New York Stock Exchange
The New York Stock Exchange has already integrated several blockchain tools. Bryan R. Smith/AFP/Getty

If you’re ever looking for a sea of conservative thinkers with a penchant for recreational arguing, the local stock exchange could be a safe bet. But did you know the same distributed ledger technology that fuels trendy fintech like bitcoin and Ethereum is also popular in old school capital markets? Blockchain is shaking up the the status quo from stock trading to real estate.

A growing number of stock exchanges around the world are already experimenting with a variety of blockchain tools, from Santiago, Chile to New York. The technology behind these fintech tools is complex, but the end result is pretty simple: secure and condensed records are easier to transact with and harder to defraud, just like handing someone a single paper dollar is simpler than handing them a hundred pennies.

Read: Santiago Stock Exchange Will Be The First In Latin America To Use Blockchain

“Hopefully, you will see it become easier for the end client to engage with capital markets,” Lars Ottersgard, head of market technology at NASDAQ, told International Business Times. “It will make some processes simpler, safer, and it will provide an immutable ledger [blockchain]. ... I definitely believe it will make the market more accessible to more people.”

Attorney Rick Levin, Chair of the FinTech and Regulation at Polsinelli law firm, told IBT he thinks this is just the beginning. He said Blockchain will have sweeping implications throughout the stock market. “We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game when it comes to blockchain applications,” Levin said.

Beyond stock market software, initial coin offerings have become a widespread trend where tech startups fundraise with cryptocurrency.

“When you start doing what some of these ICOs have been doing, which is talking about return on investment, talking about giving people voting rights, paying people dividends, it starts to look an awful lot like a security,” Levin said. Selling securities without registration is against the law in the U.S., so ICOs that target American investors have tiptoed around the limits so far.

However, their rampant popularity with investors leads some experts to believe fundamental regulations need to be publicly debated and reconsidered, just like the rules were updated over a century ago in the early days of electronic trading.

Read: Fintech Is Rebuilding Capital Markets, From AI to Crowdfunding Startups

The brokerage firm Ouisa Capital filed a petition in May for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to reconsider the legal classification of digital assets, including blockchain tokens. “They [the Federal Communications Commission] may come up with new rules," Levin said. "But in it’s current structure, it will be very difficult to do an ICO with the type of terms in an investment contract has without running afoul of securities laws unless you register it.”

Regardless of what role cryptocurrency will play in the near future of securities and trading, it’s already clear blockchain technologies could also reshape the real estate industry.

In June, the startup Brickcoin announced it will create one of the world’s first real estate-backed cryptocurrencies. According to Business Insider, each digital token will represent an investment in mortgage-free real estate via a publicly traded Real Estate Investment Trust, property investments often swapped on exchanges kind of like stocks. REIT magazine reported the equity market industry is already worth more than $1 billion, encompassing assets worth more than $1 trillion.

Overall, all signs point to blockchain having a much broader impact on different aspects of the real estate industry. “Right now a lot what goes on behind the scenes is very manual,” Chief Marketing Officer Rick Sharga of Ten-X, the United States’ leading online real estate marketplace, told IBT. “One of the weaknesses in both the residential and the commercial real estate industry is the data itself. … There’s no single source of truth.”

That’s exactly what blockchain is best at: providing a single, comprehensive record that everyone can see but no one can meddle with. Mariel Ebrahimi, CEO and co-founder of the fintech real estate conference DisruptCRE, told IBT distributed ledger technology could help the industry become more transparent while simultaneously reducing risk.

Distributed ledgers have a wide variety of real estate applications. Sweden and Georgia are starting to use blockchain for national land registries. Quartz reported these digital property registries could save Swedish taxpayers $106 million by reducing fraud and bureaucratic paperwork, plus making the transactions a lot faster over all.

It’s easy to see how the same principle could apply to real estate in capital markets. “I would love to see things like blockchain really take off,” Ebrahimi said. “I think this is going to be a big deal in making them [real estate investments] more safe and secure.”

A 2015 report by the Deloitte Center for Financial Services determined hackers pose a growing threat to investment data, even though real estate investment trusts already spend millions on cybersecurity. These security risks have only increased and become more complex over the past two years.

“Certainly this week was a great example of the desperate need for more secure online data,” Sharga said, referring to the global ransomware attack that also hacked the real estate division of the French bank BNP Paribas, which manages assets worth $27.6 billion. “Something that provides a more secure ecosystem for all this data to work within, makes all those transactions safer.”

Blockchain could streamline capital market workflows, secure transactions and eliminate a lot of traditional paperwork. Yet it’s too soon to hail DLT the savior of top-heavy investment models. It’s unclear if corporations will pass those savings on to investors.

“If you look at blockchain at its core, being a distributed database, you would think that your data collection and management costs ultimately go down a bit,” Sharga said. “Whether that ultimately gets passed along to the buyer and seller, in a transaction for a building that’s selling for $10 million, I don’t know.”

The only thing we know for sure is that there's no turning back. The blockchain boom is shaking up capital markets and opening up an array of new opportunities. "I see digital assets playing a very important role in the future of financial services,” Levin said.