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Tag: Amazingrape

Botswana Clinic Now Accepts Bitcoin As Cryptocurrency Takes Root in Africa

Botswana Clinic Now Accepts Bitcoin As Cryptocurrency Takes Root in Africa

  

Bitcoin is gradually taking roots in Africa,

although painfully slow. Nevertheless, there is refreshing news on a daily basis that makes the drive to push Bitcoin penetration in the so-called “hopeless continent” promising. From brave women promoting adoption to startups using Bitcoin and the Blockchain to provide financial inclusion and prevent piracy, the number is endless. It is a great inspiration to the ecosystem and Africa stands to gain a lot from the spread of the crypto revolution.

Meanwhile, in the Southern African city of Gaborone in Botswana, a private clinic known as Sharada Clinic receives Bitcoin as a form of payment for treatment. Run by Dr. Donald Ariisa, it is the only health facility in the whole country that accepts Satoshis.

Cointelegraph couldn't resist talking to Dr. Ariisa and sharing his story with our copious readers. When asked where and how he heard about Bitcoin, he explained that he quite honestly couldn’t remember. "I enjoy watching technology shows, and I guess it was from there," he recalled.

Inspiration

The medical doctor pointed out that what attracted and inspired him to accept Bitcoin as a payment for treatment was the fact that his clinic is focused on adopting technologies that allow for sustainability in offering accessible services. He, therefore, felt Bitcoin was a technology being embraced by the world and the youth, in particular, who may not have fiat money but may be involved in mining Bitcoin or working online for it. It is in that direction that his clinic is striving to give access to those type of users, or anyone who would like to try out his/her Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is freedom

Dr. Ariisa confidently insisted he is not fazed at all by Bitcoin's volatility. "All new technology is volatile, and there will always be early adopters that will prove the technology viable," he remarked. He adds:

"I wish to be part of the birth of a new currency that creates so much freedom for humanity."

The Southern African physician also maintains that very soon he will not be alone in the steps he has taken. It is in his opinion that Bitcoin will become more popular in his country, and more businesses and entities will accept it as a form of payment. "I'm always happy to see the satisfaction when patients pay for their healthcare with Bitcoin," he said excitedly. “My challenge is fully understanding the currency, but then again, we don't even understand the currencies we have been using for years.”

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Suddenly, Europe is Starting to Become Bitcoin Haven

Suddenly, Europe is Starting to
Become Bitcoin Haven

  

Suddenly, Europe is Starting to Become Bitcoin Haven

Countries like France, Germany and the UK have already established regulatory frameworks for Bitcoin companies, users and traders. Other European countries have offered their unique regulatory frameworks with clarity, to ensure there exists no conflict between local businesses and regulators due to ambiguous regulations and policies like India. Smaller countries such as Malta, an archipelago in the central Mediterranean between Sicily and the North African coast, have begun to consider Bitcoin as a legitimate currency and revolutionary technology.

Bitcoin and Blockchain included in national strategy

In particular, local publications including Malta Today reported that the country’s prime minister Joseph Muscat announced the approval of a national strategy to promote Bitcoin and Blockchain technology. Muscat said at a conference organized by the financial affairs parliamentary committee:

“This is not just about Bitcoin and I also look forward to seeing Blockchain technology implemented in the Lands Registry and the national health registries. Malta can be a global trail-blazer in this regard. I understand that regulators are wary of this technology but the fact is that it’s coming. We must be on the frontline in embracing this crucial innovation and we cannot just wait for others to take action and copy them. We must be the ones that others copy.”

Although Muscat raised several positive use cases of Bitcoin and Blockchain technology, Muscat specifically addressed the Bitcoin Blockchain’s ability to handle, store and process sensitive data such as lands registry in a secure, immutable and decentralized ecosystem.

Land records

Most recently, Ubitquity, a US-based Blockchain startup, partnered with one of the land records bureaus of Brazil to utilize the Bitcoin Blockchain technology to integrate land records to the public Blockchain of Bitcoin. Such method enables land bureaus and other government organizations to store data within an unalterable ledger. “We are incredibly excited to announce our partnership with the land records bureau, a Cartório de Registro de Imóveis [Real Estate Registry Office] in Brazil. This partnership will help to demonstrate to government municipalities the power and benefits of using Blockchain-powered recordkeeping,” said Ubitquity founder and president Nathan Wosnack.

Malta to become the Silicon Valley of Europe?

The rest of the government, including Labor Minister of Parliament Silvio Schembri, revealed the government’s vision to transform Malta into the Silicon Valley of Europe. The country will focus on the development of innovative technologies such as Bitcoin and Blockchain technology to stay at the forefront of European technological innovation.

Schembri stated:

“We should aim to have the world’s best environment for the development and commercialization of fintech models and disruptive innovation. The government should ensure that Malta has the appropriate regulatory framework, the right tax system and the best infrastructure to support this ambition. With our geographical position and weather conditions, strong financial system, skills base, entrepreneurial spirit and can-do approach, Malta can truly serve as a test-bed for new sectors and foreign firms to test their new technology and products locally.”

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Items We Bought With Bitcoin

Items We Bought With Bitcoin

  

You’ve got to admit that everyone likes to go shopping

once in a while, whether it’s to buy that designer shirt you’ve been eyeing or those nifty gadgets you saw in a catalog the other day. To do this you’ve got to spend money. But what happens if you want to shop with cryptocurrency?Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency that has gained popularity over the years. Here are 9 things you can buy with bitcoin:

Shoes from Iran

Time to go out again. We still have our socks, but maybe we need new shoes? Normally having leather shoes handcrafted for your foot size and shape cost a fortune, but in Iran, with its fine leather and shoe industry, these high quality products are affordable.Interestingly the sanctions against Iran don’t make it illegal to import shoes (unless you are American, maybe). But it does make it impossible to send payments. In this case, we literally have no other option than to pay with Bitcoin.

A trip to North Korea

Ever wanted to visit North Korea? The China-based travel agency Young Pioneer Tours has 9 years of experience of organizing tours to North Korea, and can help you with flights, hotels, visa and a tour guide. It’s difficult to make a wire transfer to China, so Bitcoin is our natural choice of payment.

Kimchi socks

Okay, we get it, Bitcoin is awesome. We constantly want to talk about it, tell others about our trip to North Korea, and how we were able to tweet pictures the entire trip from one of the most heavily locked down countries on earth.But doing so would make us a bit annoying. We head over to South Korean company Kimchi Socks to buy their Bitcoin branded socks. That way, maybe people will notice and ask about Bitcoin themselves? Bitcoin socks, paid with Bitcoin. We are so much fun at parties!

Office Gadgets

So now we have shoes from Iran, been to North Korea and have these stylish new socks. Why put shoes on again? Why not just make your work life a whole lot better with some awesome office gadgets?Gadgets and toys are enjoyed all around the world by people of all age, color and gender. But not everyone has a credit card to pay for it. Bitcoin to the rescue.

A monitor

Quickly after the first game, we realize, we might need a better monitor. There are tons of places online that sell monitors for Bitcoins. Rakuten, Overstock, Dell, Tiger Direct and others.

Tea from Taiwan

Do you know that feeling when you make yourself a coffee while playing a video game, and then you forget you made it and now it’s cold? That happens with tea as well, but cold tea is still delicious. Just put some Ice cubes inside! No idea how to combine ice cubes and Bitcoin, but for the tea, head to Beautiful Taiwan Tea.

An ExpressVPN Subscription

VPNs are meant to protect our privacy and data when we browse the web from a coffee shop or airport Wi-Fi. Many of us live in countries that actively monitor and censor the internet, and a logless VPN protects us.For more privacy, it makes perfect sense to not use your credit card (which is connected to your real name), but instead the pseudonymous currency Bitcoin.

Jewelry

No matter if you want jewelry for yourself or as a gift, Reeds takes Bitcoins and ships to wherever you are.

Karma

At the end of the day, why not donate your Bitcoins to one of over 10,000 charities in the United Kingdom? With Proof of Donation, you'er issued a cryptographic receipt that irrefutably proves you did good. With Bitcoin.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Antbleed: Bitcoin’s Newest New Controversy Explained

Antbleed:
Bitcoin's Newest New
Controversy Explained

A mining chip vulnerability

that could potentially be used to remotely shut off bitcoin mining machines was revealed yesterday — with a fix from the manufacturer following shortly after. Involving controversial mining chip manufacturer Bitmain, the issue is what some are calling a "backdoor" in the code that controls its hardware, offering the company a way to remotely shut off the miners. Since the code, released anonymously last evening, is vulnerable to attackers, the main concern is whether, in a worst-case scenario, it could be misused.

The fear is that bad actors could exploit the vulnerability to switch off bitcoin mining equipment in bulk, and with Bitmain supplying such a large number of machines to the market, the impact could have catastrophic implications for the bitcoin ecosystem. Known as Antbleed (a title bestowed by the website that dramatized its release), the vulnerability is open-source, making it easy to verify. Leading up to the reveal, a group was told about the code feature, with some developers, such as Satoshi Labs CEO Marek Palatinus independently verifying that the backdoor exists and that it can be used to stop Bitmain miners on trigger.

Bitmain quickly responded with a fix that erases this part of its mining firmware. Further, its team claimed that the feature was never finished and that it was intended to help customers recover stolen miners, a past problem for industry firms.

The statement reads:

"We never intended to use this feature on any Antminer without authorization from its owner. This is similar to the remote erase or shutdown feature provided by most famous smartphone manufacturers."

Much of the recent buzz in the community is around whether the so-described "backdoor" could have been used for malicious purposes, for example, to shut off a miner if it wasn’t complying with rules set by Bitmain.

Adding to the confusion is that bitcoin developments have been highly politicized lately, with Bitmain often sitting at the center of bitcoin’s long-standing scaling debate, opposing proposals authored by members of the Bitcoin Core community. For example, the vulnerability reveal follows allegations that the manufacturer was using a secret mining advantage to boost its profits.

In conversation with CoinDesk, Bitcoin Unlimited chief scientist Peter Rizun might have summed up the issue and surrounding atmosphere the best:

"The drama in social media today surrounds the question of whether there exists a security hole that would allow this remote-control feature to be exploited for nefarious purposes."

Code details

Still, it seems that there are other reasons to be concerned about the backdoor. Since it can be exploited by bad actors from outside the company, the mining chips are now viewed as a security risk to the network. Everyone to 11 minutes, according to the open-source patch introduced on July 12th, 2016, the machines send calls back to a Bitmain server.

The idea is that the mining manufacturer can scan for identifying information about the mining chip, including its serial number and IP address. But, arguably the biggest concern is that the code isn't limited to use by certain people or companies, so it can be exploited by any man-in-the-middle or attacks coming from the same DNS server. "Even without Bitmain being malicious, the API is unauthenticated and would allow any MITM, DNS or domain hijack to shut down Antminers globally," the Antbleed website reads, further outlining concerns about the potential for technical or political misuse.

Vulnerability or 'malicious' backdoor?

Whether or not it was intended to be malicious seems to make up the bulk of the surrounding debate, and so far, it seems that sentiment has broken along the lines of the scaling debate. Still, some broke away from so-called party lines. "This was reckless of them to leave the unfinished feature in the code since this represents a major security issue," said Henry Brade, CEO of bitcoin service provider Prasos, a past defender of Bitcoin Core’s scaling proposals.

"However, based on the statement it is not accurate to call 'Antbleed' malicious in nature. It's simply a serious security issue."

F2pool operator Wang Chun further noted that he isn’t particularly worried about miners within his pool falling victim to manipulation by Bitmain. He noted, in conversation with CoinDesk, that it doesn’t seem like the company ever used it to shut down miners. "They have been able to do that for a long time, but they didn't," he said. Guy Corem, former CEO of Israeli mining chip maker Spondoolies-Tech, chalked up the controversy to "incompetence” and "negligence", rather than malicious intent.

"It make sense they wanted to develop such feature and it also make sense they didn't complete it and abandon it," he added. Further, he cited Spondoolies-Tech’s own past issues with stolen mining equipment. Still, some in the community are skeptical of Bitmain’s response. "Denial of many people is unbelievable. 'Antbleed' is not bug or mistake. The purpose of the code is clear; shut down miner on remote flag," Palatinus tweeted.

Public info?

Others have raised concerns about this vulnerability being made public since outsiders can then take advantage of the attack vector. Bitcoin Core contributor Matt Corallo argued that owners of these bitcoin miners needed to know about the potential vulnerability in order to fix it. "The issue is, it's already integrated in a ton of deployed hardware," he said, adding:

"It was reported to Bitmain via that bug report months ago, and their customers need to know to protect their operations from potential [man-in-the-middle attacks]."

The issue was first reported to Bitmain on Github in September 2016. One question is how prevalent the practice is in bitcoin. Secret backdoors seem to be par for the course in the technology world, often drawing security-minded critics as they're uncovered. Do other hardware manufacturers have the same vulnerability? Two mining manufacturers, at least, claim that they don’t.

"Our hardware doesn't [have] such issues, we [don’t] offer remote updates for firmware — it's the customer's decision update them or not,” said blockchain startup Bitfury Group CIO Alex Petrov. "My miner has no ASICBoost or backdoor," Jack Liao, CEO of mining LightningAsic, told CoinDesk. Along with the details about the backdoor, those who detected it released a patch that closes it up with a single line of code.

Mining centralization

Still, there are lingering worries that the vulnerability betrays a weakness in the bitcoin network — namely, it's lack of mining chip makers. No clear data is available about how many miners are running this software, but Bitmain is one the largest chip manufacturers in the space, with bolder estimates suggesting it produces 70% of all mining chips. That the backdoor could be used to impact any of those chips is unsurprisingly alarming to advocates that the network be "decentralized" and open to competition that enables different actors to engage it.

For now, the impact seems to be that Bitmain will take action to look at the rest of its codebase in order to spot other vulnerabilities. "The controversy around this code has brought our attention to improve the design in order to address vulnerabilities that were pointed out by the community recently," its statement reads. Still, others are lamenting the state of the drama and conversation around the issue, noting how quickly it became politicized.

Rizun concluded:

"All-in-all just another day in bitcoin."

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Ripple Signs Up Another 10 Banks As Blockchain-Based Payments Grow

Ripple Signs Up Another 10 Banks As Blockchain-Based Payments Grow

  

Ripple signed up another 10 banks,

including BBVA, penetrating the traditional banking sector in a way other digital currencies have yet to do. Ripple Labs continues to grow its client list with small and more substantial banks, engaging clients in the payment service provider market. In its press release, Ripple lists the banks: MUFG, BBVA, SEB, Akbank, Axis Bank, YES BANK, SBI Remit, Cambridge Global Payments, Star One Credit Union and eZforex.com.

An interesting trend shown in the current list of clients is the addition of new payment service providers (PSPs). It shows that Blockchain related payments are efficiently entering the remittance market. The press release describes the list of newcomers as “…some of the world’s largest banks, innovative payment service providers… More and more customers are turning to Ripple for cross-border payments.”

Adoption Scaling

Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse is confident in the technology and views the customer base acceleration logical, stating:

“People know Ripple is the only Blockchain solution for payments that is proven in the real world and it’s driving demand from financial institutions of all kinds and sizes because they want to stay ahead of the curve.”

Certain members are already aiming at commercial implementation, although no timeline has been indicated. “We are very pleased to be working with Ripple to provide new types of payment services to change our customers’ experience using the power of Blockchain technology. To demonstrate our commitment, we are joining the Japan Bank Consortium to collaborate with other Japanese banks to move to the commercial use of Ripple’s global network.” — Hirofumi Aihara, General Manager of Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ

XRP outlook positive

The majority of transactions are cross-border but within the same bank. An expected milestone will be when the banks start making Blockchain transactions happen between themselves and counterparties. XRP experienced a large surge in price and market capitalization as 2017 has brought nothing but good news. Despite a rocky 2016 Ripple Labs seems to be back on track to growth and prosperity, having grown its staff to over 150 and counting. The efficiency in both time and fees means that large scale adoption is a real possibility, while companies like SWIFT are finally taking this seriously.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Americans Skeptical of Bitcoin, Asia Surpasses US, Europe in Fintech Investments

Americans Skeptical of Bitcoin, Asia Surpasses US, Europe in Fintech Investments

  

Americans Skeptical of Bitcoin, Asia Surpasses US, Europe in Fintech Investments

Finder.com has recently conducted a study to examine the current trends in the international money transfer space. Olivia Chow, the company’s Lead Researcher had a chat with Cointelegraph revealing key findings of the study.

34 percent of Americans transfer money overseas

According to data collected by finder.com, 34 percent (or 84.1 mln) of Americans transfer money overseas. That is an estimated $140.1 bln last year alone, more than half amounts for mortgages, student loans and credit card debt.

Another set of data reveals that while the general population seems to be embracing digital wallets for day-to-day transactions (57 percent use a digital wallet more than any other mean), 80 percent of all money transferred overseas is still done in person using cash. This is topped with a figure of 96 percent representing those who are unhappy with the level of service they receive. Finder.com launched an in-depth research to identify the reasons behind dissatisfaction with money transfer services, as well as to understand why the in-person approach is still favoured when it comes to international money transfers.

Chow explained the methodology used:

“Because we are an online company, we focused on Money Transfer Operators (MTOs) — non-bank institutions that send global payments — that have web applications and allows for transfers to be completed entirely online. We spent three months sending live transfers to France and Mexico, generating quotes on 2,430 transactions, conducting usability research with 39 participants from usertesting.com and site testing to verify 585 data points collected from provider websites.”

Six most important factors in money transfer

Based on users’ money transfer concerns and needs, finder.com has developed the six most important factors when transferring money. These included exchange rates, the speed of transfer, user experience, trustworthiness, convenience and novelty of the product. These six factors corresponded to six award categories. The study demonstrated that the average score for best user experience was the highest, while the average score for Most Convenient and Most Trustworthy was lowest.

Chow explained:

“The high UX scores is a departure from most banking sectors but this is because we only focused on Money Transfer Operators (MTOs) who are not big banks. They specialize in one area in banking leading to a better user experience both because of this area of focus and because the need to optimize for the user is required to meet margins.”

According to the study findings, industry veterans do not have the highest online country and territory coverage, although, as Chow says, they would if cash pick-up payments (not bank accounts) were included in the study.

She shared:

“For instance, SmallWorld had the highest coverage with 83 countries and territories, but that’s less than half of the world’s 195+ countries and territories. TransferWise and WorldRemit came in second with 74 countries and territories. Western Union had 59 and Paypal 38. The bottleneck here are the specific regulations between different countries. Altcoins could prove a possible accelerator in this adoption. The unbanked recipients also make moving away from cash slow, offering another opportunity for cryptocurrencies.”

An Analysis also revealed the lack of transparency with most of the providers of money transfer services. Thus, two in five providers (40 percent) didn’t transfer funds within the promised delivery time. 31 percent of providers tested did not have successful transfers, they used wire transfers or forced customers to load funds onto a digital wallet before being able to transfer. 31 percent forced customers to provide their personal details before offering an online quote.

As stated by Chow, a perception of trust is a two-way street — people who receive payments must be comfortable with the way they receive. Given all this, what are the chances cryptocurrencies will offer a solution for Americans willing to transact instantly and trustfully?

Americans are skeptical about cryptocurrencies

Describing general habits and preferences of Americans when it comes to money transfers, Chow points out that the biggest determining factor to which service to use is what is convenient to use for those receiving the money. As a result, digital wallets have taken off in the US — the Venmos, Facebook Messenger, and Google Pay. These apps are even marketed as social tools which make it easier to split a dinner bill, for example.

Chow continues:

“However, when it comes to international money transfers, the recipients are often less savvy and possibly without bank accounts. As a result, the resistance for digital adoption is much greater leading to international money transfers from the US still largely being conducted in cash.”

While there is certainly a niche which can be occupied by cryptocurrencies, Chow says that in the US, cryptocurrencies are met with some degree of scepticism among the general public. She believes there are at least two reasons for that.

Is Bitcoin going to overturn the current financial system?

According to Chow, the US economic system is relatively stable. Although the Great Depression was painful for many Americans and “too big to fail” was the supposed harbinger for Satoshi Nakamoto’s invention, the day-to-day relationship with money remained constant.

Chow says:

“The bank didn’t run, people weren’t concerned that their greenbacks suddenly weren’t going to be worth anything, and your ATMs, online banking, and other daily banking mechanisms continued to operate. Ultimately, the need for an alternative currency is not dire.”

At the same time, in many developing countries where the national currency sometimes lacks stability and the government is corrupted. Interest in cryptocurrencies seem to increase as a result of greater volatility and weakness of the fiat. The Indian cash crisis is a perfect example of when Bitcoin volumes have soared.

The second reason for general public’s scepticism towards Bitcoin, according to Chow, is the binary thinking Americans have developed:

“Is Bitcoin going to overturn the current financial system or not? There seems to be a narrative that if it doesn’t do that then it’s a total failure. But if it can buoy economies during a financial crisis and provide an alternative, I think that is certainly filling a need today.”

Indeed, it is still unclear whether this decentralised currency experiment will succeed or just collapse — only time will tell. So far cryptocurrencies do seem to be addressing a growing need for an alternative to the mainstream markets when the latter are in peril.

Why national altcoins failed

Speaking of the instability of national currencies, recently we have witnessed an emergence of a new generation of cryptocurrencies focusing on building money system to solve problems of a specific country (Auroracoin, Scotcoin, Gaelcoin, etc.). While many critics were saying that these initiatives are not able to overturn traditional finance and settlement systems, there was a significant share of supporters.

Chow shared her opinion:

“I think it’s fair to say that those specific national altcoin initiatives have peaked and were unsuccessful. A lot of them rose in critique of limitations and failures of their own currency, but why create a cryptocurrency based on a nation state? When the whole idea is to decentralize and create fewer boundaries between transactions? At the same time, these were largely popular in 2014 when Bitcoin had thought to have failed. So, experimenting with different new cryptocurrencies could have made sense to alleviate the problems of the mainstream economy.”

Today Bitcoin is showing strength with an overall uptrend leading those in volatile markets to opt into Bitcoin, rather than create an entirely new currency. Besides, money transfer services are even taking advantage of the cheaper exchange rates offered by Bitcoin’s separate market. As Chow says, still sometimes the rates are worse, but it’s always good to have alternatives.

Crypto and fiat can’t be compared

Cryptocurrency market is definitely maturing, which is demonstrated by the increasing cryptocurrency market cap. Last year, Bitcoin even managed to outperform many traditional currencies raising hopes that digital currencies are indeed the future of money.

Chow commented:

“I think we need to define “outperform.” How much a currency is worth is dependent on what the cost of goods it can buy. That is still limited and difficult to measure when it comes to Bitcoin — especially legally. Strictly based on market cap and price, yes, Bitcoin more than doubled last year. But until Bitcoin is accepted more widely as payment (which it is starting to) I think it’s unfair to compare them with fiat currencies.

Fintech is prioritized: lessons from Asia

Cointelegraph was interested to know Chow’s opinion on the fintech boom in Asia, and particularly in China. Last year Asia managed to surpass the US and Europe in terms investment volume in fintech industry reaching $1.2 bln versus $900 mln in the US and $200 mln in Europe.

Chow says:

“Indeed, Asia surpassed the US and Europe in venture capital but the year-end investments ended up being much larger in the four and five billions for each — higher in you include other sources of investment. Although Asia surpassed the US in total investment, Asia made fewer deals. This is not necessarily bad but reflects how much more unified their strategy appears to be — investing in fewer companies but more heavily.”

Chow recalls that one of the biggest investments last year was into Ant Financials, the payment arm of Alibaba group. They recently just bought Moneygram, and Chow says it will be interesting to watch:

“They seem to historically be more focused on cash payments but this could dramatically change by this time next year. Furthermore, Alibaba Group’s CEO Jack Ma has been quite vocal about his belief that businesses need to invest in the infrastructure of their own countries.”

After all, it seems in today’s increasingly digital and global market, fintech is being made a priority.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

 

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Blockchain Innovation Means Greater Financial Inclusion in the Middle East

Blockchain Innovation Means Greater Financial Inclusion in the Middle East

  

Financial inclusion,

something as simple as possessing a basic chequing account is significantly lacking in the Middle East, especially when compared on a global scale. Digital innovation, coupled with high mobile penetration rates, especially those aged 25 and under, can, however, open the door to reshaping the fate of the region’s estimated 85 million unbanked adults. According to the 2014 World Bank Global Findex Database, a report that measures global financial inclusion, account penetration in the Middle East, that is, individuals without access to even the most basic financial services sat at just 14 percent.

Last month, Dr. Nasser Saidi, a leading economist for the Middle East and North Africa region who served as the Minister of Economy and Industry and as the Vice Governor for the Lebanese central banks, reiterated the 14 percent figure in an interview. Saidi added, however, that the situation is even more dismal for women.He claimed that only 9 percent of women in the Middle East region owned an account. This is a stunning figure, especially when placed alongside the global average which sits at around 50 percent, according to World Bank data.

Furthermore, account ownership is at near-universal levels in high-income Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) economies, with 94 percent of adults from OECD nations having reported owning an account. Financial inclusion is critical for employment creation, for raising income levels and to consequently reduce poverty. To achieve inclusive economic growth, of course, requires the easing of barriers to accessing the broader financial system. The key to easing the barrier to financial access in today’s online environment is digital innovation, more specifically, advancement in financial technology and mobile banking.

The United Arab Emirates, one of the richest Gulf nations, has an internal battle amongst its top two cities. “There is a rivalry between Abu Dhabi and Dubai to become the fintech hub in UAE,” said Omar Soudodi, managing director of Dubai-based payments processor PayFort, as reported by Kadhim Shubber of the Financial Times, in December. Companies in the financial technology sector, including within the rapidly emerging space of blockchain technology, see the critical opportunity that exists for banking innovation. “More and more of the Arab millennials are getting into the banked world before they even graduate,” said Soudodi. “Before the trend was, ‘I graduate, I get a job, I get my first paycheck and think, oh my God, I need a bank account’.” There is potential to capitalise on the shifting demographic trends.

Changing Demographics

The UAE was cited by Google amongst the highest in smartphone penetration rates per capita as of September 2015. The UAE was in fact listed among global leaders with an overall smartphone penetration rate of around 75 percent. The mobile phone user base in the Middle East and North Africa region was second only to that in Asia-Pacific. “Just over 606 million people in the Middle East and Africa [region] have at least one mobile phone this year, and the total will pass 789 million in 2019,” reported eMarketer, an independent market research firm, in tandem with Starcom Mediavest Group as part of their 2016 Global Media Intelligence report.

The UAE has retained its regional standing as the highest per capita country for mobile phone penetration with an estimated 80.6 percent of the population reported to possess a mobile device. Further, this number is projected to inch up to 82.8 percent by 2019, as per the Global Media Intelligence report. From a usage perspective, the trend is similarly moving toward complete saturation. In 2012, only 54 percent of UAE users under the age of 25 went online using a smartphone at least as often as on a computer. This rocketed to 90 percent by 2015.

Fast-forward to data obtained in January 2017 and the trend upward continues, with the Internet and mobile use remaining high in the Middle East, according to We Are Social’s and Hootsuite’s Digital in 2017 Global Overview. Of an estimated total regional population of 246 million there are 147 million Internet users in the Middle East — a 60 percent penetration rate. Furthermore, there are 312 million mobile subscriptions, which amounts to a 127 percent rate against the overall population.

“You have a very young population, using modern technologies. Yet, the financial and banking side is lagging. Fintech therefore, can play a very important role in financial access and inclusion,” said Saidi. Top digital users are of course the youth segment, according to economist Saidi, who added, 60 percent of the population in the Middle East are aged under 30, which highlights the ripe opportunity to mobilise the current and upcoming generations.

Blockchain-Based Innovation

“The Arabian world is ripe for innovation,” said Mohammed Alsehli, chief executive officer at ArabianChain Technology, a Dubai-based software developer. “Blockchain technology is at the center of innovation in the region that is made possible by the direction and the vision of some of the countries here. In Saudi Arabia and the UAE it’s all about the digital revolution and how to digitally transform these countries in the future.” ArabianChain Technology, based in the Dubai Technology Entrepreneurship Center, recently launched its own public blockchain.

In addition to the blockchain, ArabianChain is developing a suite of blockchain-based features and products, including its own digital currency called DubaiCoin-DBIX (previously, DubaiCoin-DBIC), an exchange, and a regionally-focused marketplace. “DBIX is a secure and economical means to conduct payments and asset transfers,” Alsehli said. But ArabianChain is just a single player amidst a growing base of fintech ventures, blockchain-based and otherwise. Last September, the Dubai Future Foundation launched its inaugural Dubai Future Accelerators, a 12-week program connected international technology startups with government entities for the purpose of creating prototypes and pilots for the City of Dubai.

According to Bitcoin Magazine reporter Diana Ngo, The program “enlisted 30 companies with seven of Dubai’s public services: Health, Energy, Knowledge, Municipality, Police, Transport and the investment portfolio, Dubai Holding.” In fact, the United Arab Emirates is moving to adopt sweepingly adopt blockchain technology with aims “to become, by 2020, a leading centre for innovation and the first government in the world to execute all of its transactions on a blockchain.”

The power of this, from a financial inclusion and digital innovation standpoint, will be unmitigated access for a population that lives online, connected via a computer or mobile phone, with the latter’s penetration rate at a nearly universal level. Further, integration and adoption of a regionally-focused, feature-filled public blockchain has the capacity to heighten interaction and connectivity from business-to-business,  business-to-consumer, and peer-to-peer positions.

Daniel Diemers, a consultant with the strategy and consulting arm of PricewaterhouseCoopers, pointed to another reality in the region, that of disconnection, stating, “If you’re a payments fintech start-up in the UAE and you’ve gone through all the approvals, it [still] doesn’t give you passports in other Gulf countries.” ArabianChain and other public blockchains like Bitcoin have the potential to alter this dissociative relationship, allowing businesses and people to interact without thought of border, according to Alsehli.

Mobile banking and the advancement and adoption of financial technology applications can also shatter the often insurmountable barrier physical access predicates while alleviating costs to the account owner and the banking institution. In short, Blockchain-based innovation could mean significant progress by way of financial inclusion through digital. This guest article is authored by Brandon Kostinuk, communications lead at Vanbex Group, a Vancouver, Canada-based professional services firm and consultancy that specialises in the digital currency and blockchain technology sector.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Nevada Senators Unanimously Advance Blockchain Tax Ban

Nevada Senators Unanimously Advance Blockchain Tax Ban

   Senators in the state of Nevada

have unanimously backed a proposal that would block local authorities from instituting taxes or fees on blockchain use. According to public records, after just over a month of deliberation, the Senate advanced the measure following a 21-0 vote, with zero abstentions. As CoinDesk reported last month, it’s the first measure of its kind that would prevent local officials from charging money to use a distributed ledger or a smart contract tied to one. Sen. Ben Kieckhefer initially submitted the measure on 20th March.

The bill stipulates:

"A local governmental entity shall not: (a) Impose any tax or fee on the use of a blockchain or smart contract by any person or entity; (b) Require any person or entity to obtain from the local governmental entity any certificate, license or permit to use a blockchain or smart contract; or (c) Impose any other requirement relating to the use of a blockchain or smart contract by any person or entity."

Other elements of the bill would clear the way for smart contracts and blockchain signatures to become acceptable records under state law, similar to a measure that was signed into law last month in neighbouring Arizona. The bill now moves to the Assembly — the lower chamber of Nevada’s bicameral legislature — for further consideration.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Dubai And The Globalization Of Blockchain Technology — And FinTech

Dubai And The Globalization Of Blockchain Technology — And FinTech

Summary

Information technology continues to spread throughout the world, even as populist governments and politicians argue that nations just need to focus on their own country. Dubai has very aggressive plans to have 100 percent of applicable government services and transactions on blockchain by 2020 and bring along the private sector to work within the system. Dubai plans to be a hub of world trade and knows that information systems must be integral to such globalization setting a standard for others to follow.

 

Recently, I posted an article relating to a conference on Financial Technology (FinTech) held at MIT. In that post, I discussed the advancement of technology in the United States financial system and reported on how far behind many experts believe the American financial system is in introducing technology to the US economic system. An interesting thread running through many of the sessions at the conference was the mention of Dubai as a leader in the advancement of blockchain technology.

Blockchain technology uses a digital ledger system to efficiently share and track information related to contracts and transactions. The records of the system are permanent, verifiable, and secure. The Blockchain Technology is the technology used to support the digital currency bitcoin. It was surprising to me to see an article by Nikhil Lohade in the Wall Street Journal on the efforts being made to turn Dubai into a blockchain center.

Mr. Lohade quotes the group chief information officer at Emirates NBD, Dubai's largest bank, Ali Saywani:

"The aim is to replace paper-based contracts with smart contracts that will help reduce complex documentation for the tracking, shipping and movement of goods."

"We have a very clear objective to make Dubai the capital of the blockchain industry," says Aisha Bin Bishr, director general of Smart Dubai, a government office tasked with facilitating innovation in the emirate. "By 2020, we'll have 100 percent of applicable government services and transactions happen on blockchain."

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member

Ripple Adds 10 New Financial Firms to ‘Blockchain Network’

Ripple Adds 10 New Financial Firms to 'Blockchain Network'

  

Ripple is adding 10 new banks

and financial services providers to what it's now calling its "blockchain network". Founded in 2012, Ripple has raised nearly $100m for its distributed ledger tech and related payments products, but it has been increasingly active of late in seeking to formalize enterprise partnerships amid a wave of high-profile consortium efforts.

The new partnerships find Ripple showcasing its reach and influence. New members include MUFG (Japan), BBVA (Spain), SEB (Sweden), Akbank, Yes Bank (India), Axis Bank (India), SBI Remit (Japan), Star One Credit Union (US), EZ Forex (US) and Cambridge FX (Canada). In an interview, Ripple VP of product, Asheesh Birla explained the company is beginning to define its offerings in more collaborative terms. While its product allows for faster cross-border payments, Ripple is also creating a set of standards for banks to follow while using its underlying tech, he said.

Birla told CoinDesk:

"You need a whole ruleset, and that's why we call it a blockchain network and when we say that partners are joining, they’re actually agreeing to the standards and rules that accompany the technology as well.”

The new partner banks and companies are a mix of inbound and outbound services. As Birla explained, Indian banks Yes Bank and Axis Bank are receiving more cross-border payments rather than issuing payments out. MUFG in Japan, on the other hand, manages both. "They would be processing payments for a lot of Japanese that want to send money to other destinations like Turkey and India but then there’s a lot of demand for sending payments into Japan as well," he said.

Faster payments are one advantage, but members also cited other advantages. Evan Shelan, chairman of EZ Forex said, "The benefits [of the blockchain] are about adding the most advanced level of security to each payment through the distributive ledger for our financial institutions."

Global reach

Of course, a global network is perhaps a natural fit given Ripple's recent focus on the cross-border DLT opportunity. According to Birla, many banks are feeling the need to process more international payments than ever before. As such, Birla framed DLT as an advance that could help financial institutions with a broader set of problems. For instance, without a standardized procedure, he argued things gets messy when operating payments to several different countries.

"[Banks are] looking at this as a new kind of service that they can offer that would compete with a lot of the startups in their space," he said. Still, work needs to be done to boost the Ripple ecosystem, and Birla said that banks were chosen, in part, due to their expertise with their local regulatory environment.

Birla concluded:

"The reason that we chose to work with banks is that they are experts in local regulation. A lot of them have that pull and understand the regulatory environment and we built our product in such a way that it fits within the different regulatory schemes around the world."

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Markethive Founding Member