With promised benefits such as risk reduction (through blockchain execution), cost reduction and enhanced efficiencies it is easy to understand why the use of smart contracts in the financial services industry is highly anticipated.
The Commonwealth Bank of Australia has successfully used smart contracts in relation to trade finance and the ASX is considering there use in clearing and settlement systems. However, before smart contracts can operate successfully, a few factors must still be addressed:
- Immutability: ‘Immutability’ is a key feature of a smart contract stored on a blockchain. A smart contract’s program code does not change once stored on the blockchain – in essence it is permanent. While immutability creates certainty in a smart contract, it does not allow for flexibility. Methods to modify and correct terms of smart contracts are being developed.
- Due diligence and accuracy: One risk presented by smart contracts is the possibility that the terms and conditions agreed upon by the contracting parties are not accurately programmed in the smart contract code. In this respect, it is likely that the due diligence process for smart contracts may evolve to be collaboration between both legal and IT professionals.
- Legal recognition and framework: In Australia, there is uncertainty about enforceability of a smart contract. A hybrid model using smart contracts for verification and performance combined with using traditional contracts to record the terms and conditions of an arrangement could be a possible solution.
- Contractual confidentiality: While smart contracts on a public blockchain generally preserve the anonymity of the contracting parties, it is possible that terms of the smart contract, including those that are highly confidential may be accessible to third parties. Possible solutions, such as the use of private blockchains, are currently being explored.