Stock exchanges operator Nasdaq OMX Group is evaluating blockchain, the underlying technology behind digital currency bitcoin, in order to see if it could be used in trading of shares in private companies.
The Wall Street Journal reported that if Nasdaq's effort is deemed successful, it would use blockchain technology in its stock market and would revolutionise trading in financial assets, replacing technology that facilitated share trading for decades.
"Utilizing the blockchain is a natural digital evolution for managing physical securities," said Nasdaq chief executive Robert Greifeld.
He said the technology holds the potential to "benefit not only our clients, but the broader global capital markets."
The company intends to test the technology in Nasdaq Private Market – a marketplace to handle pre-IPO trading among private companies – where transactions are handled with largely informal systems such as spreadsheets.
The blockchain ledger is the backbone of bitcoin, and is seen to have more potential for using outside the digital currency sphere. It is maintained and updated by a global network of independent computers known as miners, and therefore the digital currency is not dependent on third parties or middlemen for its transactions.
"One idea is that encrypted, digital representations of share certificates could be inserted into minute bitcoin transactions known as Satoshis, facilitating an immediate, verifiable transfer of stock ownership from seller to buyer," the WSJ writes.
Nevertheless, Nasdaq will have to be careful about the potential takeover of the network by hackers.
Bitcoin and the technology behind it have received a lot of attention in recent months. The New York Stock Exchange unit of Intercontinental Exchange announced an investment in the bitcoin-trading platform Coinbase, while Goldman Sachs invested in bitcoin consumer-services company Circle Internet Financial.