This blog post first appeared in Forbes.
With 2019 right around the corner, the time has come to reflect on the events of 2018, but more importantly, to consider what the next year holds. With a groaning bear market dampening the crypto hype, it is easy to forget that blockchain technology continues to hold much promise.
While some may lament the entry of regulators in 2018, clamping down on ICO projects, and putting in place strict frameworks for compliance, these are signs of a market maturing. Speculators aside, industry experts knew the Wild West of Crypto was only a transitionary phase, and as it draws towards its close, the time has come to focus on holistic, sustainable growth with real, tangible benefits.
Trend #1: The arrival of Security Tokens
As 2018 marched along and the utility token market saw a slowdown, industry has been rife with talk of the arrival of security tokens. This is for good reason.
The market has long-waited for the grand entrance of institutional investors – but they have not yet significantly entered the market. This has partially been attributed to the core offerings of ICOs. Utility tokens offering usability are simply not substantial enough to investors, who are used to buying stakes in companies.
Enter security tokens. The familiarity of the IPO world coupled with the benefits of blockchain is an offering that promises to redefine the IPO business. The idea of programmable equity brings possibilities of immense liquidity and efficiency at lower costs. Coupled with access to global pools of capital, 24/7, opportunities abound.
However, it is still a promise, as the market infrastructure for listing and trading security and asset tokens is still in the works. But the change is coming, with 2018 seeing major crypto exchanges applying for brokerage licenses in preparation. With the market still nascent – we expect to see the opening of exchanges with security token trading functionalities in 2019. However, it is likely in the early stages that liquidity will be limited.
The success of security tokens is contingent on digital asset exchanges being up and running. Alongside crypto exchanges like Coinbase, Binance and Lykke seeking regulatory clearance for security tokens, we also see traditional players like Nasdaq, London Stock Exchange and the Swiss Stock Exchange developing digital asset platforms, signs indicating that market infrastructure will be in place by the second half of 2019. As processes stabilize and regulatory concerns are addressed, we will see the launch of several STO projects towards the end of 2019, with major activity and more liquidity in early 2020.
Trend #2: The rise of Alternative Asset Classes – move from crypto to digital assets
With several indicators pointing towards the possibility of a global slowdown especially in the equity and bond markets in the coming year, investors are on the lookout for alternative asset classes. With the developing market for security tokens, there are immense possibilities in the tokenization of well-performing assets that previously lacked liquidity. Consider healthy Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and Real Estate Assets, that tend to have robust returns, but lack wide market access.
While they may not be able to afford public market listing, opening up to global markets of investors could provide an infusion of capital that could help scale their businesses. With over 90% of companies in operation globally listed as SMEs, the potential for growth is significant.
Trend #3: The creation of Decentralized Ecosystem Platforms and new business models
Of all the methods to harness the power of blockchain, one that has piqued interest across borders and industries is the possibility to develop B2B2C ecosystems. A McKinsey study from 2017 reported the importance of ecosystems in the future, suggesting that new ecosystems would emerge in place of many traditional industries with over $50 trillion in revenue by 2025. Not unlike e-commerce in the nineties, the vast potential for growth and disruption with decentralized P2P ecosystems is yet to be discovered.
In enabling efficient peer-to-peer transactions through shared APIs, the potential of a smart contract-powered decentralized ecosystem is vast. This also involves the construction of new business models, in a frame of cooperative competition, with competitors coming together to build up ecosystems that connect various players through the lifecycle of any product and the end-to-end delivery of services.
While this concept has already seen some implementation in 2018, the experiments have brought learnings rather than success. The experiments have helped identify complications in implementation, such as the need for a business governance model that allows all ecosystem players to have a voice without any single leader.
The learnings from unproductive experiments open up the gates for more progress in 2019, with innovative new decentralized ecosystems being developed by the end of the year.
Trend #4: The real winners – Hybrid Models
It is more and more widely accepted that blockchain is here to stay. Even as the technology turns toward the trough of disillusionment on Gartner’s hype cycle, comes the investment in technology development and greater regulatory clarity.
At the end of 2018, blockchain remains the darling of the tech-savvy, but is still perceived as a vague, not-quite-understood, new entrant to the tech conservative. The true winners of 2019 will be companies that are able to bridge the crypto and fiat worlds, enabling digital links between the two. This linkage is a necessity across industries, from storage, trading, asset management of digital assets to real world applications of technology for the bystander, such as voting and land-registry.
The end of 2018 also marks the end of the crypto-hype, and we welcome the next phase of development of digital assets as we move up the slope of enlightenment and toward the plateau of productivity.