Marion Rae
(Australian Associated Press)


Payments are really just money stuck in a computer, so why not make it faster and more secure, pioneers of blockchain say.

Digital boxes of ledgers could replace paper-based documents and save time and money for homebuyers, banks and lawyers trying to exchange on a deal during a pandemic, the Women in Payments forum heard on Thursday.

“Regulation will need to race ahead to keep up because people are willing to play with crypto at the moment,” vice-president of specialist sales at Mastercard Asha Cugati said.

“There’s quite a bit of herd mentality and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).”

Some self-managed superannuation funds have also started buying cryptocurrency.

“Then there’s the early adopters who don’t want regulation because there’s a feeling that regulation didn’t prevent the GFC, so what’s to say it will protect us from anything that could go wrong in the crypto space,” Ms Cugati said.

Louisa Xu, senior legal counsel at industry-wide infrastructure body New Payments Platform Australia, said innovators needed to have the freedom to experiment and not be fearful that they were in breach of the law.

“It might be high risk but there’s a way of managing that risk.”

She said the new market licensing regime that was recommended by the Andrew Bragg-led federal inquiry into Australia’s technology, finance and digital asset industries was one way to deal with it, rather than new laws.

Senator Bragg chairs the influential committee on financial technology that made sweeping recommendations in its final report last month.

“We are very heavily regulated in the payments space so rather than thinking of the blockchain industry needing more regulation, it is regulatory clarity that’s needed,” Ms Xu said.

“Laws that were drafted never anticipated having distributed ledgers and intermediaries being cut out in some instances.”

Distributed ledger technology (DLT) creates a verified and real-time database of transactions and details that can’t be changed and can be shared and used by many outlets and locations.

But J.P. Morgan’s head of payments for Australia and New Zealand, Bianca Bates, said trust needed to be built before the new technology could become mainstream.

The lack of a common global approach meant that cross-aspects were also becoming “exponentially more difficult” as e-commerce expands, she said.

Jennifer Kong, global head of marketing at digital platform Wirex, said who classifies the assets – cryptocurrencies, central bank digital currencies and digital tokens – also needed to be addressed.

“In the short and medium-term, the usefulness and also the perception of blockchain tech will expand well beyond cryptocurrency and financial transactions,” she said.

“The question of regulations will become even more prominent and we’ll begin to see more consistency across jurisdictions.”

Long-term, she expected blockchain to intersect more with daily life from Facebook’s “metaverse” to back-end technology used by banks and merchants.