Why Blockchain Matters

Alumni Networking Group Learns About New Transaction Technology

With Bitcoin recently bouncing in value between $10,000 and $11,000 in a single day, people have begun to take great interest in cryptocurrencies and the computer programming that underlies it, known as blockchain.

Blockchain is a computerized ledger for storing transaction information about assets. The storage is done in a way that, at least theoretically, makes the information transparent and unhackable by distributing the information in “blocks” throughout a worldwide “chain” of computers.  Thus the name: blockchain.

On Monday, November 27, the Yeshiva University Wall Street Group, a professional networking organization managed by the Office of Alumni Affairs, held a panel discussion on blockchain technology titled, “Why Blockchain Matters.”

Why Blockchain Matters
(l-r): Lawrence Askowitz, Lou Kerner, Sheri Kaiserman, Stuart Levi, Aaron Wright

Lawrence Askowitz ’87YC, co-chair of the YU Wall Street Group, welcomed the 120 alumni and professionals gathered at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP (Skadden), which hosted the event. He noted that this event marked the Group’s sixth event of 2017, adding, “Why does YU do this great work? Our education never ends because technology never stops changing the world around us. He also cited the increase in internships and employment over the last two years as a result of the YU networking events. “Companies that have not had a relationship with YU,” he noted, “now come to campus to recruit for interns and employees.”

Stuart Levi, partner at Skadden and co-head of the Intellectual Property and Technology Department, coordinated the discussion among Sheri Kaiserman, head of advanced securities at Wedbush, a privately held financial services and investment firm; Lou Kerner, partner at Flight VC, a venture capital firm; and Aaron Wright, associate clinical professor of law and director of the Tech Startup Clinic and Blockchain Project at YU’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

Kaiserman and Kerner are enthusiastic boosters of blockchain technology, while Levi and Wright, though in favor of the technology, are more cautious about its uses, steeped as they are in the legal world of contracts, property rights and government prerogatives.

Kaiserman described blockchain as having three key principles: security through strong encryption; a decentralization of the ledger across servers; and financial incentives to use blockchain through cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin or Etherium. “To falsify or change the information on any transaction,” she explained, “a hacker would have to hack into every copy of the ledger on every server, which, of course, is impossible. This protects the users of a blockchain against fraud and ensures trustworthiness in their dealings.”  She confidently predicted that before long, blockchain will become “the worldwide ledger of everything.”

Kerner shared Kaiserman’s enthusiasm for the technology. As a venture investor, he has decided to “go all-in on crypto,” by which he means making investments in those organizations committed to employing the technology and moving away from what he sees as outmoded ways of doing business. “Whatever impact the internet had on people,” he said, “crypto will be bigger. This will produce amazing wealth and be a social good for people.”

Wright grounded the discussion by outlining a few ways blockchain could be used in everyday affairs. Money transfers, he explained, could reduce fees and other transaction costs drastically by converting, say, dollars into Bitcoin, logging the transaction in a blockchain, and converting the Bitcoin at the other end into the local currency. Another application might be medical records that could be included in a blockchain, which would compile records from many sources into a single location and ensure their privacy through encryption and decentralized storage.  Selling securities could be transferred to a blockchain as could other forms of raising capital for businesses.

“At some point,” Wright pointed out, “governments will have a say whether blockchain works or not, since their permission will be needed for many of the transactions to actually happen. Blockchain technology can’t just happen – it will need a political process for it to come into widespread use.”

The Q & A session following the presentation covered subjects like Bitcoin, private versus public blockchains, zero-knowledge proofs and oracles (blockchain processes connected to verifying information), smart contracts and promoting an open-source sensibility.

Michael Schreiber ’85YUHS, ’89SB, chief treasury officer at YU, found the discussion useful. “I have attended several events on blockchain,” he said, “as I am trying to gain an understanding of this new technology and the potential impact it might have on the University. While I’m still not convinced about the future cryptocurrencies, I believe blockchain will ultimately change the way we transact business.”

To learn more about YU alumni professional networks go to www.yuprofessionalnetworking.com, network with YU alumni on YU ALUMinate (www.yualuminate.com), and join the YU Alumni Facebook and LinkedIn groups.