

Steve Davies: I’ve worked in PwC for over 23 years, primarily focusing on financial services and working around the world, including ten years in PwC’s US firm. Over the last decade it has become apparent to me how critical technology is in FS. Over the last five years I have worked extensively in digital transformation and fintech and my interest in blockchain grew from there. As PwC’s Blockchain leader my role is to help our clients understand and use the technology to create value, help us understand the disruptive impact to our own business, and to bring together our network of extensive expertise.

TB: Could you run through the primary consultancy and auditing work PwC undertakes with regards to blockchain/crypto – noting the difference between the two – and the different industries it covers within this remit?

SD: We look at blockchain through two primary lenses. One is blockchain for enterprise and infrastructure (for example supply chain management or trade finance). The other is new business models (such as crypto which is an example of tokenisation). Traditional clients are often more interested in the first area but new clients and entrants into markets looking to disrupt are more interested in the latter. We look at these two areas across all industries but some industries are moving faster than others.

“There remains a lack of understanding – even now many people are unclear on what blockchain really is and how it is changing all facets of business”

Given the level of maturity, most of our work is in advising clients; helping them to understand the technology and where it can be used (and where it is not the best answer). We help our clients to design and build solutions, taking them into market and/or production. We also offer different types of assurance services to support businesses that use blockchain based technologies.

TB: PwC notes the potential of blockchain in not just finance but insurance, government, health, education as well as consumer services. Which of these industries in your opinion could see the biggest benefit from wide-scale projects?

SD: It is really hard to be prescriptive. Blockchain is a technology that enables trust without intermediaries and that is quite far reaching. Gartner forecasts that blockchain will generate an annual business value of more than US $3 trillion by 2030. It’s not inconceivable to expect 10-20% of the world’s global economic infrastructure to be using some form of blockchain-based technology within the next decade.

In PwC’s 2018 Global Blockchain survey of 600 executives, 84% say their organisations have at least some involvement with blockchain technology. Perhaps even more significant is the way the technology will enable disruptive new business models.

It really is too early to tell.

TB: The general consensus when The Block spoke to stakeholders at MWC19 was that blockchain projects for enterprise had great potential but there is a large gap to overcome from pilot to production. Is this what you’re seeing across the market and what can be done to change this?

SD: A lot of blockchain for enterprise/infrastructure value is about “faster, better, cheaper, more secure”. This impacts incumbents and requires them to work differently and build new networks. It also requires increasing engagement from the big tech firms that run core platforms.

The core areas we see in this space at present would be in provenance of goods (like supply chain solutions but more broadly than that).

TB: What other challenges are you seeing in the market today?

SD: Regulatory uncertainty, lack of trust among users (ironically), and the ability to bring the network together make up the top barriers to blockchain adoption today. According to PwC’s 2018 Global Blockchain Survey, 45% of respondents believe that trust could delay adoption.

As with any emerging technology, challenges and doubts exist around blockchain’s reliability, speed, security and scalability, and there are concerns regarding a lack of standardisation and the potential lack of interoperability with other blockchains.

“It’s not inconceivable to expect 10-20% of the world’s global economic infrastructure to be using some form of blockchain-based technology within the next decade”

Also contributing to the blockchain trust gap is a lack of understanding. Even now, many people are unclear on what blockchain really is and how it is changing all facets of business.

TB: What – both personally and professionally – is the most exciting use case you have seen to date with regard to blockchain technologies?

SD: Outside of the traditional blockchain for enterprise/infrastructure applications, there are many exciting new business models being built on blockchain technology. These use cases are creating new ways of working across industry in sectors such as finance, supply chain, energy, government and identity. As regards the latter, PwC has recently released Smart Credentials, a blockchain platform which allows credentials to be issued, carried and shared globally in real time. Individuals take control over their data through sharing and revoking access of their credentials to third parties, also reducing the costs associated with verification.

TB: Without giving too much away, what will you be speaking about at Blockchain Expo and what do you hope the audience comes away with after your presentation?

SD: My keynote, ‘Lighting up the path to mainstream adoption’, will cover:

  1. The current state of blockchain – Where are we up to and why are we not further ahead?
  2. Some golden rules that all businesses should all be following when considering blockchain adoption and strategies to set you on a path toward successful execution
  3. How PwC is approaching this – including the team, our approach to the technology, the impact of our work so far, and our distinctive development capabilities
  4. Likely trends over the next couple of years including significant shifts we will see in the business landscape

I hope that the audience will come away with increased knowledge of the ways in which mainstream adoption can be promoted and accelerated, and attendees representing businesses will be better placed to make blockchain a strategic area of focus.

Interested in hearing more in person? Find out more at the Blockchain Expo World Series, Global, Europe and North America.


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