C2 Montreal panel: Lack of education, slow gov’t regulation delaying widespread blockchain adoption

C2 Montreal

At C2 Montreal this week — Montreal’s largest business conference — it was surprising that only about 20 percent of the audience at the Thursday morning session entitled “Crypto, blockchain – then what?” raised their hands when moderator Noelle Acheson of Coindesk asked how many held Bitcoin.

Even fewer held other cryptocurrencies such as Ether, Litecoin, and Ripple, and fewer still held any on their phone.

“Last year, that would have been about one percent,” said Acheson, before presenting the four panelists: Eamon Leonard, VP of marketing at Leadweb and Timechain; Iliana Oris Valiente, managing director and global blockchain innovation lead at Accenture; Kyle Kemper, executive director of the Blockchain Association of Canada; and Kim Cope, product lead and blockchain specialist at Axiom Zen.

According to the C2 Montreal website, the three-day conference aims to “help leaders from all industries better face disruption and change.” After attending this early morning session, about 300 people, approximately 40 percent of whom travelled to Montreal from abroad, are better prepared.

“In the Canadian domain, regulators have been very open to learning more.”
– Iliana Oris Valiente, managing director and global blockchain innovation lead at Accenture

Leonard and Kemper explained that Initial Coin Offerings are increasingly being used by startups as a way around losing equity to VCs. “It’s analogous to a Kickstarter campaign,” said Leonard. “You’re selling a physical product that can be used right away. With a cryptocurrency, you’re selling a currency that can be traded on an exchange. So believers in your product can hold your coin, and based on the success of your product, watch the value increase. But ultimately, it’s a way to build a project without giving up equity in the project. Essentially, it’s a way for the market to decide the value of your product to some extent.”

Kenner related issuing tokens to selling a booklet of discount coupons, where spending $50 on a booklet could get you $1,000 in savings.

“This is the same thing,” Kenner said. “People are issuing in a crowdfunding manner a bunch of tokens redeemable for future services at a discount. And it allows people to invest or buy up those tokens early. So there’s an opportunity for people to raise money on business plans immediately, and the whole world can participate in them. Having worked in venture capital, you had to go to the VCs and look up to them, like “Please, oh please, great VCs.”

Despite exponential growth of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology in the last year, the panelists explained that companies that don’t yet understand and haven’t yet integrated Blockchain tech into their supply chains or transactions haven’t missed the bus. “It’s still early,” said Kemper. “I think it’s like AOL has started to come out, in terms of internet. We’ve got like wicked games coming out that are bringing people into the space, but the usability factor isn’t quite there yet. Once the usability gets triggered, I think it can be very quick.”

Panelists gave examples of the most useful and disruptive industry applications of blockchain technology, from how land title registry could ignite small business loans in developing countries, to companies like the UK’s Sweet Bridge that are already providing B2B Blockchain supply chain management services, to international payments, philanthropy and games like CryptoKitties (“We broke Ethereum a few times,” said Cope, who was involved in launching the popular digital cat breeding and collecting game).

Food safety and traceability is an industry that’s already seeing change, the panelists agreed.

“You’re going to the grocery store and you want to know where that product came from. Is it really organic?” said Oris Valiente. “We did a small proof-of-concept around tipping the farmer that would enable a consumer to send a remittance back to the farmer of the cocoa beans in whatever country they’re based in to reward them for making decisions that were for the benefit of their local economy and for the benefit of the consumer.”

Kemper, Oris Valiente, and Leonard blamed a lack of understanding surrounding the technology itself and slow government regulation for why so many industries are taking longer than they’d expected to implement blockchain technology.

“[It’s like how] you need to use email to understand email,” said Kemper. “There are so many people trying to understand the tech inside and out before they take that first dive.”

To get past this hurdle, he said he’d just downloaded crypto wallets for both his conference driver and his backstage makeup artists to crypto wallets onto their phones. “That’s one of the things I do is actually encourage people to use it. It’s money. It’s really easy to send it to people.”

Oris Valiente said that when she attended a session with 28 Canadian regulation agencies several months ago, she’d seen that regulators were very open to learning about blockchain, but didn’t know how to recognize fraudulent projects or understand how the technology is used in industries that they oversee, such as food safety, border patrol, and financial services.

“The encouragement I would give to you is just get started. The best way to learn is by doing. And there’s no harm in experimenting.”

“In the Canadian domain, regulators have been very open to learning more,” said Oris Valiente. “In the case of a new consortium forming, they want a seat at the table to inform the product design, rather than waiting for new products and business models to be released in the world. So what I’d encourage anyone in this audience who’s working in this space to do is if you’re wondering if the regulator should be involved, the answer is probably ‘yes’ and it’s probably going to be beneficial to get them looped in sooner rather than later.”

Leonard added that in his experience at Leadweb, and with its flagship cryptocurrency product, Timechain, “what regulators want to see in Quebec in an exchange is full transparency. To do that, we’re working with regulators to develop really stringent reporting regulations.” But it’s difficult to move quickly on regulations in Canada because of the Canadian Security Administrators (CSA) system, he said, where regulators from all 10 provinces and three territories have to talk to each other before making decisions.

For the 80 percent of people in the room yet to adopt cryptocurrencies into their lives, and anyone wanting to take the topic to their next board meeting, Valiente and Kemper both recommended articles or videos from Andreas Antonopoulos. “The encouragement I would give to you is just get started,” said Oris Valiente. “The best way to learn is by doing. And there’s no harm in experimenting.”

Amie Watson

Amie Watson

Amie Watson is a Montreal-based freelance writer and television contributor. Her work has appeared in publications including The National Post, Montreal Gazette and enRoute Magazine. She's also the founder of Feed Me, a mobile app that's like Tinder for restaurants.