Saturday, January 25, 2020

Texas securities adds crypto to list of top threats to investors


The Texas State Securities Board (TSSB) recently published the tenth-anniversary edition of its investor guide, which contained a list of risky investments—cryptocurrency included—that people should be wary of.

In its "Texas Investor Guide: Strategies for Investing Wisely and Avoiding Financial Fraud," the state regulator said cryptocurrencies require scrutiny and should be traded with care. Aside from crypto, the list also includes unregistered individuals, oil and gas offerings, and promissory notes.

According to the TSSB, digital assets are extremely volatile and that it's almost impossible for a layman to understand how it works. Promoters of crypto tokens are also just trying to take advantage of people looking for a way to get rich quickly, the board says, noting that even seniors and retirees who prioritize security over speculation have ended up investing in ICOs.

Word of advice from the regulatory body

The TSSB has some pieces of advice for investors on how to deal with cryptocurrencies. The state board warned investors to refrain from buying cryptocurrencies without knowing the trustworthiness of the token-issuing firms.

"Any investor who does decide to enter the crypto space should only deal with registered firms," TSSB advised. Further emphasizing that very little that can be done for investors that lose their funds through ICO or other crypto-related investments.

Additionally, the regulatory explained that investing in such cryptocurrency offerings leads to investors transferring funds to anonymous third parties.

This week in tech: India, Turkey, UK make moves as China’s investment drops


The world's first central backed digital currency is yet to see the light of day, but progress is being made. This week, the Bank of England announced that it plans to explore possible use cases for a digital currency. The BoE has joined hands with the Bank of International Settlements and five other central banks in the project, among them the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank. The move could be among the most significant steps in the push for the use of CBDCs across Europe and beyond.

The move by the BoE is one of many in the past year, as the world seeks to adopt blockchain-based digital currencies. According to the World Economic Forum, central banks are waking up to digital currencies. During the Davos 2020 conference this week, the WEF launched the CBDC Policy-Maker Toolkit that's aimed at helping central banks find the best way to integrate digital currencies into their monetary systems. The organization gathered insight from central bank researchers, international organizations, global policy‑makers and experts from over 40 institutions.

Still on CBDCs, the MIT blockchain research group believes that most of them will use technology currently being applied by existing digital currencies. The Digital Currency Initiative published a report this week stating that most CBDCs will copy features such as "the usefulness of programmability in money and the importance of preserving user privacy."

In India, the government is struggling to find some middle ground on crypto and blockchain. While the Reserve Bank has had its issues with crypto, the country's securities regulator believes blockchain will play a key role. Ajay Tiagi, the chairman of the Security and Exchange Board of India is urging the exploration of blockchain applications in the securities market, such as in clearing, settlement and record-keeping.

Still in India, the country's Telecoms and IT Minister has called for blockchain solutions for improving quality of government schools. Ravi Prasad called on the National Informatics Center to develop solutions for public schools, saying he is very keen on leveraging blockchain technology in primary education. He was speaking during the inauguration of a blockchain center of excellence in Bengaluru.

In Turkey, the city of Konya is working on integrating blockchain, including developing its own digital currency. The city has blockchain experts already looking into how the technology can be integrated in social programs. The proposed digital currency, City Coin, will be used in the social programs as well as other state payment systems.

The world's largest brewing company is also using blockchain, leveraging the technology to help African farmers prove their income. Anheuser-Busch InBev, the maker of the popular Budweiser, has developed a blockchain-powered system that keeps track of all the farmers supplying it. This system replaces the tedious paper trails previously used. The farmers can use it to prove their income to banks and other financial institutions, a crucial factor in acquiring credit facilities.

Argo Blockchain had the best year yet in 2019, a report this week revealed. The report claimed that the crypto mining company saw a tenfold increase in its revenue last year. Argo, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange generated $11 million, up from $987,000 in 2018.

While blockchain technology is rising to the top, China has scaled down its investment in the technology. A report by state-run Xinhua revealed that the country saw 245 financing deals in blockchain in 2019. These deals accounted for $3.6 billion, a 40.8% drop from the previous year. Beijing, Shenzhen and Hangzhou had the most deals, the report stated.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

FATF Holds Global Forum to Discuss Crypto Supervision


The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and over 50 delegations involved in crypto supervision recently gathered to discuss how to regulate crypto assets and related service providers. While examining three key areas, they stressed the importance of international cooperation, citing that cryptocurrencies are global products.

FATF-Led Discussion on Crypto Supervision
The Financial Action Task Force held a "supervisors' forum" in France last week to discuss crypto asset supervision. The aim of the forum was "to promote more effective supervision by national authorities" in the area of crypto assets and related service providers. The FATF is an intergovernmental organization with a focus on developing policies to combat money laundering and terrorism financing. Supervisors are designated authorities or non-public bodies with compliance responsibilities of each country.

According to the FATF, this event was the first opportunity for regulators to discuss how to implement new measures for crypto assets and related service providers since it finalized them in June 2019. Attendees included 135 representatives from over 50 delegations involved in virtual asset supervision, the FATF detailed, elaborating:

Supervisors play an important role in ensuring that regulated entities, such as banks and financial institutions, implement the FATF's standards to detect and prevent money laundering and terrorist financing.

3 Key Areas Discussed
The event's participants shared their knowledge and experience in supervising and regulating virtual assets and virtual asset service providers (VASPs). They discussed three main topics, starting with the lessons learned so far from countries that have already established a regulatory framework for cryptocurrencies and VASPs.

The second topic concerns common issues when drafting VASP laws and regulations. Representatives shared their approach to developing an AML/CFT regime for VASPs in their jurisdictions and outlined how they were implementing the FATF's recommendations. The third topic discussed was about the tools, skills, procedures, and technology needed to effectively supervise VASPs. The FATF remarked:

The importance of international cooperation was also highlighted, as virtual assets are inherently global products.

The supervisors and regulators identified a number of areas that need further action which they plan to discuss at the next FATF Plenary and other supervisors' meetings to be held in May.

Implementing the FATF Standards
The supervisors' forum is an initiative of the Chinese Presidency of the FATF to promote more effective supervision by national authorities. Two have been held so far, the first of which was held in November 2019 in Sanya, China. It focused on the effectiveness of supervision without discussing crypto assets.

The FATF's explanation from its crypto guidance.
The FATF issued guidance for crypto assets and VASPs in June 2019, with the support of the G20 countries. The money-laundering watchdog subsequently revised its assessment methodology. It sets out how the FATF will determine whether countries have successfully implemented its recommendations and are regulating the crypto sector. The FATF's rules apply both when cryptocurrencies are exchanged for fiat currencies and for other digital assets.

The challenge now is for countries and affected entities to effectively implement its recommendations, the FATF affirmed. By bringing together practitioners from around the world, the organization explained that it "is beginning to develop a global knowledge base on 'what works' in supervising virtual assets," adding:

This will help ensure a consistent global approach to supervision and will help the VASP sector adjust to the new regulatory environment.

A FATF meeting.
While acknowledging that implementing its requirements will be challenging for the crypto sector, the FATF believes that "it will ultimately increase trust in blockchain technology as the backbone behind a robust and viable means to transfer value." Noting that adopting its rules will "ensure transparency of virtual asset transactions and keep funds with links to crime and terrorism out of the cryptosphere," the money laundering watchdog declared:
Countries need to implement the FATF's measures, and soon … The FATF will evaluate next steps in June 2020.

EXcoin’s Mru Patel wants to bring blockchain together for social good


Blockchain technology has been focused on improving efficiency, reducing costs and improving speed—all of which translate to increased profitability for its users. However, in recent times, we've seen a rise in the use of blockchain for social good. The Global Blockchain Organization is one initiative, aiming to utilize the blockchain to create a better future. One of the founders, Mru Patel was at the Malta AI and Blockchain Summit where he spoke to CoinGeek's Stephanie Tower about GBO, the need for regulations and more.

The GBO will bring together various stakeholders, from regulators to banks and startups, and "create a standard regulated thing on basic values," he explained. These members will "shape the future of the blockchain through process, regulation and universal compliance towards blockchain for humanity."

The organization was launched in December 2019 in Oslo, Norway. It intends to work towards the adoption and utilization of blockchain in government, healthcare, energy, finance and infrastructure.

Patel stated, "The immediate impact we hope for is all about humanity—how to improve the lives people. At the end of the day we're giving to charities, we're building communities, we're going to raise a lot of funds."

Patel is also the President of EXcoin, a derivatives exchange for digital options trading. The platform allows its users to deposit and withdraw in crypto and offers trading in futures, options and CFDs. He has also been extensively involved in regulatory processes, especially concerning cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology.

He believes that governments across the globe must try to understand blockchain a bit better, so as to make informed decisions on how to regulate it. Most of them only know blockchain as a technology that underpins Bitcoin. Others relate it to the many crypto-related scams that have occurred in recent times. However, it's much more than this and could ultimately transform how governments operate.

On the perceived tug of war between blockchain and regulators, he explained, "Majority of the governments are focusing mainly on the fintech space to track money laundering and related activities, also on taxation. In my view, majority of them are dragging their feet. I have a view that what they are actually doing is protecting their jobs, pensions and the cartels they are involved with."

Sunday, January 12, 2020

New York wants crypto companies to pay their own way


New York has a love/hate with cryptocurrency. It's the only state that requires companies in the industry to obtain a separate license, the BitLicense, to operate, while recognizing that digital currency is legitimate. There is even talk of the state issuing its own quasi-crypto, minus the decentralization, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo now believes that companies should take a more vested interest in their activity if they want to operate within the state's borders. Cuomo has proposed changes to New York's Financial Services Law (FSL) that would require those entities to cover all expenses related to regulation and licensing.

In Cuomo's State of the State (in pdf) plan, he explains that there are gaps in the oversight of companies licensed under the Bank Law and Insurance Law, and those covered by the FSL. Entities covered by either of the first two are obligated to provide payments to the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) to cover their regulatory costs, but this isn't the case for those covered by the FSL. The governor wants to amend the FSL in order to close these gaps.

While the plan doesn't specifically mention cryptocurrency businesses, they're regulated by the NYDFS and the FSL. This can only mean that they would be subject to the same regulations as any other entity under the FSL's guidance.

No mention is made about how much any costs would be, or when the plan might be put into action. Nor does it indicate if businesses already licensed would have to pay any retroactive fees, or if they would automatically be grandfathered into the policy. The governor's office is now accepting public comments on the proposals, with any input expected on or before January 27.

Several lawmakers in New York, along with a law professor from Cornell, have introduced a plan that would see a statewide digital currency become active. Dubbed "public Venmo," the project would introduce an electronic banking platform and a digital currency that would be available for use across the state.

According to Vice, Public Venmo is the brainchild of Senator Julia Salazar, Assemblyman Ron Kim and Cornell law professor Robert Hockett. Kim explains, "I believe that our proposal, the Inclusive Value Ledger, has the potential to be truly revolutionary," Kim said in a public statement. "The creation of a free public savings and payment platform that all New Yorkers can use, not only to pay for goods and services but also to transfer money directly to each other through, could fundamentally reshape New York into a fairer, healthier, wealthier, and more inclusive place for all."

As opposed to other digital currencies, Venmo wouldn't be completely decentralized. It would be issued, monitored and regulated by a central government-led entity that maintains a government-controlled master wallet.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Weekly crypto news roundup


2019 is securely in the history books, and 2020 is ready to bring a lot of positive change for the cryptocurrency and blockchain spaces. Regulation, perceptions and laws continue to migrate toward wider acceptance, even if the transition seems slow, and this year is going to be a pivotal shift for how crypto is received. Going from 2019 to 2020 means out with the old, in with the new, and this week, the transformation week between the two years, is helping to make that happen.

Despite crypto having been received well in Australia, an executive with the Reserve Bank of Australia sees BTC as a non-practical alternative to fiat. Anthony Richards admits that he has dabbled in BTC, but he doesn't believe it can take the place of regular currency. He's correct, as crypto was never meant to replace fiat, and alternatives such as BTC and ETH are not carrying the digital currency torch the way it had been intended.

Google recently banned MetaMask, an ETH wallet and decentralized web browser from the Play Store and Apple appears to be ready to follow suit. It updated its App Store policy and might force apps that offer decentralized app (DApp) browsing capabilities to pull their products. This includes the Coinbase DApp browser, which contains a MetaMask component, and the possibility isn't sitting well with anyone. The reason Google and Apple are giving for the removal of MetaMask is because it includes a crypto mining function; however, MetaMask has already denied that assertion. For Coinbase users, the only alternative would be to use the desktop version of the Coinbase Wallet.

South Korean crypto exchange Bithumb is having to dig deep into its pockets to cover a massive tax bill. The country's National Tax Service is looking for just under $69 million from the company in the form of foreign customers' withholding taxes on gains made from crypto investments. The tax bill comes as Vidente, the exchange's largest shareholder, acquired just over 34% of the exchange's parent company. Bithumb and Vidente are prepared to pay the bill to stay on the government's good side, but will contest the legitimacy of the claim, as well.

Bitcoin SV (BSV) continues to gain strength on a number of levels. Most notably, it has recently become attractive to more crypto miners, with several new pools joining the mix recently. One of the reasons for the switch is because trends are showing that mining BSV is more profitable than mining BTC. This became more pronounced after the Quasar upgrade last year, and will grow even more with the Genesis upgrade next month.

If letting an employee go for any reason results in bad blood, it's a good idea to upgrade protocols and security measures to ensure the former employee can't look for retribution. One startup out of France learned this lesson the hard way after a former employee, disgruntled at being let go for reasons that aren't entirely clear, broke into the company's network and stole 182 BTC—around $1.3 million. Knowing how the system worked, he was able to sidestep security measures that would have sounded the alarm, but someone still noticed the sudden massive loss in holdings and contacted the authorities. The theft was traced to the former employee, who will now have to answer for his actions in front of a judge.