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Venezuelan Turmoil Sees $10 Million Spurt on LocalBitcoins

Venezuelan Turmoil Sees  Million Spurt on LocalBitcoins

With the country in turmoil and Venezuela‘s future more uncertain than at any point since 1999 when Hugo Chavez first became president, the trade in Bitcoin has peaked, recording USD 10 million in trading on P2P platform LocalBitcoins in just seven days.

In the past week, the country was thrown into turmoil when Juan Guaido proclaimed himself unofficially as the country’s new president. With Nicolas Maduro still incumbent, Bitcoin P2P trades hit their second-highest weekly total ever. The cryptocurrency, albeit driven underground by the Maduro regime, has been supporting many of those nationals choosing to remain in the country rather than fleeing to neighboring Columbia in order to escape poverty.

As the situation becomes more explosive by the day, and with both Iran and Russia warning the US, who have backed the Maduro presidency, to stay out of Venezuela, nationals are again putting their faith in Bitcoin. In the last week, more Bolivars for Bitcoins were traded than ever before, despite the weakness of the national currency.

It can’t be confirmed if perhaps some of this activity may be due to Guaido’s liberal stance on cryptocurrency and the possibility of a new regime, but the rush on Bitcoin, coinciding with a dump of the bolivar, is unprecedented.

Maduro’s attempts to withdraw the country’s gold supplies this week, having already expelled US diplomats, was thwarted by the Bank of England who currently holds Venezuela’s USD 1.2 billion reserves. As Harvard economist explained, having communicated with Guaido:

“The first rule of business as we speak is to stop the Maduro government from liquidating international assets of the country and steal them.”

 

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Mixed Bitcoin Messages From Davos World Economic Forum

Bitcoin was the talk of the town in Switzerland last year when the world’s movers and shakers assembled at Davos for the 2018 World Economic Forum, but this year the cryptocurrency demands a far less prominent position at the table.

The comparison is startlingly obvious. From getting a fair degree of attention a year ago at the 2018 Conference, albeit on the way down even then, the cryptocurrencies are less liable to attract the attention of delegates this year, particularly given the current trials of leaders from the US, UK, and France all entangled in their own domestic issues, some of them shared.

Angel Versetti, CEO of blockchain-based company Ambrosus observed: “While last year, people were talking about crypto and blockchain anywhere and everywhere, this year there is comparatively little discussion around it.”

Hardly surprising given Trump’s domestic battle and government shutdown, May’s Brexit squabbles and Macrons’ sea of yellow vests. The subject still comes up though, some fairly hopeful of a market revival, some less, like the advisor to the Bank of England, Huw van Steenis who said that cryptocurrencies weren’t on the list of priorities at this year’s summit, “I’m not so worried about cryptocurrencies,” he commented not unexpectedly, “They fail the basic tests of financial services, they’re not a great unit of exchange, they don’t hold value and they’re slower.”

Not the case at all, according to Jeremy Allaire — CEO of Circle, the Goldman Sachs-backed payments and tech company as he argues that fintech will be dependent on decentralized technology moving forward:

“Crypto is fundamental to the future, and so crypto computing, which is what these blockchain platforms really are, they’re open computing platforms — we need tamper-proof, resilient, decentralized infrastructure if we want society to survive the digital age.”

Allaire went on to argue that Circle was also a huge supporter of central-bank digital currencies, suggesting that the private sector will be the leader in setting the pace for the creation of these centralized crypto assets. However, Jeff Schumacher, founder of BCG Digital Ventures was less optimistic during a CNBC panel discussion as he mentioned, “I do believe it [cryptocurrency] will go to zero,” adding, “I think it’s a great technology, but I don’t believe it’s a currency. It’s not based on anything.”

Next year could be an embarrassment for some of these commentators if Bitcoin hits its expected heights this year as Wall Street comes on board.

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CBDC Report Identifies Cross-Border Payment Practicalities

A joint research report conducted by three central banks has concluded that Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC) have the capacity to upgrade cross-border payments and settlements.

Hypothetical proposals

Titled Cross-Border Interbank Payments and Settlements: Emerging Opportunities for Digital transformation, the paper was collaboratively authored by the Bank of Canada (BOC), Bank of England (BoE) and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). With them, a number of experts from commercial banks “led by HSBC”.

Specifically, the research project the proposal for three possible models to address issues and achieve what it calls “future-state capabilities”; these are the desired outcomes which have been gathered from research into “challenges and root causes of issues associated with cross-border interbank payments and settlements”.

Appraising the limitations of technological innovations within this space, the report acknowledges present initiatives that are taking place that “go some way” to address obstacles. However, it describes these as “incremental changes” and in order for a long-term solution to be established, there “may need to be a more fundamental paradigm shift” which are “enabled by new technology platforms”.

A study from IBM and the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF) recently revealed that central banks have been exploring and trialing CBDCs with “mixed results”.

W-CBDCs

There are two types of CBDCs; firstly the “retail CBDC” which is designed for public use, and secondly “wholesale CBDCs”, which are limited to financial institutions and markets.

The report offers two approaches based on legacy models with one referring to the collection of initiatives currently underway or in the making and a second which is based on the expansion of real-time gross settlement (RTGS) operators roles for cross-border settlements, eliminating intermediary banks.

Weighted approach

A third model comes with three nuanced variations and focuses on the utilization of wholesale central bank digital currencies (W-CBDCs) for this process.

The first of the W-CBDC models is one that can only be “transmitted and exchanged only within their home jurisdictions”. This would require commercial banks to open wallets across multiple central banks should they desire to hold a number of currencies. The second broadens the scope a little further by suggesting for a W-CBDC that can operate “beyond their home jurisdictions”. For commercial banks, this would entail adopting multiple wallets within their respective central banks, and would require “each central bank to support multiple CBDC tokens”.

Finally, the third variation is ideal yet ambitious, and suggests a universal W-CBDC, “backed by a basket of currencies and accepted by all participating jurisdictions”. Conclusively, the report found the first jurisdiction-specific model offered few benefits as they are simply tokenized versions of existing models.

The other models that do not limit the scale of the system are, however, solid options to reduce counterparty credit, settlement and payment risks; also broadening access to RTGS systems. That said, the report identifies all of the W-CBDCs models as having particular drawbacks including not performing to present standards and that they “degrade” existing governance frameworks.

In discussion

The concept of CBDC’s has been around for some time, however, now it appears as though there is significant potential on the horizon, as a few nations around the world such as Thailand begin to embark on the CBDC journey.

This is also not the first time that the BoE or BOC have spoken publicly about CBDCs. Furthermore, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Christine Lagarde recently gave a speech in Singapore on the matter, highlighting the several positives that can be drawn from this new fintech frontier.

 

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UK Crypto Taskforce Suggests Update to Regulations, Definitions

A report shared by the UK Cryptoassets Taskforce cites several proposed changes in the nation’s cryptocurrency regulations, in addition to categorizing and defining the different variations of cryptoassets.

New opportunities, new dangers

Published Monday 29 October, the taskforce’s paper stipulates that using cryptoassets as investments can raise new opportunities in business. Although, as regulations currently stand, these opportunities are at ”inappropriate levels” of risk, including dangers associated with illicit activities.

The UK taskforce praised initial coin offerings’ (ICOs) ability to bring a new format of investment options to startup companies, promoting innovation, improving efficiency and developing a new ”type” of investor.

The report does state, however, that the risks cryptoassets pose on these investors is notable, particularly because of their susceptibility to market abuses such as pump and dump scheme and other forms of price manipulation.

This could be changed in the future though if the industry takes on the Financial Promotions rules that the report proposes, giving the product or service in question a more ”balanced impression”, according to the taskforce.

Defining and categorizing

Another proposal in the report includes clearly defining the various forms that cryptoassets take and sorting them into categories thereafter. The framework it offers lays out three types of cryptoassets: security tokens, exchange tokens, and utility tokens.

While none of these types may be recognized as money right now due to their high volatilities, the task force lays out a progressive approach in that it believes the decentralized technology systems behind them may allow cheaper and more efficient financial transactions to be conducted in the future.

The Cryptoassets Taskforce was launched in May this year, constituting members from the Bank of England and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

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G20 Crypto Report: Preserve Benefits of Innovation, Contain Risk

The G20 Financial Stability Board (FSB) is rarely upbeat when it comes to cryptocurrency and its latest report won’t disappoint, although there are indications that the regulatory board is beginning to accept that crypto is here to stay.

It states that its observations are primarily based on a “monitoring framework… predominantly based on public data” and it would be interesting to uncover exactly where this data is gathered.

The usual risks to financial stability in that crypto lacks sovereign currency “attributes” and concerns about digital currencies’ price volatility are all to be found in the report, with little reference to their benefits. It also refers to a lack of regulation due to the range of jurisdictions in which cryptocurrency exchanges operate.

The FSB is formed by an amalgamation of 68 finance departments and central banks of the G20 and chaired by Bank of England’s head Mark Varney who has expressed his concerns about cryptocurrency on more than one occasion.

The G20 financial watchdog noted in its July report that previous analysis of crypto-asset markets, which included initial coin offerings (ICOs), had brought forth awareness surrounding significant challenges such as rapid market development, lack of transparency (with regard to identity and location if token issuers), as well as governing laws for white papers and gaps in data.

This latest report has upgraded some of these concerns from early in the year calling for “vigilant monitoring” suggesting that institutionalized cryptocurrency may erode confidence in financial institutions; a clear concern being shown that banks fear an alternative option for their customers. This may not be imminent, but a likelihood that this becomes the status quo in future years is bound to concern major banking institutions around the globe, as represented by the G20 body.

However, it appears there is some consensus from within the group about the value of innovation, if not the benefits of crypto, although this may be limited to the respect currently being shown for the rising swathe of DLT in the fintech space and elsewhere. The report stated:

“FSB members have to date taken a wide variety of domestic supervisory, regulatory, and enforcement actions related to crypto-assets. These actions are balanced between preserving the benefits of innovation and containing various risks, especially those for consumer and investor protection and market integrity.”

The report also goes on to refer to the widespread use of crypto as a payment system but plays down the level of its impact in the financial and commercial sector by using the word “some”, perhaps unaware of crypto’s growing stature as a payment system:

“Importantly, crypto-assets are neither backed by any government or other authority nor are they legal tender in any jurisdiction. However, some private enterprises and some public sector entities have chosen to accept some crypto-assets as payment.”

 

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UK Financial Regulator Wants Balanced Crypto Approach

The chief executive of the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) addressed the issue of cryptocurrencies at a speech in London on Tuesday, a subject with which he said requires a balanced approach.

Speaking at the 2018 regulator’s Annual Public Meeting, Andrew Bailey initially brought up crypto assets as one of four operational risks significant in the regulators’ current work. While he said that the FCA was ”keen to see the potential of their underlying technology,” he recognized that there are also evident risks, citing a lack of education from consumers who do not understand the price volatility of their investments.

Bailey added that the FCA would not ”rule out roles for cryptoassets themselves”, an approach far from calling for a ban or restriction on trading operations. Combined with his statement that ”the FCA is firmly a supporter of innovation,” UK investors can rest assured that the FCA is not looking to impose any radical changes to the current regulations any time soon.

The section of Bailey’s speech referring to cryptocurrency came to an end with his assurance that the regulatory body was working closely with the Treasury and Bank of England to address any related issues and find ”appropriate responses”, a reference to the Cryptoassets Task Force set up earlier this year in May.

The UK task force held its first meeting on 21 May to discuss the future of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, and to establish ways to mitigate any risks that the growing industry might bring.

Alongside the FCO, the task force includes several senior government officials, the Bank of England and HM Treasury, although they have said they welcome the opinions and input of trade bodies, consumer groups, and investors in order to gain a broader perspective.

The UK has already begun establishing itself as a leading country in the blockchain industry; the outcome of these discussions are crucial in deciding whether this can remain the case in the future.

 

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Law Expert Advocates for Blockchain Use in Legal System

In an article for Lawyer Monthly, legal technology expert Paul Sachs advocated for the use of blockchain in the legal system and court proceedings, focusing on the UK in his discussion.

Sachs preceded his in-depth analysis of how blockchain could be utilized by stating a necessity for substance to be included in the growing discussion around the technology’s potential use cases; his analysis does just this.

Increased security

The most significant contribution of blockchain in law, as Sachs sees, it is the potential it has in transforming security and protecting evidence during a trial. He notes that the UK courts are currently going through a GBP 1 billion modernization effort partially focused on digitizing processes to increase work efficiency.

For courts to move away from paper, instituting new technology poses a risk, especially in that digital evidence can be altered. Sachs writes that particularly when there is a long time between the original submission and the court date, data must be provably fully compliant with security and business processes.

The solution: an immutable network of evidence that can be presented in a courtroom with no questions as to the authenticity of the data. These are the strongest features of blockchain by design.

Blockchain may be a public artifact, Sachs discusses, but legal evidence would not be revealed to the public, merely IDs and hash codes. He writes: ”In this way, it becomes an incorruptible digital ledger.” Each transaction of the evidence would be recorded on the blockchain, while the evidence itself would remain completely private.

This removes the opportunity for any wrongdoers to forge documents or edit photographs once the evidence has been uploaded to the blockchain. It also could be just the beginning of further innovation in the legal sector with security now guaranteed, as Sachs outlines.

Blockchain in the UK

Sachs’ vision for blockchain in the legal system may well be established given the UK Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) blockchain bullishness. It recently announced the establishment of a collaborative entity, the Global Financial Innovation Network (GFIN), to pursue innovations.

The network’s purpose is founded on the concept of establishing a global blockchain knowledge-sharing “sandbox”.

The Bank of England has also nearly finalized its Proof of Concept (PoC) project that is looking to establish a Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) service to meet new financial challenges emerging from the changing landscape.

 

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CFTC Chair: Blockchain Innovation Stifled by Lack of US Regulations

At a United States Congressional hearing on Wednesday, 25 July, Christopher Giancarlo, Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CTFC), elaborated on the need for CFTC participation in blockchain innovation in the US.

“Because we’re falling behind”

At the “Examining the Upcoming Agenda for the CFTC” public hearing, Giancarlo explained the frustrations of the CFTC not being able to participate in Proof-of-Concept (PoC) or beta tests of new blockchain innovations, that of which can be boiled down to bureaucracy.

He says that the CFTC would love to take part and create a regulatory node in the blockchain to observe these developments. However, Giancarlo noted that the CFTC was unable to do so, owing to present laws which stifle efforts to appropriately regulate the blockchain with full understanding.

The issue is that the CFTC can’t freely exchange information between itself and a private startup as it is considered a “gift”, which is something that the agency is strictly prohibited from doing, or even a bank, even if it was by invitation.

Giancarlo also points out that paying a private company for information is redundant as it will need to go through a time-consuming appropriations process, by which time he says “this thing is already launched”.

Catching up

His words come in response to Representative Austin Scott’s question of how the CFTC Modernization Act would allow them to do their job better, a bill that was also proposed by the representative.

He noted that the Bank of England had recently managed to finalize a Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) project through their four-year-long Project Innovate that allowed them to participate in blockchain beta tests, from which they created a new “bank-to-bank payment system” and that it is going to be “blockchain compliant”.

Giancarlo was also asked earlier by the representative to explain the future intentions of the CFTC’s hub for “engagement with the fintech innovation community” called LabCFTC. To which he responded, “LabCFTC is our front door into these new regulatory fintech developments in the marketplace, and it’s so important to us to be able to understand these innovations that are coming down the pike so fast.”

US developments

The commissioner of the CFTC Rostin Benham called cryptocurrency a “modern miracle” in early June, also believing that blockchain was a remedy to globally-recognized problems such as poverty, corruption, food and healthcare.

In July, the Chamber of Commerce created a Fintech Innovation Initiative that is urging the government to establish clearer regulations on cryptocurrencies and related activities. Furthermore, it sent a report to US financial regulators also relaying the message that the US could fall behind the rest of the world.

It appears as though the cogs are finally turning in the US, though the nation will have to certainly set a high pace should it wish to be in league with countries such as South Korea, Malta, or the United Kingdom.

 

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Global Regulators Consider Capital Requirements on Bank Crypto Holdings

Cryptocurrency assets held by banks may soon become subject to new capital requirements enforced by global financial regulators, as they struggle to fit digital currencies into conventional asset ordinance.

In a report published Monday by the Financial Stability Board (FSB), the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision outlined an agenda of promoting financial stability through strengthening regulation and supervision of banks worldwide. The report was aimed at its 20 members and proposed capital requirements for crypto assets held by banks.

The regulations offered in the review would require capital lenders to adjust their services to the cryptocurrency market, namely protecting themselves against market volatility and other accompanying threats. While these regulations would bring digital currency assets in line with existing rules for established forms such as mortgages, they could push up financing costs for firms.

The Basel Committee’s members include the US Federal Reserve, as well as the European Central Bank. An ongoing study by the committee is researching how each member currently treats domestic cryptocurrency asset exposure. The FSB is reportedly waiting for the results of this inquiry before clarifying the applicability, or details of the new capital requirements.

The FSB’s position on crypto

While the FSB has said it does not believe digital currency assets present a threat to current financial order, it has continued to study and develop ways of surveying the market. Issues including pump and dump schemes, manipulation, access to price information, and volatility have been cited by the FSB as necessary to amend.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney chairs the FSB, who is himself a vocal critic of cryptocurrencies. In March, he called for an end to what he described as the ”anarchy” surrounding the industry, saying the time had come for digital assets to face the same regulations as the rest of the financial system.

This sentiment expressed falls along a very similar line of the proposed standardization of regulating cryptocurrency assets the way traditional assets are.

 

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South African Central Bank Ethereum Blockchain Tests Successful

The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) has just completed a multi-bank testing of bank-to-bank transfers using blockchain.

South Africa’s central bank has been testing the Ethereum based platform Quorum in collaboration with eight banks including SARB, Absa, Capitec, Discovery, Investec, FirstRand, Nedbank, and Standard Bank.

The program, called Project Khoka spread over 14 weeks, conducted tests which replicated transactions normally handled by the South African Multiple Gross Operation Settlement System (SAMOS), rather than handling actual transactions.  The project was aimed at proving that a DLT based program might be able to replicate SAMOS which can handle 70,000 daily transfers in two hours.

Project Khoka successfully used public cloud servers offered by Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services to add power needed for the transaction verifications.  SARB was happy with the outcome of the tests and claimed that the Quorum blockchain handled the transfers with “scalability, resilience, confidentiality, and finality.” The SARB post-test report stated:

“Both the process, as well as the outcome of the project, contribute to the SARB’s goals. The decision was made to assess the use case for DLT in wholesale payments and interbank settlement and thus build on and extend the work done in other parts of the world.”

SARB suggested that more testing would be required before DLT is suitable for such interbank settlements as exhibited in the trial, and if proven satisfactory for bank use would most probably be utilized as a backup system, rather than actually replacing its current system, according to Francois E. Groepe, SARB’s Deputy Governor.

Banks are increasingly testing DLT for interbank settlements around the world, some aiming to use blockchain in order to update outmoded systems. Recently the Bank of England announced that it was rebuilding its Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) system to work with DLT. The announcement came after BoE Governor Mark Carney commented that private business and platforms need to be able to work with the bank’s own RTGS system.

RTGS is a system generally used to transfer large volumes of funds between banks.

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