University thought leadership combines technology, business, and law
Georgetown Law and the McDonough School of Business have been awarded $1M through the Ripple University Blockchain Research Initiative to advance academic research, technical development, and innovation in blockchain, cryptocurrency, and digital payments. The funding, made possible through financial technology—or fintech—provider Ripple, can be used right away and split evenly between the Center for Markets and Financial Policy (CFMP) and the Institute of International Economic Law (IIEL).
How blockchain is changing payments
Ripple utilizes blockchain technology to provide digital payment transactions worldwide. Virtual currencies have gained popularity as a pathbreaking alternative to banks and state-controlled financial institutions. Blockchain uses peer-to-peer networks to decentralize processing and verification of transactions. This reduces fees from crossing disparate payment systems, increases the speed of transactions, and protects users against fraud.
Reena Aggarwal, Georgetown McDonough professor of business administration and finance and the director of the CFMP, says fintech merges the fields of finance, innovation, and entrepreneurship. The joint proposal from the CFMP and the IIEL showed Ripple that “it’s a team effort across Georgetown, rather than siloed,” which helped Georgetown stand out, says Aggarwal.
No one has a monopoly on the answers to fintech’s complicated questions, IIEL Faculty Director Chris Brummer notes. “And there’s no way to understand and study emerging technologies, and especially blockchain-technologies, without galvanizing a cross-campus collaboration.”
Serving the banked and underbanked
“One thing that caught Ripple’s attention is that we are a values-based institution,” Aggarwal says. “We’re exploring how blockchain can be used for social good and societal needs such as financial inclusion.”
The CFMP produced a report on how blockchain can economically empower “unbanked” or “underbanked” people in African, Asian, Latin American, and Middle Eastern countries with insufficient access to traditional financial services. In addition, Georgetown has published research on how fintech can fill the void of support to small and medium-sized enterprise left by traditional financial institutions. It has also considered the regulatory hurdles to protecting investors and consumers while innovating.
Georgetown as a strategic launch point
Ripple was attracted by the thought leadership of Georgetown Law. No other law school in the country hosts, produces, and advances more policy dialogues and conferences, Congressional testimony, research, and scholarship on fintech than Georgetown Law.
“We’ve sought at Georgetown to serve our city, and the fintech community, as a hub for rigorous, interdisciplinary thought and action—just what is required for understanding the multifaceted risks and rewards associated with emerging financial technologies,” Brummer notes.
The school’s strategic launch point to key Washington, D.C.-based institutions appealed to Ripple as well. The Georgetown Law campus is located near the Securities and Exchange Commission, U.S. Capitol and Treasury Department, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and International Monetary Fund.
Georgetown has leveraged its location and interdisciplinary expertise to convene technologists, enterprise executives, and policymakers. For the past four years, the Chamber of Digital Commerce has held an annual DC Blockchain Summit at Georgetown in partnership with the CFMP. At the 2019 summit, industry leaders and representatives from more than 20 countries discussed the future of blockchain in trade finance, food supply chain management, health care, energy, digital identity solutions, and more.
“There are many parts of Georgetown coming together in business, regulatory, policy, and technical aspects,” says Aggarwal. “Georgetown is unique in that we are able to merge all that together.”
Preparing for the future of fintech
Through the current-use fund, the CFMP will create new courses for undergraduate and graduate students across business and law; support a student group devoted to fintech issues; involve students in the creation of white papers; create a scholarship for blockchain fellows; deepen faculty research; and continue to convene innovators and regulators for cross-disciplinary conversations.
The Institute of International Economic Law plans to use Ripple’s funding to support visiting professorships for researchers hailing from nonprofits, government and the private sector. It will also help support the launch of a fintech law student group at Georgetown, as well as convening sessions, conferences and executive education for regulators and practitioners. The Institute also plans an expansion of issue briefs and white papers in concert with Georgetown McDonough for public consumption; PhD/Postdoctoral/JD Graduate Fellows with McDonough; and programs to bring on a Global Distinguished Visiting Fellow, interns, and student researchers.
“Finance drives society in so many different ways,” says Aggarwal. “Global business can really affect society at large, and the global nature of Georgetown is our strength.”