Banks steer clear of Facebook’s Libra project Traditional lenders are working on their own faster, cheaper payments projects Facebook’s Libra threatens to break down banks’ role as gatekeepers of the global financial system © FT montage Share on Twitter (opens new window) Share on Facebook (opens new window) Share on LinkedIn (opens new window) Save Save to myFT Laura Noonan and Robert Armstrong in New York, Nicholas Megaw and Stephen Morris in London 12 HOURS AGO Print this page41 US and European banks are steering clear of Libra, Facebook’s project for a new cryptocurrency, for fear of antagonising regulators and cannibalising their own digital currency projects In the two weeks since Facebook announced its plans for a new digital currency, there has been silence from the banks about a project that threatens to break down their role as gatekeepers of the global financial system. “We’re still learning what it is and trying to work out where we stand on it; are we an opponent, partner or do we ignore?,” said a person familiar with the approach to the project of one of the world’s biggest banks. Up and down Wall Street, the City of London and Europe’s financial centres, senior industry executives reel off a litany of hurdles to participation, while some also criticise the way Facebook has approached the project so far. No banks were on the initial list of 27 other partners for the Libra Association, which will oversee the currency, though David Marcus, who is leading the project at Facebook, said he wanted to “absolutely and strongly deny the fact that we’ve approached banks and banks have said no”. “We have had conversations with banks. We still have conversations with banks. And my expectation is that by the time this thing launches next year you will have banks that are going to be members of this,” he told the Information. Senior executives at banks, however, tell a different story. At least one bank, the Netherland’s ING, responded to Facebook’s initial contact with a polite “no thank you”. Several other senior executives said there would be big hurdles for their future involvement, either as active members of the Libra Association or by helping people to convert traditional money in and out of Libra coins. Mike Corbat, head of Citigroup, recently said that even though he was a “true believer” in cryptocurrencies and their underlying blockchain technology, Citi’s capacity to participate is constrained, “The challenge with cryptocurrencies is the opaqueness as to the sources of the money,” he said, referencing anti-money-laundering standards banks are held to. “It would be outside our ability to take or send those monies on behalf [of people who hold them].” Facebook’s Libra coin: the truth behind the hype Meanwhile, several banks are pushing ahead with projects to speed up payments, which some said would overtake the Libra initiative. Mastercard, which is part of the Libra project, is working with six Nordic banks to build a payments system that would allow real-time transfers, and be used across multiple currencies in multiple countries. Paul Stoddart, Mastercard’s president of new payment platforms, said he expected to see “more initiatives like this around the world where there are groups of countries or regions that are economically more tightly integrated”. In the US, The Clearing House, a payments company backed by a coalition of 25 large banks including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup, offers domestic real-time payments on a network, launched in 2017, that already connects half of the country’s deposit accounts. And on June, 13 of the world’s biggest banks including UBS, Lloyds Banking Group and MUFG, announced plans to launch their own digital coin for use in wholesale banking. Recommended Libra: Facebook’s digital currency Will Facebook’s Libra currency shake up financial services? A senior executive at one of the banks involved said: “Facebook is right that cross-border payments are clunky and convoluted and you have to go through far too many counterparties, but banks are getting involved and will solve this problem and solve it pretty quickly.” The banks expect that the first institutional transaction with the “universal settlement coin” will take place within a year, and could be a cross-border trade. Meanwhile, the head of innovation at another US bank said the industry needed to understand a lot more, including the purpose of the Libra coin, the regulatory environment and the system’s technical underpinning before they could commit to the project. “We will be talking to them [Libra] very soon,” he said. “There’s a huge amount of scepticism but there’s some enormous names who have put up $10m a pop; there’s enough names of enough reputable organisations that have put up $10m to be a part of it to say there’s something there.” A senior executive at a third large US bank said he did not believe banks would have to lobby very hard to ensure that Libra attracts the same know-your-customer and anti-money-laundering scrutiny as traditional payments networks, which will heap costs on the project. “If this thing has the scale of 2bn people who can move money around outside of the financial system (without AML/KYC), it makes a mockery of the system,” he said. “We won’t have to persuade them in Washington . . . regulators are at it, they’ll make them lift to the same standards as everyone else.” The executive added that Facebook, which recently hired a prominent lobbyist from Standard Chartered, had already mishandled the regulatory piece by announcing their plans without having first brought regulators onside. Who is backing Libra so far? Payments Mastercard, PayPal, PayU, Stripe, Visa Tech and consumer Booking Holdings, eBay, Facebook, Farfetch, Lyft, Mercado Pago, Spotify, Uber Telecoms Iliad, Vodafone Blockchain Anchorage, Bison Trails, Coinbase, Xapo Holdings Venture Capital Andreessen Horowitz, Breakthrough Initiatives, Ribbit Capital, Thrive Capital, Union Square Ventures NGOs Creative Destruction Lab, Kiva, Mercy Corps, Women’s World Banking When JPMorgan Chase drew up plans for a much more limited digital coin, they had extensive conversations with regulators before going public, asking them for informal guidance on what would be acceptable to them, a person close to that process said. The Trump administration’s financial regulation regime is much more amenable to those iterative conversations than the Obama administration, which “saw banks as the enemy”, he added. The head of innovation of a large European bank said its participation was hampered by the fact that “regulations don’t allow us to be very entrepreneurial in this area”. Mr Marcus acknowledged the regulatory concerns in a blog post on Wednesday. He promised a “collaborative process” with regulators, and said replacing cash with a digital network “with regulated on and off ramps with proper know-your-customer practices” could help limit financial crime. A senior executive at a fourth large US bank said his company might still participate but there was a long road ahead. “The money [initial $10m investment] over here wouldn’t be the most material hurdles, they [the sums] are not big among in the scheme of things,” he said. The test would be whether it is “regulated, and is it really solving a problem or just ticking a quasi-innovation box, we’d need to be comfortable with the use cases, what they would do beyond regulation, regulation is like a minimum bar”. For some banks, even ticking all those boxes will not go far enough. “You could argue it’s a competitor to our competitive advantage . . . the ability to move money around the world for customers within our network. So it would be rather unusual to go outside that, to compete against yourself, in many ways.”
After years of disregarding privacy, exploiting user data, and failing to control its platform, Facebook has now unveiled a cryptocurrency and payment system that could take down the entire global economy. Governments must intervene before a company that “moves fast and breaks things” ends up breaking everything.
Facebook’s Calibra cryptocurrency is on its way.
It’s mission is to “enable a simple global currency and financial infrastructure that empowers billions of people”.
At TILTing 2019 the Lab presented a study on the legal instruments that are, as of today, applicable to blockchain-based digital assets under European law, and the relative enforcement challenges. The broader question to be tackled is whether and how regulators deal with such challenges, and what are the interests at stake. http://ipkitten.blogspot.com/2019/05/tilting-perspectives-2019-report-2.html
The only female leader in the Pacific Islands is facing a no-confidence challenge after pushing ahead with the controversial introduction of a digital currency for the Marshall Islands.In February this year President Hilda Heine announced plans to introduce a cryptocurrency to operate as the country’s second legal tender alongside the US dollar, saying her country must not remain idle but “advance into the future”.The cryptocurrency, known as Sovereign or “Sov” was to be issued by an Israeli start-up company, which, according to the International Monetary Fund has “limited financial sector experience”.
I am proposing that the second point on Bitcoin’s risk spectrum should be LNRR, the Lightning Network Reference Rate. Routing fees earned on bitcoin staked to Lightning payment channels can be expressed as an interest rate. The rates received on the payment channel or node level can be hashed and cryptographically provable. Node operators can opt-in to publish realized interest rates on their capital. If a consensus can be reached on an interest rate calculation protocol, capital providers can publish interest rates in an open and transparent way. Positive interest rates will attract bank-like entities that believe they can earn positive return using effective payment channel management and security techniques. Some bitcoin previously held in cold storage will seek the income attainable in Lightning Network, the first ever example of an opportunity cost tradeoff in bitcoin that doesn’t require additional counterparty risk. Bitcoin staked to Lightning is the most unique income producing asset in all of monetary history: income with zero counterparty risk. The historical implications of this on capital markets are tremendous.
The biggest takeaway from all of this is that mining is for big players. The more money you spend, the more of an advantage you have, and there’s not an easy way to change that equation. At least with traditional Nakamoto style consensus, a large entity that produces and controls most of the hashrate seems to be more or less the outcome, and at the very best you get into a situation where there are 2 or 3 major players that are all on similar footing. But I don’t think at any point in the next few decades will we see a situation where many manufacturing companies are all producing relatively competitive miners. Manufacturing just inherently leads to centralization, and it happens across many different vectors.
Limits to arbitrage can help explain why Bitcoin has been so bubble-prone. Until recently, it was easy enough to take a long position, but expensive and risky to bet against the cryptocurrency. Things really changed in December, when U.S. regulators allowed the trading of Bitcoin futures. That move came in the middle of a historic runup in the price of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. But as soon as futures contracts began to trade, an interesting thing happened — futures prices suggested that Bitcoin’s growth would slow.What happened next is historic. Bitcoin’s price crashed from a high of about $19,000 to less than $7,000 as of the writing of this article:
This special issue introduces the study of financial technologies and finance to the field of philosophy of technology, bringing together two different fields that have not traditionally been in dialogue. The included articles are: Digital Art as ‘Monetised Graphics’: Enforcing Intellectual Property on the Blockchain, by Martin Zeilinger; Fundamentals of Algorithmic Markets: Liquidity, Contingency, and the Incomputability of Exchange, by Laura Lotti; ‘Crises of Modernity’ Discourses and the Rise of Financial Technologies in a Contested Mechanized World, by Marinus Ossewaarde; Two Technical Images: Blockchain and High-Frequency Trading, by Diego Viana; and The Blockchain as a Narrative Technology: Investigating the Social Ontology and Normative Configurations of Cryptocurrencies, by Wessel Reijers and Mark Coeckelbergh.
Crypto-Securities Regulation: ICOs, Token Sales and Cryptocurrencies under EU Financial Law
44 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2017 Last revised: 13 Dec 2017
Date Written: November 22, 2017
Cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin and ethereum, have not only risen to public attention as novel means of payments. Rather, the current hype is fueled by financial applications built on top of these currencies that stand to potentially upend consumer and investment markets. The most remarkable and economically relevant of these applications are tokens sold via initial coin offerings (ICOs, also called token sales). In 2017 alone, the equivalent of more than $ 3 billion have been raised through ICOs. In these entirely online-mediated offerings, startup entrepreneurs sell tokens registered on a blockchain in exchange for cryptocoins traded on that blockchain (typically bitcoins or ethers). Investors receive tokens that can be understood as cryptographically-secured coupons which embody a bundle of rights and obligations.
In July 2017, the SEC released an investigative report that highlighted that such tokens can be subject to the full scope of US securities regulation. As a result, issuers increasingly structure ICOs such as to prevent US citizens and residents from obtaining tokens in order to exclude the reach of US securities regulation. However, for the time being, EU citizens and residents are free to invest in tokens. This raises the question to what extent EU securities regulation is applicable to ICOs and, particularly, whether issuers have to publish and register a prospectus in order to avoid criminal and civil prospectus liability in the EU. In conceptual terms, this depends on whether tokens are considered “securities” under the EU prospectus regulation regime. The question is of great practical relevance since, despite the high stakes involving more than $100 million in some ICOs, to our knowledge, up to now not a single token issuer has published or registered any such prospectus.
Against this background, this paper develops a nuanced approach that distinguishes between three archetypes of tokens: currency, investment, and utility tokens. It analyzes the differential implications of each of these types, and their hybrid forms, for EU securities regulation. While the variety of tokens offered necessitates a case-by-case analysis, the discussion reveals that at least some types and hybrid forms of tokens are subject to EU securities regulation. By and large, pure investment tokens typically must be considered securities, while pure currency and utility tokens are exempted from securities regulation in the EU. In identifying these archetypes, regulation and market oversight will have to put substance over form. Finally, we spell out criteria for the application of EU securities regulation to hybrid token types.
The paper closes by offering two policy proposals to mitigate legal uncertainty concerning token sales. First, we suggest tailoring disclosure requirements to the code-driven nature of token sales. Such an ICO-specific safe harbor would offer a clear and less burdensome path to EU law compliance for token sellers who suspect that their tokens may qualify as securities. This only requires the Commission to amend its delegated 2004 Commission Prospectus Regulation. Second, we propose that, on an international level, governments form a compact to bestow certainty about the application of their respective securities regulation regimes to token sales. This is, first, to avoid regulatory overkill on the one and regulatory lacunae on the other hand in online-mediated, global token sales. Second, overlapping, and partially contradicting, securities regulation regimes can nullify each other. In the end, only a joint international regulatory regime can efficiently balance investor protection and investor access in the face of the novel generation of decentralized blockchain applications.
Keywords: blockchain, ICO, token sale, initial coin offering, bitcoin, ethereum, prospectus, EU law, smart contracts, DAO, utility token, investment token, safe harbor, cryptocurrencies