Anthony Woolley, Business Development Manager at Ownera – Interview Series
Anthony Woolley is the Head of Business Development at Ownera, he is a banking executive with expertise in capital markets at Citi, Societe Generale and HSBC. Co-chairman of the GDF Private Markets steering group and of the GDF FI Standards working group.
Ownera is a leader in digital securities, they are on a mission to enable a digital private marketplace, interconnecting the global financial industry.
We caught up with Anthony Wooley ahead of his attendance at the Digital Assets Week Singapore conference in September.
Prior to Ownera, you worked 25 years in public capital markets, how did that experience help you transition to blockchain and digital assets?
Over the past three decades, I have experienced the digital transformation of capital markets – from the advent of electronic trade capture in the 1990s to recent developments in automated algorithmic trading. However, these changes only optimized the way trades were traded and did not truly transform the full trade lifecycle through to clearing and settlement. This has resulted in enormous operational and technological complexity and a proliferation of market intermediaries offsetting all risks of delayed settlement and potential counterparty default.
In my previous role as the UK CIO of a major bank, I became interested around 2014 in how blockchain could automate the entire lifecycle of a real-time financial transaction and support the transfer value between peers without intermediaries. This has led me to engage in multiple industry initiatives in the area of digital assets working with literally hundreds of fintechs. It also taught me the futility of trying to rewire public capital markets from within. Ultimately, I moved to Ownera where I saw the potential to realize the vision of a complete digital transformation of our financial system.
Could you discuss Ownera’s vision for the digital transformation of financial markets?
Our vision for the transformation of financial markets is that eventually every account will be replaced by a digital wallet. Today, our entire financial system works around the need to update transaction records in an institution’s account database and reconcile them to entries in each counterparty’s account databases every transaction. This is true whether these accounts contain cash or securities. By replacing accounts with digital wallets, it is possible to cryptographically link the ownership record of an asset held by an investor in a wallet to the actual golden source record held by the owner of the asset. Once you can do this, you can eliminate tremendous complexity and unlock the potential for exciting new financial products and investment opportunities.
Real estate seems to be at the heart of Ownera’s concerns, what does it take to get more real estate tokenized in digital securities?
Ownera is currently deploying a global digital securities distribution network linking the regulated institutions that manage these securities. This works equally well for any type of security, be it stocks, real estate, bonds or funds. However, we are currently involved in many real estate focused projects. There are a number of reasons for this – it’s arguably the biggest market on the planet, it’s currently almost completely offline and there’s massive investor demand for this product in these uncertain times – it’s is an inflation hedge and largely uncorrelated to public capital markets. What is needed to truly achieve this take-off is institutional commitment and global distribution so that investors can access these real estate investment opportunities wherever they are. Besides real estate, we are also seeing great interest in pre-IPO companies and private funds.
You’ve already talked about the need for a unified API to aggregate and standardize access to all digital titles from multiple sources. Could you discuss the importance of this and how it fits into Ownera’s business model?
The past few years have seen a proliferation of digital asset sites running on disparate and incompatible blockchain technologies. I would argue that none of these platforms alone can or will achieve the level of distribution required to unlock the liquidity of these digital securities. Even if a venue had hundreds of high-quality assets and thousands of active investors, it would still represent an insignificant fraction of global private markets. A unified API such as FinP2P can solve this problem by allowing digital sites to distribute their assets to investors from other institutions, wherever they are in the world and whatever blockchain technology they use. Ownera has taken a very open approach to solving this problem by actively supporting the development of FinP2P and building commercial implementations of FinP2P network nodes in collaboration with a multitude of institutional partners.
What are the challenges of building a portfolio for digital securities compared to regular cryptocurrencies?
Cryptocurrencies are actually very simple. All cryptocurrency information is kept on-chain and operates as bearer instruments. When I transfer bitcoins to you, you hold the private key which then asserts ownership of those coins on the blockchain and there is no recourse against me as the seller, nor the ability to recover those coins if something goes wrong. Digital securities, on the other hand, are very complex – there is a lot of data associated with the asset underlying the security and they do not function as bearer instruments. Every digital securities transaction is subject to regulatory oversight and there are significant ongoing fiduciary responsibilities on the part of the asset owner and their appointed registrar.
Thus, building a portfolio for digital securities must address all of these concerns and enable it to hold a portfolio of securities that securely and demonstrably asserts ownership of these assets in real time. The wallet we developed does all of this while allowing assets in its wallet to be held across disparate sites and blockchain technologies. It is also compatible with several digital custody solutions. This is an exciting and transformative technology and it has been a privilege to be involved in its development over the past few years.
Could you share some details about FinP2P, a decentralized open source protocol?
Yes, FinP2P was developed under a non-profit working group led by Global Digital Finance – which recently merged with the Global Blockchain Business Council. It was born around a vision of a peer-to-peer network of financial institutions wishing to transact digital securities in real time. Any institution running a FinP2P node can establish a connection with any other institution running a node. They can then use this connection to distribute the assets they manage to investors on the other party. It works both ways, so each node in the network brings pools of assets and/or investors. Nodes can be managed by any institution holding the appropriate regulatory licenses, whether banks, asset managers, exchanges, wealth managers or other distributors.
You’ve previously said this is the biggest market in the world, what opportunity do you think digital titles will eventually become?
We believe that digital securities will eventually transform all global securities transactions, regardless of asset type. It will start in private markets which are currently largely offline – a blank sheet of paper if you will. Ultimately, I believe this will also transform public capital markets, but unraveling this huge spaghetti of legacy infrastructure will take some time.
You will participate in a panel discussion at the Digital Assets Week Singapore conference on September 27-28, 2022 titled “Institutional Access to Private Market Assets”. Can you briefly touch on what you’re going to discuss?
Yes, I will explain why we believe institutional engagement is critical to opening up the global market for private digital securities. I will expand on what has so far held back their participation – whether external forces such as technology and regulation, or internal institutional barriers such as culture, misguided preconceptions of traditional finance and, in fact, vested interests who may not want to see this transformation happen in the first place. I’m sure it will be a lively debate.
You will also participate in a fireside chat entitled “Bringing Global Distribution to the Private Markets”, what should we expect?
In this discussion, we’ll expand on everything we’ve covered here and how we think global distribution will happen in a practical sense. As you’d expect, FinP2P will be an important part of this session.
Is there anything else you would like to share about Ownera?
Yes. At Ownera, we have always taken a very open approach to interconnecting the global digital securities market. We don’t believe digital securities platforms will succeed by building “walled gardens” – hoping to control enough assets and investors to dominate the market. Rather, we believe that rails are necessary to interconnect many institutions and places. One of my passions is sailing and this approach often reminds me of the expression “a rising tide floats all boats”. So if you represent an institution wishing to have an open approach to the transformation of private markets, come and tell us about it.
Thanks for this great interview, anyone interested in learning more should visit Ownera or should attend the Digital Assets Week Singapore conference being held in Singapore on September 27-28 where Anthony will discuss the above issues in more detail.