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Amex Inadvertently Confirms Ripple Blockchain Platform Plans

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It’s not entirely clear yet how — or if — blockchain will transform the financial services market, but that hasn’t stopped industry players from scrambling to get a leg up on the technology and ahead of the competition.

New data from Greenwich Associates put a price tag on that effort: According to Bloombergreports Tuesday (June 12), the financial services market spends an estimated $1.7 billion dollars every year on blockchain as banks and other companies emerge from proof-of-concept stage into market launches and commercial products. The industry’s budget for blockchain jumped 67 percent last year, researchers found, with a tenth of financial services companies reporting that they spend more than $10 million on distributed ledger technology (DLT). Reports also noted that the number of employees assigned to blockchain projects has doubled year over year.

Despite the flow of cash, blockchain has proven to be a difficult nut to crack for financial services firms.

Richard Johnson, vice president of Greenwich Associates Market Structure and Technology, told Bloomberg, “More than half the executives we interviewed told us that implementing DLT was harder than they expected.”

Loose purse strings also mean blockchain companies themselves are vying for the top spot to provide businesses with DLT services.

This week, reports in the Financial Times highlighted the competitive pressure between SWIFTand Ripple as the two companies rival for the top spot in the cross-border payments market. SWIFT, a payments messaging company, has introduced its Global Payments Innovation (GPI) initiative to boost innovation in global payments. But Ripple, a blockchain company, wants to disrupt global payments and has more than 100 financial institutions (FIs) registered to use its messaging system, xCurrent.

SWIFT Head of Banking Harry Newman said in an interview with Financial Times that blockchain “is not straightforward to scale and it is not yet appropriate to do so.”

However, Ripple scored another win this week when American Express (Amex) confirmed it is collaborating with the company, as well as Spain bank Santander, to develop a blockchain platform. Reports in Bitcoin Exchange Guide said Amex has inadvertently confirmed plans to launch the blockchain platform via a job posting on its website (though the posting now links to a 404 page).

The three financial services players announced their partnership last November in an initiative that sees payments made by Amex business customers routed through Ripple’s enterprise blockchain network. The job posting revealed that the partners’ blockchain platform is slated to launch later this year.

According to reports, the job opening at Amex is under its FX International Payments (FXIP) unit within its Corporate Payments division.

“In 2018, we are introducing a blockchain solution with Ripple and Santander,” the job posting read. “This is an exciting time to join the FXIP organization as we increase our focus on growth, new products and technology offerings to meet customer needs and build on the American Express brand as a top, global provider of payments services.”

The job opening is for a Sales Coordinator, reports said.

Even as big money and big names fuel the blockchain hype, waves of doubt continue to crash on blockchain’s shores. This week, GlobalData published a new report on blockchain, in which its authors warn the technology is “not magic.” The report, “Blockchain — Thematic Research,” warned that the blockchain bubble “will burst in the next two years,” and that the technology “will have lost much of its gloss by 2025.”

Reports in MarTech Today, summarizing the GlobalData report, noted that authors did acknowledge blockchain’s potential and the technology is “awash with hype, but with a powerful core value proposition.” Still, the authors concluded that in “19 out of 20” cases in which blockchain is referenced as a viable solution, the tool can be replaced by a more straightforward database or other tool.

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Australians Can Pay Utility Bills With Bitcoin (BTC)

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Bitcoin (BTC)–In terms of adoption for cryptocurrency, being able to pay for real world goods and services with the digital currency has long been viewed as the gold standard. The bear market of 2018 has led to a shift in focus away from the fundamentals of crypto and the usability of blockchain transactions in favor of wild price speculation. However, an Australian-based partnership is attempting to provide a solution for customers looking to pay their utility bills with cryptocurrency.

Cryptocurrency exchange Cointree announced a joint-venture with billing platform Gobbill to give Australian customers the opportunity to pay their utility bills with cryptocurrency. The goal of the union is to provide a solution for automated billing via crypto, with Gobbill functioning as the intermediary in the exchange, taking user funds in crypto and making the payment in fiat.

Using the Cointree wallet, users of the cryptocurrency exchange will be able to convert stored coins automatically into utility bill payments, giving customers the opportunity to pay in BTC, XRP, and nearly 40 other currencies. While Australian utility companies will not be accepting crypto directly for payment (the exchange involves a conversion to fiat), it does represent a way for Australian crypto users to get around having to cash out of their denomination on exchanges to free up funds for utility payment. The service is being aimed at small businesses and average investors, with the co-founder and CEO of Gobbill, Shendon Ewans, expounding upon the planned form of payment,

“We anticipate a surge in the number of customers who would like to pay their bills in crypto in the coming years. Our partnership with Cointree will cater to this market and ensure Gobbill continues to remain ahead of the curve when it comes to allowing our users to pay their bills automatically, while knowing they’re protected from fraud and scams.”

According to Ewans, Gobbill views this partnership with Cointree as getting ahead of the curve, a refrain we have heard several times from tangential businesses attempting to capitalize on cryptocurrency. By offering a service that automatically takes payments in cryptocurrency, Gobbill is exposing itself to the growing, and vocal, userbase of cryptocurrency, in addition to paving a future for their company that involves a takeoff in the digital currencies.

Cointree also sees partnerships for bill payments and automatic drafting as a way to increase their customer base, with efforts already enacted for several years on the front of crypto-to-bill payment. Jess Rendon, operations manager of Cointree, reported that the company has processed $100 million in bills paid in 2017,

“Last year alone we had about AU$100 million of bills paid and saw ten times growth in this payment feature.

CCN reports that paying bills with cryptocurrency has seen an explosion in Australia over the last several years, having grown by 3300% in a three-year period. While the system devised by Gobbill is still a step removed from utility companies accepting Bitcoin and altcoins directly, it does provide another avenue for investors looking to use their coins outside of exchange speculation.

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Bakkt CEO: ‘With Our Solution, the Buying and Selling of Bitcoin Is Fully Collateralized or Pre-Funded’

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On Monday (20 August 2018), Bakkt, the new company announced by Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) on 3 August 2018, declared that with its solution, “the buying and selling of bitcoin is fully collateralized or pre-funded.”

ICE’s press release mentioned that Bakkt would be offering a one-day phsyically-delivered Bitcoin futures product:

“As an initial component of the Bakkt offering, Intercontinental Exchange’s U.S.-based futures exchange and clearing house plan to launch a 1-day physically delivered Bitcoin contract along with physical warehousing in November 2018, subject to CFTC review and approval. These regulated venues will establish new protocols for managing the specific security and settlement requirements of digital currencies.”

This is how Bakkt announced today’s news on Twitter:

Kelly Loeffler, the CEO of Bakkt, provided more details in a post on Bakkt’s Medium blog.

Loeffler started by saying that to achieve a “trusted infrastructure for trading, storing and spending digital currencies”, Bakkt would need to provide:

  • “a consistent regulatory construct”;
  • “transparent, efficient price discovery”; and
  • “an institutional quality pre- and post-trade infrastructure”

She then moved to the “meat” of Bakkt’s announcement:

“A critical element to price discovery is physical delivery. Specifically, with our solution, the buying and selling of Bitcoin is fully collateralized or pre-funded. As such, our new daily Bitcoin contract will not be traded on margin, use leverage, or serve to create a paper claim on a real asset.”

She noted that this provided support for market integrity and differentiated them from other exchanges which “allow for margin, leverage and cash settlement.” She went on to say that once you take into account the fact that Bakkt also provides “a secure, regulated warehouse solution”, it was easy to see how this infrastructure could “help more institutions and consumers participate in the asset class.”

For many crypto traders/investors and analysts, what Bakkt announced today sounded great. However, not everyone was equally excited.

Caitlin Long, 22-year Wall Street veteran (including over eight years at U.S. investment bank Morgan Stanley) who has been active in Bitcoin since 2012, expressed her concern about “financialization” (i.e. when an asset class becomes investable by large institutional investors) of cryptocurrencies, and especially her worries about “leverage-based financialization” (which arises “either from the issuance of more assets out of thin air to dilute existing holders, or from the creation of more claims to the asset than there are assets”) in an article for Forbes published on 31 July 2018.

Upon hearing Bakkt’s announcement earlier today, she sent out the following tweets to explain that although the confirmation that Bakkt’s daily Bitcoin contract would not be traded on margin, use leverage, or serve to create a paper claim on a real asset” was a good thing, she still had a few reservations:

 

 

 

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Biometric Cryptocurrency Card Protects Bitcoin with Fingerprints

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Unikeys has officially announced its UKey cryptocurrency card.

In form, it’s shaped like any other regular payment card. But it’s designed to host multiple popular cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ether, and Litecoin. What’s more, it features an embedded fingerprint sensor. Once a user’s fingerprint data has been registered and stored in the card’s Secure Element, the card is then able to biometrically authenticate the user for each transaction, ensuring a high level of security.

The biometric component is the product of a collaboration between Unikeys and Hong Kong-based MeReal Biometrics, which obtained its fingerprint sensor technology from Sweden’s Fingerprint Cards. Fingerprint Cards has been very busy in recent months seeking to secure a leading position in the biometric cards market as major financial services brands like Visa and Mastercard prepare for mass commercialization of this kind of technology; Unikeys, for its part, is ahead of the curve.

Of course, a key to success for the latter company will be establishing merchant support for its card’s cryptocurrency payments, and as RFID Journal reports, Unikeys is currently in talks with “several companies” concerning this issue. Unikeys’ CEO says the company is also planning to launch a pilot for its solution in Hong Kong, though details about the project are forthcoming.

Biometric Cryptocurrency Card Protects Bitcoin with Fingerprints

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