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What to Expect at the SEC’s Blockchain Forum on Friday

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At a fraught moment for government-industry relations, U.S. regulators and cryptocurrency insiders are sitting down for a meeting.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) will convene its first FinTech Forum Friday at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., discussing a range of issues related to digital assets and distributed ledger technology (DLT). The speaker roster includes a dozen legal, financial and technical experts, as well as several key SEC officials.

Yet while some see an opportunity to air the industry’s concerns and get a better understanding of the SEC’s perspective, the forum comes at a time when some major crypto firms are taking a more aggressive tack.

Most notably, crypto startup Circle said this month it had laid off 30 of its employees, blaming “an increasingly restrictive regulatory climate in the United States” as one factor.

In a subsequent blog post, Circle said the SEC, at the very least, had issued confusing, if not contradictory guidance. The firm cited a speech last year by Director William Hinman, which emphasized decentralization as a key factor in determining whether a token is a security, and a more recent framework, which did not mention decentralization.

Messaging platform Kik has also recently made headlines with a $5 million fund to “defend crypto” from regulatory overreach. The crowdfunding campaign – which individuals can donate to using cryptocurrencies – is aimed at helping companies (including Kik) fight court cases against the SEC, should the regulator sue them for securities violations.

The regulator sent Kik a so-called Wells Notice in November 2018, notifying the company that SEC staffers believe it violated securities laws when it raised $98 million in a token sale for its kin cryptocurrency. Kik CEO Ted Livingston has said the company spent about $5 million communicating with the regulator since then.

Circle, Kik and others say a lack of clarity from the SEC about what is and is not a security is hurting the industry and holding back innovation in the U.S.

But it does not appear as though this uncertainty will be resolved on Friday, given the lineup and agenda, not to mention legal limits on what the SEC can do.

 A seat at the table?

One individual familiar with the SEC’s forum told CoinDesk that they were concerned by the list of panelists for the forum.

While many of them are experts in their respective fields, few are from actual crypto startups – or firms that would immediately benefit from greater clarity.

“There’s no broker-dealer here, maybe Fidelity will say they want to be a qualified custodian but there’s no qualified custodian here,” this person said, referring to David Forman from Fidelity Brokerage Services, who will speak on the panel about trading and markets. “There’s no entity that would be subject to the regulations of the SEC at issue.”

Referring to the panelists from Deloitte and Ernst & Young, the individual stated:

“I know having a big four accounting firm is important to [SEC chairman] Jay Clayton … but it’d be nice to have an investment manager talking, since it’s the investment manager considerations.”

Kevin Werbach, a professor of legal studies and business ethics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, countered that “It’s impossible to come up with an agenda for an event like this that represents everyone in the industry.”

“There will always be some perspectives that are insufficiently represented,” said Werbach, who will speak at the forum. “I’m sure the SEC thought hard about whom to invite in order to get the best discussion of the issues they’re most concerned about.”

Werbach also noted that startups can engage with Finhub – the SEC’s fintech-focused wing – through other means as well.

Open dialogue

Still, the mere fact that the SEC is engaging with the crypto industry at all is promising, said lawyer Jay Baris of Shearman & Sterling.

Baris, who is a panelist at the SEC’s forum, said the agency is “reaching out and saying ‘talk to us,’ and I think that’s a good idea.”

The SEC is opening a two-way communication flow: market participants are able to express their views, but the SEC is also able to explain why it is approaching regulation the way it is, he said.

Another panelist, John D’Agostino of DMS Governance, a provider of services to investment funds, said the industry should pay attention to the topics chosen by the SEC for the agenda (capital formation; trading and markets; investment management; and industry trends for DLT).

Baris added:

“This is not structured as a legal forum, but as a forum for information sharing.”

IBM’s Christopher Ferris echoed the sentiment, telling CoinDesk that his panel would be forward-looking, and would focus more on where the crypto space may be headed from a technology or use case perspective.

Actual action

In any event, calling on regulators to clarify rules around crypto may not be the best avenue for the industry.

Margaret Rosenfeld, a partner at K&L Gates LLP, told CoinDesk via email that regulators in the U.S. are reliant on what is already outlined in existing statutes and law.

“We need to understand that these U.S. regulators … cannot forge new pathways in the law,” she said. “The appropriate government authority for all of us to be calling on for clarity at this point is Congress.”

Circle’s blog post concurred. The company said it had been educating policymakers both within the U.S. and other jurisdictions about “why digital assets represent a fundamentally new class of financial instrument.”

Congress needs to pass laws directly addressing cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology, lest the U.S. be left behind by other nations, the blog post said. However, until new laws are passed, Circle said it intends to continue advocating before regulators.

As such, Werbach said, “anything that gives the regulators more direct exposure to thoughtful representatives of the industry, and vice versa, is likely to be productive.”

He concluded:

“There is plenty of one-on-one contact between both sides, but a comprehensive public event like this provides an opportunity to evaluate the big picture.”

SEC Chairman Jay Clayton image via CoinDesk archives

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Crypto exchange BTCNEXT seeking Japan license

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BTCNEXT, an Asian based cryptocurrency exchange, earlier this month announced it received notification from the Japan Financial Services Agency (FSA) that it must suspend services for Japanese residents.

As part of Noah Ark Technologies Ltd., BTCNEXT operates with a Virtual Currency Exchange license issued by the Cagayan special economic zone and Freeport Philippines.

The BTCNEXT team says that its legal department is currently working with the FSA in regards to getting a Japanese license and will take necessary steps to ensure full compliance with all FSA requests.

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NEO Price Prediction: Long-term (NEO) Value Forecast – June 2

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  • The long-term outlook is in a bullish trend.
  • The 1.618 in the fibs at $19.17 is the bulls target in the long-term.

NEO/USD Long-term Trend: Bullish

Supply zone: $20.00, $30.00, $40.00
Demand zone: $2.00, $1.00, $0.50

NEO continues in the uptrend in its long-term outlook. The strong pressure on the cryptocurrency by the bulls’ comeback at the 61.8 on 18th May has kept price up with new high each week. $12.59 and $15.04 in the supply area were the highs on 20th and 30th May respectively.

The new week is started on a bullish note with today’s opening candle at $13.72 higher than last week opening price at $11.45, an indication that the bulls are more in the market.

Price is above the two EMAs that are fanned apart which suggest strength in the trend and in this case the uptrend.

The journey to 1.618 of the fib extension with price at $19.17 in the supply area is the bulls target in the long-term as the bullish momentum increase and more bullish candle open and closed above the two EMAS.

The views and opinion as expressed here do not reflect that of BitcoinExchangeGuide.com and do not constitute financial advice. Always do your own research.

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Why Bitcoin’s ‘Culture War’ Matters

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Michael J. Casey is the chairman of CoinDesk’s advisory board and a senior advisor for blockchain research at MIT’s Digital Currency Initiative.


Let’s talk about bitcoin, toxicity and inclusiveness.

(Boy, my Twitter feed is going to have fun over the next few days.)

To start with, let me take a position: I stand with those people, especially women, who’ve lately been calling out maltreatment from members of the bitcoin community and citing rude and abusive behavior as proof of that community’s lack of inclusiveness. These are people who believe in cryptocurrency technology’s potential but feel discouraged to believe that they belong to the community’s dominant white-male subculture. If this technology is to fulfill its global potential, the community associated with it must confront this problem.

But the real point of this column is not to just defend these critics. It’s to debunk one of the more common positions adopted by those who take issue with their complaints, particularly on Twitter. In doing so, I hope to emphasize just how important the concepts of “community” and “culture” are to the healthy development of crypto technology and the ecosystem growing around it.

Hammer culture?

The line that’s most often thrown back at those calling out incivility is that bitcoin is nothing more than a technology, a tool, and that it’s meaningless to attach to it value judgments relating to human behavior. Bitcoin is amoral, apolitical and a-cultural, the argument goes, and like any technology it is used by good and bad people alike.

These pundits, warning of a political correctness-based threat to free speech, will then advise the injured party to take issue directly with the bad actors but refrain from agitating for community-wide change.

A perfect example of the genre came from outspoken lawyer Preston Byrne.

Clever, yes. But it’s extremely unhelpful, because the examples given do not share equivalent terms of reference.

Byrne’s “hammer” refers solely to the steel implement that tradesmen use. By contrast, people complaining about “bitcoin” are clearly using the word in a much wider context than in merely a reference to the code, to the ones and zeros that comprise the bitcoin protocol. They are inherently talking about the wider ecosystem and community gathered around the idea of bitcoin.

So, let’s equalize the terms, shall we? We can turn each of these nouns into a modifier of the word “community.”

While it might sound silly to talk about a “hammer community,” there may well be groups of hammer-obsessed souls who debate questions of design and ease of use at meetups and in chat rooms. If so, I’m going to guess that that community would probably also be predominantly male.

But the real issue is that such a hammer community is going to be far less important to the future design and evolution of hammer technology than bitcoin’s community is to its. I’m no expert, but I don’t see a great deal of change in hammer technology having occurred over the centuries and I’m not sure people expect much in the future. As such, we don’t see much jockeying among users to ensure that proposals for hammer upgrades are implemented and standardized to their preferred design.

By contrast, the open-source technology behind bitcoin is in a constant state of evolution. It is, by definition, under development, which is why we talk about the engineers who work on it as “developers,” not “custodians.” As such, there is a constant battle of interests over who gets to modify the code. Exhibit A: the block-size debate.

Counter-arguing that those who don’t like the process can just fork the code, as the large-blockers did, and set up their own new community, doesn’t cut it for me. Bitcoin is the brand that matters. Any newcomer will struggle to achieve the same network effects. Secession just isn’t viable for anyone who likes its current design but doesn’t like how its future is being defined.

Also, is there a “hammer ecosystem?” Maybe. But beyond producers of nails, and perhaps steel and rubber or wood suppliers, you can hardly call it a complex ecosystem.

Bitcoin, by contrast, which purports to reinvent the global system of money, has attracted an inherently vast array of different technology providers, all of whom have competing interests in how it is designed, managed and marketed to the world. I’m not just talking about businesses applications built on top of it, but also the developers of related encryption, payment channel, smart contract and other vitally important technologies, all of which are themselves in a constant state of flux.

(I’m guessing that the exhibition halls at hammer conventions don’t have quite the same spread of offerings as cryptocurrency events such as Consensus.)

Saying that bitcoin is nothing but a tool, is like saying that music is nothing but a system for ordering different audible tones.

Money = community

When Paul Vigna and I wrote The Age of Cryptocurrency, we spent a lot of time chronicling the emergence of the community that had formed around bitcoin, which we saw as fundamental to its success. It struck us that the notion of a bitcoin community was so prominent — the “c” word was always being bandied about — because bitcoin embodied a profound and sweeping social idea. It offered nothing less than a reinvention of money, a revolution in the entire system for coordinating human value exchange.

Money only works to the extent that there is widespread belief in it, that people buy into its core myth. Money, Felix Martin says, is a social technology, by which he means that its functionality and usability depend far less on the physical qualities of the token that represents it than on the collective agreement among large communities of people that their token captures, represents and communicates transferable value. This is true whether we’re talking about gold, dollar bills, entries in a bank account, or cryptocurrency.

By extension, then, for any form of money to succeed, it must sustain a vibrant, growing community.

Communities = culture

The thing about communities is that they inevitably develop cultures. In self-defining their boundaries of belonging, they develop shared ways of seeing and language — akin to a kind of social protocol – that regulate (in a very unofficial, and quite subconscious way) their members’ behavior.

As they evolve, cultures can become more or less open, more or less inclusive, more or less abrasive in their treatment of outsiders. And inevitably, these cultural features will either encourage or impede the growth of the community.

All this should hardly be a revelation. Anthropology, the study of culture, is a globally widespread and influential field (one that is now appropriately turning its attention to cryptocurrency communities.)

Studies of U.S. culture, from Alexis de Tocqueville down, have rightly pointed to the inclusiveness of the founding fathers’ ideas as a key driver of its economic expansion. In fact, American culture is arguably its most important ingredient for success, a social manifestation of Joseph Nye’s notion of the United States’ “soft power.”

So, yes, bitcoin culture really, really matters. If the compelling ideas behind permissionless, peer-to-peer exchange and censorship-resistant money that attract people of all stripes to it are to retain those people’s interest and grow in influence, the bitcoin community needs to evolve a more inclusive culture.

The only way to do that is to spur the kind of open debates that have always driven the progress of human culture — those which shifted norms and mores to the point that it became unacceptable to own slaves, to spit in public, or to jump a queue.

So, listen up, bitcoin. It’s time to confront your toxicity.

Hazard drums image via Shutterstock

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Holiday Spending up 14.6% as E-Commerce Beats Brick-and-Mortar

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E-commerce sales hit record highs this year as Americans continue to move their holiday shopping online.

According to Mastercard’s SpendingPulse report, online retail grew 18.8% over last year’s holiday season. That’s enough to make online sales a record 14.6% of holiday shoppers total spend, the report says.

Online consumers this year spent 17% more on apparel, 8.8% more on jewelry, 10.7% more on electronics, and 6.9% more at department stores. 

Overall, holiday spending jumped 3.4% compared to 2018.

The strong numbers came in spite of 2019’s unusually short holiday season, commonly defined as the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Shoppers had six days fewer than they had in 2018.

Steve Sadove, an advisor for MasterCard, said in a press release that retailers adapted to the shortened season. 

“Due to a later than usual Thanksgiving holiday, we saw retailers offering omnichannel sales earlier in the season, meeting consumers’ demand for the best deals across all channels and devices.”

Interestingly – or ominously – retailers who accepted crypto or managed crypto payments were slow to respond when we asked them how their holiday shopping season went. eGifter, a gift card trading service, noted that it had not yet “crunched the numbers” on holiday sales but that “We saw growth in overall crypto sales,” said Bill Egan, the site’s VP of Marketing.

“We saw more gifting with crypto in 2019, compared to buy-for-self use cases in prior years,” he said.

Payment processor BitPay found the holidays quite inspiring as well.

“We saw twice our daily averages of processed volume leading up to the holiday,” said BitPay’s CMO, Bill Zielke.

It will be interesting to see what kind of statistics surface over the next few seasons as e-commerce becomes king and crypto payments come to the fore.

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The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Crypto Custodians Grapple With Germany’s New Rules

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Crypto firms in Germany are getting ready to exist under a new regime. 

Under a law going into effect Jan. 1 requiring digital asset custodians to be licensed, each company that currently custodies crypto and targets German clients must announce to Germany’s Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) its intention to get a license before April 1 and submit an application before Nov. 1.  

A clause allows current crypto custodians to keep serving German customers without being penalized if they declare their intent to apply, but those same companies are waiting on BaFin to release final regulations around the law.

“As long as the legislation is not in place, BaFin is not going to think about how to cope or how to deal with the legislation,” said BaFin press officer Norbert Pieper. The regulator declined further comment and Germany’s Federal Ministry of Finance did not respond to request for comment by press time.

Pieper added: “There is no date foreseeable [yet] by which we’ll be able to communicate the results of our assessment. We will certainly communicate that on our website.” 

While the final regulations haven’t been set yet, the new license requirement may not produce the same kind of exodus of crypto firms that New York saw after the BitLicense requirement, said Miha Grčar, head of business development at Bitstamp.

London-based Bitstamp, one of Europe’s largest crypto exchanges, plans to continue operating in Germany but declined to say whether it would apply for a license, said Grčar. Crypto firms could also use a white-labeled custody service to operate in Germany. 

Because the law is an “updated version of the existing banking regulation,” banks will likely have the most to gain from it, Grčar added. Companies that get the license will be German financial institutions, but not classified as banks.

The law also means that German regulators now see crypto as a “legitimate” industry, he said. 

Ulli Spankowski, chief digital officer and managing director of the crypto custody subsidiary of German stock exchange Boerse Stuttgart, called Blocknox, sees the license as a step forward for “the professionalism of the industry.” The subsidiary has already advised BaFin that it plans to apply.  

“There are other countries that won’t go for a full-fledged license,” he said. “If you want to get traditional, established players from the banking side, you need to give them this environment to feel safe.” 

DLC group is taking advantage of the new regulatory framework by offering consulting services for firms interested in applying, and its own white-labeled crypto custody service. 

Sven Hildebrandt, head of Distributed Ledger Consulting Group, is concerned some exchanges won’t understand the nuances of the new law.

“The law is only in German and no English translation of the law is out there,” he said. “What’s going to happen to exchanges? [Operating without a licence] is actually a felony and not a misdemeanor so that’s jail time.”

Hildebrandt predicts the costs of licensing will be similar to other German financial services licenses where firms will need two managing directors, an established German entity and 125,000 euros of starting capital. He also estimates installation will cost 250,000 to 350,000 euros and recurring yearly costs will be 350,000 euros. 

Switzerland-based Crypto Storage AG, a subsidiary of Crypto Finance AG, is opening a branch in Germany to offer crypto custody to banks and then financial technology startups. 

“Large banking houses will do custody business in the future,” Stijn Vander Straeten, CEO of Crypto Storage AG, said. “They are moving slowly, though. We’ll build it up now for a premium.” 

Berlin-based solarisBank this month opened a subsidiary called solaris Digital Assets to offer crypto custody as a service. So far, the bank has a handful of customers testing the service with more than 40 companies in the pipeline, said Alexis Hamel, managing director of solaris Digital Assets.

In addition to waiting for details from BaFin, crypto firms are also waiting to see if the law can be passported to other European Union states. 

“Germany is definitely at the forefront with the clearer regulation,” Hamel said. “We still need to see how other European countries level up.”

Disclosure Read More

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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