Deep in the heart of Manhattan’s West Side, a throng of financial services executives are racking their brains around a technology said to have the same revolutionary potential of the internet.
The blockchain gained notoriety as the platform for the cryptocurrency bitcoin. It has secured admirers from banks UBS and Goldman Sachs to companies IBM and PwC. Now business schools are racing to harness the power of the technology.
NYU Stern in New York was one of the first to teach the topic in an MBA program. Last year it launched its executive course. Many students will be from Wall Street to the south. Now they are exploring what is poised to disrupt it.
“The potential appears to be enormous,” says David Yermack, chair of NYU Stern’s finance department. “Most of the large banks and other financial record-keeping institutions are looking closely at the technology.”
To its devotees, possibilities are limitless. Potential uses range from cross-border payments to smart contracts that are self-executing. It could cut banks’ costs by $20 billion a year from 2022, according to Santander, Oliver Wyman and Anthemis.
Some reckon the tech even has the potential to shake-up established players like “disruptors” Uber and Airbnb have done with the service sectors.
“The finance world is just starting to get disrupted,” says Paris de l’Etraz, managing director of IE Business School’s Venture Lab. “Technologies like blockchain are bound to change the way we do business.”
Below we explore five other business schools joining NYU Stern in the search for blockchain value.
At Duke, MBA and law students have been fused with computer scientists to create start-up teams exploring potential business ventures harnessing the blockchain.
“Blockchain is a really innovative idea that has the potential to change many businesses. My students realize that,” says Campbell Harvey, finance professor.
One student venture is using a blockchain to improve the efficiency and safety of acquiring medical prescriptions. 76 in total are taking his class — a six-fold increase on last year. “It’s a little unusual for an academic institution to be serving as an incubator,” Campbell says. But he muses others will surely follow suit.
MIT Sloan School of Management
Sloan is a case in point. It is developing content to extend its FinTech Ventures program into a semester-long course.
The program focused on helping participants build fintech businesses and explored payments, trading and the blockchain. “A number of students are launching start-ups in fintech [sectors], from peer-to-peer lending to ‘roboadvisors’,” says Antoinette Schoar, Sloan professor of entrepreneurial finance.
Sloan has been approached by financial institutions including BlackRock, the world’s largest fund house. “Existing players are really interested in this space,” Antoinette says.
USC Marshall School of Business
Marshall in January launched a formal fintech course for MBAs. Themes being explored include alternative lending platforms, big data, bank disintermediation, innovation in payments, and digital currencies.
“We will be talking about blockchain in the cryptocurrencies class and hope to bring in a guest speaker that can provide in-depth experiences,” says Marc Hamud, senior vice president at GE Capital, who co-teaches the course.
Top fintech executives being lined up as speakers include from SoFi, the $4 billion, disruptive peer-to-peer lender.
“Fintech is coming at traditional banking from a new perspective and as such our course is focusing more on new business models,” says Marc.
Wharton’s student-run fintech club coordinates study programs with companies pioneering blockchain technology.
“Last November we visited Blockchain, the provider of the world’s most popular bitcoin wallet,” says Matthew Applegate, MBA and VP at Wharton FinTech. “And four students are currently participating in a semester-long independent study project with BlockCypher, a blockchain web services start-up.”
Wharton FinTech also coordinates independent study programs with companies like Prosper, Moven and Oracle. “Students receive credit for helping fintech companies solve their most challenging business problems,” Matthew says.
Berkeley’s Haas School of Business
Haas this year introduced a new course on fintech for MBAs that explores topics such as payments and the blockchain.
A stone’s throw from Silicon Valley fintech groups such as Square, Stripe and Coinbase, the school has moved away from the finance department’s roots in investment banking.
A number of students are now flocking to the San Francisco school because they are keen to join start-ups changing up finance in the Bay Area. “There is a lot of demand from employers and the start-ups here for people who understand fintech,” says Adair Morse, assistant finance professor.