We want to believe. And it seems that, in the case of at least some of the promises made about decentralized cryptocurrency, there may be reason to believe after all.
The potential of decentralized, no-counter-party digital assets to transform personal finances and international business is something that was predicted years ago after it became apparent that having "Internet money" was not only possible, but preferable.
After all, we've heard stories about countries throughout the world where the central bank ends up miss-managing supply, resulting in sudden spikes or drops in demand for central-bank-issued currency. The Greek crisis brought it to our attention, especially since citizens' private bank accounts in nearby Cyprus were shaved to pay off government debt just one year earlier in 2013.
Intuitively, we know that democratization of ownership rights is preferable to central control.
And big business is seeing the potential of digital assets as well. Large remittance processors are now signing onto xRapid to reduce their costs to levels that not only allow them to compete with larger players, but compete decisively, with incredibly-low processing costs for settlement. XRP allows them to do that.
Not everybody is a fan.
There are some very powerful interests that see the changes that digital assets bring, and they've identified more 'downside' than 'upside' for their own business interests. This has prompted some of these organizations, businesses, and individuals to take an active role in diminishing the public's perception of what crypto is all about.
We've seen correspondence banks not only be resistant to Ripple technology, but we've also seen some amazing double-speak occurring. JP Morgan, one of the largest correspondence banks that would stand to lose if Ripple technology was adopted at scale, has decried the significance of cryptocurrency on a consistent basis, with its CEO, Jamie Dimon, making statements that seemed designed to malign the public image of the entire industry.
And now we learn that they've digitized their bank debt, and are hoping to sell their JP-Morgan backed 'dollar coins' to other banks.
We in the crypto world immediately knew that JP Morgan didn't quite 'get it.' Crypto is not about the ability for a bank to issue its own fiat-pegged currency. Crypto is about reducing the dependence on any central operator.
Contrast JP Morgan's redeemable 'dollar coins' with that of a true, no-counter-party digital asset like XRP: XRP doesn't fail if JP Morgan - or any other bank - fails. There is no such thing as a "too big to fail" situation with cryptocurrencies. The financial innovation of cryptocurrency has to do with the democratization of ownership rights, and the action of free markets to determine the price of a decentralized, digital asset.
And the public is struggling with the ongoing conflict between their own skepticism - fueled by comments from mainstream financial icons that have a vested financial interest in maintaining centralized control of financing - and their own fascination.
And fascination is winning.
If you are holding a cryptocurrency investment, you've no doubt gone through periods of time where you've wondered about its future. After all, we're at the tail end of a bear market, and the headlines from some news outlets are not designed to soothe; in fact quite the opposite! News outlets sometimes purposefully court controversy to gain readership and sell advertisements.
It's a simple equation, but don't let the temporary bad publicity fool you: Big money is also investing in crypto. At the highest levels of finance, there are two camps at the present time, where only one used to exist. That's right: We have some powerful allies now. It's no longer the 'early days' of crypto when the skepticism was received from all sides.
Gone are those days: In fact, now, we're seeing some very well-heeled corporations, financial organizations, and investment houses rush headlong into digital assets, especially as the current bear market has started to lose its grip. These organizations are convinced that not only are crypto-assets here to stay, but that they represent an opportunity of gargantuan proportions.
As I've said before, the market is participatory; make your own voice heard. Let's make sure that the general public is exposed to the wonderment of financial innovation rather than the fear and doubt.
General Crypto News
On February 8th, Hester Pierce, an SEC Commissioner, published a presentation as part of the University of Missouri School of Law's "Protecting the Public While Fostering Innovation and Entrepreneurship: First Principles for Optimal Regulation" event. 1
In that incisive document, she indicates where the demarcations between securities laws and regulations should be drawn when evaluating a cryptocurrency, and her views mirrored those that were considered in the first version of the Token Taxonomy Act introduced late last year by Congressman Warren Davidson. 2
The momentum along that front continued on Valentine's Day, with Warren Davidson providing an update via Twitter about the most pivotal piece of legislation for those of us invested in various cryptocurrencies:
The update indicated that Congressman Davidson is close to following through on the response that was provided to CryptoEri when she asked if he was planning on re-introducing the bill in the new session, due to the fact that there was insufficient time in the last few days of the 115th session in late 2018 to sway enough supporters.
In that response, Congressman Davidson indicated that he was firmly behind the bill and would be re-introducing it; a sign that digital assets are now rising to the surface of the public's thought-space. In addition, many stakeholder businesses and organizations in the US desire further regulatory clarity before making additional significant investments within the borders of the US or its close economic allies.
A clear taxonomy for crypto-assets in the United States is still in flux.
Ripple recently held an event in London that they call "Ripple Regionals," and it reportedly featured a number of stakeholder financial institutions and European legislators, among others.
The event was reported in the media, mainly in relation to striking comments by Eva Kaili, a European Parliament member representing Greece.
Eva Kaili has actively participated in various blockchain-related initiatives as a member of Parliament, including efforts to guide regulation. In 2018, she championed a resolution that did a number of things, among them clarifying that there are specific uses and benefits to the application of blockchain technology. Specifically, the resolution went into considerable detail about how it can solve many of the systemic obstacles to financial inclusion. 3
Ripple's Insights article provided more background about some of the latest initiatives that intersect with the European Parliament, including the Digital Europe Program, which will see €9 billion Euro invested over the next eight years in a variety of areas, including efforts that champion interoperability. 4 5
One of the experiences that Eva Kaili mentioned as a motivation for her to earnestly investigate the use of blockchain technology was the events that unfolded as a part of the Greek debt crisis:
“After the debt crisis in Greece, I realized that the central banks had too much control over our deposits, and I thought that we should find a solution.”
In addition to the debt crisis, she noted that blockchain technology had the potential to transform some of the daily friction of cross-border payments. She provided a personal story as an example, calling out how Ripple's solutions might improve on the experience:
“Recently, I had to send €2,000 to my mother in Greece from my account in Brussels. She needed the money that day and I couldn’t use the bank because it would take three working days.
If I could send it to her using RippleNet, she would immediately receive the payment.”
This was an inspiring story, and when these types of observations are being made by the decision-makers in European Parliament, it's evidence that the tide may be turning when it comes to increasing adoption and regulatory clarity.
Stakeholders at various levels of Europe's leadership are not satisfied with multi-day cross-border payments when the technology now exists to settle these transactions real-time using digital assets. Correspondence banks may not want things to change, but it looks like many other European leaders like Eva Kaili are ready to move forward.
SendFriend was first revealed as an xRapid partner in early November of last year, in an article published by American Banker. 6 David Lighton, the CEO of SendFriend, then confirmed to @stedas (Twitter avatar) that they planned on going live with xRapid deployment in the first quarter of 2019. 7
XRP fans continue to monitor ledger payment volume on exchanges like Coins.ph to track the levels of transactions related to xRapid; Coins.ph is the exchange that xRapid partners looking to conduct payments to the Philippines would use. SendFriend has stated that one of the corridors they're targeting is from the US to the Philippines.
SendFriend is expanding by seeking out additional funding and partners: MarketWatch reported on February 11th that SendFriend had secured an additional $1.7 million in funding from a variety of investors, including 8 Decimal Capital, Techstars, 2020 Ventures, Barclays, and MIT Media Lab. 8
The company is choosing to build its money transmission business from the ground up using xRapid, which is allowing it to transfer money overseas at a 65% discount from the industry average.
The team leading SendFriend is a team that has a background at the World Bank, MIT, MoneyGram, and Harvard Business School.
My guess is that we'll be hearing more from SendFriend as 2019 rolls forward.
Ahli Bank of Kuwait (ABK) formally announced their membership in RippleNet on February 14th, indicating that they'd joined the network with the goal of achieving real-time settlement of cross-border payments. 9
Somnath Menon, the Group Chief Operating Officer at ABK, provided the following comment:
"As smart technologies continue to rapidly transform the financial sector, we remain committed to enhancing our offerings to our customers, and staying ahead of the innovation curve.”
He indicated that one of the primary drivers in the bank's decision to go with RippleNet was how it would enhance the speed and convenience of international payments for its customers.
While Ripple had already disclosed a deal with ABK in their announcement on January 13th, ABK's formal announcement on Thursday hammered home the emphasis on customer experience. Their comments come just weeks after SWIFT continued to defend its GPI program on stage at the Paris Fintech Forum, when SWIFT CEO Gottfried Leibbrandt and Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse squared off in a friendly debate.
Fundação Getulio Vargas
Fundação Getulio Vargas is the name of a university in Sao Paulo, Brazil, that is now one of Ripple's UBRI partners.
In a recent Ripple Insights articles, Professor Riccardo Rochman, a teacher in the Crypto Master's Program at that university, talked about how various governmental and financial institutions in the country are enthusiastically aiming to apply blockchain technology to solve various financial problems and help accelerate the economy. 10
This particular UBRI partner was indicative of how Ripple is approaching blockchain technology education from a truly international perspective.
Ripple's UBRI program is a stroke of genius, and is also an important move for blockchain technology as a whole. If some of the estimates of both cryptomarket growth and blockchain technology adoption are accurate, the world is going to be facing a talent shortage of a serious magnitude. Investment by private companies such as Ripple, combined with additional public funding, will make sure that individual countries don't cede their leadership role in the new technology.
One of the interesting notes in this article was that the masters program at Fundação Getulio Vargas actually began in 2017, predating Ripple's UBRI.
The trend is apparent around the world, and universities like Fundação Getulio Vargas are targeting this growing market for academic programs; it will position them as a leader in the field if they show enough foresight to bravely take a step towards this new innovative merging of technology and finance.
Interledger is the protocol for connecting different ledgers together using a standards-based approach for communication of payment information.
Despite its mundane description, keep in mind that its goals, if realized, have profound implications for global commerce: Currently, banks, financial institutions, and cryptocurrency networks are quite adept at processing payments within their own network, using their own specific formats.
However, Evan Schwartz and Stefan Thomas foresaw the future as a collection of networks, not one 'network to rule them all' as some noteworthy crypto icons have predicted. This belief helped shape their decision to create the Interledger Protocol in 2015, and work with a variety of competitors and allies alike to arrive at a worldwide standard for payments.
The standard is now approaching a mature stage, and the Interledger team - an informal group of people that comprised the standards meetings, along with representatives from stakeholder organizations such as Ripple and Coil, have founded a new forum specifically for discussion of Interledger:
The first pinned topic at the forum is a post from Evan Schwartz about how he'd like the forum to 'stay on topic' and not stray too far from its non-tribal roots. After all, the goal of Interledger is not to promote any one crypto-asset, but to join them together and grow a larger global network of payment processors: 11
"Note this forum is NOT for discussions about:
- Which blockchain is the best
- Cryptocurrency prices or predictions
- Proprietary commercial products
Thanks in advance for helping us keep the discussions focused, respectful, and constructive!"
It's a good thing he wrote that proactive post; it's a preventative statement that will help the conversations and threads stay positive and on-track, with the goal of growing the Interledger group of connector operators and other ILP stakeholders.
Interledger vs Lightning
On the new Interledger forum, a number of fascinating topics have now been broached with the most knowledgeable developers and designers of the protocol. As a sample of this immediate engagement, a user recently asked the question:
"What's the difference between Interledger and Lightning?"
For those that may be new to crypto, Lightning is the second-layer technology that allows some businesses to scale their Bitcoin processing so that they can provide a better customer experience to their platform users, rather than making them wait for 3-6 Bitcoin block confirmations.
Interledger, on the other hand, is a third-layer technology not tied to any one crypto network, and its purpose is to link the various networks together using a combination of W3C standards and the Interledger Protocol.
Evan Schwartz, co-creator of Interledger, answered the question directly, cross-sectioning the various capabilities and underlying technologies. Here's an excerpt from his forum response:
While some parts of Evan Schwartz's answer delve into some deep technical waters, such as his linking to a blog about the STREAM protocol, other parts provided a great introduction for those looking to understand the purpose of ILP. Sometimes a comparison such as this tend to draw out concepts in sharper relief than an independent description of protocol capabilities.
XRP News: Services and Exchanges
It's been an interesting few days in the XRP-related cryptoverse, with the emphasis on liquidity and network expansion. There's a couple of new services and companies that may significantly impact XRP, and I saved one of the most fascinating developments for last.
On February 15th, Nobitex became the first Iranian crypto exchange offering direct Iranian Rial - XRP conversion:
They narrowly beat Elixir, another Iranian-based crypto exchange. Elixir had conducted a poll whose lopsided results I covered in a recent blog; they used the poll in December of last year to determine which new cryptocurrency to add to their exchange, and were inundated with requests for XRP.
While Elixir indicated they are continuing to work on the integration of XRP, another exchange, Nobitex, was evidently working in competition with them to be the first to offer XRP support to Iranians. 12
They succeeded, as was evident from their recent announcement, and have now officially extended the reach of XRP to include those that use the Iranian Rial.
Nobitex was founded in 2017 by a group of five individuals, four of whom are from the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran. 13 The team debuted their digital exchange in the winter of 2018, and according to their own marketing material, have already facilitated millions of dollars in trades. 14 15
Adding an exchange is always important from a liquidity standpoint, and when that exchange also is the first to support a new fiat pairing, then it's an even more significant win for XRP. According to @LeoHadjiloizou (Twitter avatar), this exchange listing marks the addition of the 44th fiat pairing for XRP worldwide. 16
Spend is a combination of banking and crypto services that we've been seeing more of since Wirex blazed the trail in 2018; it represents a confluence of traditional financial capabilities, such as integration with the entire VISA network, and that of crypto. Users with the SpendCard application can buy and sell cryptocurrencies.
The team has been adding support for most of the major cryptocurrencies in quick succession, and XRP was formally announced on February 16th:
The access to the VISA network accounts for the marketing by SpendCard that customers can "spend XRP at 40+ million locations." The service will convert the cryptocurrency for cash at the point of sale for the customer, using the behind-the-scenes integration points on the SpendCard platform. 17
SpendCard also offers other financial services as well, including loans. 18
I'd like to see full banking services eventually develop and be integrated in this way; the first services to secure full banking licenses in the US and the UK where we can smoothly integrate our banking and checking will be well-positioned for growth. In the meantime, there are services like SpendCard, which are a convenient option for those looking to spend a bit of their crypto while they accumulate or trade for more; it supports real-world use without having to go through the (usually) multi-day process of cash conversion through official exchange-to-fiat on-ramps and off-ramps.
Digycode is a French-based cryptocurrency startup that managed to sign an agreement with Ingenico, a payments provider located at over ten thousand retail outlets, to allow customers to buy cryptocurrency, including Bitcoin, XRP, Ethereum, Litecoin, and Dash.
I wouldn't have known about this business deal were it not pointed out by CryptoEri in one of her recent YouTube vlogs.
The way it works is that customers can purchase Digycode coupons directly at the point of sale - no matter where they are - and then later navigate to Digycode's website to redeem them for the purchased crypto. 19
Basically, that means you can buy XRP at Paris tobacco shops!
It's a simple approach, and it should open up the doors to easy crypto purchases in France; Ingenico has a massive footprint there, and reported 2.8 billion in revenue in 2017. The most impressive statistic is the number of retail outlets - ten thousand - that just opened up to crypto purchases in France.
If you're wondering when mainstream crypto adoption might occur, with developments like these, 2019 might be a pivotal year.
Be a Voice of Wonderment
Like it or not, crypto is a participation sport.
And you can observe this for yourself on social media; those that would report on the news are instead embroiled in it, and entire communities can work as an organized team to counter intentional misinformation or business obstruction by competing interests.
It's evident from the early days of cryptocurrency that apathy is not the answer; instead we must struggle as a group to champion adoption, and move the entire industry forward in ways that are positive and constructive. We've seen this in the actions of Ripple to champion blockchain education and discussions at an international level; we've seen this from some crypto icons that have shown a willingness to set aside tribalism to help extend the overall cryptomarket.
As individuals, we can be a part of this as well; when we see the struggle between wonderment and skepticism play out around us in daily discussions when the topic of blockchain technology and crypto-assets are pondered, we can remind people about what makes crypto unique.
For thousands of years, the value of coins was closely related to the rare metals they contained, whether gold or silver. Then, within one century, this shifted and governments worldwide decided to experiment with centralized control of monetary units that were tied to the economic fate of nation-states. Due to this approach, a person's lifetime savings could be wiped out by fiscal miss-management of a country.
Crypto-assets change all that, and restore money to what it has been for thousands of years, only in a digital capacity. Money is ours once again.
XRP is a trust-less, no-counter-party digital asset that you can own, and nobody can take it away from you. This is not true of physical assets, fiat money, or bank-issued debt. Understanding what makes crypto unique is the first step in moving towards true global adoption of the Internet of Value.
Sources and Credits:
Cover Art: Thank you to Nick Owuor (astro.nic.visuals)
- https://www.xe.com/currency/usd-us-dollar =h=