Despite 2022’s crypto market collapse, dozens of enterprises around the world are still investing in blockchain, the distributed-database technology that underpins the entire sector because it helps their businesses operate better, faster or cheaper.
Edited by Nina Bambysheva and Michael del Castillo
Reported by Nina Bambysheva, Michael del Castillo, Steven Ehrlich, Chris Helman, Jeff Kauflin, Maria Gracia Santillana Linares, Emily Mason, Rosemarie Miller, Javier Paz, Jon Ponciano, David Westenhaver
Illustration by Lena Weber for Forbes
Crypto is in the toilet. Even after a January rally that saw prices jump by a third or more, the cryptocurrency market is still down 38% over the last 12 months, wiping out some $630 billion of wealth. Faddish bits of the market, like NFT digital collectibles, have done even worse. Prominent prophets like Sam Bankman-Fried have been exposed as incompetent at best, criminal at worst. Despite it all, dozens of enterprises around the world are still quietly investing in blockchain, the distributed-database technology that underpins the entire sector. These mostly big, mostly smart firms aren’t throwing good money after bad. They’re doing it because blockchain helps their businesses operate better, faster or cheaper.
Mountain View, California
In addition to investing in blockchain companies like Fireblocks, Dapper Labs and Digital Currency Group through its venture capital arms, Google’s Cloud division last January formed a specialized team devoted to helping startups access crypto market data more quickly. Via Coinbase, Google now accepts cryptocurrency as payment for cloud storage.
Key Leaders: Amit Zavery, Google Cloud; Sunita Verma, Labs at Google
Alibaba’s giant fintech affiliate has a proprietary blockchain running more than 50 apps. One of them, called the Treasure Project, helps museums and galleries popularize their collections by creating and distributing copies of ancient Chinese artifacts in the form of digital collectibles that are similar to NFTs. Ant has also developed an engine that it says is 15 times more efficient at storing blockchain data than mainstream providers. Topnod, a digital collectibles platform powered by Ant, is already using it and saves 75% on storage costs.
Key Leaders: Greg Case, CEO; Christa Davies, CFO
Many organizations test job candidates. In June, the global professional services firm launched a blockchain service that enables job seekers to store and share the results of their assessments (say, an IQ test or a coding exercise) with multiple employers, eliminating the need to take the test more than once. Aon will apply the service to the 30 million assessments it administers annually.
Key Leaders: Greg Case, CEO; Christa Davies, CFO
In April, the $500 billion (assets under management) private equity manager hired JPMorgan’s cryptocurrency guru, Christine Moy, who wants to use blockchain to improve visibility into alternative investments like mortgages. In March the firm bought its first mortgage tracked on a blockchain, reducing the weeks-long settlement time to seconds.
Key Leader: Christine Moy, head of digital assets
Christine Moy, head of digital assets at Apollo
Courtesy Christine Moy
“Crypto encompasses many things. We’re focused on the technologies that can be applied and can scale, whether that’s capital raising, securitization, even trading. It’s rooted in real-world use cases that will make our business faster, more efficient, more accessible.”
Baidu’s new blockchain platform XuperAsset helps more than 400 companies issue digital collectibles—essentially Chinese NFTs, but because crypto trading is illegal in China, these nonfungible assets go by a different name there and resale is prohibited. Nearly 1 million copyrighted goods, mostly artwork and videos, have been created, generating around $35 million in fees for Baidu in the last 12 months. Outside of these non-NFT NFTs, more than 30,000 blockchain developers worldwide use Baidu’s open-source code.
Key Leader: Xiao Wei, Baidu Blockchain
Last summer, BlackRock began offering direct investment in bitcoin for clients. It is also the primary manager of stablecoin USDC reserves (see story) .
Key Leaders: Robert Mitchnick, Digital Assets; Adam Salvatori, Digital Assets Lab
In addition to giving away its code to bitcoin developers, Block is working with Coinbase and Circle to build a way to prove one’s identity without middlemen. Think using Facebook’s login for other websites without handing Mark Zuckerberg your private information. It’s part of Jack Dorsey’s big vision to create an open-source “financial substrate” that could lie at the foundation of Square and Cash App (it generated $1.8 billion in bitcoin revenue in Q3).
Key Leader: Jack Dorsey, CEO
Jack Dorsey, CEO of Block
Marco Bello/AFP/Getty Images
“The internet requires a currency native to itself. And in looking at the entire ecosystem of technologies to fill this role, it’s clear that bitcoin is currently the only candidate. It has proven resilience over a decade.”
In addition to providing custody services for crypto assets (see story), it’s also working with the New York Fed on a digital dollar pilot project.
Key Leaders: Roman Regelman, Securities Services and Digital; Caroline Butler, CEO of Digital Assets
Lake Success, New York
The financial technology company is modernizing the repurchase agreement (repo) market by automating the life cycle of these contracts. Instead of manually booking transfers of collateral across each institution’s systems, asset managers, banks and hedge funds can now transact with one another using a shared ledger. Launched in June 2020, Broadridge’s blockchain platform is now averaging $50 billion in daily trading volume for users like Société Générale.
Key Leaders: Germán Soto Sanchez, Corporate Strategy; Prakash Neelakantan, Blockchain Strategy
At least $3 billion worth of crypto was stolen last year, and Chainalysis specializes in finding it. The 700-person firm scours blockchain transactions and smart contract data for the electronic footprints of hackers and scammers. More than 1,000 firms including Robinhood, Bitfinex and BNY Mellon, plus a slew of three-letter agencies such as the SEC, DEA and FBI, are customers
Key Leaders: Michael Gronager, CEO; Jacob Illum, chief scientist
Coinbase had a dismal 2022, losing 85% of its market value. Still, it remains the U.S.’s largest crypto exchange, holding $101 billion in assets for more than 100 million clients worldwide.
Key Leader: Brian Armstrong, CEO
China Construction Bank
The world’s second-largest bank by assets is using blockchain to connect lenders with investors (see story).
Key Leader: Hao Tan, CCB Fintech
The old-school futures trading exchange trades lots of crypto derivatives in a highly regulated environment. This reliability gives it a leg up over sloppy and bug-prone exchanges and Web3 projects (see story).
Key Leader: Tim McCourt, Equity Index and FX Products
De Beers, which sources diamonds in Canada, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, has been using blockchain since 2019 to track the gems as they’re mined, cut, polished and sold, and is now processing more than 100,000 stones a month. Overall, its Tracr blockchain keeps tabs on 600,000 registered diamonds, roughly 15% of the world’s production—a haul of precious stones worth more than $2 billion.
Key Leader: Wesley Tucker, Digital Transformation
Estée Lauder Companies
People care about what they put on their skin, so cosmetics behemoth Estée Lauder Companies is blending blockchain technology with its brands like Aveda to track components such as vanilla extract and pomegranate seed oil, whose supply chains are vulnerable to environmental and labor issues.
Key Leader: Christine Hall, Aveda R&D
When Exxon contemplates drilling a new oil well with a partner or expanding a joint-venture pipeline, it’s put up for a vote. For the past 100 years this process has involved distributing round after round of paper ballots. Exxon’s pilot project with GuildOne uses Corda blockchain to speed the process, eliminate disputes and save on mailings. Another pilot with the Blockchain for Energy consortium aims to simplify the often complex process of royalty payments to landowners.
Key Leaders: Raj Rapaka, Digital Transformation; Adam Brown, intellectual property counsel
In November, just as the demise of crypto exchange FTX was panicking investors, solid-as-a-rock mutual fund giant Fidelity, already a digital asset custodian for institutions, announced it would soon let its 36 million retail customers buy and sell bitcoin and ether, commission-free.
Key Leaders: Abigail Johnson, CEO; Tom Jessop, Digital Assets
This large Florida payment processor has been handling debit card transactions for Coinbase customers since 2017. FIS also works with Binance and Kraken, and in 2021 it facilitated $30 billion worth of card-to-crypto transactions (merchants are paid in U.S. dollars out of customers’ crypto balance). In April 2022, it partnered with Circle to let merchants settle with each other using stablecoin USDC, which is pegged one-to-one to the U.S. dollar.
Key Leader: Himal Makwana, Product Strategy and Web3
San Mateo, California
Building on its $100 million Franklin OnChain U.S. Government Money Fund, which is tracked on a blockchain, in April 2022 the $1.4 trillion (assets) asset manager invested an undisclosed sum in Eaglebrook Advisors, a Miami-based startup that creates crypto portfolios (both actively and passively managed) for investment advisors and institutions.
Key Leader: Roger Bayston, Digital Assets
The electronics powerhouse runs a blockchain innovation lab in Brussels for more than 50 clients including Italian carmaker Iveco and beer giant Anheuser-Busch. In July, it partnered with Tokyo chemical conglomerate Teijin to create a blockchain for manufacturers looking to offset their carbon footprint by using recycled materials. The software verifies the origin of recycled materials and then tracks a firm’s carbon footprint over time—making it difficult to falsify or greenwash data.
Key Leaders: Frederik De Breuck, Enterprise Blockchain Solution Center; Shingo Fujimoto, Fujitsu Research
Since 2018, Genentech has been working with blockchain builder Chronicled and drug companies such as Amgen, Pfizer and Bayer on MediLedger, a distributed ledger that helps pharma fight counterfeit medicines. The Drug Supply Chain Security Act of 2013 requires that American drugs be serialized and traceable. Today, 95% of medications resold in the United States after being returned can be verified through MediLedger. Soon it will use the blockchain to pool purchasing power with industry partners for discounts from vendors.
Key Leader: David Vershure, vice president, channel and contract management
Blockchain is helping the Wall Street titan dramatically speed bond underwriting (see story).
Key Leader: Mathew McDermott, Digital Assets
The British bank is using blockchain to increase the efficiency of foreign-exchange flows among its global branches. Since 2019, its FX Everywhere platform, which now also includes Wells Fargo, has settled trades with a nominal value of more than $4.6 trillion. Blockchain technology is also enabling HSBC to reduce bond settlement time from about four days to one.
Key Leader: Mark Williamson, FX Trading and Risk Management
Industrial and Commercial Bank of China
The $5 trillion (assets) bank has more than 100 blockchain products either rolled out or in development, but its work on Chinese digital currency—RMB smart contracts—stands out for the way in which it helps protect customers’ funds for digital transactions. For example, a villager in Chengdu received his payment in digital RMB through a smart contract that ensured it came through as soon as he had finished planting his quota of trees.
Key Leader: Chaowei Liu, principal manager
Last Halloween, Onyx, its business unit that focuses on cutting-edge technologies, ran its first decentralized finance transaction on a public blockchain, using Ethereum to exchange Japanese yen for Singaporean dollars. Settlement time dropped from two days to mere seconds, and the tech enabled participants to prove their identities without needing to reveal them on the public blockchain. Additionally, JPMorgan has used blockchain to execute repurchase agreements (see story) and has transferred $25 billion using the JPM Coin network.
Key Leader: Umar Farooq, CEO of Onyx by JPMorgan
Umar Farooq, CEO of Onyx by JPMorgan
“We believe blockchain has the potential to rewire the core infrastructure of financial services.”
Jeju, South Korea
Despite a roughly 50% drop in NFT sales for the last six months of 2022 versus the previous year, Kakao’s NFT marketplace has 2 million registered users and is available to anyone who uses Kakao Talk, which is about 90% of South Korea’s 52 million people. Around 60 games are in development on Klaytn, Kakao’s blockchain.
Key Leader: Sangmin Seo, Klaytn Foundation
In September the storied private equity firm opened one of its funds for sale on the Avalanche blockchain, reducing costs to outside investors (see story).
Key Leader: Dan Parant, U.S. Private Wealth
Japan’s leading messenger app helps create NFTs for 26 big customers including SoftBank, South Korea’s Naver search engine and Visa on a new global platform called Dosi. Despite the NFT bust, more than 100,000 people have registered on Dosi to collect things like images of K-pop stars since September.
Key Leaders: Youngsu Ko, Line Next; Inkyu Lim, Line Xenesis; Woosuk Kim, Line Tech Plus and Line Next
Purchase, New York
The payments company is all in when it comes to Web3. In 2021 it acquired crypto security firm CipherTrace, which fights fraud by identifying risky cryptocurrency transactions. In 2022, 35 crypto companies, including Binance and Nexo, issued debit cards emblazoned with the Mastercard logo (see story).
Key Leader: Raj Dhamodharan, head of crypto and blockchain
Raj Dhamodharan, global head of crypto and blockchain at Mastercard
“We enable people to spend crypto using their Mastercards and help banks understand crypto transactions through our blockchain analytics. When consumers want to cash out to a bank account, our Mastercard Send network enables this. The trust of our network is paramount.”
McCormick & Company
Hunt Valley, Maryland
The spice and seasoning giant is using QR codes connected to a blockchain to ensure that the vanilla it sources from Madagascar is free of any connection to deforestation. So far, the project is limited to France and Switzerland, but the blockchain-traced vanilla still ends up in more than 3,400 stores.
Key Leaders: Clare Menezes, Global Food Integrity & Risk Management; Iwona German, Western Europe marketing director
Menlo Park, California
Since its October 2021 rebranding, Meta has spent billions on its Reality Labs division attempting to give the “metaverse” a pulse. By CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s own estimation, losses will continue for years. In the here and now, Meta is giving users the tools to create and share (but not buy and sell) their own NFTs across Facebook and Instagram.
Key Leaders: Mark Zuckerberg, CEO; Andrew Bosworth, CTO
National Basketball Association
The league’s Top Shot platform, a digital collectible marketplace, was one of the great early NFT success stories, banking $1 billion–plus in sales since it launched in 2020. Outside of Top Shot, which has seen its trading volume crater to just $3 million in January, the NBA is working to increase fan engagement by handing out free NFTs to all 9,000 fans attending a July WNBA game in Chicago. It also hosts a free NFT fantasy basketball league created by French startup Sorare.
Key Leaders: Adrienne O’Keeffe, Global Partnerships and Media; Amy Brooks, chief innovation officer
Adrienne O’Keeffe, head of digital consumer products at the NBA.
National Basketball Association
“The future of basketball and the NBA will be defined by digital innovation and our ability to reach fans on their preferred device and language. We are truly just scratching the surface with regard to what we can accomplish in the Web3 space.”
In December 2021, Nike acquired RTKFT, the virtual clothing startup that helped launch Cryptokicks. Collectors can now own both physical and digital versions and wear them in Nikeland in the Roblox metaverse. The sneaker giant’s Cryptokicks “forges” NFTs to its shoes by fitting each pair with a tiny chip linked to a blockchain. Next up: Swoosh, which will let customers design—and trade—their own digital kicks.
Key Leaders: Steven Vasilev, Benoit Pagotto and Chris Le, RTFKT cofounders
Steven Vasilev, cofounder of RTFKT
“The future will be built by internet/technology native kids. We aim to empower the next generation of creators and democratize access through creation. In the future people will care more about their virtual items than their physical items.”
The data and IT consulting subsidiary of Nippon Telephone & Telegraph, NTT Data, helped create an interbank reconciliation tool for Italian lenders on a blockchain called Spunta Banca. It has handled 623 million transactions for roughly 100 Italian banks since March 2020, performing real-time checkups to ensure there are no mismatches in bank transfers.
Key Leader: Shinichi Yamashita, Blockchain Strategy
India’s Delhi University awarded digital degrees to 170,000 students in 2022 and distributed the diplomas on a blockchain to ensure authenticity. Keep Sea Blue, a nonprofit based in Athens, Greece, helps partners verify removed and recycled plastic waste from the Mediterranean via a blockchain. Global Shipping Business Network, a consortium whose members handle one in every three shipping containers in the world, increases the efficiency and visibility of shipments. All used Oracle’s OCI Blockchain Platform.
Key Leader: Wei Hu, High Availability Technologies
San Jose, California
The payment giant, which started offering access to crypto in October 2020, charges as little as 49 cents for smaller transactions. Crypto users, according to the company, visit PayPal twice as frequently as other users. It invested in Aptos Labs, parent of fast blockchain Aptos, created by Facebook veterans, last spring.
Key Leader: Dan Schulman, CEO
Spain’s oil giant is building a platform called VEIA Digitalis, which enables users to store things like driver’s licenses, security badges and passports in a blockchain-based “self-sovereign” wallet. The point is to allow people—mostly Europeans who live in government-intensive societies—to control which parts of their identity they want to share, and with whom. The project began in 2019 through Repsol’s work with the global blockchain consortium Alastria.
Key Leader: Nuria Avalos, digital consortium director
The zero-commission broker offers crypto trading to 23 million accounts, and as of last September, the company was a custodian for $9.4 billion worth of crypto. Robinhood Wallet is its proprietary Web3-friendly self-custody wallet for users who want to have full control of their assets, which more do in the wake of the FTX bankruptcy. More FTX fun: Some 7% of Robinhood stock tied to Sam Bankman-Fried was seized by the Department of Justice in January.
Key Leaders: Vlad Tenev, CEO; Christine Brown, COO
It’s best known for smartphones and flat screens, but Samsung is also a leader in developing blockchain products and services. For example, AIA, the largest insurance company in the Asia-Pacific region, uses Samsung’s blockchain Nexledger to quickly access clients’ personal information and process consent forms including insurance agents’ electronic signatures, reducing related costs by more than half. More than 150,000 Samsung employees use the in-house blockchain service to store things like product design documents and salary contracts; one big benefit is that they can’t be easily altered or deleted.
Key Leader: Jihwan Rhie, Blockchain Business Planning
Signet, Signature Bank’s Ethereum-based payments network for commercial customers, instantaneously processed $464 billion worth of digital transactions last year. One-fifth of Signet’s 2022 volume came from the logistics industry. Due to market volatility, the bank capped its crypto deposits at 20% of its total assets under management.
Key Leader: Frank Santora, chief payments officer
The financial giant is helping other institutions use public blockchains to record information about who owns registered bonds. In October it became the first bank in France to receive permission to handle assets issued on a blockchain.
Key Leader: Jonathan Benichou, CFO, SG Forge
The NFT market is in a depression, but Sotheby’s still has a dedicated team of 20 focused on digital collectibles. It will soon launch a curated secondary market built on Ethereum and Polygon in which a rotating list of ten handpicked artists will sell their NFTs, with Sotheby’s taking a cut.
Key Leaders: Stefan Pepe, CTO; Sebastian Fahey, Sotheby’s Metaverse
This IT conglomerate has partnered with ten major Indian telecoms—which collectively provide service to 1 billion customers—to use blockchain to fight spam calls and unwanted texts. If one telecom operator receives a complaint, all operators are alerted—and thanks to the magic of blockchain they don’t need to share sensitive customer info.
Key Leader: Rajesh Dhuddu, Blockchain and Metaverse
Rajesh Dhuddu, SVP and global business head, blockchain and metaverse at Tech Mahindra
“We continue to work hard to further empower individual users to not only safeguard their individual data but also have complete control over who accesses it and how it gets democratized and monetized.”
The owner of China’s ubiquitous social platform WeChat is using blockchain tech to help Chinese companies cut costs and speed up business. Using Tencent’s software, thousands of Chinese companies have been able to move their products through customs up to 50% faster. Additionally, about 400 million users in nearly a dozen Chinese cities use Tencent’s blockchain to pay taxes, settle medical bills and even process donations.
Key Leader: Powell Li, Tencent Cloud Blockchain
Through its NFL partnership, Ticketmaster is giving football fans who attend games commemorative NFTs—a blockchain option for avid ticket collectors.
Key Leader: Brendan Lynch, Enterprise and Revenue
Like Mastercard, Visa allows users to pay with their crypto holdings. Some of the cards even offer cash-back or, bitcoin-back deals. It rolled out 10 cards last year, including one for now-bankrupt FTX. Five were from entities outside the U.S., including Ripio and Lemon Cash in Argentina.
Key Leader: Cuy Sheffield, VP Crypto
America’s superstore—and largest grocer—uses blockchain to track the farm-to-store journey of 1,500 food products from 70 suppliers, which makes it easier to spot cases of contamination or spoilage. Walmart is also experimenting with blockchain-based invoices, which quicken the process from some three months to near real time.
Key Leaders: Archana Sristy, Blockchain Platforms; Tejas Bhatt, Global Food Safety Innovation
Archana Sristy, senior director II, blockchain platforms, Walmart Global Tech
“Customer trust and safety are paramount; that’s why we’re committed to developing industry-leading blockchain platforms that allow us to quickly identify potentially contaminated products at any point of their journey across our entire supply chain ecosystem.”
Warner Music Group
The label behind Lizzo and Chris Stapleton is working with blockchain game developer Splinterlands (1.8 million users) to create arcade-style games that reward players with in-game items and a cryptocurrency called dark energy crystals, which has a market value of some $700 million.
Key Leader: Oana Ruxandra, chief digital officer
To process loans, banks typically require customers to produce reams of documents including titles and credit reports. It’s an area of friction in finance. WeBank’s new information verification platform, launched in April and used by roughly 2.5 million people, connects the notary office and borrowers via a single blockchain-based network to speed up and improve the application process. Approval rates for online auto loans requested by car buyers, for one, have gone from 20% to 80%.
Key Leader: Henry Ma, CIO
The Indian technology and consulting firm has created a blockchain platform that combats data tampering to help prevent identity fraud. Since September, some 1.6 million people have used it to share information with banks, colleges and other organizations.
Key Leader: Varun Dube, Blockchain
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