This article was first published in the July 2018 UK edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

Blockchain is set to rock our world, with its potential applications still only beginning to emerge. The Financial Reporting Council’s (FRC) Financial Reporting Lab is considering the implications it could have for corporate reporting today and in the future.

The latest report in the FRC’s series of publications on digital reporting for those who are not technology experts, Blockchain and the future of digital reporting: How does it measure up? gets behind the hype surrounding this highly disruptive technology, offering a balanced review of the pros and cons of using this form of distributed database.

Blockchain’s great claim to date is the role it plays as a platform for trading cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. But broader, more revolutionary applications are gradually emerging. The Lab’s report identifies some of these, including the storing of information by the insurance industry, tracking the origins of diamonds by the diamond mining trade, and the clearing and settlements process for a multitude of transactions across business.  

It also acknowledges that blockchain is far from realising its full potential. ‘Blockchain is in its infancy,’ says Thomas Toomse-Smith, author of the Lab’s report. ‘It is a disruptive technology that will rip apart a number of long-standing institutions and business practices. It’s not a question of if, but when.’

Supporting reporting

But what does this mean for corporate reporting? Does blockchain sound the death knell for the traditional approach to accounting? The Lab thinks not. Although blockchain may feature in some parts of the reporting process, many elements will not be affected.

The Lab looks at the areas of the reporting process that might embrace blockchain. In addition to the most obvious – recording transactions – its role could spread to consolidation, the Lab speculates. The complexity of pulling together financial information from multiple entities spanning multiple territories can be a headache. Blockchains could bring more efficient and reliable consolidation processes.

The Lab also says blockchain could provide an effective way to share the various mandatory filings that companies make. It suggests a shareholder blockchain register with the potential to facilitate cross-industry reporting.

While the study suggests it is inevitable that blockchain will transform elements of our working lives, it underscores the ongoing need for accountants in the report process. ‘Some enthusiasts speculate that a single ledger could contain all transaction and accounting data, shared by all,’ it says. ‘This is unlikely. Companies keep the records of their transactions private for good, commercial reasons. And the accounting data alone is not likely to be sufficient to understand the performance and position of a company fully.’

As whole industries come up with increasingly ingenious applications for blockchain, the Lab’s report moves the discussion further forward in identifying its potential for corporate reporting.

Alison Thomas, consultant