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There can be few more trendy subjects than the digital currency bitcoin and its giant record book of transactions, known as the blockchain. So it is no surprise that some of the top business schools are showing a keen interest in researching and teaching the topic.
“People have an insatiable interest in this,” says David Yermack, professor of finance and business transformation at NYU Stern in New York. Prof Yermack was one of the first scholars to teach the topic on an MBA programme, and in November he will launch a two-day executive programme.
The executive course is targeted at more than those working in the finance sector, he says. “This is not just a financial thing. It is for anybody who needs to keep track of these [issues].”
Though much of the hype is centred around bitcoin, Prof Yermack says the blockchain could have huge applications for record-keeping in a range of industries, such as the media or arts as well as manufacturing and finance. “It looks like the blockchain is a replacement for double entry bookkeeping.”
He believes the blockchain could be built more easily in emerging economies because they have no legacy infrastructure in place. “Here in the US we have an installed base that works fairly well. Emerging markets such as Argentina, Brazil or Singapore are probably better testing grounds.”
Not only will the blockchain enable emerging economies to leapfrog the more established nations, it might also be highly disruptive in developed economies, too, enabling start-up companies to dethrone the traditional market leaders.
For this reason many of the big brand financial firms have specialists looking at the impact of these latest technologies, says Roy Lee, assistant dean for executive education at Stern. They would be ideal participants on Prof Yermack’s two-day course in November, he says. “It can give the confidence to participants that they are getting the right information.”
For Mr Lee, this kind of open enrolment programme is a way of differentiating the school from competing institutions through cutting-edge thinking. “We think about the alignment of market interest and faculty research. We view our short courses as an innovation lab for the school.”
It is a view endorsed by Prof Yermack. “The subject matter is changing month by month,” he adds.