Blockchain technology, on which cryptocurrencies are based, is gaining more and more followers. “In 2018, companies did not want to hear about public blockchain or cryptocurrencies,” recalls Stanislas Barthelemy, consultant at Blockchain Partner, a consulting firm attached to KPMG. They have evolved a lot since then, with the rise of use cases making the technology less abstract. “Stablecoins allow a transfer of value almost instantaneously and at ridiculously low costs when international money transfers are expensive for companies and can take several days”, argues the consultant.
Several large groups have tested private blockchain systems in recent years, which are similar to centralized databases, quite far from the spirit and the initial concept of public blockchains, decentralized and accessible to everyone to carry out operations. . The Carrefour retail group, for example, used the Ethereum blockchain in 2018, deployed as part of a consortium, to develop a traceability system for its chicken sector.
Private experiments and blockchains
Via a QR code on the packaging that links to a web page, consumers can thus consult each stage of the production of poultry batches. In April 2022, the brand announced that it would now use blockchain for its organic products. Here again, each intermediary fills in the information allowing the end buyers to know the origin of the product (name of the producer, location of the field, etc.), the date of the harvest, its place of packaging or the mode of transport.
For two years, French banks have also made an incursion into the blockchain, public this time. “Today, we no longer talk about private blockchain among my clients”, assures Stanislas Barthelemy. “Might as well use the public and take advantage of the present liquidity, uses and technical tools already created” within the crypto industry, he believes.
In July, BNP Paribas joined forces with EDF ENR to tokenize (convert into a digital token) and issue a bond on Ethereum to finance a renewable energy project. The objective is to create “new bridges between issuers and investors” and to provide “greater transparency” and the ability to verify ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) data. Societe Generale has also used Ethereum and Tezos blockchains to issue bonds, via its Forge subsidiary dedicated to digital assets.
Lack of technical skills
However, there are barriers to the wider adoption of blockchain technology. To begin with, it is not intended to extend to all activities. “At one time, there was the idea that we were going to store everything on the blockchain and that it was going to be a wonderful solution. However, this is not the objective”, underlines Jérémy Wauquier, president of the Alyra school, specializing in blockchain.
“It is a technology designed to store information that has economic value, used by actors who do not trust each other,” he adds. To grow their cash, “companies can for example place it in cryptocurrencies, on the blockchain”. Some have already started, such as the car manufacturer Tesla, which however recently sold three-quarters of its bitcoins, acquired for the sum of 1.5 billion dollars in February 2021.
On the other hand, people and entities who know each other well do not need to use blockchain and can share information and make money transfers outside of this encrypted technology.
Moreover, to use more complex applications on the blockchain, companies are sometimes struggling. “Analytical and consultant profiles are emerging, but regarding developers and auditing activities, there is still a real need for skills,” emphasizes Stanislas Barthelemi. These profiles, rarer, are very coveted and expensive. “There is a real war of skills, adds Jérémy Fauquier. It is difficult to find people capable of mastering these technologies. By the time everyone gets trained, it takes time.”
Legal and tax vagueness
Another factor that can put off companies wishing to explore the blockchain: is the legal vagueness surrounding this technology and its uses, which are still largely unregulated. The MiCA regulation at the European level must provide a global framework for crypto-assets and the activities of intermediaries, such as brokers, specializing in cryptocurrencies. It should come into force no later than the beginning of 2024. But whole sections of the crypto-asset universe remain unregulated.
This is particularly the case for non-fungible tokens, better known by the acronym NFT. “Groups prefer to wait for European legislation and harmonization of rules before launching a large-scale project related to the blockchain”, specifies Stanislas Barthelemi. Jérémy Wauquier also points to “sometimes ambiguous tax rules”, which discourage certain companies. And he mentions the latent capital gains in cryptocurrencies, on which “companies are taxed in France”. Too heavy and unsuitable tax pressure, according to him, encourages many projects “to be created outside France”. In addition, still few professionals are able to deal with cryptocurrency in accounting.
The tax break adds to the difficulties that companies specializing in cryptos may experience in obtaining opening a bank account in France. Banking establishments are often wary of this new industry, which is weakly regulated and potentially competitive.
Transparency for all?
At the international level, Arnaud Doly, CEO of Nabu, which specializes in the optimization and digitization of logistics activities, highlights other potential obstacles to the widespread use of blockchain. For international trade, for example, “this implies that all players share the same format and adopt a single standard, on a blockchain, whereas today there is a multitude of tools”. He doubts the desire of each entity to converge on the same system, from the subcontractor to the last-mile delivery person at the end of the chain.
Especially since the transparency of the various activities and different stages in the production process is ultimately perhaps not desired by all companies. Some adapt well to a form of opacity, which the multiple scandals linked to tax havens – from the Offshore Leaks in 2013 to the Pandora Papers in 2021 – have been able to highlight. The crypto sector is itself far from being a paragon in this area. Tether Limited's legal woes and failure to provide an external audit of its stablecoin (USDT), the third-largest capitalization cryptocurrency, is just one example.