An inside look at blockchain company Digital Asset that’s shifting strategies as Wall Street interest in the tech stalls


  • Blockchain company Digital Asset has plans to expand beyond its distributed-ledger technology roots.
  • The fintech said there is interest in using DAML, its program language for developing so-called ‘smart contracts’, outside of blockchain projects and in traditional databases.
  • Digital Asset continues to work with blockchain projects as well. On Thursday it announced a partnership with VMware’s blockchain initiative.
  • The news comes less than four months after Blythe Masters, one of the biggest names in the blockchain industry, stepped down from her role as CEO of the company.

A blockchain company that no longer deals solely with blockchains.

Digital Asset made a name for itself as a leader in how distributed-ledger technology would be implemented on Wall Street when it burst onto the scene in 2014. Big-name backers, large funding rounds, and a former high-profile bank executive caused it to turn heads.

Five years later the industry is still considering how best to implement distributed-ledger technology. While nearly every Wall Street firm has invested resources into investigating blockchains, real-world applications of the technology beyond pilot programs have been largely nonexistent.

A research report from JPMorgan in January threw cold water on the technology, suggesting it was unlikely to re-invent the global payments system and only provide “marginal improvements“.

In the meantime, Digital Asset has plans for how its tech can be beneficial for firms outside of the blockchain.

Chris Clason, Digital Asset’s director of strategic alliances, told Business Insider many banks have shown interest in using DAML, the fintech’s programming language for developing smart contracts, for traditional databases they currently operate.

As a result, the company sees an opportunity for its technology to help more companies than just those working on blockchain projects. Firms don’t need distributed ledgers to recognize how they can benefit from using DAML. In early April the language was open sourced.

“Smart contracts in general solve one problem, which is: How do you coordinate workflows? How do you get everybody to execute the same code that is participating in a workflow? That problem is actually independent of the underlying storage,” Clason said. “Databases are essentially everywhere in business, so it makes sense to leverage existing databases as the storage backbone when it might be able to accommodate DAML.”

To be clear, Digital Asset very much still sees a market in working with distributed ledger-based initiatives. On Thursday the startup announced its partnership with software company VMware and its blockchain project. Instead of pushing to grow its own ledger, as is the case with many companies in the space, Digital Asset instead wants DAML to work with a variety of blockchains.

Working with VMware also presents a unique opportunity, as it has many clients outside of financial services, where Digital Asset got its start. DAML is not specific to Wall Street, thus the partnership is a chance to further expand its reach.

“For DAML to be successful, it has to be something that works across the industry. It needs to interoperate with other ledgers” Shaul Kfir, co-founder and chief technology officer at Digital Asset, told Business Insider. “Our goal is to make all of the other ledgers as successful or better than our own.”

See also: Introducing ‘JPM Coin’: JPMorgan will be the first major US bank to launch its own cryptocurrency

Digital Asset, which launched in 2014, initially made waves by hiring a former high-profile JPMorgan executive and nabbing big funding as Wall Street firms rushed to get exposure to the new technology

Blythe Masters, who previously served as an executive at JPMorgan helping to create the market for credit default swaps, joined the fintech in 2015, quickly become one of the biggest names in the blockchain industry. Digital Asset raised $110 million in funding from some of the biggest names in finance, including JPMorgan, Citi, and Goldman Sachs.

In late 2017, the Australian Securities Exchange announced it was working with Digital Asset to replace its clearinghouse with distributed-ledger technology developed by Digital Asset. However, interest from many on Wall Street had begun to wane as focus shifted towards the rising valuations of bitcoin and other digital currencies that sit on top of distributed ledgers.

Less than a year later, Masters stepped down abruptly, citing personal reasons. Kfir said Masters’ departure in no way changed Digital Asset’s timeline or strategy around pushing for broader adoption of DAML. The company first mentioned its intent to open source DAML back in August 2016.

“Blythe is one person in a company of 180,” Kfir said. “The company wasn’t just Blythe, and her departure didn’t really change anything in these plans.”

Masters remains a board member, strategic advisor and shareholder of Digital Asset.

Read also: $10 billion identity startup Okta launches a $50 million venture capital fund to invest in startups using blockchain and AI

Clason said partnering with a company like VMware that is ubiquitous not only on Wall Street is a good way to lead to further adoption of DAML, which he referred to as the company’s crown jewel.

“The customers that we fell into and have been targeting initially, financial services clients, VMWare is all over the place,” Clason said. “So it was just natural to partner with VMWare on their blockchain initiative, to allow DAML to reach into VMWare’s partner and client base with their blockchain stack that they are rapidly developing and taking to market next year.”


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