May 29, 2024
Finance

Superstate Industry Council: a new alliance to promote Real World Assets


Superstate founder Robert Leshner. Alex Flynn—Bloomberg/Getty Images

If you’ve hung around the crypto industry for a while, you’re familiar with some supposedly killer applications for blockchain that are just over the horizon—but that never really arrive. One of these is putting “real-world assets” (RWAs in crypto speak) on a blockchain, which is supposed to deliver a new era of cheaper and more convenient asset management. The idea, which has been pitched in one form or another for a decade—such as “real estate on the blockchain” or “shares of Apple on the blockchain”—is a good one, but no one can figure out how to make it catch on. Now, a new outfit called the Superstate Industry Council is pledging to make it work at last, beginning with blockchain-based trading of U.S. Treasuries.

The council is anchored by Superstate, a startup founded by Robert Leshner, a one-time bond guy who launched the successful DeFi platform known as Compound. Other members include around 20 established names in crypto, including Uniswap and Coinfund, and a handful of yet-to-be-named firms from the traditional banking sector. The idea is to have the council members act as ambassadors to Wall Street, making the case for trading Treasuries and other financial instruments in the form of tokenized assets.

Once again, this is not a new idea. Every month or so, I receive a press release that some big bank or other has just carried out a transaction involving tokenized versions of a commodity or a popular stock or whatever. But that’s about as far as it goes since not everyone is using the same blockchain plumbing to carry out these trades and, in any case, there isn’t enough liquidity to make it worthwhile—especially as the legacy system seems to handle slinging trillions of dollars of assets just fine.

I put all this to Leshner, whose Superstate now has nearly $40 million of U.S. Treasuries being traded as blockchain assets on its platform. Leshner was quick to concede that, for now at least, there is little interest among mainstream investors to trade tokenized assets. But he made the case that it will catch on for the simple reason that blockchain is simply a superior technology for moving assets around—not only is it cheap and secure, but it’s programmable. This means that, beyond buying or selling a Treasury bill, it’s possible to provide a complex series of instructions on how to mange the Treasury in the future, including in the case of contingencies—all on the blockchain.


Leshner is realistic about what it will take to pull more traditional firms toward trading Treasuries and other assets on the blockchain. He says that rather than trying to leapfrog the existing financial stack, Superstate and some traditional firms like Franklin Templeton are framing their service as a “bridge” between existing Wall Street tech and the blockchain future. On this front, the new industry council is likely to prove helpful by persuading the old guard to give the new thing a try. Also, Leshner should not be underestimated since he is one of a handful of executives who have serious cred in both crypto and TradFi circles, and that his first startup Compound is viewed as a blue-chip brand.

Still, Leshner and his new council will need both patience and luck if they are to turn one of crypto’s favorite pie-in-the-sky use cases into an everyday reality. Let’s check back in a year and see if that long-awaited breakthrough actually arrives this time.

Jeff John Roberts
jeff.roberts@fortune.com
@jeffjohnroberts

DECENTRALIZED NEWS

Bitcoin is climbing back toward its all-time high of $69,000 after dropping to near $60,000 this week, a 14% change and its most volatile swing of the year. (Bloomberg)

Spain has given Sam Altman’s Worldcoin 72 hours to stop scanning irises in the country due to privacy concerns, becoming the first EU country to ban the project. (FT)

The French startup Zama, which was founded by a renowned cryptographer, raised a $73 million Series A to find further applications for the privacy technology it says it has perfected on the blockchain. (The Blockchain)

Crypto came in first on an annual list of scams the Better Business Bureau publishes to warn consumers, followed by employment scams and online purchases. (CBS)

Binance marked this week’s International Women’s Day by dropping a limited edition perfume that “blends finance with fragrance.” (Fortune)

MEME O’ THE MOMENT

What not to buy for your anniversary:

 





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