Last year, cryptocurrencies were practically unstoppable. Having begun the year with a combined market cap of $17.7 billion, they finished having gained almost $600 billion in market value during the year, representing a better than 3,300% increase. It was arguably the greatest year for a single asset class on record, and we may never witness anything like it ever again.

Bitcoin (BTC-USD), the world's most valuable cryptocurrency by market cap, and the digital currency most likely to be accepted by merchants around the world, is often credited with heralding the charge higher. In many respects this is true, considering that bitcoin brought blockchain technology -- the digital, distributed, and decentralized ledger that's responsible for transparently recording all transactions -- into the mainstream back in 2009. However, in recent months, this rally has been all about other virtual currencies emerging from bitcoin's shadow. One of those cryptocurrencies is Stellar (XLM-USD).

A person holding a small glowing lock, with a lattice structure all around it, representing blockchain technology.

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Stellar makes its presence known

In 2017, there were seemingly dozens of cryptocurrencies that ran circles around bitcoin. Stellar and its Lumens coin (known as the XLM) gained more than 14,500% last year. Very few digital currencies delivered a better performance, and it primarily has its proprietary blockchain to thank.

Stellar's blockchain touts a rapid processing speed that can settle most transactions within two to five seconds. That may not sound very impressive on the surface, but keep in mind that this blockchain network was designed to complete cross-border transactions within this timeframe. Most cross-border transactions are usually held for days while banks validate and verify payments. Going from a potentially three-to-five-day wait to a matter of two seconds really is a big deal.

Additionally, Stellar's network incorporates smart contract protocols, which are a critical component of the always popular Ethereum blockchain. Smart contracts aid in the verification, facilitation, and enforcement of a contract. Or in plainer English, they make a digital contract more legally binding than simple paper contracts, and they provide the customization that businesses would look for in designing contracts that fit their needs.

Three blockchain partnerships worth taking note of

Generally speaking, fast-processing speeds and customization are a good combination for attracting enterprise customers. In fact, Stellar's blockchain and Lumens coin have attracted three very intriguing brand-name partners. Let's have a look.

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If there were a flagship partner in Stellar's stable, it's software giant IBM (IBM -2.04%), which announced a collaboration with Stellar back in October 2017. What's really interesting about this partnership is that IBM is, theoretically, a competitor of Stellar given that IBM has been developing its own proprietary blockchain technology for years. However, IBM has approached this technology with an open-source mindset, and it's been more than willing to collaborate with others in order to gain broader acceptance of its own proprietary blockchain.

The October announcement involves the use of IBM's blockchain technology in the South Pacific along with Stellar's Lumens coin and KlickEx Group's financial services prowess. IBM is working with a dozen major banks in the South Pacific region to have cross-border transactions processed over its blockchain network in almost real-time. Doing so is believed to improve cash flow efficiencies between payees and payers. Stellar comes into play by utilizing its Lumens coin as the intermediary between the sender and recipient. 

Imagine this for a moment: A business in Thailand wants to make a payment to a supplier in the Philippines. Under this partnership, the Thai-based business would have their locally denominated currency converted into Lumens, processed over IBM's blockchain network, and then converted into pesos in the Philippines. All of this could be completed within a matter of seconds, as opposed to having this payment take days to process and settle, as is the case with the current banking system.

A man filling out a deposit slip at the bank.

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Though ICICI Bank (IBN 0.08%) might not be the most well-known name here in the U.S., it's a veritable giant in India, ranking third in total assets and market share. With India being one of a number of countries that's currently underbanked, blockchain could offer the perfect means of transferring money without using a brick-and-mortar bank.

In 2016, Stellar and ICICI announced a partnership that'll allow transactions to be processed over Stellar's blockchain network with improved speed and efficiency. It was also suggested at the time that a mobile wallet application was being developed by Stellar for consumers. It's worth noting that this isn't ICICI's first foray into blockchain. Previously ICICI Bank and Emirates NDB, the Middle East's largest private bank, piloted two successful blockchain-based transactions between India and Dubai.

Raj Chowdhury, who was at the time the head of blockchain initiatives for Stellar but left the company in 2017, said at the time, "With blockchain technology, we are able to conduct business seamlessly with parties with which we had no prior relationships... This technology is enabling us to conduct business a lot quicker and cheaper with low error rates and lower vulnerability to cyber threats." 

Given India's growing and underbanked population, this partnership could pay serious dividends for Stellar down the road.

A person using their smartphone to transfer money to various places around the world.

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Lastly, in mid-2016, private consulting firm Deloitte announced that it was partnering with Stellar to resolve digital banking problems. Of course, it should be noted that Deloitte was among the first companies to truly begin experimenting with blockchain solutions, and it's partnered with over a dozen companies on pilot projects.

As with ICICI and IBM, Deloitte worked with Stellar to further develop and incorporate its cross-border payment technology for financial institutions. In particular, this partnership also focused on the consumer, not just enterprise customers. One idea involves custom-built Apple iOS mobile applications that would allow consumers, who create an account and scan their driver's license, to then be able to make instant peer-to-peer payments over Stellar's blockchain network. Meanwhile, businesses would be able to access Stellar's blockchain through an available web portal. 

Even though Deloitte has numerous ongoing blockchain partnerships, its collaboration with Stellar is worth keeping a close eye on.