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Former Ernst & Young Analyst Disillusioned by the Blockchain

Last Updated March 4, 2021 3:13 PM
P. H. Madore
Last Updated March 4, 2021 3:13 PM

A recent article in Barron’s  describes Angus Champion de Crespigny, who spent ten years at professional services firm Ernst and Young and led the blockchain financial services division for years and was the subject of the article entitled “This Blockchain Believer Turned Heretic Is Still Bullish On Bitcoin,” as a “major skeptic.” Champion de Crespigny describes himself  as an “experienced executive with 11 years in financial services, an evangelist for bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, and a pragmatist for distributed and decentralized systems.”

Through the course of the interview, Champion de Crespigny speaks on his learned experience regarding the blockchain and how it transformed him from a “believer” to his present state as a pessimist regarding the blockchain and what it can actually do for businesses. The article is quick to note that the former employee does not speak for EY – in a statement to the publication they said blockchains “really can provide value.”

On its website, Ernst & Young claims  an even more positive outlook on blockchain:

Blockchain technology has the potential to universally reshape the way business transacts across nearly every industry in the global economy.

They note that their clients collectively have more than 50 blockchain-enabled products around the world. And as we recently reported here at CCN.com, EY and several other firms of similar nature have an insatiable need for blockchain experts. EY also very recently launched its own blockchain product.

But Angus Champion de Crespigny, who was down in the trenches with the blockchain, isn’t so positive on it. He left college the very year Bitcoin was finishing up development and was a very junior associate at EY when the Bitcoin blockchain first launched. EY obviously had no blockchain division at that time, and Champion de Crespigny took an interest in Bitcoin well in advance of the company taking an interest. As he told Barron’s:

I got very involved in the community then, which was quite small. […] I started advising on regulatory considerations, which are now kind of commonplace. Over time at EY, as more and more clients were asking about it, I was more and more the go-to guy. We eventually formed a group. So while I was actively working on it starting in 2014, the group was really formalized in 2015.

He says he had a very optimistic view of the blockchain before and after the formal creation of a job advising on the financial aspects of it. “It would be silly for me to say otherwise. My views were aligned with a lot of the common views at the time. ”

Champion de Crespigny describes the problematic nature of a public blockchain as regards the needs of private enterprise. In his view, from his experience, the usual problem was that of coordination on standards for a given blockchain product.

[…] if everyone agrees on the standards—then it would be a great setup. In reality the process to get there is just incredibly, incredibly complicated. Typically, as it evolves, you end up having to coordinate everyone. And if you can coordinate everyone, then there is often a better technology to use than a blockchain.

Legal Contracts Over Smart Contracts

The rules of advanced, permissioned blockchains become “very, very complicated” when multiple entities need to make demands of them. Champion de Crespigny says that usually a central trusted entity is resorted to anyway, thereby defeating the purpose of “trustless ” ledgers. He points out a known fact: centralized distributed ledgers are faster, and the reason they are faster is “because it is all built around a central controlling entity.” The obvious counter-argument is that the central entity in charge of a centralized distributed ledger becomes an attack vector. But Champion de Crespigny addresses this as well, saying:

You want a blockchain when you don’t know who you can trust, because you don’t want any one party being able to arbitrarily change those things. The thing is that in the business world, we have legal contracts to do that.

Perhaps the most pessimistic statement comes next: “People are now being sold a dream that a blockchain is going to be easier to do all of this, and I just don’t think that’s accurate. ”

Headline Chasers and A Lack of Added Value

Champion de Crispigny says that some businesses would go with a blockchain even when he bluntly told them it was unnecessary or less efficient than traditional options such as Oracle. Companies would reportedly want to explore the technology, and EY would help them do so. Then there is the hype factor – plenty of companies have dabbled in blockchain just to enter the current news cycle, which hardly does a full spin without some mention of crypto, blockchain, et cetera. As he says, “I won’t comment on specific companies, but there is a certain amount of headline chasing.”

As to cryptocurrencies themselves and the persistent view of many in traditional finance – “blockchain not Bitcoin” – Champion de Crispigny believes that Westerners discount the valuable role cryptos can play in the lives of people who don’t necessarily trust their local fiat currency. Venezuela comes to mind.

But as far as the blockchain fully revolutionizing every sector of business, Champion de Crispigny just doesn’t see it. “I didn’t see where private blockchains could create any value to the business,” he says.

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