Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Malaysia wants to put major industries on blockchain

 

The Malaysian government is seeking to utilize blockchain to increase transparency, sustainability and logistical efficiency of its three largest industries—renewable energy, palm oil, and Islamic finance.

According to reports, the government has appointed a task force named the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT) to oversee the blockchain adoption. Mastura Ishak, program director at MIGHT, told GovInsider: "Blockchain is interesting because it allows small players to have a say about what's going on."

The Malaysian government believes that adopting blockchain in the renewable energy industry will help bring new players to the table and increase energy production in the country. Currently, Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) is the only utility provider in the country.

The new project will allow private solar panel owners to sell any excess electricity they have. In the new system, electricity sellers will be required to state how they are generating their electricity, while consumers will have the choice of deciding which sources of electricity they would like to use.

By allowing private solar panel owners to sell their surplus electricity, the country will also save up on the electricity lost during long-distance distribution.

For the palm oil industry, the Malaysian government hopes blockchain will help bring major changes that will improve the country's economy. Palm oil is Malaysia's biggest export, accounting for about 43.1% of the country's agricultural income.

Palm oil has been facing problems for quite some time now. This happened after reports emerged associating the industry with bad practices and child labor. MIGHT believes blockchain adoption can help identify certified palm oil operations which will help eliminate illegal operations. The government will also be able to monitor and regulate the operations.

Finally, there's Islamic finance. Islamic laws state that money has to be based on real commodity and cannot be created from more money. The strict nature of Islamic laws have caused high overhead costs on the industry, which is reflected in the country's economy. The government is looking at how they can offset these costs while also adhering to Sharia laws. Blockchain and the adoption of smart contracts could help offset some of these costs.

Another win for crypto: Bank giants fined billions for malpractice

 


First, Visa and MasterCard settled a class-action lawsuit over price fixing that reportedly cost the credit card giants as much as $6.2 billion. Now, reports are surfacing that major banks could be fined as much as $400 billion by 2020 for malpractice. So much for crypto being the bad guy, as traditional finance pundits would have everyone believe.

Quinlan and Associates indicates that research into U.S. and European banks could potentially face the huge fines by regulators. The majority of the penalties are a direct result of the financial crash from 2008. The $400 billion does not include fines from other areas, such as unfair billing practices or money laundering.

Last Monday, JP Morgan Chase was fined by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) $65 million after it was found guilty of not doing enough its part to protect the U.S. Dollar International Swaps and Derivatives Association Fix (USD ISDAFIX) from 2007 to 2012. ISDA was established in 1998 and ISDAFIX is a reference rate value for fixed interest swap rates, correlated to dollars, pounds, Swiss Francs and Euros.

The CFTC said that JP Morgan published false interest rates just prior to the daily reference was captured between the five-year period. In submitting false data, the firm saw its derivatives positions benefit at the expense of other interest rate products that used the same common interest rate value.

BNP Paribas also received a hefty fine from the CFTC. The bank was ordered to pay $90 million after investigators determined that traders in the bank's investment wing were actively bidding and executing trades at the moment the ISDAFIX was being released. This enabled them to influence the index, which impacted foreign exchange benchmark rates. The CFTC also fined the Royal Bank of Scotland $85 million for illegal practices similar to those of JP Morgan and BNP.

Some may recall that another bank, Well Fargo, has had its share of financial difficulties and missteps every year for the past couple of years. Most recently, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau hit the bank with fines of $500 million each after they determined that the bank had set unfair mortgage interest rates and forced customers to sign up for unnecessary car insurance.

Traditional financial giants may try to argue against crypto until they turn blue, but the truth is that crypto offers better protection and more transparency—and more confidence—than do the banks.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Denmark’s Largest Bank Took Two Years to Close Accounts of Blacklisted Russian Clients

 

Denmark's largest bank, Danske Bank, reportedly knew that some of its Estonian branch's clients were on the Russian government's blacklist but did not close their accounts for two years. The bank is currently being probed by three countries over $150 billion money laundering allegations.

Danske Bank is currently under investigation by authorities in three countries: the US, Denmark, and Estonia. Its officials reportedly "knew earlier than previously indicated about problems at its tiny Estonia branch, including that it held accounts for blacklisted Russian clients," The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, citing correspondence it has seen. The publication elaborated:

Officials at Danske Bank were aware almost two years before it started shutting questionable accounts that the small but highly profitable branch was involved in potentially illicit money flows.

The Estonian branch was one of the bank's profit drivers, generating a net profit of €63 million (~US$73.5 million) in 2012, the most lucrative year. The whole bank reported €636.6 million (~$742.6 million) in net profit that year, the publication noted.

The largest bank in Denmark has been at the center of one of Europe's largest money laundering cases. Between 2007 and 2015, an estimated $150 billion was suspected to have flowed through the branch to accounts belonging to non-Estonian customers including Russian clients. However, the bank has not confirmed how much of that figure comes from suspicious transactions. It has launched an internal investigation and is expected to announce the results on Wednesday, Sept. 19.

Discriminating Email
According to the Wall Street Journal, an April 2013 email reveals that the bank's anti-money laundering (AML) chief based in Denmark had asked colleagues in the Estonian branch "about client accounts whose owners appeared on a blacklist generated by Russia's central bank." The Bank of Russia keeps a database of individuals and companies suspected of financial wrongdoing which it shares across borders. The list currently has about 500,000 names.

The Estonian Financial Supervision Authority (FSA) said on Tuesday that "it repeatedly complained to Danish counterparts about the branch's blacklisted customers," the news outlet conveyed, adding that in a 2013 email, Niels Thos Mikkelsen, the bank's then-compliance executive, wrote:

"They have the impression that we do not take the issue seriously."

Furthermore, the news outlet added that a spokesman for the Danish FSA pointed out that a reprimand ruling against Danske Bank in May states that the authority received "misleading" information from the bank between 2012 and 2014. Danske claims the information came from the branch.

While the Financial Times recently reported that Thomas Borgen, the bank's CEO, was notified in October 2013 about suspicious transactions at the Estonian branch, Borgen insists that "he was not informed in detail at the time about the problems," Reuters described on Tuesday, elaborating:

"The Danske Bank case has led to speculation in Denmark that its chief executive Thomas Borgen, who was in charge of its international operations, including Estonia, between 2009 and 2012, will step down."

$10 Trillion US Exchange Takes a Step Toward Crypto: Nasdaq Bids for Cinnober

 


News wires buzzed this week when the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations (Nasdaq) announced its pending purchase of Swedish crypto-friendly stock exchange Cinnober. Nasdaq made "an USD 190m all cash recommended public offer" to the exchange, which it terms a major "financial technology provider to brokers, exchanges and clearing houses worldwide." It could also be a significant first step for the $10 trillion Nasdaq into the world of crypto. 

Nasdaq to Acquire Crypto-Friendly Swedish Stock Exchange Cinnober
Adena Friedman, President and CEO, Nasdaq explained, "The combined intellectual capital, technology competence and capabilities of Cinnober and our Market Technology business will expand the breadth and depth of our fastest growing division at Nasdaq."

From Stockholm, Sweden this week came a public announcement Nasdaq had made a $190 million offer to gobble up Swedish crypto-friendly stock exchange Cinnober. The acquisition "would strengthen its position as one of the world's leading market infrastructure technology providers," Nasdaq claimed.

Statement from Cinnober Board.
"Not only have the global capital markets continued to evolve rapidly," Ms. Friedman, 49, continued, "new marketplaces in various industries are demanding market technology infrastructure that enables rapid growth and scale as well as access to tools to promote market integrity. This acquisition will enhance our ability to serve market infrastructure operators worldwide, and will accelerate our ability to expand into new growth segments."

Based in the New York City, USA, Nasdaq is the second largest exchange in the world by market capitalization, valued at some $10 trillion. It is nearly 50 years old, and is known as the first electronic, automated stock market. Touted as what was to come in the retail brokerage industry, Nasdaq's emphasis on digital production meant a lowering of that critical difference between the bid and ask price of a stock. It was thought to be a model of price discovery efficiency. 

Could be a Tentative First Step Toward More Cryptocurrency Interaction
Nils-Robert Persson, co-founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Cinnober, added, "Since co-founding Cinnober in 1998, Cinnober has been on an exciting journey and has become a leading supplier of financial technology providing services to exchanges and trading houses worldwide."

For its part, according to the press release on the matter, Nasdaq "has offered to acquire all outstanding shares and warrants in Cinnober at a price of SEK 75 per share and SEK 85 per warrant. The transaction represents an offer value of approximately SEK 1,702m (appr. USD 190m). The Board of Directors of Cinnober has unanimously recommended that shareholders and warrant holders accept the offer. The acceptance period of the public tender offer is expected to close during the fourth quarter of 2018, subject to certain conditions customary in Swedish public tender offers (e.g. that Nasdaq becomes owner of more than 90% of the shares in Cinnober and review by relevant competition authorities)."

"I see the offer as the next step in Cinnober's development," Mr. Persson, 62, elaborated, "as it will enable Cinnober and its highly talented employees to be even more successful in serving customers as well as expanding its technology and offering to even more customers and segments. I really believe in the strategic logic of combining Cinnober and Nasdaq's Market Technology business also as it reinforces the strong technology foundation in Sweden. As the largest shareholder of Cinnober, I am supportive of the offer and intend to accept the offer."

The Swedish exchange is well known in the ecosystem for favoring digital currencies, especially as they relate to making it easier for more established investors to toe-dip. Custodial services have long been thought to be a giant concern for legacy banks when it comes to crypto, as hacks and their headlines have spooked big money. Cinnober partnered with Bitgo, for example, to attempt at mitigating custodial issues. Bitgo has a stellar reputation for custody in both worlds, with its multi-sig solution and having acquired Kingdom Trust, not to mention teaming up with Korbit, a Korean exchange – all of these factors have given Cinnober major street cred in the ecosystem.  

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Leading Crypto Firms Form A Lobbying Group To Push For Regulation

 


After years of waiting for the government to put in place regulations to govern the industry, crypto and blockchain industry leaders have come together to establish a lobbying group whose goal will be to push for the implementation of these policies. Based in Washington D.C, the group brings together some of the biggest names in the industry, including startups like Coinbase and crypto-focused VC firms like Polychain Capital. Known as The Blockchain Association, the group aims to become the voice of the industry in D.C and to work with the regulators from the inside, helping shed light on the developments in the industry and influencing the policy-making process.

The Inside Man
The crypto industry has for a long time been perceived as anti-government, perhaps largely because of its promise of taking the power away from a few entities and giving it to the people. However, many industry leaders have continuously sought to involve the government in their operations and have called for the implementation of regulations to govern the industry. The Blockchain Association is the latest effort by the industry to work with the government, with the group hiring a former Senate aide, Kristin Smith to lead the charge. Smith was the aide to former Maine Senator, Olympia Snowe, before taking over the blockchain lobbying duties for the bitcoin-friendly online retailer, Overstock.com.

As revealed by The Washington Post on September 11, some of the founding members of the new lobby group are Coinbase, fintech startup Circle and crypto-focused VC firms Digital Currency Group and Polychain Capital. Protocol Labs, the company behind decentralized storage startup Filecoin is also among the founding members.

The industry is not looking to circumvent the set regulations, Coinbase's Mike Lempres told the Post. Instead, it's been awaiting regulations for the longest time to weed out the scammers and promote healthy competition, Lempres, who is the chief legal and risk officer stated.

THE BLOCKCHAIN ASSOCIATION IS AN EFFORT TO GET THE PREEMINENT COMPANIES IN THE SPACE TOGETHER SO POLICYMAKERS KNOW THEY'RE HEARING FROM COMPANIES THAT WELCOME REGULATION WHEN IT'S APPROPRIATE. WE'RE NOT COMPANIES LOOKING TO GAME THE SYSTEM, BUT TRYING TO DEVELOP A LEGAL AND REGULATORY SYSTEM THAT'LL STAND THE TEST OF TIME.

The group's first priority will be working with regulators and lawmakers to establish regulations that will govern the application of the U.S tax laws to cryptos. This has been one of the most contentious issues in the industry, with the IRS's current application of the tax law being deemed prohibitive by many crypto users. The contention hasn't been made any better by the different regulatory authorities that have issued different classifications of cryptos; the IRS as a property, the SEC as a security and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network as a currency.

Earlier this year, the Winklevoss twins announced an industry initiative to self-regulate which was officially launched a month ago. Known as the Virtual Commodities Association, the body has picked up new members over the last month as more crypto companies seek to become compliant with the set laws and to become actively involved in the formulation of new ones. Among the body's founding members are crypto exchanges Bitstamp, Bittrex and Bitflyer USA.

Faced With Cash And Forex Shortages, Zimbabweans Turn To Bitcoin – Even When It’s Banned

 

Cryptocurrency may be banned in Zimbabwe, but bitcoin is helping ordinary folk make payments bank-free. It makes for a great fit for the more than 10 million Zimbabweans who lack access to basic banking services. And it's even more beneficial to the banked few, a distrusting lot, keen to protect their savings against bank failure, inflation or even political turmoil.


How Do You Feel About Paying Rent in Bitcoin?
Josh from Zimbabwe's second largest city, Bulawayo, feels great about it. "I didn't have cash at hand, so, my landlord who is open-minded about cryptocurrency said I could pay in bitcoin," Josh told news.bitcoin.com.

The 23 year-old unemployed psychology graduate, who mines bitcoin at a small scale, zipped 0.02281BTC to his landlord, the equivalent of US$120 at the time.

Zimbabwe is faced with a two-fold problem: a shortage of foreign currency, and that of a surrogate currency called bond notes, initially billed as a panacea to the forex crunch. The Southern African country gave up its own currency in 2009, the same year bitcoin was born, after hyperinflation peaked at over 230 million percent, according to official estimates.

Some businesses, importers and informal traders particularly, often now offer discounts on cash purchases in US dollars – or bond notes – while charging more for mobile or card transactions.

Bitcoin a Silver Bullet
Now, as Zimbabwe struggles with a severe cash crisis that has forced people to spend hours queuing for money at banks, bitcoin is proving a silver bullet. Not only is the benchmark cryptocurrency helping people like Josh pay for apartment rentals and rates, but it is also making it easier for Zimbabweans to pay for goods and services that are charged in US dollar terms.

A few days ago, this writer used bitcoin to pay subscription for satellite TV – about 0.0042BTC or US$27 at the time, including fees, because I could not get or afford the US dollar equivalent. Around the same time, Stanbic, one of the few remaining local banks accepting deposits for pay television, announced it will no longer be processing such payments, citing a shortage of foreign currency.

The forex crunch means that people can't pay for goods and services that are dollar denominated using the bond notes, a currency the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) claims is tied 1:1 against the US$. It is not. The greenback is selling at a premium of 85 percent on the streets of Harare.

Cheaper Than Banks
Study263, a platform originally created to help Zimbabweans studying abroad pay fees with ease via cryptocurrency, has now gained thousands of users as people seek to circumvent the RBZ's chokehold on foreign currency allocations.

"We don't only use bitcoin but any other available cryptocurrency – they are cheaper, faster, and in Zimbabwe's situation it (bitcoin) works now that card payments do not work out of the country anymore," said Study263 co-founder Tinashe Jani.

Jani said his company had facilitated over 900 transactions with amounts ranging from $10-$10 000+ since starting operations a year ago. For pay television, Study263, which is based in South Africa, receives bitcoin into its wallet before converting that to Rand and making payment there, for a fee of between 2 to 3 percent. Connection is almost instant.
Banks like Stanbic were charging up to $10 for a similar service.

DSTV, Africa's biggest satellite TV company, is South African-owned.

Jani said his company was getting requests for services they don't provide such as "someone asking us to give Rand to their siblings who cannot have access to bitcoin in Zimbabwe or South Africa."

For a fee of 3 percent of the amount transfered, Study263 obliges the request, he said. In Bulawayo, Josh is looking to continue making BTC-based rentals going forward after his first successful 'test run' with his landlord.

Crypto Ban
Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, ethereum and liteoin are banned in Zimbabwe. The country had started to emerge as a critical part of the crypto market in Africa when the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe in May shut down two exchanges, Golix and Styx24, that were helping people buy and sell bitcoin and other digital coins from a central platform.

The RBZ accused the exchanges of violating Exchange Control laws, and of taking on banking activities, such as accepting deposits – something they weren't allowed to do. When Golix tried to raise $32 million via a token sale in June, central bank governor John Mangudya described the process as a "pyramid scheme". Today, Golix is contesting the ban in the High Court.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Mainstream Media Narrative Sensationalizes Chinese Crypto Crackdown

 


An article written by Nicholas Krapels – an American academic who has lived in China since 2011 whilst working towards his PhD in Chinese politics at East China Normal University, has criticized mainstream media narratives pertaining to Chinese regulatory actions regarding cryptocurrencies.

Mr. Krapels states that "Last week, many minor statements fomented a mountain of fear, uncertainty, and doubt regarding cryptocurrency's future in China. On Tuesday evening, Wechat blocked a few crypto-oriented news official accounts. Late in the evening the next day, Beijing's Chaoyang District banned public venues from holding crypto-related events."

Mr. Krapels asserts that "the way Western media portrays events in China" heightened and exaggerated concerns pertaining to the events, adding: "That situation is only made worse when crypto influencers like Danhua Capital Managing Director Dovey Wan tweets out pictures of the primary source of the Beijing district ban in Chinese along with misleading English comments, 'The new China crypto BAN is now official'." Mr. Krapels likens such to "post[ing] […] an official English notice […] on Weibo […] from the NYC police banning handguns in Manhattan and then claim in Chinese, 'America's BAN on handguns is now official'."

Chinese Government Had "No Direct Involvement" With Wechat and Chaoyang District's Respective Actions
Mr. Krapels asserts that "the national government has had no direct involvement with any of these actions," emphasizing that "So far, a single district in Beijing and a development zone in Guangzhou have explicitly called for venue bans."

"Wechat and Alipay, corporations not the government, voluntarily self-regulated the blurry edges of their ecosystem that facilitated illegal behavior such as coordinating pyramid schemes and averting capital controls," he added.

The article states that "Most casual observers of Chinese politics do not understand that rarely, if ever, does the Chinese Communist Party issue bold black-and-white proclamations," adding that "By design, Chinese law maintains a grey area, a Hegelian nuance that provides for innovative creativity while at the same time attempts to ward off destructive tulipomania and outright scammers."

As such, Mr. Krapels states that one must "read between the lines" in order to "find true regulatory intent."

Japanese Company Trials BTC and Smart Contracts in Real Estate Transactions

 


A Tokyo Stock Exchange-listed company has built a cryptocurrency settlement platform for real estate transactions. The firm has tested the platform using BTC and smart contracts for property sales and has released its findings; many benefits were observed over the traditional method.

BTC and Smart Contracts in Real Estate
Japanese Company Trials BTC and Smart Contracts in Real Estate TransactionsJapanese real estate company Ruden Holdings (TYO:1400) recently announced the results of an experiment using its newly-created "virtual currency real estate settlement platform."

The company explained that the trial, which involved BTC and smart contracts, was conducted in collaboration with Blockchain Global Limited (BGL). The two companies partnered in April to develop the settlement system and a "virtual registration data inquiry system," Ruden detailed, adding:

For the settlement of bitcoins (BTC) used in the property sale, Bitflyer's web service and API functions were used.

Some parts of the system, such as time stamping of the contract, used the NEM test network, the company added. Bitflyer is Japan's largest crypto exchange by volume. However, the exchange halted registering new users after receiving a business improvement order from the country's financial regulator in June.

The Experiment
The experiment began with a seller listing a property to sell and a buyer looking for one to buy. The buyer then filled out an offer to purchase the property, which the seller confirmed.

"The buyer then sent the virtual currency (bitcoin) to the Ruden company's virtual currency account," the company described, elaborating:

As soon as Ruden (system) confirms the remittance of the virtual currency, we will execute the contract and [convert the] virtual currency to Japanese yen. In addition, a notarized sale [and] purchase agreement is promptly shared with [the] buyer and seller.

Other forms including the property registration application and requests to acquire other necessary documents are also automatically sent in order to execute the sale of the property.

Many Advantages Over Traditional Systems
Ruden then outlined many advantages it observed from the experiment.

For buyers and sellers, the company explained that using smart contracts and crypto payments makes it "possible to drastically shorten the time required" to perform each step of the process, including depositing money.

"Smart contracts eliminate the need for manual work and conditions," the company detailed, adding that "the time to negotiate and conclude can be shortened compared to the current work." Furthermore, the system also reduces "trouble such as refusal" to hand over the property after payment has been made.

Overall, Ruden emphasized:
It is not only to improve the efficiency of operations, but also to prevent unforeseen circumstances.

In addition to building the two systems above, the company announced last week the establishment of an overseas subsidiary in Singapore for the issuance of its own token.