February 28, 2019

Paper certificates are on the way out, as PwC pilots blockchain certification scheme

By Priya Kantaria

PwC has developed a ‘Smart Credentials’ platform that uses blockchain-powered digital certification, cutting out paper qualifications.

The pilot scheme is being tested through the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) and on PwC staff who have qualified there in the last two years.

PwC, one of the big four accounting firms, says it gives the owner of the qualification control of their data.

It also simplifies the process for the institutions issuing the credentials and those who need to review them, such as prospective employers or clients.

The platform hopes to reduce exposure to fraud as well as reduce the cost to parties who contact education providers to verify qualifications claimed on CVs.

The digital certificate becomes part of the owner’s digital wallet and can be updated with personal development and further qualifications.

Individuals get more control

“Blockchain was designed to allow participants to share data without needing intermediaries,” PwC global blockchain leader Steve Davies said.

“No one party has central ownership, so individuals get more control over their personal data.

“Like many others, I take pride in the certificate hanging on my wall but cannot take it down and share it when I need to, or keep a digital record of my ongoing professional development.

“Blockchain is traditionally associated with financial uses given its link to cryptocurrencies, but there are a wealth of potential use cases for this emerging technology and one of them is in overcoming the challenges of digital identity.

“The ability to prove your identity online is critical in today’s digital world and the same is true of the qualifications you hold.

“We’re seeing high demand for verified, trusted and irrefutable identities from many different types of organisations.”

Data protection, an enduring challenge

Bruce Cartwright, chief executive of ICAS, commented: “Data protection is arguably one of the most enduring challenges of our time.

“Our newly-qualified Chartered Accountant members involved in this trial can now take control of their personal data.”

PwC head of technology and investments Jon Andrews said its blockchain team was one of several groups of emerging technology specialists established to help them “embrace and respond to disruptive trends”.

He added: “In a world where digital trust is becoming an increasingly complex issue, in this context blockchain has the potential to both build trust by establishing a single source of truth and allow users to take back control of their digital identity.”

Andy Bryant, Europe COO at Tokyo-based cryptocurrency exchange bitFlyer said the news wasn’t surprising and expects more established companies to incorporate blockchain into their businesses.

“I believe they’ll be one of the first big companies in a long line of others choosing to go down the blockchain route,” he told Verdict. “Blockchain is a secure and transparent way to store and share data but just like mass adoption of the internet, it takes time for the mainstream to catch up with new emerging technologies, which is what we’re currently seeing with blockchain.

“What’s more, while existing familiar industries are busy and wisely trying to understand, pilot, and adapt applications of this technology to their empires – just as we’ve seen with PwC here – we can also expect to see brand new industries quietly start to emerge in the future,” he added.

“An almost ‘halo effect’ of this technology – not only seeing existing business models transitioning to blockchain, but also whole new concepts beginning to rise. PwC is just the start.”

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