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Estonia to Amend Recently Passed AML Law to Include Crypto Services

Estonia

A financial newspaper from Estonia, Äripäev reported that the local government is going to amend one of its recently passed financial bills to include crypto related clauses.

The new version of the Anti Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Prevention Act will be going through these changes in less than a week of its passing. The amendment is being done to comply with European Union’s Fourth Money Laundering Prevention Directive. The original bill had initially mentioned tighter rules for “alternative means of payment service provider”. The alteration in the bill would replace it with “virtual currency exchange service providers” and “virtual currency payment service providers.”

The move, in accordance to EU’s policies, has been introduced after Estonian Financial Supervision Authority (FI) said that cryptocurrencies and platforms offering crypto services give undesirable elements the opportunity to conduct money laundering easily.

Estonia is a country known for being extremely crypto friendly, with a significant number of crypto platforms and services from around the world registering in its jurisdiction. It also recently dropped plans for a national cryptocurrency after European Union Bank’s president, Mario Draghi opposed the move.

The Estonian initiative to make regulations for cryptocurrencies is part of a global move by governments to control, or at least ensure, that decentralized digital currencies and asset providers are more diligent about who can use their services. This is largely due to concerns about terrorist and money laundering entities utilizing cryptos to avoid sanctions and restrictions.

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Estonia’s Own Private Bull Run Boasts 900 Crypto Firms in Less Than a Year

Bitcoin News has been following Estonia’s cryptocurrency march with some interest this year, and with over 900 licenses granted within the first year of the regulator’s initial registration ruling in that country, there seems to be no stopping its enthusiasm for the enterprise.

Estonia was one of the first jurisdictions in the EU to legislate cryptocurrencies and many companies are now doing business there. The Baltic region is fast becoming a northern crypto-paradise with Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia all experiencing a recent economic boom. This has made Estonia a breeding ground for new startups.

Even its neighbor Latvia, though behind Estonia in cryptocurrency adoption, is beginning to make real inroads into developing a positive input to the industry. In March 2018, Latvia hosted an international discussion between industry experts on the future of fintech in the Baltics and the overall EU, which featured the vice-president of the European Commission Valdis Dombrovskis as keynote speaker.

But it’s Estonia breaking the records at present due to a progressive approach to cryptocurrency, despite the country abandoning its plans to introduce its own cryptocurrency after being warned by President of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi earlier this year.

500 licenses have been issued to date with over 400 wallet providers also being issued permission to operate. It appears that obtaining a license to operate a platform in Estonia is relatively simple according to Nikolay Demchuk from the law firm Njord which works in the sector. As Estonia operates under EU rules, the main emphasis on obtaining accreditation is complying with local and EU rules. Businesses applying also need to prove that they can operate with adequate KYC and AML protection.

Approval only takes about two weeks and are issued by the local regulator, the Estonian Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), but companies must begin operating within six months of receiving their licenses under the pressure of losing them.

The biggest drawback in Estonia concerns banking as there is still a reluctance among the country’s banking community to provide services to cryptocurrency exchanges. However, the e-residency program, introduced in 2014, allows non-Estonians access to Estonian services such as company formation, banking, payment processing, and taxation. The program also allows anyone in the world to apply for a digital ID card and gain access to Estonian e-services when planning to start a company in the country.

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Blockchain Voting May Be Only Route to Accuracy at the Polls

Paper-based voting is beginning to have its detractors, despite an African politician’s recent animosity towards electronic-based counting techniques planned for the polls in the lead up to Congo’s General Election in December.

Blockchain is being tested in all areas and voting is a field where it could have a significant impact, improving on some existing electronic methods which have been introduced in some regions to provide speed and clarity to the process of electing a government, council or simply making some changes to civic laws.

As the US administration still hedges its bets that things will blow over regarding accusations of Russian interference in the process which led to president Trump’s election, nations around the globe are looking for ways to add far more transparency to the end product of electioneering.

The US has already trialed blockchain voting technology. West Virginia trialed it in this year’s mid-term Senate elections, while the labs in Switzerland’s Crypto Valley experimented with eID, a system designed to allow residents to vote electronically on civic matters. In Indonesia, a country with a 20-year history of vote rigging, an Australian blockchain company is currently working on a digital ballot box based on blockchain to solve this problem, after initial trials in Sumatra.

Estonia in Eastern Europe has been far ahead of the rest, using electronic voting in its elections since 2005 with 30.5% of all votes in their 2015 parliamentary elections cast through the country’s i-voting system. Japan has taken things further by trialing electronic voting with the secure backing of a DLT-based system using ID swipe cards, which are then encrypted.

While electronic voting is a step forward, it isn’t infallible unless backed by DLT. One non-DLT electronic voting system used only in Virginia recently subtracted one vote for every 100 cast. Another used in 23 US states had an unpatched vulnerability for over 11 years.

Congo’s upcoming election to replace President Joseph Kabila after 17 years as the country’s leader is already running into problems due to electronic voting before a vote has even been cast. The introduction of this form of voting and the government’s exclusion of a number of candidates from the ballot has enraged opposition parties. The introduction of tablet devices for the purpose of casting votes has provoked accusations that the machines are even more vulnerable to vote-rigging than paper and that Congo’s poor power supply could cause systems to fail during the election.

“They are not voting machines they are cheating machines,” argues opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba. “They are not reliable, too slow and there are 10 million fake voters who have already been registered. We, the opposition, have united to say no to the machines.”

According to followmyvote.com, who are attempting to build an online voting platform using blockchain tech, DLT is the only accurate and truly transparent way of reflecting the will of the people precisely and without error, suggesting on their website: “This way, everyone can agree on the final count because they can count the votes themselves, and because of the blockchain audit trail, they can verify that no votes were changed or removed, and no illegitimate votes were added.”

In the words of Joseph Stalin, perhaps one of recent history’s most infamous manipulators:

“It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”

 

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Latest Report Shows US at Top of Most Favorable Countries for ICOs

The US has been ranked as the “most favorable” country for Initial Coin offerings (ICOs) according to a recent report linked to the Crypto Finance Conference, writes Cointelegraph.

According to the report, figures show that the US has seen 30 crypto start-ups launched, along with Switzerland and Singapore in the top three with 15 and 11 project launches respectively. The data was compiled by examining 100 ICO’s worldwide in terms of fundraising and designating their countries of origin.

The report also identified Russia, the UK, and Estonia as good locations for startup fundraising industry. Many crypto companies are now doing business in Estonia with Lithuania and Latvia, also experiencing an economic boom recently. Estonia’s widespread adoption of cryptocurrencies and fintech has become a breeding ground for new startups.

The start-up frenzy reached it hiatus in March of this year with $2.94 being raised in one month, although as many as 1000 cryptocurrencies have gone to the wall on the back of Bitcoin’s recent declining fortunes this year. The good news for the industry is the doubling of 2017’s start-ups in just the first half of 2018.

Second place Switzerland on the ICO report seems to be going from strength to strength with regulators attempts to support mainstream use, and startups in Crypto Valley are thriving as a result. Another step along that road has been the recent announcement that the country’s stock exchange, SIX, will open its doors to digital currencies.

Third place Singapore continues to deal with regulatory issues as it grows as an Asian start-up hub. Singapore, always at the forefront of technological advancement saw startup Tangem release its own version of a physical bitcoin banknote recently.

The US, in top place in the recent report in the ICO popularity stakes, continues to focus its attention on regulating the industry, particularly at State level. New major mining projects are making use of past defunct industry locations and making new homes in such installations, replacing steel for the cryptocurrency as the states attempt to integrate crypto into existing tax legislation.

Arizona is one of many states regulating ICO’s with a view to paving the way for regulatory framework for initial coin offerings (ICOs) in the state, although earlier this year both New Hampshire and the state of Georgia failed to pass a bill that was to require the state to accept cryptocurrencies for payment of taxes and license fees.

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Which Countries Are Most Likely to Adopt Bitcoin First?

Bitcoin replacing a country’s government currency would be a huge achievement for cryptocurrency as well as a historical milestone. But which countries are most likely to adopt such a nascent currency?

One of the biggest drivers for adopting a cryptocurrency would be necessity. Countries where citizens experience hyperinflation, political instability, or other factors that shake confidence in a government currency typically see higher demand in alternative currencies like Bitcoin.

Countries possibly adopting Bitcoin on a major scale, for this reason, would be Iran, Venezuela and Argentina, to name a few.

Iran has made headlines with plans to withdraw EUR 300 million from German banks. Rising tension since 2015, when the US left the Nuclear Agreement, has only amplified with Trump entering the presidency.

The tension has only weakened confidence in the Iranian rial, leading to higher than market prices within Iran borders. Couple this with the US sanctions placed restricting liquidity and hyperinflation of 112%, and Bitcoin easily becomes the currency of choice for Iranian citizens.

While rial’s hyperinflation will lead to holders of the currency losing more than half of their value, this is nothing compared to Venezuela’s economic crisis.

A year ago, a cup of coffee in Venezuela was 2,200 Venezuelan bolivar (VEF), or around USD 0.20. Since then, inflation has been rampant, causing that same cup to be sold at VEF 1,400,000, for an effective annual inflation rate above 60,000%.

This has led to an extreme demand for the cryptocurrency; peer-to-peer exchange Localbitcoins shows Venezuela traders selling Bitcoin at rates of VEF 9 billion (USD 75,000) to VEF 19.5 Billion (USD 158,531). Despite these massive premiums and the cryptocurrency experiencing a correction of its own, Bitcoin is still a more attractive option than the fiat currency.

Such an extreme devaluation of the currency makes Venezuela a prime country to embrace Bitcoin wholeheartedly.

Argentina is in a similar situation and currently has the higher interest rate in the world (40%). Continually rising prices coupled with increasing unemployment rates makes Bitcoin a viable currency in this case, over the Argentine peso.

Cashless societies could also be primed for a crypto take over but cryptocurrency needs a lot of refinement before this could become a reality.

Contactless payment methods are already very convenient and with credit cards, even offer cashback rewards and customer protection. For cryptocurrency to penetrate markets like Canada, Sweden and the UK, digital currencies must not only offer similar characteristics but be much better than existing systems.

A good scaling solution needs to put in place as well, in order for Bitcoin (or whatever cryptocurrency a society adopts) to handle the number of transactions.

The third set of countries likely to adopt Bitcoin are the ones that are already open to cryptocurrency-related businesses, regulatory wise.

Countries that fall into this category include Japan, Estonia, Singapore, Australia, and South Korea. Sweden also goes into this category because despite its cashless society, recognizing Bitcoin as a legal form of payment.

Countries that are Bitcoin-friendly will typically have a higher percentage of citizens already exposed and actively using the cryptocurrency, making it far easier for Bitcoin to become widespread.

Being on welcoming turf also allows companies to come in and introduce new use case scenarios for the cryptocurrency, thus improving Bitcoin’s penetration rates.

Bitcoin is a fairly new currency and as more people begin to understand and classify it, more countries will become more receptive to the decentralized money. It will be interesting to see which country becomes to adopt Bitcoin as a dominant currency and if it’s from necessity, convenience or another reasons.

 

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Bitcoin is ‘Back in the USSR’

Russia’s launch of its first crypto investment bank is the hot news from Eastern Europe’s sleeping bear, but how is the old USSR and the rest of the eastern bloc holding up in the charge to regulate the nascent industry in the region?

In the Ukraine capital, Kiev, plans are underway to site a statue of the pseudonymous creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, in the same location where a statue of Russian communist revolutionary Lenin, used to stand. This appears to augur well for the bitcoin community… or does it?

Things are changing since ex-President Victor Yanukovich created his own cryptocurrency oligarchy; the pro- Russian leader is now exiled in Russia and wanted in his home county for high treason. Today, according to businessman Michael Chobanian, who opened the first Ukraine exchange offering national currency hryvnia for Bitcoin: “Ukraine is a haven for cryptocurrency – no one can or will stop you.”

His comments don’t exactly ring true in light of recent swoops by state security forces on Kvazar semiconductor plant in Kiev, where a large mining operation was located. This, a month after armed men from Ukraine’s Security Service broke into the Odessa offices of ForkLog, a major Russian-language crypto news site, and seized its computers and hard drives.

In an attempt to start a dialogue on cryptocurrency, Alexei Mushak, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, has sought to urge the people to comment on Bitcoin, taking to Facebook to do so recently, stating:

“We go to the home stretch to create conditions for digital tokens and cryptocurrency in Ukraine. This is the outcome of many meetings and work of many people. There are many more nuances left to figure out…”

Cryptocurrency regulation in Ukraine remains a work in progress, despite the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) stating that it was “considering” introducing a digital version of the hryvnia earlier this year.

Ukraine’s northern neighbor Belarus has taken what appears to be a sensible approach to a difficult problem in some of the old USSR states. Both blockchain and cryptocurrency related business activities are legislated under the law in Belarus. Mining and exchanges are not regarded as business activities and consequently are not subject to taxation. In fact, the great news for crypto investors is they are not required to declare crypto income until 2023.

Traveling through the old USSR even further north, Estonia even toyed briefly with launching its own cryptocurrency, the Estcoin, through the country’s e-residency program, but later shelved the idea.

The e-residency program, introduced in 2014, allows non-Estonians access to national services such as company formation, banking, payment processing, and taxation. The program also allows anyone in the world to apply for a digital ID card and gain access to Estonian e-services when planning to start a company in the country.

Many crypto companies are now doing business in Estonia and the Baltic region is becoming a “Northern crypto-paradise” along with Lithuania and Latvia, both also experiencing an economic boom recently. Estonia’s widespread adoption of cryptocurrencies and fintech has, therefore, become a breeding ground for new startups.

Latvia has the crypto bug, but not necessarily the support it would want from its government, with the Latvian central bank maintaining a keep away stance as its advice to customers.

Latvia currently levies a 20% capital gains tax, and applying it to cryptocurrency would reportedly require a change in the country’s tax laws. Currently, cryptocurrencies are not recognized under existing legislation. However, its exponential growth in the Baltic country has generated an increased interest from the government as a potential tax revenue.

Lithuania has recently become a growing center for ICOs and crypto projects. Latest figures show that Lithuania is now attracting an impressive 10% of all global ICO investments, with cryptocurrency bringing in half a billion euros from such activities.

 

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Latvia Joins Baltic Neighbor Estonia to Drive Fintech and Blockchain Charge

The Baltic state of Latvia may be a fledgling in terms of fintech development but it is beginning to make real inroads into developing the space, writes Fintech Switzerland.

Fintech has a rapidly growing footprint in the startup scene and cryptocurrency interest is growing despite government’s uncertainty regarding regulations in the sector.

Latvia currently levies a 20% capital gains tax, and applying it to cryptocurrency would reportedly require a change in the country’s tax laws. Currently, cryptocurrencies are not recognized under existing legislation. However, its exponential growth in the Baltic country has generated an increased interest from the government as a potential tax revenue.

Latvia is still lagging behind its crypto-friendly neighbor Estonia, which is beginning to attract outside companies due to its innovative and vibrant crypto community. Estonia has a significant internet penetration and has recently considered its own national token, the Estcoin, although it later rejected the proposal for a CBDC.

However, Latvia is well networked, occupying the third position in the OECD with its fast fiber-optic broadband and has several government programs active after launching the introduction of a startup visa in 2017. This change to legislation introduced new tax laws which effectively doubled venture capital investors’ money for new companies.

Along with an EUR 15 million hand out to seed investments and several conferences held in Latvia’s capital Riga every year, the fintech space is catching up with its neighbors. The Latvian Startup Association also promotes new business in the country, although with such a small market and a population of 2 million, business is increasingly searching for new overseas markets.

In March 2018, Latvia hosted an international discussion between industry experts on the future of fintech in the Baltics and the overall EU, which featured the vice-president of the European Commission, Valdis Dombrovskis, as keynote speaker.

European fintech platform and community B-Hive recently released a research paper showing that the most developed technological area in the country’s economy is now fintech with a startup industry worth USD 878 million, with blockchain technology a contributing factor.

 

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Unique Trading Fee Models Emerge as Exchanges Compete

As exchanges fight for space in a proliferating sector, newer exchanges are implementing alternatives to fee-based trading to attract traders. Current leaders like Binance offer lowered fees when trading using its own native digital tokens, while others like CoinBene and Bit-Z have introduced a “transaction fee mining” concept that generates new cryptocurrency by trading.

Estonia-based DX cryptocurrency exchange won’t be launching until July 2018, but has already pre-registered 500,000 users. It is attracting so much interest because it offers a unique subscription model where traders pay EUR 10 monthly and then can trade EUR 50,000 without any further fees.

DX says it has attracted institutional investors and brokers since it is officially licensed by Estonia’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications. Additionally, it has forged a partnership with global stock trading powerhouse Nasdaq.

CEO of DX, Daniel Skowronski, says money managers have been in talks with DX to use it as a cryptocurrency custodial service, expected to pave the way for large amounts of money to enter the cryptocurrency markets from institutional investment.

Typical exchanges charge at least 0.25% per cryptocurrency trade. At that rate, EUR 50,000 of trades would cost EUR 125 of fees. Therefore, a subscription-based model makes it very attractive for cryptocurrency traders. Institutional investors often trade much higher amounts in excess of EUR 100,000 per trade though, and it is unclear what the fees will be for such trades.

DX says it will be integrating Nasdaq’s matching engine to process trades, and although this is unconfirmed by Nasdaq itself, it wouldn’t be the first time Nasdaq has licensed its technology for use on a cryptocurrency exchange. For example, major US cryptocurrency exchange Gemini uses Nasdaq technology to prevent fraud and market manipulation.

 

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Nordic-Baltic Region Scoops up $6.3B of Europe’s Fintech Business

According to a MagnaCarta, Fintech Mundi and Mastercard report, fintech companies are continuing to thrive in Scandinavia and also in the Baltic regions, writes Fintech Schweiz Digital Finance News.

They are reported to have created half of the industries main players in Europe to date and those firms seeking fintech partnerships is far higher than the overall 2017 European average in these regions.

At the forefront of these successes are Swedish online payment platforms Klarna and iZettle and Estonian money transfer program TransferWise which has now relocated to the UK. These three companies are reputed to have a cumulative worth of USD 6.3 billion.

Susanne Hannestead CEO of Fintech Mundi and co-author of the research explains:

“The Nordic and Baltic markets already have an incredible track record of building fintech companies having created regional successes that have gone on to become global winners, like Spotify and Zwipe.”

Its reported that there are over 500 fintech companies across the Baltic and in Scandinavia and banks are showing increased interest seeing that costing and effectiveness can be a factor of collaboration in this financial sector.

Mastercard has been a major driver of fintech in the region having recently launched its Lighthouse Development Program in partnership with NFT Ventures in the region. The project has been set up in order to trawl the sector for prospective startups and develop new technologies.

Mats Taraldsson, the head of digital business development and fintech partnerships of Mastercard Nordics and Baltics, claims that collaboration is the key to success and finding the right fintech and startup mix to deliver customer needs:

“…working together with startups and fintech is essential to meet the future needs of consumers, merchants, and governments. We have been committed to fintechs for many years, fostering partnerships with pioneers who have grown into global brands.”

The Nordic Fintech Disruptors Report 2018 does highlight some problems though, regardless of the regions capturing the larger chunk of Europe’s fintech business, suggesting that the region still lacks regulation and supervision, particularly at local levels. In fact, 45% of respondents agreed that Nordic and Baltic fintech companies needed greater support in this area. Hannestad, also co-author of the research explained:

“A more joined-up approach to fintech, and the factors that influence successful innovation between the markets governments and regulators, however, would create new opportunities for growth and productivity and ensure the region is the best place in Europe to build the next generation of fintech giants.”

 

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McKinsey: China, UAE, Estonia, US Leading Blockchain and AI Towards a Tech Utopia

McKinsey experts suggest that by 2020, the number of smart cities will reach 600 worldwide according to Bitcoinschannel.

These cities are happening right now with China, UAE, Estonia and the US clear forerunners in the McKinsey analysts’ prediction of 600 metropolia in the next two years.

Dubai, with its high-tech society of unmanned trains and Wifi benches, plans to become the first blockchain megalopolis by 2010. Projects underway involve giants Google, Uber, Amazon, and IBM and, due to the initiation of its Smart City program, 545 city projects are underway which have the capacity to change residents lives.

All documentation in the future will be paperless, goods will be tracked using blockchain and unmanned trucks for delivery of goods is planned for the not too distant future.

Estonia loves its cryptocurrency and has long used blockchain, and is hailed as another crypto haven. DLT has been used in health, judicial, legislative, security and commercial systems in the country since as far back as 2012, making it another forerunner in adopting and utilizing new technology for practical civic purposes.

Estonians are able now to see who has been accessing their personal data through the blockchain, such as medical cards, drivers license or insurance details and can legally challenge any illegal or unauthorized access such information.

Not to be outdone, China plans to establish 1,000 smart cities on its own, again designed to improve the lives of its citizens. Its smart metropolis of the future is reputed to be Yinchuan where payments have been streamlined to the extent that facial recognition has become an accepted ID and shopping is conducted through a smart mobile application.

China has long expressed to the world its scathing condemnation of cryptocurrencies but has adopted blockchain like a long-lost friend. Chinese authorities are now exploring blockchain as a solution the data storage in numerous sectors and in central government. Also after notable scams, banks are starting to use electronic ledgers similar to that employed by Bitcoin to safeguard customer security.

In the US blockchain is being increasingly legislated for at state level and is being increasingly used for organizing record keeping, updating state databases.

US states are increasingly beginning to come on board in order to utilize blockchain tech. The state of Arizona has officially signed into law a bill that allows for corporations to hold and share data on a blockchain. First introduced in February by state representative Jeff Weninger, the bill is intended “to open the door for emerging technologies in Arizona”.

As states line up the new technology, Tennessee signed a bill recently that legally recognizes blockchain technology and smart contracts for electronic transactions. The bill also makes a provision that “protects ownership rights of certain information secured by blockchain technology”.

Nebraska, Florida, Arizona, Nevada, and Vermont, along with Maine, Hawaii, Illinois, and North Dakota are some of the many US states notably either in the process of presenting bills, enacting legislation or actively utilizing blockchain in state legislation.

 

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