Citigroup, Nasdaq Team Up -- WSJ

By Telis Demos Features Dow Jones Newswires

Objective is to link bank's business payments with exchange's platform.

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Citigroup Inc. and Nasdaq Inc. are partnering to match up the blockchain with real money.

The two companies said they have been working together, along with technology startup Chain Inc., for months to link Citigroup's business payments services to Nasdaq's blockchain platform that has been used for activities such as buying and selling shares of private companies.

For blockchain, the move represents a notable chapter in its development. Blockchain is the peer-to-peer networking technology first developed to transfer ownership of the virtual currency bitcoin between people.

Bitcoin's value has soared this year, crossing over $2,000 in recent days. But it still hasn't found widespread traction in traditional banking. The recent WannaCry computer attack asked for ransom payments in bitcoin.

With the partnership, details of which are expected to be announced Monday, a blockchain is connecting to one of the largest and most established bank money-transfer systems. And it gives big banks a way to earn fees helping new networks facilitate business payments if traditional settlement or invoice systems are disrupted.

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Overall, banks, exchanges, and other financial firms have poured more than $1 billion into projects and startups using forms of the underlying blockchain technology, according to Greenwich Associates.

The aim, still mostly in the early stages, is to be able move things like stocks, derivatives, and other assets between two parties much more cheaply than with existing systems.

But without bitcoin or another digital currency, however, those systems may be missing a crucial ingredient: Money. Efforts to create digital versions of dollars and other government-backed currencies are in their infancy.

Starting last year, Citigroup and Nasdaq began working together to match up Nasdaq's Linq blockchain platform to Citigroup's Treasury and Trade Solutions unit, which moves trillions of dollars globally in business payments.

Both firms are investors in San Francisco-based Chain, and have worked with the startup in their blockchain efforts. Citigroup invested in Chain through its venture arm, Citi Ventures, which worked with its treasury unit on the project.

The new system links CitiConnect, a tool that can be used to manage large-sum payments across borders and across currencies, to blockchains -- in this case Nasdaq's Linq. This speeds up a key part of the usual multiday settlement process for trades.

The companies have already used the new system to make payments on trades, they said. Citigroup would earn standard fees to facilitate the payments just as it would for any business-to-business transfer.

The new system is a pilot for Citigroup, which for now is working with Nasdaq and Chain, but could develop it for other clients as well, the bank said.

The new system "will lead to relatively greater maturity of blockchain technology, and integrate it into our existing financial infrastructure, " said Naveed Sultan, Citigroup's global head of Treasury and Trade Solutions. "That may lead to greater adoption of venues powered by blockchain."

Chain, led by Chief Executive Adam Ludwin, said last year it was working with Visa Inc. on a blockchain network to connect businesses with the credit-card network for cross-border payments.

Write to Telis Demos at telis.demos@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 23, 2017 02:47 ET (06:47 GMT)