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Korea’s Biggest Bank Is Preparing to Custody Digital Assets

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KB Kookmin, the largest bank in South Korea, is preparing launch a digital asset custody offering.

According to a report from CoinDesk Korea, the institution is teaming up for the effort with blockchain startup Atomics Lab, with the two entities signing a strategic business agreement on June 10.

Atomics Labs is developing a product called Lime that secures digital assets such as cryptocurrencies using secure MPC technology.

Kookmin and Atomics Lab will develop digital asset custody services that combine Atomics Lab technology and KB Kookmin Bank’s internal control infrastructure and information protection technologies.

The firms aim to collaborate on the development of digital asset protection technology and smart contract applications, as well as exploring new businesses in the digital assets space. Cooperation on a blockchain network and the creation of a related ecosystem within finance are also on the cards.

A move by such a major bank into the digital asset trust business could have a big impact on the cryptocurrency industry, according to the report. A financial institution that already has a high degree of credibility can potentially help eliminate concerns over security of customers’ funds and suspect exchange operators with a cryptocurrency storage offering.

“We hope that the two companies will grow together by discovering innovative services in the field of digital asset management,” a representative of the bank said. “We will continue to cooperate with various technology companies in the digital ecosystem to expand our offerings.”

Kookmin Bank has designated its core technology as “ABCDE” (for AI, blockchain, cloud, data and ecosystem) and, since last year, has been promoting digital transformation throughout the company, CoinDesk Korea writes.

KB Kookmin Bank featured image via Shutterstock; agreement signing image courtesy of the bank

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CryptoBridge DEX app launches new mobile-friendly user interface

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The team of CryptoBridge, a decentralized crypto trading gateway, has successfully launched a new mobile-friendly user interface (UI) for users. Now, users will be able to access the trading platform from any device, while taking advantage of more advanced features.

What is new?

The interface itself is cleaner, more modern and overall more attractive, combined with simpler use of functions such as trading, deposits, and withdrawals. Alongside the “Buy” and “Sell” button, now there is quick access deposit function, in case users run out of assets to complete their desired trade.

At CryptoBridge there are few options for diversified income which are now all accessible directly in the UI itself, under the “Earn” tab. Important information regarding the referral program, BridgeCoin staking, and Trading Competitions, are one click away without the need to leave the trading platform.

Further, to help users understand the full functionalities of the new trading interface there is an icon in the lower right corner where they can quickly access guidance through the currently opened page.

cryptobridgenewui
The CryptoBridge team notes that if coming across any bugs or issues with client functionalities, there is a “Report” button that will open a ticket so developers can check and fix the issue.

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BIS Wants ‘Level Playing Field’ for Banks Amid Threat From Firms Like Facebook

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The Bank for International Settlements (BIS), often described as the bank for central banks, has issued its annual report for 2019, expressing concerns over the expected disruption as big tech firms like Facebook enter the financial space.

While titled “Big tech in finance: opportunities and risks,” the report looks at the risks and challenges posed by companies such as Alibaba, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Tencent, and rather pays lip service to the potential benefits of this building fintech revolution.

These firms have developed huge customer bases, says BIS, and have the benefit of a “data-network-activities loop” which gives them ” the potential to become dominant.”

While the encroach of such companies into payments, money management, insurance and lending has only just started, it brings the potential for major change in the finance industry.

On the benefits, BIS writes:

“Big techs’ low-cost structure business can easily be scaled up to provide basic financial services, especially in places where a large part of the population remains unbanked. Using big data and analysis of the network structure in their established platforms, big techs can assess the riskiness of borrowers, reducing the need for collateral to assure repayment. As such, big techs stand to enhance the efficiency of financial services provision, promote financial inclusion and allow associated gains in economic activity.”

However, such change brings new risks, according to the report. As well as the old issues of financial stability and consumer protection, “big techs have the potential to loom large very quickly as systemically relevant financial institutions.” At this point, BIS specifically raises the recent reports of Facebook’s new Libra project, which sees the social media giant “considering offering payment services for their customers on a global basis.”

There are also “important new and unfamiliar challenges” that, BIS suggests, go beyond the remit of current regulations. The report says that “Big techs have the potential to become dominant through the advantages afforded by the data-network-activities loop, raising competition and data privacy issues.”

As such, policies will be needed for a “comprehensive approach” on financial regulation, competition policy and data privacy regulation.

“The aim should be to respond to big techs’ entry into financial services so as to benefit from the gains while limiting the risks. As the operations of big techs straddle regulatory perimeters and geographical borders, coordination among authorities – national and international – is crucial,” according to the report.

In a somewhat telling statement, BIS further reveals its fears that banks could lose ground to the new big tech disruptors saying:

“Regulators need to ensure a level playing field between big techs and banks, taking into account big techs’ wide customer base, access to information and broad-ranging business models.”

And with such major companies having the ability to work across borders, international coordination is needed on rules and standards to address the potential shift in the “risk-benefit balance,” says BIS.

As the report suggests, Facebook’s crypto project may not have an easy time with the world’s regulators as the firm seeks to launch financial services for its billions of users.

France has already moved to create a task force within the G7 nations to examine the issues raised by Libra, while U.S. lawmakers have also expressed concerns over the project.

BIS headquarters image via Shutterstock

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Ethereum’s Constantinople, St. Petersburg Upgrades Have Been Activated

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The Constantinople and St. Petersburg network upgrades for the world’s second largest cryptocurrency, Ethereum’s (ETH), occurred today Feb. 28, according to ethstats.net.

Specifically, the updates went live on the main network at block 7,280,000, in accordance with previously released schedule. Although the upgrade has two names of two originally separated updates, they have subsequently been combined into one.

Per Ethernodes.org, not all Ethereum users have adopted the updates. Only 22.3 percent of Geth and Parity clients are reportedly already running the Constantinople-compliant version.

Constantinople is set to bring multiple efficiency improvements to the platform, including cheaper transaction fees for some operations on the Ethereum network. As previously reported, the Constantinople hard fork was delayed in January due to a newly discovered vulnerability.

The St. Petersburg upgrade is meant to delete a previous update, Ethereum Improvement Proposal (EIP) 1283, from Ethereum’s test networks, since that EIP had been identified to have security vulnerabilities.

In January, major United States cryptocurrency exchanges Coinbase and Kraken became the latest to confirm support for Ethereum’s upgrade. The two exchanges join Binance, Huobi and OKEx, who had started to monitor the event before its first implementation attempt.

At press time, ETH is up 2.59 percent over the day and is trading at around $137.19. The altcoin started the day around $132, according to CoinMarketCap.

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Bittrex Leads $1.5 Million Seed Round in South African Crypto Exchange VALR

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Global crypto exchange Bittrex led a $1.5 million seed round in South African trading platform VALR.

Bittrex CEO Bill Shihara told CoinDesk the South African market has “tremendous untapped potential.” Fellow VALR investor Michael Jordaan of Montegray Capital told CoinDesk that VALR’s support for 50 cryptocurrencies will offer the most diverse range of assets of any African exchange when it opens to the public on March 1.

“The VALR team has the potential to change the cryptocurrency landscape in South Africa and globally,” Jordaan said.

VALR co-founder and CEO Farzam Ehsani told CoinDesk that 1,500 users, predominantly South Africans, have already signed up on the exchange’s waiting list and started activating accounts in a closed beta leading up the to launch.

Ehsani said a backend partnership with Bittrex will offer the new exchange global liquidity and competitive prices for crypto-to-crypto trading, while his team works on activating fiat on-ramps with South African banks by summertime.

Ehsani told CoinDesk:

“Companies are not allowed to go and buy [large amounts of] crypto from offshore markets. This makes it very difficult for crypto exchanges in South Africa to access liquidity from international markets. [South Africans] want their hands on a store of value that doesn’t depreciate the way the rand has.”

Over the past decade the South African rand has nearly halved in value. Meanwhile, capital controls restrict citizens from transacting across borders with more than roughly $72,000 worth of foreign assets or currencies.

This contributes to why bitcoin is often sold for a high premium on peer-to-peer exchanges like LocalBitcoins. For comparison, on Tuesday a single bitcoin on LocalBitcoins would have cost more than $4,100 in South Africa compared to the global rate of roughly $3,800.

Yet Marius Reitz, South Africa manager at the longstanding African bitcoin exchange and wallet provider Luno, told CoinDesk that Luno’s user base grew to over 2 million user accounts by early 2019.

“Most of the growth is driven by South Africa,” Reitz said. In fact, a Luno survey of 1,000 local residents found that roughly 167 people said they use bitcoin for payments.

“Specifically in South Africa we see a situation were a lot of people move from elsewhere in Africa to look for jobs and they send money back home,” Reitz said.

As for VALR, Jordaan said Ehsani’s history as the former head of the Rand Merchant Bank’s blockchain initiative and inaugural chair of the South African Financial Blockchain Consortium, which included dozens of traditional financial institutions, could help bridge the gap between African banks and the global crypto economy.

Regional hub

Reitz and Jordaan agreed that cryptocurrency exchanges like VALR and Luno are helping establish standards for the regional market. Plus, the South African Reserve Bank published a paper about prioritizing crypto industry regulation in January. While the daily volumes on incumbents like Luno, established in 2013, still fall shy of $2.5 million according to CoinMarketCap, such companies have a broad impact through their educational conversations about bitcoin with regulators and banks across Africa.

“Because several of the countries around us actually peg their currencies to the rand,” Ehsani said, “if we do well, we have the ability to influence other countries in the region, and Africa as a whole.”

Ehsani added that VALR’s scope reaches beyond South African borders, as the platform’s know-your-customer identity checks accommodate traders from most countries. Similarly, Reitz said Luno is looking to expand to 20 new African countries this year as South Africa’s central bank starts “offering more clarity” and establishes trends followed by other jurisdictions.

Much like global markets, many South African exchange users are speculative traders and investors. However, for Ehsani, remittances to and from members of the African diaspora provide a salient use case because local remittance services are very expensive.

Speaking to the impact that venture capital investment in South African exchanges can have on broader adoption, Ehsani said:

“Cryptocurrency will start bringing communities together through their ability to transact and send value back home much more seamlessly and cheaply than their current options.”

Farzam Ehsani image via VALR

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India’s Crypto Ban Predictably Triggers Massive Bitcoin Price Premiums

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By CCN Markets: The bitcoin price has reached $11,200 at its peak earlier this month on major exchanges including Bitstamp and Coinbase following a large spike in volume and overall interest.

The bitcoin price is up from $9,000 to $11,200 in the past week (source: coinmarketcap.com)

According to reports, bitcoin is trading higher in India and Iran with premiums ranging from 5 to 30 percent, two regions that have practically restricted bitcoin trading.

Is banning bitcoin not productive?

In 2018, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) requested banks under its oversight to stop providing services to crypto exchanges, putting an end to fiat-to-crypto trading platforms in the region.

The RBI said at the time:

Virtual Currencies (VCs), also variously referred to as cryptocurrencies and crypto assets, raise concerns of consumer protection, market integrity and money laundering, among others… In view of the associated risks, it has been decided that, with immediate effect, entities regulated by RBI shall not deal with or provide services to any individual or business entities dealing with or settling VCs.

Since then, despite the move of the G20 to regulate the crypto sector through the imposition of a unified regulatory framework, the government of India has pushed forward with its restriction on crypto.

In April of this year, The Economic Times reported that government departments have begun drafting a bill to ban cryptocurrencies in the country entitled “Banning of Cryptocurrencies and Regulation of Official Digital Currencies Bill 2019.”

Consequently, due to regulatory uncertainty and the restriction on banks from working with crypto exchanges, most crypto-related businesses in India have shut down and moved to other markets.

Similarly, Iran, which is yet to release a clear guideline for exchanges and businesses, drafted a bill that restricts the operations of crypto-related entities. The proposed legislation was criticized by the local crypto community which then offered an alternative proposal to the government.

In both countries, it is difficult for investors to purchase crypto assets like bitcoin and ether, the native crypto asset of the Ethereum blockchain network. Most trades are processed in the over-the-counter (OTC) market or in a peer-to-peer manner.

In May, LocalBitcoins, a major peer-to-peer bitcoin trading platform, closed its services in Iran in a move which many have speculated to be because of the sanctions placed upon Iran by the U.S. government.

“If you have an account already, you will be able to withdraw your bitcoins, but you will not be able to use the platform for trading,” LocalBitcoins reportedly told a user in Iran.

As a result, premiums have begun to emerge in the bitcoin market of Iran and India, ranging from 5 to 30 percent.

When the bitcoin price peaked at $11,200 on June 22, a TrustNodes report disclosed that the asset was trading at $11,700 in India with a $500 premium.

Dovey Wan, the founding partner at Primitive said that bitcoin is now trading with a 30 percent premium in Iran’s OTC market, indicating large demand from local investors.

Regulation over a ban

The concern of most regulators regarding bitcoin and the crypto market, in general, comes down to the prevention of money laundering.

For exchanges to operate transparently in compliance with local regulators, a clear regulatory framework has to be imposed with the support of local banks.

There exists a risk in the imposition of an outright ban of cryptocurrencies that the local market may shift to a peer-to-peer market, an environment in which it becomes significantly more difficult for regulators to address money laundering and other core issues.

Click here for a real-time bitcoin price chart.

This post was last modified on (Eastern Time): 24/06/2019 06:09

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