Tales from the Crypto: Biden Rebuffs Resolution, Ripple Goes Cross Border, and the BIS on CBDCs

Tales from the Crypto: Biden Rebuffs Resolution, Ripple Goes Cross Border, and the BIS on CBDCs

The U.S. House of Representatives wanted it. The Senate wanted it. Much, if not all, of the cryptocurrency industry wanted it. But on Friday, President Biden made good on his threat to veto a resolution that sought to loosen regulations regarding how financial institutions hold digital assets on their balance sheets.

“My administration will not support measures that jeopardize the well-being of consumers and investors,” President Biden said in a statement. “Appropriate guardrails that protect consumers and investors are necessary to harness the potential benefits and opportunities of crypto-asset innovation.”

The issue at hand was a repeal of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Staff Accounting Bulletin 121. This bulletin was designed to compel financial institutions that are holding digital assets to keep those assets on their own balance sheets. Those backing the repeal – which included both Republicans and Democrats – claimed that the current policy was too restrictive and made it harder for financial institutions to work with cryptocurrency businesses.

The decision has enraged some and led observers to suggest that digital assets could become an issue in this year’s presidential election. Likely Republican Party nominee Donald Trump reportedly referred to the Democratic Party’s apparent distaste for crypto at a recent event – during which the former president promoted his own digital asset, a non-fungible token (NFT).

Whether Biden’s cautious approach to crypto will be a political liability in November remains to be seen. Crypto industry polls indicate that more than 20% of voters in swing states consider crypto a “major issue.” At the same time, a 2023 Pew Research Center Survey showed that most Americans continue to have major concerns about the safety and reliability of digital assets.

Blockchain and crypto solutions company Ripple has teamed up with cross-border payments solutions provider for regulated institutions, Clear Junction. The partnership will enable Clear Junction to facilitate instant and secure GBP and EUR-denominated payout coverage for Ripple’s payment clients – with additional currencies to be added later in the year.

Cassie Craddock, Ripple’s Managing Director for Europe, praised Clear Junction’s ability to support all of Ripple’s use cases. “Clear Junction already has strong relationships with a number of our existing clients, and its management team has many years of experience in cross-border payments and banking,” Craddock said.

Making its Finovate debut in 2013 as OpenCoin, Ripple has grown into a major cryptocurrency and blockchain technology firm with hundreds of customers in 55+ countries and payout capabilities in 80+ markets. Businesses rely on Ripple’s enterprise blockchain solutions to source crypto assets, facilitate instant payments, engage new audiences, grow revenues, and more.

The partnership news with Clear Junction comes in the wake of Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse’s suggestion that an exchange-traded fund (ETF) based on Ripple’s XRP coin is “inevitable.” Also, somewhat apropos of our opening story, Ripple recently donated $25 million to Fairshake, a super PAC dedicated to pro-crypto political advocacy in 2024.

The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) is investigating the use of wholesale central bank digital currencies (wCBDCs) to improve instant cross-border payments. The new initiative is called Project Rialto and is a collaboration between the BIS Innovation Hub Eurosystem and Singapore Centres, along with a number of central banks. The project takes its name from a famous bridge in Venice, Italy, that spans the banks of the Grand Canal.

“Decentralized solutions, CBDC and interlinked payment infrastructures are considered promising avenues to improve cross-border payments,” the BIS noted in a statement. “How they interact has not yet been explored and could yield answers that advance cross-border payments globally.”

Wholesale CBDCs differ from retail CBDCs in that the latter is designed for use by the general public. Wholesale CBDCs are used by banks and other licensed financial institutions for interbank payments and securities settlements. A third type of CBDC, hybrid CBDCs, combine features of both wholesale and retail CBDCs. All CBDCs offer greater efficiency compared to traditional trade and settlement methods, reducing operational expenses, enhancing transparency, and improving the overall reliability of transactions.

Deutsche Bank announced this week that it is partnering with Austrian cryptocurrency brokerage Bitpanda. Deutsche Bank will process customer deposits and withdrawals for the broker, and has agreed to give local bank account numbers to Bitpanda users in Germany.

The move is a significant one for the industry. Crypto businesses have found it challenging to find banking partners in the wake of high-profile collapses of crypto-friendly banks in 2023, like Silicon Valley Bank and Silvergate Capital Corporation.

That said, Deutsche Bank considers this a “very cautious” initial step. While the partnership does mean that fiat currency deposits and withdrawals from Bitpanda will flow through Deutsche Bank, the bank is not involved in the movement of any crypto assets. As Deutsche Bank Global Head of Cash Management Ole Matthiessen explained to Reuters, the bank will merely assist clients with their ingoing and outgoing transactions while supporting Bitpanda’s treasury and payments process.

Bitpanda was founded in 2014. The company has more than four million users on its platform, which offers trading and investing in cryptocurrencies, fractional shares of stock, and precious metals. This week’s announcement builds on Bitpanda’s existing relationship with Deutsche Bank for its cross-currency operations in Austria and Spain.

Be sure to check out this week’s Finovate Weekly newsletter on LinkedIn featuring a pair of crypto/blockchain-related articles!

Photo by Ricky Esquivel

Tales from the Crypto: SBF, the Bitcoin Bottom and Boom, and the Crypto Crime Crash

Tales from the Crypto: SBF, the Bitcoin Bottom and Boom, and the Crypto Crime Crash

On December 13, 2022, Samuel Bankman-Fried, founder and CEO of international cryptocurrency exchange FTX, was charged with two counts of wire fraud conspiracy, two counts of wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Last week, Bankman-Fried, referred to colloquially as “SBF,” was sentenced to 25 years in prison and ordered to repay more than $11 billion.

A lot has happened in the world of cryptocurrencies between that December indictment and SBF’s sentencing. Here are five things that took place in the world of crypto between that day and this one.

Bitcoin Boomed

By the time Bankman-Fried was charged in December of 2022, the price of bitcoin had been in a dizzying plunge for nearly a year. Topping out at just over $59,700 in November 2021, bitcoin was trading at $16,700 by mid-December of the following year.

Since then, cryptocurrencies in general and bitcoin in specific, have been on a tear. Bitcoin is up nearly 3x from those mid-December lows, trading north of $66,000. Ethereum is up 2.8x from its December lows.

Observers believe that the current boom in cryptocurrencies is different from the previous boom which in many ways put crypto on the cultural map. Part of this has to do with the “cleaning out” of bad actors such as SBF (and others), as well as growing regulatory consideration of the legitimate goals of the good ones. And while this sometimes has contributed to its share of headaches, it has also led to one of the most promising developments in crypto: the launch of spot bitcoin ETFs.

The Spot ETFs are Here!

One of the most anticipated developments in the cryptocurrency space was the launch of U.S. spot bitcoin ETFs. And within a month of Bankman-Fried’s charging, those spot bitcoin ETFs arrived.

As we reported in Tales from the Crypto in January, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission approved of eleven spot bitcoin exchange-traded funds. The ETFs were an immediate hit; digital asset manager CoinShares noted that more than $870 million poured into the new funds in the first three days. And like the underlying asset they track (and track better than previous bitcoin ETFs that were based on bitcoin derivative holdings), these funds have soared in the weeks and months since inception.

Crypto Crime Collapses

“Collapse” may be a bit strong, but “2023 saw a significant drop in value received by illicit cryptocurrency addresses,” according to a report issued earlier this year by Chainalysis. The report – 2024 Crypto Crime Trends – noted that from a high of $39.6 billion in 2022, the total cryptocurrency value received by illicit cryptocurrency addresses dropped to $24.2 billion in 2024, just a little over 2021’s $23.2 billion mark. The report also showed a decline in the illicit share of all cryptocurrency transaction volume from 0.42% in 2022 to 0.34% in 2023. A decline in both crypto scamming and hacking revenue in 2023 was also reported.

It’s still a dangerous world out there. The Chainalysis report also showed a rise in ransomware and darknet market activity and expressed particular concern about the former. “The growth of ransomware revenue is disappointing following the sharp declines we covered last year,” the report reads, “and suggests that perhaps ransomware attackers have adjusted to organizations’ cybersecurity improvements.” The report links to its previous reporting on this trend.

More Crypto Indictments

SBF was not the only crypto entrepreneur to run afoul of the law over the past year and half since his arrest in late 2022. Alex Mashinsky, co-founder and former CEO of cryptocurrency lending platform, Celsius Network, was indicted and arrested in July of 2023 on charges of fraud and market manipulation. Mashinsky’s arrest followed a civil lawsuit filed against him by the Attorney General of New York accusing him of securities fraud while serving as Celsius CEO. The SEC has also charged Mashinsky with violating Federal security laws. Mashinsky has pled not guilty to the criminal charges.

Changpeng Zhao, co-founder and former CEO of cryptocurrency exchange giant Binance, was another high-profile player in the crypto space who ran into major legal issues in 2023. Zhao launched Binance in 2017 and, within eight months, grew the company into the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the world by trading volume. Because of this, however, regulators began to pay closer attention to Zhao and Binance and, by 2023, the scrutiny had yielded consequences. In June, the SEC sued him and his exchange for violations of U.S. securities rules. By November, Zhao had agreed to resign from Binance and pay a fine of $50 million as part of his guilty plea. The exchange also pled guilty and paid $4.3 billion in fines.

Ripple Wins and Loses Against SEC on XRP

While the time between December 2022 and March 2024 represented in many instances the correcting hand of authority putting some restraint on the industry, there were some instances in which it was authority that found itself restrained. In July of last year, for example, a Federal judge sided with Ripple in its argument against the Securities and Exchange Commission with regard to the status of its token XRP. The SEC had argued that XRP was a security and thus subject to its jurisdiction. Ripple, on the other hand, contended that XRP was not a security when sold on the open market via crypto exchanges.

Unfortunately for Ripple, the judge also ruled that Ripple’s institutional sales of XRP did represent unregistered securities offerings. And this week we learned the extent of the punishment the SEC wants to mete out for this offense: $1.95 billion. In a statement on X, Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse was unequivocal in his opinion on what the SEC is asking for:

“The SEC plans to ask the judge for $2B in a case that involved no allegations (let alone findings) of fraud or recklessness,” Garlinghouse wrote. “There is absolutely no precedent for this. We will continue to expose the SEC for what they are when we respond to this.”


Tales from the Crypto: Base Backup, Blockchain Payments Secure Funding, Crypto-Friendly Alums

Tales from the Crypto: Base Backup, Blockchain Payments Secure Funding, Crypto-Friendly Alums

This week in Tales from the Crypto we look at the boom-induced traffic jam in crypto coin trading, new funding for a blockchain payment network in the developing world, and a pair of new crypto-friendly alums that demoed at FinovateEurope last month.

Base Backup as Bitcoin Booms

The renewed boom in bitcoin is not without its discontents. A spike in network activity on Coinbase’s layer-2 blockchain Base has resulted in service disruptions ranging from transaction fee increases leading to “stuck” transactions to the inability to cancel transactions.

Why does this matter? For crypto traders and investors, Base – launched in August 2023 – offers a way to transact on Ethereum at a lower cost, among other attractive features. But even more critically, the third largest layer-2 network on Ethereum has also seen its transaction volume surge by 3x over the past few weeks due something called “Base season.” This occurs as crypto influencers and traders promote a variety of Base tokens to their followers.

Most of these tokens are meme coins, but the volumes have been significant enough to serve as “stress tests” for a number of these systems – and for their users who have complained of transaction fees 5x normal levels. It should be pointed out that Base has not been the only network to have felt the impact of rising trading volumes for all forms of crypto – including the current meme coin mania. Layer-1 blockchain Solana has experienced service issues as well.

The traffic tie-ups are likely to be temporary, the company noted. It also encouraged users cancel and resubmit transactions where possible and to wait for the traffic to subside if cancellation was not possible. Most importantly, Coinbase assured customers that their funds are safe. There’s a saying that if you are sitting in your car complaining about traffic, it is worth remembering that you, too, are traffic. A new round of cryptocurrency traders and investors is learning that lesson as crypto winter turns toward crypto spring.

In other Coinbase news, the company announced the launch of its Prime Sweeper solution this week. Prime Sweeper is a reference app that automates digital asset transfer between trading balances and vault wallets in Coinbase Prime. The no-code solution is designed for institutional clients and provides robust logging and status updates at every stage of the transfer process.

African blockchain payment network raises seed funding

In an oversubscribed seed funding round, African blockchain payment network Zone has secured $8.5 million. VC firms Flourish Ventures and TLcom Capital led the investment. Other firms participating in the fundraising were blockchain-focused outfits Digital Currency Group, Verod-Kepple Africa Ventures, and Alter Global.

Zone is the first regulated blockchain network for payments in Africa. The company has already signed agreements with 15 of the largest banks and fintechs on the continent, and Zone CEO and co-founder Obi Emetarom said that funding will fuel expansion of the company’s network domestically. Zone will also leverage the new capital to support a cross-border payments pilot program scheduled for 2025.

“As we step into this new phase at Zone, we are re-energized and our commitment to transforming Africa’s payment infrastructure is renewed,” Emetarom said. He praised the firm’s new and existing investors not only for their financial support, but also for their “deep expertise.” Flourish Ventures, for example, will bring both a global perspective as well as a network of industry influencers and Africa fintech expertise to help Zone reach new markets. For its part, TLcom Capital will provide “essential local credibility” and an “understanding of the African tech space.”

Founded in 2022, Zone is headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria.

FinovateEurope: Bringing Compliance to Crypto and Web3 Gamification

FinovateEurope last month showcased two companies, FRNZX (pronounced “forensics”) and Tradelite Solutions, that are innovating in the crypto space.

Headquartered in Tel Aviv, Israel and founded by experts in cryptocurrencies, AML, and intelligence, FRNZX offers a way to achive AML compliance in cryptocurrency transactions. The company offers a holistic AML navigator that makes it easier to integrate cryptocurrency transactions into the bank’s existing AML framework. At FinovateEurope, FRNZX co-founder and CEO Nevo Lapidot demonstrated how the technology streamlines AML operations from onboarding to monitoring, reporting suspicious activity and helping ensure that financial institutions meet regulatory requirements. FRNZX was founded in 2022.

The other crypto-friendly demoing company from FinovateEurope this year was Tradelite Solutions. Dedicated to promoting financial inclusion, Tradelite Solutions offers a web3 financial education game called Mogaland. In addition to gamification, Mogaland leverages a token economy and data-driven financial behavioral IDs in order to make financial literacy accessible, enjoyable, and – courtesy of web3 – monetizable for all, as well. Founded in 2020 by Tracy Chang (CEO) and Matthias Kröner (CFO), Tradelite Solutions is headquartered in Munich, Germany.

ARK Invest’s Cathie Wood on Crypto in 2024

One of the biggest defenders of cryptocurrencies in mainstream finance is ARK Invest CEO and CIO Cathie Wood. In addition to her advocacy for emergent and disruptive technologies, Wood has also advocated on behalf of cryptocurrencies. Just six months ago, she explained why she believed that bitcoin is the currency for AI.

Above is a more recent interview with Cathie Wood, conducted by Schwab Network’s Oliver Renick. In this conversation, Wood discusses recent price gains for Bitcoin, the debut of spot Bitcoin ETFs, and more.

Figure Technologies launches crypto exchange

An “everything marketplace”? A sole platform where traders and investors can buy and sell a variety of blockchain-native assets including cryptocurrencies, alternative investments, and stocks? Figure Technologies is on it.

This week, the San Francisco, California-based company announced the launch of Figure Markets. The new entity will introduce a new decentralized custody crypto exchange and blockchain-native security marketplace. Importantly, the marketplace will incorporate Multi-Party Computation (MPC) technology. The use of MPC-based wallets, the company noted in a statement, will help avoid the single-point-of-failure risks common to centralized exchanges. MPC wallets use private keys that are distributed across a decentralized network and must be multi-party approved for each movement.

Figure Markets also announced raising more than $60 million in Series A funding. Jump Crypto, Pantera Capital, and Lightspeed Faction led the oversubscribed round. Distributed Global, Ribbit Capital, CMT Digital, among others, also participated.

“This funding validates our vision to redefine capital markets with blockchain technology,” Figure Markets CEO Mike Cagney said. “Figure Technologies is capturing real benefits by employing blockchain in its lending and capital markets operations. Our goal is to extend the benefits of blockchain to a broader range of assets – including crypto and securities. It’s ironic that the largest crypto exchanges aren’t on blockchain – we aim to change that.”

Photo by fabio on Unsplash

Tales from the Crypto: Funding Startups, Fighting Fraud, and Why the U.S. is a CBDC Laggard

Tales from the Crypto: Funding Startups, Fighting Fraud, and Why the U.S. is a CBDC Laggard

This week in Tales from the Crypto we look at some traditional and alternative ways that investors are backing their favorite cryptocurrency companies, examine a new report explaining why the U.S. lags behind its peers when it comes to central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), and learn about U.S. Department of Justice charges – and a guilty plea- in a $1.9 billion dollar crypto pyramid scheme.

Swiss digital asset bank Sygnum scores new funding

Has crypto winter yielded to the year’s first crypto unicorn? Swiss crypto banking group Sygnum has raised $40 million in strategic funding in a round led by Azimut Holdings. The round gives the firm a valuation of $900 million, not quite enough for a unicorn horn, but more than enough to raise not just eyebrows but new expectations at what might be in store for cryptocurrency businesses and the funds that invest in them.

The company will use the capital to fuel its expansion into new markets in both Europe and Asia. The investment will also accelerate development of Sygnum solutions such as its bank-to-bank platform, currently supporting crypto offerings from more than 15 banks and FIs around the world.

“Our core thesis has always been that Future has Heritage, and our strategy to build trust via regulation and good governance has guided us throughout all market cycles,” Sygnum co-founder and Group CEO Mathias Imbach said. He underscored the challenge of “closing a successful funding round” in the current financial environment, which fellow co-founder and CEO of the company’s Singapore office Gerald Goh called “a testament to Sygnum’s strong and unique position as a leading regulated financial institution in the global digital asset industry.”

Report: U.S. progress on CBDCs lagging other nations

Former President Donald Trump said recently that he would “never allow the creation of a central bank digital currency (CBDC).” As the front runner for the Republican nomination for President this year, Trump’s words are worth paying attention to.

But according to a new report, the future of any U.S.-created CBDC has plenty of issues – even without the antipathy of the once (and maybe future) U.S. president. According to a report from think tank Atlantic Council, the U.S. is falling behind other countries that are exploring or developing CBDCs. The Council claimed that the U.S. Federal Reserve has deployed “less than 20” people to work on research and development on CBDCs. By contrast, the Council said that the People’s Bank of China has more than 300 people working on their CBDC project. The effort in the U.K. was also praised compared to the U.S., with the Council favorably noting that the Bank of England had deployed a joint task force including both the Treasury and Parliament.

The Atlantic Council says that there is an innovation gap between the U.S. and other developed nations when it comes to CBDCs. The Council also criticized the relatively slow rollout of the U.S. interbank settlement system compared to similar systems in Europe that were deployed sooner. And while the Council accepts that there’s no reason to “disrupt the currency that underpins the global economy,” it still believes that the U.S. dollar needs to “innovate.”

PayPal invests $5 million stablecoin in Mesh

The Fed may not have much faith in crypto. But PayPal is putting $5 million worth of its own crypto to work in support of embedded crypto payments startup Mesh. PayPal announced that it has invested $5 million worth of its own U.S. dollar denominated stablecoin, PayPal USD (PYUSD), in the company, which facilitates digital asset transfers and account aggregation.

This investment, announced this week, marks the first time PYUSD has been used as the funding instrument for an investment by PayPal Ventures. “The shift toward digital currencies requires a stable instrument that is both digitally native and easily connected to fiat currency like the U.S. dollar,” PayPal president and CEO Dan Schulman said last year when PYUSD was introduced. “Our commitment to responsible innovation and compliance, and our track record delivering new experiences to our customers, provides the foundation necessary to contribute to the growth of digital payments through PayPal USD.”

Founded in 2020, Mesh enables companies to integrate crypto payments and transfers directly into their existing platforms. The firm has more than 300 integrations with exchanges, digital wallets, and brokerages. This week’s funding follows a $22 million Series A funding round Mesh closed in September. Bam Azizi is co-founder and CEO.

DOJ announces charges, guilty plea in cryptocurrency fraud scheme

On the “Law & Order: Crypto Edition” front, the U.S. Department of Justice has levied criminal charges against two individuals – and accepted the guilty plea of a third – for their involvement in a cryptocurrency fraud scheme called HyperFund. The SEC charged two of the three individuals civilly for their role in what they allege to be a $1.89 billion cryptocurrency pyramid scheme.

The U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, Erek L. Barron, called the amount of fraud “staggering.” Barron added “whether it’s cryptocurrency fraud, or any other financial frauds, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

The scheme ran from June 2020 through November 2022, alleges the Department of Justice. The scheme’s conspirators are alleged to have told investors that they would earn daily returns of between 0.5% and 1% until their initial investment doubled or tripled thanks in part to revenues from crypto mining operations. The DOJ alleges that HyperFund began blocking investors from withdrawing their money in July of 2021 and the scheme collapsed the following year.

According to the SEC, one of the conspirators who agreed to settle civil charges of violating securities laws against fraud, had received more than $3.7 million from the HyperFund platform and its investors. This individual is also the one who has already pled guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud. The maximum sentence for all three conspirators is five years in prison if convicted.

Odds and Ends

  • Former U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne joined Coinbase’s advisory council.
  • Payments infrastructure provider Transak teamed up with Visa to support conversion of crypto into local fiat currencies.
  • Cryptocurrency platform Kraken introduced new Chief Operating and Product Officer Gilles BianRosa.
  • Reuters reported that FTX has abandoned the idea of relaunching its exchange and will instead pursue a liquidation with a goal of repaying customers in full.
  • Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin shared his thoughts on the present and future of cryptocurrencies in a blog post this week.

Photo by Traxer on Unsplash

Tales from the Crypto: Bitcoin ETFs, Circle’s IPO, and Why Jamie Dimon Still Hates the Space

Tales from the Crypto: Bitcoin ETFs, Circle’s IPO, and Why Jamie Dimon Still Hates the Space

With apologies to Dr. Dre … the spot Bitcoin ETFs are here and everybody’s celebratin’!

This week on Tales from the Crypto we’re taking a look at the launch and reception of the long-awaited spot bitcoin ETFs. We’ll also learn a little more about stablecoin issuer Circle’s IPO plans, and the latest – and maybe last – from JPM Morgan Chase CEO and perennial crypto critic Jamie Dimon on what he hates – and likes – about crypto.

Spot Bitcoin ETFs Have Arrived!

Last week, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission approved eleven, count ’em eleven, spot bitcoin exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Digital asset manager CoinShares reported new inflows of more than $870 million into the new ETFs in the first three days. According to investment research firm CFRA, investors traded $4.6 billion worth of shares in these new funds on the first day.

While bitcoin ETFs have existed before 2024, the current spot bitcoin ETF fixes at least one major problem of the earlier bitcoin ETFs. In the past, bitcoin ETFs tracked bitcoin prices by holding bitcoin derivative products. Managers of these funds bought and sold bitcoin futures in order to try and copy the asset’s changes in value. This inefficient process often meant that earlier bitcoin ETFs did not always accurately reflect the actual changes in digital asset’s price.

By contrast, the current incarnation of bitcoin ETFs actually own bitcoin. This means that the newer funds are likely provide a truer exposure to the cryptocurrency.

The new bitcoin ETFs and their ticker symbols are below. Expense ratios for these funds range broadly from a low of 0.20% for the Bitwise Bitcoin ETF to a high of 1.5% for the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust. Compare these to expense ratios for other popular ETFs such as the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust or SPY, which has a fee of 0.09%, and the Invesco QQQ ETF, which has an expense ratio of 0.20%.

  • Bitwise Bitcoin ETF (BITB)
  • ARK 21Shares Bitcoin ETF (ARKB)
  • Fidelity Wise Origin Bitcoin Fund (FBTC)
  • BlackRock iShares Bitcoin Trust (IBIT)
  • Valkyrie Bitcoin Fund (BRRR)
  • Vaneck Bitcoin Trust (HODL)
  • Franklin Bitcoin ETF (EZBC)
  • WisdomTree Bitcoin Fund (BTCW)
  • Invesco Galaxy Bitcoin ETF (BTCO)
  • Hasdex Bitcoin ETF (DEFI)
  • Grayscale Bitcoin Trust (GBTC)

The statement announcing the SEC’s approval of the spot bitcoin ETF (the SEC uses the term “exchange-traded product” – ETP) more than reflects the agency’s ambivalence toward the new offering. “I have often said that the Commission acts within the law and how the courts interpret the law,” SEC chair Gary Gensler writes early on in a statement that details the agency’s efforts to regulate digital assets. His overall message – with its bitcoin-only caveats and his reminder that the current filings are “similar to those we have disapproved in the past”? “The Court of Appeals made us do it.”

The statement actually concludes with a quip about how bitcoin ETFs compare unfavorably, in Chair Gensler’s opinion, with metals ETFs. After asserting that “we’re merit neutral,” Gensler observes dryly: “Bitcoin is primarily a speculative, volatile asset that’s also used for illicit activity including ransomware, money laundering, sanction evasion, and terrorist financing.”

You almost can hear the sound of the dinner plate crashing against the table as the aggrieved server finally delivers your meal and sulks away, muttering under their breath.

Circling the IPO Wagons

The arrival of the new bitcoin ETFs is not the only big news in crypto this month. Circle Internet Financial, the issuer of the USDC stablecoin known colloquially as Circle, has filed a draft registration statement for a proposed initial public offering with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Neither the number of shares to be offered nor the price range for the proposed offering were noted.

This week’s announcement represents Circle’s second bite at the “going public” apple. The company had planned to go public via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) transaction in 2021. That deal would have given the company a valuation of about $9 billion. Unfortunately, the transaction did not take place. Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire said that the company simply failed to meet the SEC’s requirements in a timely fashion.

“We are disappointed the proposed transaction timed out,” Allaire said when the deal fell through. “However, becoming a public company remains part of Circle’s core strategy to enhance trust and transparency, which has never been more important.”

Founded in 2013, Circle is the principal operator of the U.S. stablecoin USDC. The company is licensed as a Money Transmitter by the New York State Department of Financial Institutions. USDC offers instant settlement compared to legacy payments, near-zero costs, open and global access, as well as ready availability on popular exchanges and protocols, and broad and growing use in the developer community. Circle also offers products such as programmable wallets and its smart contract platform, currently in beta.

Hula Hoops, Pet Rocks, and Bitcoin?

You have to wonder if all this good news for bitcoin is getting under the skin of the digital asset’s biggest bête noire, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon.

Dimon was recently interviewed on CNBC when he announced that this would be the last time he would publicly offer an opinion on bitcoin. That said, Dimon left us with plenty of anti-crypto quips to keep us company for some time to come.

Crypto use cases? “AML, fraud, sex trafficking and tax avoidance,” Dimon suggested. At the same time, he said, cryptocurrency is a “pet rock” that “does nothing.” Dimon is indifferent to what others such as Fidelity and Blackrock that have shown interest in bitcoin ETFs, saying that “I don’t want to tell you what to do. My personal advice is don’t get involved.”

Then again, there are some caveats to Dimon’s disinterest in cryptocurrencies. For one, Dimon does say that there are potentially interesting innovations with regard to non-bitcoin crypto, particularly the tokenization of real-world assets. Second, while Dimon himself may not be a fan of crypto, his firm is apparently playing a significant role in BlackRock’s iShares Bitcoin ETF (IBIT) as an authorized participant.

Photo by Miguel Acosta

5 Tales from the Crypto: Binance, JP Morgan Chase, Quant, IDVerse, and Ripple Make Waves

5 Tales from the Crypto: Binance, JP Morgan Chase, Quant, IDVerse, and Ripple Make Waves

This week’s edition of 5 Tales from the Crypto features a pair of stories from cryptocurrency exchange Binance, concerns over crypto-crime and innovations in tokenization from JP Morgan Chase, and a look at a new product, a new partnership, and a new payments license.

Cryptocurrency exchange Binance announced that e-wallet service provider and payment gateway, SticPay will partner with Binance’s payment solution, BinancePay. BinancePay is a contactless, borderless, secure, cryptocurrency payment technology. SticPay will leverage the solution to enhance and streamline its users’ access to a range of leading cryptocurrencies.

SticPay has more than one million users and 5,000 corporate customers in 200+ countries. Courtesy of the new partnership, SticPay users will be able to fund their accounts directly via BinancePay. This will enable them to buy, sell, and send more than 70 leading cryptocurrencies faster and cheaper, which SticPay CEO Sean Park called the company’s mission. “Our users will be able to handle more cryptocurrencies, more efficiently than ever before,” Park said.

The BinancePay news comes just a few weeks after Binance announced that it would sell its Russian business to CommEx. The off-boarding process is expected to take up to a year. Binance said in a statement that the assets of Russian accountholders are safe.

Binance Chief Compliance Officer Noah Perlman noted that the company remained positive on the long-term growth of the cryptocurrency industry worldwide. Nevertheless, he added, “operating in Russia is not compatible with Binance’s compliance strategy.”

The parting of ways between Binance and Russia is total. The company noted that it will have no ongoing revenue split from the sale of its Russia business to CommEx. Binance also did not maintain any option to buy back shares in the business as part of the sale.

Sometimes the gods of cryptocurrency giveth and sometimes they taketh away. In recent weeks, JP Morgan has represented both tendencies with regards to its openness to crypto and digital assets.

A few weeks ago, we learned that JP Morgan Chase UK will ban its customers from making crypto transactions, beginning on October 16. The bank blamed a high number of fraud and scam incidents for its decision. Specifically, according to a bank spokesperson, Chase customers will be unable to buy crypto assets using a Chase debit card. They will also be unable to transfer money to a cryptocurrency account from a Chase account.

Chase is hardly the only financial institution to place limits on its customer’s ability to transact in cryptocurrencies. NatWest limited the amount of money customers can send to crypto exchanges back in March, citing concerns over “crypto criminals.” Santander Bank has also moved to prevent its customers in the U.K. from sending real-time payments to crypto exchanges.

At the same time, JP Morgan Chase has become increasingly interested in blockchain technology and the opportunities in tokenization. This week, JP Morgan unveiled its Tokenized Collateral Network (TCN). The new platform leverages blockchain technology to enable investors to use digital assets as collateral and, further, to transfer collateral ownership without having to transfer assets in the underlying ledgers.

The first public transaction using TCN involved JPMorgan and BlackRock. JP Morgan leveraged its Onyx Digital Assets tokenization platform to convert shares of a money market fund into digital tokens. Those tokens were then transferred to Barclays bank via TCN to be used as a security for an OTC derivatives exchange between JPMorgan and BlackRock.

“The tokenization of money market fund shares as collateral in clearing and margining transactions would dramatically reduce the operational friction in meeting margin calls when segments of the market face acute margin pressures,” BlackRock deputy global COO of cash management Tom McGrath said.

The hope for TCN is that the technology will reduce the number of settlement fails and provide near-instant real-time changes in ownership. TCN is live and a number of clients and transactions are reportedly on deck.

Cryptocurrency exchange Birake Exchange has turned to IDVerse to provide identity verification. The platform specializes in Masternode coins and will leverage its new relationship with IDVerse (formerly known as OCR Labs) to provide KYC and secure digital identity verification (IDV) during the onboarding process.

In a statement, the Romania-based Birake Exchange team underscored its belief in the future of cryptocurrencies and the importance of decentralization. “To mitigate fraud risks while fostering public confidence, judicious customer due diligence through identity verification has become a priority for us,” the team said.

Founded in 2018, the Birake Exchange refers to itself as a “white label crypto exchange” because it offers trading technology that enables its customers to build and brand their own crypto exchanges. The Birake Network has its own blockchain, which is powered by the Birake Coin (BIR).

As OCR Labs, IDVerse demoed its technology at FinovateAsia 2017, winning Best of Show. The company rebranded as IDVerse earlier this year.

Blockchain company Quant has introduced a new solution designed to make blockchain-based transactions more secure for financial institutions. The new offering, Overledger Authorise, helps FIs manage and integrate digital asset private keys with their own current enterprise key management systems. The technology covers the incompatibility gap between existing systems and blockchain private keys by managing the signing of blockchain transactions and key generation.

Quant founder and CEO Gilbert Verdian noted that the success of blockchain technology in banking will depend on innovations in other technologies. “We cannot unlock (blockchain technology’s) true potential without robust and future-proof solutions for cryptographic key management and transaction authorization,” Verdian said.

Overledger Authorise has been stress-tested successfully in Project Rosalind. Project Rosalind is a central bank digital currency project conducted by the Bank of England and the Bank for International Settlements.

Headquartered in London, Quant was founded in 2015.

Ripple’s Singapore-based subsidiary, Ripple Markets APAC, secured its Major Payments Institution (MPI) license from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). The MAS gave Ripple Markets in-principal approval earlier this year. The license paves the way for Ripple Markets APAC to issue digital payment tokens (DPTs).

Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse called Singapore “pivotal” to the company’s global business. Ripple established Singapore as its Asia Pacific headquarters in 2017. Garlinghouse referred to Singapore as “one of the leading fintech and digital asset hubs striking the balance between innovation, consumer protection and responsible growth.”

A Finovate alum since debuting as OpenCoin in 2013, Ripple has grown into a major enterprise blockchain solution provider for the financial services industry. Earlier this year, Ripple won a court ruling that its native cryptocurrency, XRP, was a digital token and “not in and of itself a ‘contract,’. As such, the court rules that Ripple was not guilty of selling unregistered securities – as accused by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 2020.

Photo by Pok Rie

5 Tales from the Crypto: Grayscale and the SEC, Coinbase and PayPal, Acquisitions and CBDCs

5 Tales from the Crypto: Grayscale and the SEC, Coinbase and PayPal, Acquisitions and CBDCs

Is the tide turning in favor of crypto? Today’s unanimous, three-judge ruling in favor of Grayscale over the SEC is yet another sign that crypto winter could be transitioning into crypto spring.

What happened? As we’ve been reporting in Tales from the Crypto, there has been a growing movement in favor of an exchange-traded fund based on the price of Bitcoin. A number of major financial institutions – including crypto asset manager Grayscale Investments – have applied to the SEC in order to make this happen. To date, firms pursuing ETFs based on Bitcoin futures have fared better than those companies opting to offer ETFs based on the spot price of the cryptocurrency.

One of the ways that the SEC has pushed back against these latter efforts has been to say that, essentially, spot Bitcoin ETFs are not safe. Specifically, the SEC told Grayscale – which was looking to convert its Grayscale Bitcoin Trust into a listed Bitcoin ETF – that the planned product was not “designed to prevent fraudulent and manipulative acts and practices.”

In June, Grayscale sued the SEC. And this week, a three-judge panel of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals overturned the ruling. The court directed the SEC to grant Grayscale’s petition for review and to vacate its order to deny the company’s listing application. The succinct, two-sentence judgment does not determine the ultimate fate of Grayscale’s spot Bitcoin ETF. But the successful appeal is a major boon for the effort to make spot Bitcoin ETFs available to traders and investors.

Crypto continues to have an easier path outside the United States than within it. Today’s news about Grayscale and the SEC comes at the same time that Coinbase announced a new PayPal integration for its users in the U.K. and Germany. The integration will enable Coinbase users in those countries to easily buy and withdraw cryptocurrencies via debit cards and bank accounts linked to PayPal.

“Coinbase’s mission of increasing economic freedom in the world means making it easier and faster for customers to interact and engage with the cryptoeconomy, reducing the frictions of the legacy banking system,” Coinbase VP and Regional MD, EMEA, Daniel Seifert said.

The process is simple for U.K. and Germany-based customers who already have a PayPal account. They can begin making crypto transactions on Coinbase immediately, the company said in a blog post. Customers also do not have to input their bank account or card number directly to Coinbase; users can continue using PayPal to securely manage their financial data. The company said that it plans to extend the functionality to other EU countries in the months to come.

Speaking of Coinbase, the company recently announced an investment in stablecoin company Circle. Circle is the issuer of the USDC stablecoin. The investment announcement was accompanied by a statement that the two companies will shut down the Centre Consortium, a private governance organization for USDC established by Circle in 2018.

“We believe that stablecoins can advance the real-world utility of crypto and help make the global financial system more open and inclusive,” Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire and Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong said in a joint statement. “Together, we look forward to unlocking additional value by growing the USDC ecosystem, circulation and global adoption.”

Founded in 2018 to help financial consumers in the U.K. access digital assets, cryptocurrency firm Coinpass has agreed to be acquired by OANDA Global Corporation. OANDA acquired a majority interest in Coinpass last week.

OANDA CEO Gavin Bambury said the acquisition would add to the company’s multi-asset offering and its appeal to a broader range of retail investors. He added: “A crypto native, Coinpass will provide OANDA with the technology backbone and trusted experience in the regulated crypto markets we need in order to offer clients globally a fast and secure route to the digital economy.”

Coinpass offers fast, secure, and compliant trading in more than 50 fiat currencies, stablecoins, and cryptocurrencies. The firm won Best Cryptocurrency Exchange Platform at CityAM’s 2020 CryptoAM Awards. Coinpass launched its crypto trading platform in 2021 – the same year it secured approval from the Financial Conduct Authority – and initiated stablecoin trading in USDC and USDT in 2022.

The march toward CBDC trudges on, steadily if slowly. The latest small step for CBDC-kind came in the form of Mastercard’s decision to partner with Fluency to take advantage of the growing interest in central bank digital currencies.

“We are delighted at Fluency to be part of this exciting and forward-thinking partnership with Mastercard helping CBDC networks seamlessly bridge transactions between different types of CBDC: account and token-based, retail and wholesale, multi-CBDC with tokenized assets and regulated stablecoins,” Fluency CEO Inga Mullins said.

Fluency offers a technology to enable organizations and institutions to deploy, configure, and manage custom CBDC networks. The company has joined CBDC boards around the world in order to assist central banks and governments on CBDC design, implementation strategy, and policy.

“We believe in payment choice and that interoperability across the different ways of making payments is an essential component of a flourishing economy,” Mastercard Head of Digital Assets and Blockchain Raj Dhamodharan said. “As we look ahead toward a digitally driven future, it will be essential that the value held as a CBDC is as easy to use as other forms of money.”

Crypto exchange Bybit introduced a revamped launchpad this week. The enhanced offering, Bybit Launchpad 3.0, gives early investors the opportunity to invest in new and pre-listed tokens directly from the Bybit platform. The technology connects project developers with potential investors, and provides a token launch process that is more streamlined and features greater transparency.

“Bybit Launchpad 3.0 is bringing innovative blockchain projects to the forefront,” Bybit co-founder and CEO Ben Shou said. “We are providing direct access to pre-listing rounds and facilitating the acquisition of new tokens. These tokens then seamlessly transition to trading on Bybit’s trading platform.”

Headquartered in the UAE, Bybit was founded in 2018. With more than 270 assets available via its platform, the company has more than 15 million users around the world.


Tales from the Crypto: Coinbase on Futures, Etoro on Trends, Brazil and Canada on CBDCs

Tales from the Crypto: Coinbase on Futures, Etoro on Trends, Brazil and Canada on CBDCs

Coinbase’s Crypto Futures

Courtesy of a just-secured regulatory approval from the National Futures Association, Coinbase’s U.S. customers will soon get the opportunity to trade futures contracts on cryptocurrencies. Coinbase’s Coinbase Financial Markets has been granted authority to operate as a Futures Commission Merchant (FCM) and offer eligible customers in the U.S. access to crypto futures trading on the Coinbase platform.

In a blog post at the Coinbase website, company Head of Institutional Product, Greg Tusar called the approval a “watershed moment” in the project to bring regulated cryptocurrency products to U.S. customers. The ruling comes as Coinbase is at odds with other regulatory bodies – such as the SEC – over its operating practices.

The ruling also comes at a time when the crypto derivatives market around the world has climbed to 75% of all crypto trading volume. Tusar called this market “a critical trader access point.” This is because crypto derivatives enable traders to participate with more leverage and less upfront capital, as well as give cryptocurrency holders the ability to express long and short positions, and hedge risk.

“Where regulations are clear and sensible, we will work with regulators to receive the authorizations needed to offer products that align with our purpose of using crypto to update the financial system to advance economic freedom and opportunity,” Tusar wrote.

Coinbase made its Finovate debut in 2014. The San Francisco, California-based fintech was founded in 2012.

eToro’s Crypto Trends

Social trading and investment platform eToro announced a new partnership to help its customers stay on top of the latest information about cryptocurrencies. The firm has teamed up with analysis company Reflexivity Research in a content partnership called “BTC etc.” that will provide a weekly overview of the cryptocurrency market as well as a monthly podcast. The weekly overview will focus on key trends. The podcast will feature experts from eToro, Reflexivity Research, and the broader cryptocurrency industry.

“As a crypto pioneer, we see it as our responsibility to provide accessible, timely, and relevant content for our users,” eToro Editor in Chief Mati Alon said. “As the market matures, cryptoassets deserve the same level of attention and coverage as other financial assets. We are excited to collaborate with Reflexivity to increase understanding of crypto.”

A Finovate alum since 2011, eToro has won Best of Show at each of its six Finovate appearances. The company offers trading and investing in stocks, options, and exchange-traded funds (ETFs), as well as cryptocurrencies. eToro offers 0% commissions, the ability to trade fractional shares, and a social network to enable traders and investors to benefit from the wisdom of the platform’s top performers.

EToro has become increasingly bullish on the prospects for cryptocurrencies. The company’s Global Markets Strategist Ben Laidler was quoted earlier this week highlighting three key developments that could put cryptocurrencies back on track by making it easier for institutions to participate in the market.

CBDCs Gain Ground in Brazil, Raise Doubts in Canada

The arguments for and against central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) got an international airing of sorts in recent days.

In Brazil, the country’s central bank has given its CBDC an official name – and logo. Commonly referred to as the “digital real,” the Brazilian Central Bank has decided to call its new digital currency, the Drex. The name refers to both the assets colloquial name, “Real Digital,” with an “e” for “electronic” and an “x” to represent a variety of notions including the concept of “modernity and connection.”

“Drex arrives to make life easier for Brazilians” a press release from the country’s central bank pronounced. “It will provide a secure and regulated environment for developing new businesses and more democratic access to the benefits of the economy’s digitization, both for individuals and entrepreneurs.”

Among the projected use cases for the digital currency are government benefit payouts, which would use a tokenized version of the currency. The bank also believes that the Drex will help accelerate digitalization in the financial sector and ultimately promote financial inclusion.

Meanwhile, some five thousand miles north, the concept of central bank digital currencies is getting a much cooler reception. A new report from the Bank of Canada cast a dim light on the prospect of mass CBDC adoption by Canadians. The blame was placed on the wide number of payment options Canadian consumers and businesses already have.

The staff discussion paper, “Unmet Payment Needs and a Central Bank Digital Currency,” envisions a hypothetical cashless environment, and then considers how a CBDC would solve unmet payment needs in such a society.

The report concludes that for a CBDC to benefit those who have unmet payment needs, the digital currency would first have to secure widespread adoption among the majority of the population. This would be necessary to ensure sufficient digital currency adoption by merchants. The challenge is that insofar as the majority of consumers “already have access to a range of payment options,” it would be unlikely for a significant enough number of these consumers to both widely adopt the digital currency as well as use the CBDC at scale.

The insights from the paper should prove valuable to those who support digital currencies, especially to the degree that digital currencies allegedly support financial inclusion. “The minority of consumers with unmet payment needs will be able to benefit from a CBDC,” the report writers conclude, “if the majority of consumers experience material benefits and therefore drive its use.”

Photo by RDNE Stock project

PayPal Launches USD-Denominated Stablecoin, PayPal USD

PayPal Launches USD-Denominated Stablecoin, PayPal USD
  • PayPal launched its new stablecoin, PayPal USD (PYUSD) today.
  • PayPal USD is backed by U.S. dollar deposits, short-term U.S. treasuries, and cash equivalents. The coin is redeemable 1:1 for U.S. dollars.
  • The new offering is designed for digital payments and Web3 and will be available on Venmo “soon.”

Fully backed by U.S. dollar deposits, short-term U.S. treasuries, and cash equivalents, PayPal’s new stablecoin, PayPal USD is now live. The stablecoin – PYUSD – is designed for digital payments, and is compatible with most digital asset exchanges, wallets, and Web3 apps. Eligible U.S. PayPal customers who buy the coin will be able to transfer it to external wallets, send it via P2P payments, and use it to fund purchases at PayPal-supported checkouts. PYUSD holders will also be able to convert their cryptocurrencies into and from PYUSD, which is redeemable 1:1 for U.S. dollars.

PayPal president and CEO Dan Schulman said that the successful adoption of crypto will need stablecoins like PYUSD. “The shift toward digital currencies requires a stable instrument that is both digitally native and easily connected to fiat currency like the U.S. dollar,” Schulman explained. Moreover, Schulman noted that PayPal – with its “commitment to responsible innovation and compliance” – and powerful brand – is in an ideal position to play this role via its PayPal USD offering. He added that PYUSD will be compatible with Web3 apps from the start and will soon be available on Venmo, as well.

PayPal USD is an ERC-20 token issued on the Ethereum blockchain. The stablecoin is managed by Paxos Trust Company. Paxos has indicated that it will publish a monthly Reserve Report for PYUSD outlining the instruments composing the coin’s reserves. The first such report is expected in September.

PayPal has been a Finovate alum since 2011. In the years since, the fintech has grown into a payments leader with more than 435 million active consumer and merchant accounts, and nearly 30,000 employees. The company has facilitated more than 22 billion payment transactions, representing a total payment volume of $1.36 trillion. Founded in 1998 (as Confinity), eBay acquired the company in 2002 for $1.5 billion. eBay spun off PayPal to its shareholders in 2015, returning the firm to its independent status.

PayPal has accelerated its embrace of digital assets and cryptocurrencies in recent years. This spring, the company enabled crypto transfers for Venmo customers. This added to the buy, hold, and sell crypto functionality PayPal introduced in 2021. PayPal also offers a Cash Back to Crypto feature for Venmo credit cardholders, which provides auto-purchase of selected cryptocurrencies.

PayPal is a public company, trading under the ticker symbol PYPL on the NASDAQ exchange. The San Jose, California-based fintech has a market cap of $71 billion.

Photo by Sebastian Voortman

5 Tales from the Crypto: Coinbase Partnership Boosts Fortunes of New Bitcoin ETFs

5 Tales from the Crypto: Coinbase Partnership Boosts Fortunes of New Bitcoin ETFs

The road to recovery for crypto may be long. And making meaningful headway may require more than a few instances of taking one step back in order to take two steps forward.

Case in point is the latest hurdle faced by BlackRock as the company seeks to launch a spot bitcoin ETF. On Monday, we learned that the Nasdaq refiled the ETF application with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) after the regulator highlighted a number of concerns with regard to the original petition. Among the chief concerns was the fact that the Nasdaq did not indicate which crypto trading platforms would participate in “surveillance-sharing” to help combat fraud in the underlying bitcoin markets.

BlackRock was not the only asset manager to hit this regulatory snag en route to the launch of its bitcoin ETF. The SEC also criticized filings from the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) with regards to a handful of bitcoin ETF petitions from the likes of Fidelity, WisdomTree, VanEck, and a joint project from Invesco and Galaxy – based on similar grounds.

The beneficiary of this hiccup, ironically, appears to be Coinbase, the SEC’s crypto bête noire. In response to the regulator’s concerns, both the Nasdaq and the CBOE indicated in their refilings that they would rely on Coinbase to serve as their “surveillance-sharing” partner. This move both answers one of the primary regulatory concerns vis-a-vis bitcoin ETFs and puts the cryptocurrency innovator back at the center of crypto’s comeback – all this despite the SEC’s antagonistic attitude toward the fintech it filed a lawsuit against in June.

Revolut announced this week that its customers in the U.S. will no longer be able to trade three tokens – Solana (SOL), Cardano (ADA), and Polygon (MATIC). The decision stems from the SEC’s categorization of the three tokens as unregistered securities and the subsequent move by Revolut’s provider, digital asset platform Bakkt, to delist the assets. The delisting will be effective as of September 18th.

Revolut is not the only platform to announced an end to the availability of these tokens for U.S. crypto traders and investors. Both Robinhood and eToro also have either delisted or restricted access to SOL, ADA, and MATIC for U.S. customers. In the case of eToro, tokens such as Algorand (ALGO), Decentraland (MANA), Filecoin (FIL), and Sandbox (SAND) have also been made off-limits for U.S. customers.

Holders of SOL, ADA, and/or MATIC outside the jurisdiction of the SEC will continue to have access to the tokens.

Speaking of “outside the jurisdiction of the SEC,” the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) announced a new set of guidelines designed to help cryptocurrency companies separate customer crypto assets from their own. The new rules insist that digital asset companies that are licensed in Singapore separate customer crypto assets from their own, as well as maintain a separate set of blockchain addresses for customer assets. Companies in the digital payment token business additionally will be required to do daily reconciliation of customers’ digital assets, and maintain accurate records of those assets, as well as access and operational control of customer’s DPTs in Singapore.

The move comes as regulators have become increasingly concerned that cryptocurrency firms have not done enough to “ring-fence” customer crypto assets and keep them segregated from company assets. This problem can be especially acute in the event that a cryptocurrency firm becomes insolvent, making it harder to recover customer funds. The new regulations require cryptocurrency firms to hold customer crypto in trust – though the relative lack of independent, third-party custodians has forced the MAS to offer crypto firms some leniency when it comes to relying on independent custodians at this time. To this end, firms are only required to ensure that crypto custody functions are independent from the firms’ other business operations and divisions.

The new regulations are expected to come online later this year.

A study from Juniper Research from earlier this year indicated that the value of all payment transactions made via stablecoins will top $187 billion by 2028. This represents nearly a 3x gain from 2023 levels. The report, titled CBDCs & Stablecoins: Key Opportunities, Regional Analysis & Market Forecasts 2023-2030, notes the growing use of stablecoins in cross-border transactions, the benefits in terms of speed and traceability that stablecoins offer relative to existing, cross-border rails, and the nature of the competition between stablecoins and central bank digital currencies (CBDCs).

Stablecoins are cryptocurrencies that derive their value from a given fiat currency or commodity. CBDCs are actual digital currencies issued by central banks.

What will it take for stablecoins to reach the transaction levels suggested in the Juniper Research study? Report author Nick Maynard underscored the role of payment platforms and money transfer operators in supporting broader adoption of these digital assets.

“Stablecoins have vast potential to unlock the flow of money across borders, but payment platforms need to roll out acceptance strategies for this to progress,” Maynard observed. “MTOs (Money Transfer Operators) can leverage stablecoins in a wholesale manner, but this will need networks to be built across wide geographic footprints.”

Our last 5 Tales from the Crypto column looked at reasons why the so-called “crypto winter” could see a thaw sooner than many observers think. In a recent column, fintech thought leader and author Chris Skinner shared his thoughts on the resurgent mainstream interest in digital assets.

“Something has changed,” Skinner wrote this week at The Finanser, “and maybe the biggest change is that treasury managers want to use cryptocurrencies. If the customer wants it, then the big banks have to service it and there’s the rub. The big banks have stirred and incorporated digital assets, and specifically cryptocurrencies, into their remit.”

Skinner cited an article at Decrypt.co – Wall Street is coming for crypto, whether early believers like it or not – as well as a June report from S&P Global Ratings titled How DeFi’s Operational Risks Could Influence Credit Quality, that have contributed to his thinking on the topic of late.

“You know that cryptocurrencies are going mainstream when Standard and Poor’s (S&P) start to rate them,” Skinner noted. “They don’t do that today, but they are moving that way.”

Check out the full conversation – as well as the Decrypt.co article and S&P Global Ratings report.

Photo by Alesia Kozik

5 Tales from the Crypto: Signs of a Comeback?

5 Tales from the Crypto: Signs of a Comeback?

Financial advisor, author, and CNBC commentator Josh Brown raised a few eyebrows this week when he told viewers that he thought that cryptocurrencies were entering a new phase, a phase that could spell the end of the crypto winter.

“This week, I think, with all of these new developments, really forces you to look back and say, ‘What’s really going on here? Why are these people running into a burning building” Brown asked. He referred to the passion for cryptocurrencies as “unkillable.”

Is Brown right? Let’s take a look at the latest round of reasons why the so-called crypto winter could turn out to deliver a milder season than many suspect.

Bitcoin breaks $30k

Prices for the leading cryptocurrency have been in a bear market since at least the fall of 2021 – though cryptoholders have been experiencing more than a little investment indigestion since the spring of that year. And while BTC has much more to go before it nears its old highs north of $60,000, the cryptocurrency has been on a tear since putting in a low in November 2022 just under $18,000. As of June 21st – the longest day of the year – BTC is up more than 90% from its November low. Ethereum, the other most-widely traded cryptocurrency has also performed well in 2023: ETC is up more than 56% year to date.

Many observers are pointing out that much of the velocity of the moves in these leading cryptocurrencies is due to traders who are now covering their earlier – profitable – bets against the assets. Nevertheless, market turnarounds are often initiated not by new participants coming off the sidelines, but by those already in the game deciding to change direction. And sometimes that’s all a new bull market needs to get going.

BlackRock, Invesco, WisdomTree pursue bitcoin ETFs

The news that some of the heaviest hitters in the exchange-traded fund business have expressed interest in bringing BTC to the ETF party is as strong an indication as any that crypto’s fortunes in the near-term may be brightening.

Last week we learned that BlackRock, a major, $9 trillion asset manager, is seeking to launch a spot bitcoin ETF – the iShares Bitcoin Trust – and has filed paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to do so. Investment management firm Invesco – which previously sought to launch a bitcoin futures ETF in 2021 but was beat to the market by ProShares – is back for a second bite of the apple. The company has teamed up with Galaxy Digital to apply for a spot bitcoin ETF – the Invesco Galaxy Bitcoin ETF. And lastly, WisdomTree has applied for approval to launch its WisdomTree Bitcoin Trust on the CBOE BZX Exchange.

The stated objectives for the funds vary. WisdomTree highlighted the value of providing investors with exposure to the price of Bitcoin in traditional investment accounts. Invesco and BlackRock both noted that a Bitcoin ETF would serve as a safer alternative for would-be investors leery of cryptocurrency brokerages and exchanges in the wake of the FTX and related crypto-scandals.

New crypto exchange EDX launches

The launch of a new crypto exchange may not seem like big news. But given the pessimism surrounding the industry (“crypto winter” anyone?), it is especially noteworthy that entrepreneurs in the crypto space continue to forge ahead.

New Jersey-based EDX Markets launched its digital asset market this week. The digital asset marketplace provides investors with a trusted, efficient, and liquidy cryptocurrency trading environment. EDX offers competitive quotes and a non-custodial model designed to manage potential conflicts of interest. The company also provides a retail-only quote for crypto, enabling investors and traders to take advantage of better pricing for retail-originated orders. Participants can trade Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and Bitcoin Cash on the platform.

The launch of EDX comes as the company secures new funding and additional strategic investors. The amount of the funding was not disclosed. The company did say that the capital will help EDX further develop its trading platform.

“We are committed to bringing the best of traditional finance to cryptocurrency markets, with an infrastructure built by market experts to embed key institutional best practices,” EDX CEO Jamil Nazarali said.

Deustche Bank applies for digital asset custody license in Germany

It’s no secret that cryptocurrencies are feeling more love outside the United States than they are inside the country. Another example of this comes from Germany as we learn this week that Deutsche Bank is seeking a digital asset license. The goal of the country’s largest bank is to leverage digital assets to expand its revenue streams, according to reporting in Bloomberg.

Apparently, Deutsche Bank’s announcement is the latest in a series of slow, cautious steps toward embracing digital assets. The firm’s corporate banking division has been considering digital asset-related services as an option for the past few years. But no firm timeline had ever been offered. This week, we have a destination, if not an itinerary. The head of the bank’s commercial banking unit David Lynne confirmed that the financial institution is building a “digital assets and custody business” and has applied to Germany’s Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) in order to receive license to do so.

American crackdown: darkest before dawn?

It may be overly contrarian to suggest that some of the worst news for crypto’s present in recent weeks and months might also be some of the best news from crypto’s future. Many crypto backers lament the SEC’s aggressive policing of Coinbase and the growing share of crypto that is just Bitcoin. But it is possible that this is just the long, arduous process toward eventual regulation. This may mean, at least initially, a time for better, fewer digital assets and better, fewer crypto-related businesses. And while other regions than the U.S. are presently showing more enthusiasm and support for crypto, as with other financial innovations like open banking and instant payments, I’m convinced that once crypto does finally get moving again, the U.S., in its own way, will not hesitate to climb on board.

Photo by Worldspectrum

5 Tales from the Crypto: Partnerships, Tax Proposals, and the Rise of Perpetual Futures

5 Tales from the Crypto: Partnerships, Tax Proposals, and the Rise of Perpetual Futures

News that Venmo is now accepting transfers of cryptocurrency is among the top stories in crypto of late. Here are some of the other stories making the crypto headlines.

Paxos Partners with Fierce Finance

Blockchain infrastructure platform Paxos has forged a partnership with financial services app, Fierce Finance. Paxos’ technology will be leveraged to power Fierce Finance’s new digital asset experience. This new offering will combine an FDIC-insured checking account, a no-fee debit card, and fractional stock, ETF, and cryptocurrency trading all in a single app.

“We are the qualified custodian managing the licensing, trading, and technical complexity so that our clients can focus on building a seamless user experience,” Paxos Chief Revenue Officer Michael Coscetta said. “By integrating with Paxos platform, Fierce ensures its users get the best prices with the proper consumer protections in place so that their assets always remain safe and accessible.”

Headquartered in New York, Paxos was founded in 2012. The company reached a major milestone at the beginning of last month when it surpassed ten million active end user digital wallets globally. Earlier this year, Paxos launched an engineering R&D Center in Israel focused on “security and cryptography excellence.” The center will serve as a hub for cryptography researchers and security specialists to develop secure solutions on top of the blockchain.

Paxos has raised more than $540 million in funding. The company’s investors include Oak HC/FT, Declaration Partners, and PayPal Ventures.  

Tax on Cryptocurrency Mining Proposed

If the Biden administration gets its way, the electricity used in mining cryptocurrencies could get a lot more expensive. The White House is proposing a 30% tax to offset the impact of cryptocurrency mining on the environment.

A statement from the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) argues that the “high-energy consumption” of cryptocurrency mining “has negative spillovers on the environment, quality of life, and electricity grids” wherever they are located. A report from the White House released last fall suggested that cryptocurrency mining devours more electricity than the country of Australia. In the U.S., cryptocurrency mining represents between 0.9% and 1.7% of all electricity use. The U.S. is home to approximately a third of the world’s cryptocurrency mining.

Some critics of the proposal believe less in the administration’s concerns over the climate and more in its antipathy toward the cryptocurrency industry in general. Other observers suggest that taxing greenhouse gas emissions from cryptocurrency mining makes more sense than simply taxing electricity use – which can come from clean sources.

If enacted, the tax could yield $3.5 billion over 10 years.

Coinbase Launches International Exchange

Hot on the heels of securing a license to operate in Bermuda, U.S.-based cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase has launched its Coinbase International Exchange. The new exchange will give institutional market participants in eligible jurisdictions outside the U.S. the ability to trade perpetual futures.

Perpetual futures are similar to futures contracts in other assets. But there are important differences. Perpetual futures do not have an expiration period – unlike traditional futures contracts. This enables traders to hold on to their positions for longer periods – or even indefinitely. Trading in perpetual futures is not allowed in the U.S. But the market for perpetual futures is sizable. Almost 75% of cryptocurrency trading worldwide last year was in perpetual futures.

Coinbase International exchange listed perpetual futures contracts for both Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum (ETH) this week. The contracts provide 5x leverage and all trades are settled in USDC.

New Digital Asset Venture Fund Coming from Fineqia

Digital asset and fintech investment company Fineqia will launch a new venture capital fund to invest in startups in the digital asset space. The new fund, Fineqia Glass Slipper Ventures (FGSV), will focus on investments in early and growth-stage technology companies. Among Fineqia’s current investments in the industry are digital asset manager Wave Digital Assets LLDC, and blockchain gaming platform company Forte Labs. The fund has identified blockchain infrastructure, decentralized finance, and the metaverse as areas of particular investment interest.

“We have a proven track record of investments that are generating extraordinary returns,” Fineqia CEO Bundeep Singh Rangar said. “An investment fund will give us more firepower to invest in the most promising firms among the scores we see monthly and take advantage of entry valuations not frothy as they were 18 months ago.”

Deloitte Leverages the Blockchain for KYB, KYC

Will the next big thing in decentralized finance come from the underlying blockchain technology or from products like cryptocurrencies? The latest entry in the “innovative blockchain use case” competition comes courtesy of Deloitte Consulting. The firm announced that it has partnered with BOTLabs GmBh to use its KILT protocol to support KYC and KYB processes.

“By offering re-usable digital credentials anchored on the KILT blockchain, Deloitte is transforming verification processes for individuals and entities,” Head of Deloitte Managed Services Micha Bitterli said. “Digital credentials that are convenient, cost-effective and secure have the potential to open new digital marketplaces, from e-commerce and DeFi to gaming.”

Re-usable credentials are stored on the customer’s wallet on their own device. Customers have full control over whom they share their credential with. They can also control which data points on the credential they grant access to. Deloitte digitally signs the credentials and is able to revoke credentials via the blockchain if a customer’s circumstances change.