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The distributed ledger is crossing over from a topic of discussion among technologists to one that is familiar to a generalist or business audience. It presents new areas for analysis and consideration, and the sooner professional accountants increase their awareness, the better prepared they will be to engage with it.

What is a distributed ledger?

A distributed or shared ledger is a digital database of records where all participants are looking at a common view – in contrast to a typical situation currently where participants (for example, in different organisations) are looking at different databases that are independently managed and updated.

When a change or update to any participant’s record is confirmed, the technology ensures that the view seen by each participant in the network synchronises to reflect the latest update.

This is a peer-to-peer network where the participants are themselves responsible for the validation of records – without the use of a central authority for this purpose.

The network itself may be public or private. 

Distributed ledgers in action

As the technology matures, the shared ledger’s common view of records and transparency of transaction history could reduce reconciliation across different databases and drive significant efficiencies.

Business processes that are characterised by inefficiencies (eg trade finance), or exist because of a lack of trust (eg Know Your Customer requirements in financial services) or poor supply chain visibility (eg for global garment supply chains) are all key areas for distributed ledger applications. 

About Narayanan Vaidyanathan, lead author, ACCA

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