Chickens, eggs and streamlined systems

Brothers Guy and Hugh Halford-Thompson founded BTL Group in 2015. The company has been listed on Canada’s TSX Venture exchange since November 2015 and runs its own proprietary blockchain platform. Interbit “is focused on helping enterprises streamline their existing IT infrastructure and therefore reduce risk and costs” ( William Essex went to find out more.

Guy Halford-Thompson
Guy Halford-Thompson
Hugh Halford-Thompson
Hugh Halford-Thompson

William Essex: Interbit is a blockchain-based settlement platform with a suite of APIs and smart contracts that provide auditable access to financial services. Sounds good. How’s take-up going, and what are you learning from your customers so far?

Guy Halford-Thompson: It’s more than settlement. To date, BTL has demonstrated how Interbit can innovate system processes for leading companies in the finance, energy and gaming sectors. We have just successfully completed the largest European-wide energy blockchain pilot with Austria’s Wien Energy and two other global energy companies and we will be spending the rest of 2017 concentrating on putting our Interbit platform into production for our clients.

Hugh Halford-Thompson: The most interesting thing we’ve learnt is that many business units and divisions of the large companies we work with have never even considered blockchain technology as a solution to their back office issues. We are able to demonstrate the versatility and robustness of Interbit, and how it can reduce costs by making their jobs a great deal easier.

WE: You started with a Bitcoin trading company and now you’re also running a blockchain platform. What comes next? Will you be integrating the two?

HH-T: We sold our Bitcoin brokerage QuickBitcoin back in 2015 – we had great fun bringing the first ever Bitcoin ATM to the UK. The proceeds of the sale helped us to fund the set up of BTL, which we then floated on Canada’s TSX Venture Exchange [TSXV:BTL] to become the first publicly listed blockchain technology company. This has allowed us to readily get access to capital which has assisted our growth as well as providing a high level of transparency in what we do.

WE: Does blockchain enable innovation, or is blockchain itself the innovation? Are we building a better filing cabinet, or potentially changing the world? Maybe both?

GH-T: This is a bit of a chicken and egg situation as blockchain tech has emerged from what is in theory a simple discovery of how to better process data flows, compared to what existed before it was developed to build Bitcoin.

HH-T: Blockchain is an innovation in itself but it also enables innovation and that’s precisely what we are doing with our clients on our Interbit platform. We will licence the platform to enable clients to build on Interbit, with our support and assistance along the way. In respect to changing the world, I believe blockchain technology will transform many parts of many industries and their systems across the world.

WE: After disruption – what? We’ve all talked the disruptive talk, in recent years, but are we actually using blockchain now? Perhaps this is unfair, but sometimes I get the impression that for many enterprises, successive proofs of concept are a delaying tactic rather than a step towards implementation.

GH-T: We are very careful not to be seen as a disruptor as I believe what we are doing is pure innovation. Blockchain has emerged from Bitcoin and the technology is now moving from test phase to production and we expect there to be quite a few live applications of the technology across various industries later in 2017.

WE: You’ve said in your blog that “when working with established market players, the challenge is to innovate without disruption”. How’s that going? I’m thinking about regulatory pressures, legacy systems, processes and attitudes, and a global financial system that ain’t broke. Why fix it?

HH-T: You could debate whether the global financial system is broken or not until eternity, but the main point is that there’s a better way to build applications. The main objective is to identify a problem and, by applying Interbit, then show how we can at least improve the issue or even resolve it all together.

GH-T: We have proved concepts at some of the very base levels of business so as not to cause disturbance or disruption, showing Interbit can streamline back office processes and now we are in the production phase to rollout the platform wider within these companies.

HH-T: Throughout our pilot programs we have engaged with regulators as well so that reporting and compliance requirements are met, providing greater transparency for regulators than what already exists.

WE: Where is the pressure to innovate coming from now? The tech industry has been the source of use cases and compelling arguments for decades, but they’re not the end-users. Is there real-world customer demand for specifically blockchain solutions?

GH-T: Of course this is the challenge technology adoption faces, but if you consider the last big tech boom which was the internet, this started out as a single communication between two people in an office over a network, before it became a revolution enabling huge technology advances. Blockchain and distributed ledger is a long way down the path towards commercial adoption as we expect more projects to roll into live environments this year.

HH-T: Specific demand in the finance space is evident to see. When sceptics ask “why do I want instant trade settlement or cash reconciliation” or “why can’t I just carry on using existing systems and doing things as they are currently done”, the answer is “why wouldn’t you want to make these processes faster”. Take a couple of specific use cases for example, having the ability to send a payment to a creditor at the very latest moment you can, rather than having to do it a number of days before month end, has huge advantages for both participants to the transaction. Providing for instant settlement of a financial transaction such as a share purchase again means the seller can access their cash instantly, whilst the purchaser has the asset instantaneously.

WE: You make a distinction between public and private blockchains, with trust as the big issue for the former. But isn’t trust the whole starting point for blockchain technology? Are you implying a distinction between demonstrated trust, that would satisfy a regulator, and built-in de-facto trust that a blockchain delivers by virtue of its mode of operation?

GH-T: In essence, yes. Public blockchains aren’t adaptable to enterprise due to all participants being able to see all the information, whereas a private blockchain has the flexibility of permissioning certain participants to be able to see certain items of data. This means all the people on the network will only be able to see what they are supposed to.

WE: Guy, Hugh, thank you very much.