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The ICO Market Needs a Stable Unit of Account

As ether’s price has crashed spectacularly over the last couple months, a lot of people have been talking about ICOs. And for good reason: it’s no secret that ether’s rise to over $1,200 earlier this year was due in large part to the ICO frenzy happening at the same time. Instead of pursuing traditional financing routes, companies were raising millions of dollars worth of crypto, often from ordinary people who could never get in on a traditional investment round. Many of these startups were building ERC-20 tokens and were raising funds in ether, which in turn drove up the price of the token.

As the ICO boom has subsided, ether has lost a major source of demand. Furthermore, startups that raised funds in crypto but need fiat money to pay their expenses have been selling their ether for U.S. dollars or other fiat currencies. This sell-off is pushing down the price of ether, and has the potential to push it down even further. Meanwhile, everyone is suffering the consequences of a volatile market.

This close relationship between ether and the ICO market isn’t good for anyone. The most obvious risk is to startups who face enormous uncertainty about how much funding they actually have. A sustained bear market like the one we’ve been in for the past couple months could all but wipe out their funding. Of course, projects that raise funds in ether and then see the price increase could end up with more funding than they anticipated, but I’d argue that these gains aren’t worth the uncertainty that comes with them. How can you possibly follow a product roadmap when you can’t even create a reliable budget?

What’s not talked about as much is the fact that this situation is also bad for investors. The primary measure of success for these people is return on investment, but it’s much harder to predict or measure ROI when you’re not actually sure how much you’re investing. What was intended to be an investment worth $1,000 could be worth $500 or $2000 two months later. If you’re trying to measure ROI in fiat terms, this is a problem. Furthermore, if the price of ether is expected to increase, the expected return to make an investment worthwhile will have to be higher than the expected return of simply holding ether, potentially disincentivizing investment and making it more difficult for companies to raise funds.

In order for ICOs to be solidified as a legitimate and useful fundraising scheme, they need a stable unit of account. This will give certainly to both startups and investors about how much funds are being raised, how much the company is worth, and how much return investors are making down the road.

One possibility is for blockchain startups to simply raise funds in fiat. This type of ICO would have one foot on the blockchain and one foot off, with investors providing fiat investment in return for the startup’s tokens. However, this sort of solution seems to go against the spirit of ICOs as a new, on-chain fundraising method. It could also introduce new layers of friction, where crypto investors who want to invest in a blockchain startup, potentially with their profits from the cryptocurrency market, have to take their wealth off the blockchain, just to put it right back on when they acquire the ICO tokens.

A much better option would be for startups to raise ICO funding using stable coins, such as EURS for European companies or TrueUSD for their American counterparts. These tokens provide a stable unit of account, giving clarity to both startups and investors about the amount of capital invested. They also allow the entire process to happen on the blockchain, removing unnecessary friction and promoting cryptocurrency markets as a robust financial ecosystem.

Of course, these days you can’t talk about ICOs without mentioning fraud. After so many scammy projects, the perception of ICOs has gotten so bad that even legitimate projects are associated with fraud. Stablecoins can help with this as well. Having a stable unit of account gives both investors and regulators clarity about how much money a startup actually has, making it easier to demand transparency about how they spend that money. If a startup raises funds in ether, and you’re not sure how much cash they actually have, then it’s more difficult to infer whether they’re spending that cash responsibly or appropriately. There are plenty of other issues with fraudulent ICOs that using stablecoins won’t solve, but it’s a move in the right direction.

It’s time for the ICO market to move out of infancy and start to mature, allowing more accountability and providing more protection to investors, hopefully without cutting off access for everyday people. There are projects, such as Civil’s upcoming ICO, that are guiding us in the right direction. Using stablecoins to establish a reliable unit of account and bring clarity to ICOs would be a significant step toward a safer, more legitimate ICO market.

STASIS Just Celebrated Our One Year Anniversary—Here's What We've Accomplished So Far

In August, STASIS celebrated its one year anniversary. And what a year it’s been! In the past twelve months, we’ve worked with two government organizations on major initiatives, seen Malta introduce pioneering legislation around the blockchain ecosystem, and launched our own stable coin, to name a few developments. As we pass the one-year milestone, it seems like a good time to share an overview of what we’ve accomplished so far.

Establishing government partnerships

STASIS began with the initial goal of helping regulatory bodies streamline legislation around blockchain technology in order to foster innovation-friendly local ecosystems and prevent regulatory arbitrage. Our first such partnership was with the Maltese government, which in July passed pioneering blockchain legislation. We offered guidance and advice to the government throughout the process of researching and drafting this legislation. We also had the honor of welcoming both the President and the Prime Minister of Malta to our EURS launch press conference in a show of support for the local blockchain ecosystem.

We’ve also partnered with the Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC) in Kazakhstan to offer guidance on their new blockchain legislation and to help the nation launch a stable digital currency. The AIFC’s goal is to develop financial markets within Kazakhstan, and we’re excited to see them recognize the benefits of digital assets.

Developing our own stable coin

Regulatory risk isn’t the only thing keeping institutional investors from entering the cryptocurrency market. Extreme price volatility significantly enhances the risk associated with any crypto-based investment. That’s why in July we decided to enter the stable coin space with our own token, EURS. EURS is a fully collateralized, fiat-backed stable coin that will allow investors to hold a digital asset without exposing themselves to the price volatility generally associated with cryptocurrencies. Anyone can check our on-chain asset balance on the home page of our website.

In July we also onboarded our first institutional client. Furthermore, EURS is already trading publicly on multiple exchanges, including Bancor, and is a supported currency on ePayments.

Ensuring versatility for any blockchain

As various blockchains continue to develop, we want to make sure we’re on the best one. That’s why we’ve developed a backend that will work on any blockchain. EURS currently operates on the Ethereum blockchain, because Ethereum offers the highest level of security available right now. Our wallet is also integrated with the bitcoin blockchain, allowing it to support BTC balances and transfers. And our team has already tested integration with the Stellar blockchain, which enables lower transaction fees. We’re ready for a smooth transition to whichever blockchain offers the most value for our partners moving forward.

Creating the wallet our users need

There are tons of cryptocurrency wallets out there, but even though we searched for one, we couldn’t find a wallet to meet our needs—one that would allow users to transact between various currencies with a simple and easy-to-use interface. So we made our own.

In May, we launched the STASIS wallet app. Originally, it only supported EURS and ether, but in August we added support for bitcoin as well. Now users can hold their EURS, ETH and BTC balances all in the same place. Users can also exchange between supported tokens in-app, and can of course send or receive those tokens with their ETH and BTC addresses. We’re planning to add more supported tokens soon.

Providing the legal framework to make it all safe

In addition to creating EURS, we’ve established a legal framework to make acquiring the token safe and easy for our partners. Our legal documents were prepared by Ganado Advocates, who were involved in the creation of Malta’s cryptocurrency regulation, and Tiang&Co, a PwC-associated firm and one of the world’s most progressive legal firms in the crypto space.

We’ve also developed four streams for institutional investors to enter the cryptocurrency market. They can acquire EURS via a bank wire transfer, a payment institution, a cryptocurrency trade, or a brokerage account using securities, bonds or other financial instruments. We’re the only platform in the stable coin market that offers all four options.

Moving Forward

We’re proud of everything we’ve accomplished this past year, but we’re also just getting started. The next year will see EURS trading on even more exchanges, the STASIS wallet supporting more tokens and, perhaps most importantly, the entrance of more institutional partners into the EURS ecosystem. We also know that the market will change, and we’ll have to adapt in ways we can’t necessarily plan out in advance. But whatever happens, we’ll continue to work on the cutting edge of blockchain regulation and stable coin technology, making the benefits of digital assets as accessible as possible for institutional investment.

Cryptocurrencies Don't Need An ETF As Badly As People Think

These days, it seems like nothing gets crypto enthusiasts talking like the possibility of a bitcoin ETF. If cryptocurrency was a gold rush, you’d think ETFs were the shovel. They’re going to take bitcoin “to the moon,” right?

If that were the case, the SEC’s ruling on August 22 to reject 9 ETF proposals would be devastating. While the ruling isn’t terribly surprising, given that the SEC has rejected ETFs in the past, the latest round was notable because the ETFs under consideration were based on bitcoin futures, rather than the actual asset. This would give investors another layer of protection from volatility in the bitcoin spot markets, and would mean that the funds themselves don’t have to directly take on the risks associated with holding cryptocurrency, such as handling cryptographic keys.

Apparently, this wasn’t enough to get the SEC on board, and now it seems likely that a bitcoin ETF is a long way off for American investors. That’s the bad news. The good news is that to see this decision as a reason for despair is to greatly overestimate the importance of ETFs.

To illustrate this, let’s go way back, to about 8700 BC. That’s the estimated date for when humans first used copper. For almost 5,000 years, copper was the only metal humans knew of, and even after the introduction of precious metals such as gold and silver, or metals such as iron for creating tools and weapons, copper has remained an important natural resource all the way up to the present day.

And when was the United States’ first copper ETF launched? 2011. The copper market existed for thousands of years before it had an ETF. It did just fine.

Obviously, bitcoin and copper aren’t the same thing. For one, you can’t fashion tools out of bitcoin. And unlike copper, lines of code are not a resource with constrained supply (though it’s worth noting that bitcoin does have limited supply). The point is simply that an ETF is not crucial  for a healthy market. The SEC decision may not have been ideal, but the market will be alright. The technological benefits of cryptocurrency—such as the fast, secure transfer of funds—haven’t gone away. There are already other financial instruments investors can use to get into bitcoin without going through an ETF, such as futures contracts or the recent arrival of a bitcoin ETN on American shores.

In many ways, your outlook on the future of cryptocurrency depends on what you’re hoping to achieve. If your goal is get-rich speculation, and you’re only interested in whether an event will lead to short- and medium-term gains or losses in the price of various cryptocurrencies, then the ETF decision may sting a little more. If, on the other hand, you really believe in the value of blockchain technology and digital assets to improve the financial system, then you have plenty of reasons to be optimistic.

A recent survey by ING found that 25% of Europeans expect to own cryptocurrency at some point, presenting the possibility of a huge increase in adoption from the 9% who own it today. In a recent survey of senior executives, Deloitte found that 84% of respondents either somewhat agree or strongly agree with the statement that “Blockchain technology is broadly scalable and will eventually achieve mainstream adoption.” This sort of adoption isn’t guaranteed to take bitcoin “to the moon,” and that’s okay. When it comes to integrating digital assets with the everyday operations of our financial system, we don’t need sky-high prices; it’s actually stability we want. For those of use who want a stable, sustainable future for digital assets, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic, with or without an ETF.

China Acts to Collapse Cryptocurrency Markets

Chinese regulatory bodies moved in September to collapse the nation’s cryptocurrency marketed, shutting down exchanges and declaring ICOs illegal. Taken together, the new regulations indicate a harsh condemnation of bitcoin and other virtual currencies, and dims hopes that China might follow other nations, including it’s neighbor Japan, in pursuing regulation that allows the blockchain industry to develop while, at the same time, protecting consumers and investors.

On September 4th The People’s Bank of China, the nation’s central bank, declared ICOs illegal, and stated that the tokens generated in these fundraising events do not have legal monetary status. While the regulation, Circular 99, sent a shock through the cryptocurrency community, it was not immediately clear whether there would be further action taken against the industry.

Less than two weeks later, the government ordered cryptocurrency exchanges to stop trading, effectively halting the commercial exchange of bitcoin and other virtual currencies. While the order did not address over-the-counter trading platforms, there were indications that peer-to-peer trading might also be challenged as the government moved aggressively to stomp out what it sees as a danger to China’s financial system.

The regulations were targeted specifically at cryptocurrency, so it is unclear what the government’s stance is toward other applications of blockchain technology. While blockchain startups trying to disrupt other industries tend to use cryptocurrency as the sole method of exchange on their platform, there are merits to distributed ledger technology without the use of publicly available tokens. It seems unlikely that this sort of blockchain industry would receive the same amount of community involvement or attention as cryptocurrencies have, but it may allow the technology to continue developing in China, albeit in a different direction.

Notably absent from the coverage of China’s decision is any mention of input from the nation’s cryptocurrency industry. This stands in stark contrast to the establishment of new cryptocurrency regulation in Japan just five months earlier. Those regulations were developed in close collaboration with industry leaders, so it’s not surprising that they were much more industry-friendly.

Another factor likely at play here is China’s closed capital account. Unlike other tech hubs such as the United States, Chinese regulation makes it difficult to transfer money into or out of China, theoretically protecting the currency from the devaluation that comes with large amounts of selling. Cryptocurrency, on the other hand, is borderless; it can easily be transferred anywhere in the world, often with a high level of anonymity. This poses a threat to Chinese regulators who want to control the flow of money into and out of China. We don’t know for sure that this is a major factor in the recent decisions, but it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that a nation with a closed capital account would take such a hard stance against cryptocurrency. Whether Chinese regulators actually stand a chance at stamping out this growing, borderless industry is another story.

Japan Sets the Standard With New Cryptocurrency Regulation

On April 1st, Japan implemented the Virtual Currency Act, marking the nation as a pioneer in cryptocurrency regulation and starting an international competition to attract cryptocurrency companies. The act, which was passed by the Financial Services Agency (FSA) as an amendment to the Payment Services Act, formally defines “virtual currency” and allows the FSA to regulate and license cryptocurrency exchanges operating in Japan. While most of the conversation around the act is focused on Bitcoin, the rules are applicable to other cryptocurrencies as well.

The Virtual Currency Act recognizes virtual currency as a legal form of payment in Japan, but it does not recognize Bitcoin, or any other cryptocurrency, as a legal currency. This can be confusing, but essentially the FSA is just recognizing that cryptocurrency is used to purchase things, and saying that’s okay. The new regulations regard cryptocurrencies as assets.

The regulations also require cryptocurrency exchanges operating in Japan or soliciting Japanese users to register with the FSA. However, the agency will extend a grace period to exchanges that are currently operating in Japan, in order to give them time to complete the license application.

In some ways, the development of the new regulations can be traced back to the collapse of the Mt. Gox exchange in 2014, which wiped out $450 million worth of Bitcoin and is widely regarded as one of the biggest disasters in the brief history of cryptocurrency. Fortunately, Japan’s government didn’t use the event as an excuse to write off or condemn cryptocurrency, choosing instead to recognize the need for oversight and work with Japan’s blockchain industry to develop regulation that would protect consumers and investors without stifling the emerging industry.

By implementing the Virtual Currency Act, Japan has set off a competition among governments to lay the regulatory framework necessary to attract and retain blockchain companies and talent. The cryptocurrency industry may be global, but legislation is still local, and companies will go to whatever nation offers the most friendly set of rules. As the blockchain industry continues to expand and generate more profits, the gains in tax revenue will be significant for nations where successful companies choose to plant themselves. The intellectual capital also presents an alluring reward, especially considering that blockchain technology is still in early stages of development, and there is no universal consensus on how it should be designed. For now, Japan has set the standard for clear and business-friendly cryptocurrency regulation, and it will be up to other nations to respond.