PayPal-owned Venmo launches cryptocurrency trading

Venmo is following in the footsteps of its rival, Square’s Cash App, by introducing cryptocurrency trading.

Payments app Square made headlines — and dollars — when it integrated Bitcoin trading into its mobile platform back during the crypto bull market of winter 2017. 

Now, rival payments firm Venmo, owned by PayPal, is following suit by launching cryptocurrency trading for four major coins: Bitcoin (BTC), Ether (ETH), Litceoin (LTC) and Bitcoin Cash (BCH).

Beginning on Tuesday and set to be widely available within the new few weeks, Venmo’s 70 million+ customers will be able to buy, hold and sell crypto directly within the Venmo app. The launch is offering users access to in-app guides to help them to better navigate the cryptocurrency trading space and will encourage them to share their cryptocurrency experiences via the Venmo feed. 

Venmo users will be able to buy as little as $1 worth of cryptocurrency and can use either funds from their Venmo balance or from a linked bank account or debit card to buy and sell their holdings.

Over 30% of Venmo customers have already begun to purchase cryptocurrency or equities, according to the company’s research into 2020 customer behavior. Of these, 20% began their purchase during the COVID-19 pandemic, suggesting that the public health and concurrent economic crisis has accelerated trends in digitization and experimentation with new financial technologies.

Support for cryptocurrency on Venmo is facilitated through a partnership with Paxos Trust Company, a regulated provider of crypto products such as its stablecoin and other services. Venmo owner PayPal is also the holder of a conditional Bitlicense from the exacting New York State Department of Financial Services. Conditional licensees, such as PayPal, are required to pair off with firms that have already been granted full-blown licenses — as, in this case, has Paxos.

Just under a week ago, PayPal CEO Dan Schulman hinted at developments underway since the payments giant first went live with its crypto offering in the United States in November of last year. Schulman said that PayPal aims to support the use of crypto for everyday transactions and to tap into smart contracts and other, more expansive features of blockchain technology. He also pitched the company’s vision of leveraging crypto for the attainment of a more “inclusive economy,” in which “things will be done much differently than today.”

Facebook-backed Diem Association reportedly to launch stablecoin pilot in 2021

An anonymous source has told reporters that the first Diem pilot will focus on transactions between individual consumers.

Facebook-backed digital currency project Diem could yet launch its first stablecoin in 2021 as a small-scale pilot, according to an anonymous source. 

Cited in a CNBC report published on April 20, the source claimed that the Switzerland-based nonprofit The Diem Association is still intending to launch its pilot for a United States dollar-backed stablecoin later this year. 

Back in Nov. 2020, the association had already announced its plans for a limited launch of a U.S.-dollar stablecoin this January, yet as the months have since passed, the currency is yet to see the light of day

Diem's stablecoin is a significantly scaled back and rebranded version of Facebook's initial vision for a global digital currency, native to its platform, that would be tied to a basket of multiple fiat currencies. Aside from shedding the name Libra, commentators have pointed to the thoroughgoing changes to Diem's evolving project in response to a striking pushback from global regulators and nation-states

Ran Goldi, CEO of First Digital Assets Group, told CNBC that Diem's underlying technology has “changed dramatically over the past year and a half from a naive blockchain to a very sophisticated blockchain that you can see is trying to answer some of the questions that regulators had.” First Digital Assets Group is currently building infrastructure for merchants to facilitate Diem's use as a means of payment.

Diem meanwhile continues to await regulatory approval and the granting of a payments license from the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Organization. Commentators speaking to CNBC were optimistic, with Chainalysis CEO Michael Gronager saying:

“I think it [Diem] will get past the gates this year. It would be a missed opportunity if not.”

Cathie Woods’ Ark buys a further $110M worth of Coinbase shares

Three exchange-traded funds offered by Cathie Wood’s Ark Invest added a total of 341,186 shares in Coinbase (COIN) worth a combined $110 million on April 15.

Three exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, offered by Cathie Wood’s Ark Invest, including the flagship Ark Innovation ETF, all added further shares in Coinbase Global Inc. (COIN) to their positions on Thursday, April 15.

According to a report from Reuters, the Ark Innovation ETF, Ark Next Generation Internet ETF, and Ark Fintech Innovation ETF purchased a combined total of 341,186 shares, valued at $110 million at the close of trading on April 15, with each share valued at $322.75.

The previous day, the three ARK funds had together accumulated 749,205 COIN shares, worth approximately $246 million combined. Yesterday's bolstering of ARK's Coinbase position brings the three funds' total stock of Coinbase shares — just days after the cryptocurrency's exchange's Nasdaq debut — to over a million shares: 1,090,391 to be exact.

Ark Invest has offered the bullish prediction that Bitcoin's (BTC) future total market capitalization will one day “comfortably eclipse” that of gold’s, and exceed $10 trillion. Wood herself has also been optimistic about the prospects of regulatory approval for a Bitcoin ETF from the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC, under the new Biden administration. She has pointed in particular to United States President Biden's pick for SEC chair, Gary Gensler, whose knowledge and understanding of cryptocurrencies and related technologies is solid. 

Ark Invest's call on Coinbase this week further increases its indirect exposure to cryptocurrencies. As analysts noted yesterday, the funds simultaneously sold a portion of their shares in Tesla — itself an investor in Bitcoin. Tesla stock nonetheless remains Ark's largest position by value on its major funds.

Shares in Coinbase had a pre-listing reference price of $250 and opened at a significantly higher figure of $381 on their Wednesday debut. A volatile first day of trading saw shares in the exchange peak at $429.54 and drop to $310.44, before closing at $328.28. 

Millions of Swedish savers have exposure to Bitcoin via state pension fund

Almost 5 million Swedes have indirect exposure to Bitcoin through the shares held by state pension fund AP7.

Almost 5 million Swedish savers have, largely without knowledge of it, indirect exposure to Bitcoin (BTC) via the default government alternative to private savings options on the country’s private pension market. 

According to local crypto site Trijo News, at least two companies in which the Swedish state pension fund AP7 Såfa owns shares have invested in Bitcoin. 

Firstly, 0.09% of all shares in Tesla are owned by AP7 Såfa: The former is well-known for its high-profile purchase of 48,000 BTC worth in total around $3 billion at today’s prices. AP7 Såfa’s 5 million clients, thus, collectively own roughly 43 BTC, worth aroun $2.7 million. Calculated per saver, this works out at just $0.59 in Bitcoin (940 satoshis or one hundredth-million of 1 BTC) each.

AP7 Såfa also holds a little over 0.1% of all shares in Square, whose BTC holdings are somewhat more modest than Tesla’s. Calculated per AP7 Såfa client, Trijo reports that each owns roughly $0.12 in BTC (190 satoshis) via the fund’s shareholdings in Square. Trijo notes that both calculations for Tesla and Square are approximate and may be a little out of date — yet they provide an indication of the circuitous and little-known exposure of millions of Swedes to the cryptocurrency.

As previously reported, Norwegian savers are in a similar situation to their Scandinavian neighbors. Recent research has revealed that the Norwegian Government Pension Fund — aka the Oil Fund and the largest sovereign wealth fund — owns almost 600 BTC through its investment holdings.

Switzerland’s largest insurer AXA starts accepting Bitcoin as payment

All private AXA customers now have the option to pay insurance premiums for any non-life insurance products in Bitcoin.

Europe's second-largest insurance firm AXA has become Switzerland's first all-line insurer to offer its customers the option to pay their bills with Bitcoin (BTC), facilitated through a collaboration with the established cryptocurrency broker Bitcoin Suisse.

Bitcoin payments will be accepted for nearly all AXA products except for life insurance, due to regulatory barriers to the latter. 

AXA has cited the accelerated digital transformation of the global economy during the coronavirus pandemic as being a key factor in its choice to integrate cryptocurrency into its everyday operations. However, even back in 2019, the insurer notes it had conducted market research showing that roughly a third of respondents aged between 18 and 55 already owned or were interested in crypto.

According to Claudia Bienentreu, head of open innovation at AXA Switzerland, the acceptance of Bitcoin payments is “AXA's response to growing demand from its customers for alternative payment solutions, with new technologies playing an ever greater role.”

The setup on the customer front will be a simple online transfer with a reference number: the amount owed in Swiss francs will be calculated into an equivalent sum in Bitcoin and the indicated exchange rate will remain valid for a specified time. During this time window, customers will not bear any exchange rate risk, and AXA is not charging any additional fees for customers who choose to pay their bills in Bitcoin rather than fiat currency.

AXA itself will not be holding any Bitcoin it receives on its balance sheets. Instead, the Bitcoin will go into the hands of crypto broker Bitcoin Suisse. Notably, while AXA itself is not adding any fees for Bitcoin payments, Bitcoin Suisse does incorporate its own commission of 1.75% when it calculates Bitcoin-franc exchange rates for AXA customers.

AXA's prior engagement with blockchain-based technologies includes its membership of the car dossier platform since 2017, which uses blockchain to track and record the life cycle of vehicles. The insurer also sponsors the University of Basel's Blockchain Challenge, where it backs research into the use of smart contracts in the insurance industry.

DOGE soars 80% on the day to become 10th largest crypto by market cap

Being a "cute" and meme-like cryptocurrency has not prevented Dogecoin from seeing some serious, record-breaking price action amid the crypto market rally this week.

Dogecoin (DOGE), the notorious meme-like cryptocurrency that continues to invite both affectionate hype and thinly-concealed derision, has posted some of the highest gains in the cryptocurrency market this week.

As of the time of writing, the cryptocurrency is trading at around $0.137 — up an eye-popping 86% over the past 24 hours, and over 122% over the past seven days. Its rally has secured a place for the coin amongst the top 10 largest cryptocurrencies by market capitalization, according to CoinMarketCap data.

DOGE's steep rise reflects the extremely bullish climate in the wider cryptocurrency markets at present: today's Nasdaq listing of major American cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase's COIN stock has further fed into the excitement, contributing to record-breaking rallies for both Bitcoin (BTC) and Ether (ETH) this week. 

Yet the "joke" coin's parabolic price moves also potentially reflect the consistent endorsement of the coin by high-profile celebrities such as Elon MuskSnoop DoggGene Simmons and others. Musk's role in raising the profile of the coin was so conspicuous that it even sparked rumors in February this year of a possible investigation by U.S. securities regulators into his possible influence on Dogecoin's price.

The coin has gathered followers in all sorts of corners of the media, sports and entertainment spheres. In a tweet posted today, April 14, Mark Cuban noted that The Dallas Mavericks' merchandise store has seen a 550% increase in transactions in DOGE over the past month. "We have now sold more than 122k Doge in merchandise," he revealed. Already in early March, Cuban claimed the basketball team merch store had become the "largest Dogecoin merchant in the world."

In a further sign of the health of its fanbase, r/Dogecoin was the third-most active crypto-related group on Reddit earlier this month, trailing only behind the prominent r/CryptoCurrency and r/Bitcoin groups, according to research from Messari's Mira Christanto.

Topps baseball card maker and MLB will issue official NFTs

A set of Topps Series 1 Baseball nonfungible token collectibles will be issued by the major card maker in partnership with Major League Baseball and MLB Players Inc.

A set of nonfungible tokens will be issued by the United States’ leading trading card maker Topps in partnership with Major League Baseball and MLB Players Inc.

Topps’ flagship annual baseball card collection, now to circulate in NFT form, reflects the company’s pivot toward a digital transition and awareness of the growing and significant appeal of blockchain-based collectibles. 

To help bridge between the traditional and digital worlds of collectors, artwork from the physical versions of this year’s Topps Series 1 baseball release will be reimagined and enhanced for the officially licensed Topps MLB NFT set.

A range of cards of varying degrees of rarity from “common” to “legendary,” as well as limited edition and platinum anniversary cards, will be available for purchase; moreover, the company is making use of motion graphics and what it dubs “nostalgic card templates” and “other digital flourishes” to increase the allure of the new digital set. Evan Kaplan, managing director of MLB Players, said:

“As collectibles enjoy a breakout moment with NFTs and blockchain technology, we can’t think of a better way to honor the legendary players from years past and look forward to the incredible careers ahead of today’s stars and breakout rookies.” 

Topps is no stranger to blockchain and has long shown its willingness to bring a traditional hobby into the digital age. Alongside its series of officially licensed Topps collectibles on a blockchain, the company has expanded its suite of mobile sports and entertainment digital collectibles apps, including its Topps Bunt baseball app.

In a recent interview, Topps chairman Michael Eisner said the sports and entertainment side of the company is already 25% digital and is growing fast. As the company now plans to go public, he singled out blockchain and NFTs in particular for their wide appeal, noting that they offer Topps an opportunity to participate in the secondary market. 

In the wider U.S. baseball world, Cointelegraph recently reported that MLB’s Oakland Athletics has this year begun accepting Bitcoin (BTC) as payment for home season suites and intends to hold onto the cryptocurrency obtained from any suite sales. Meanwhile, blockchain sports firms, such as Chiliz, have also been eyeing the MLB fanbase via sports fan tokens. 

Binance launches tradable stock tokens in Tesla

As distinct from traditional shares, a stock token can be fractionalized into smaller, more affordable units, meaning that more users can potentially benefit from capital returns on equities.

Cryptocurrency exchange Binance is launching tradable stock tokens that aim to enable a wider section of the public to pocket capital returns on equities, including potential dividends, without having to purchase full, traditional shares.

The first publicly tradable equity in the form of a Binance stock token will be Tesla, the share price of which currently hovers around the $700 mark. Rather than purchase a full, traditional share, for which custody of a physical share certificate is required, users can purchase as little as one-hundredth of a Tesla share represented by a digital token. Binance stated:

“Each digital token represents one share of equity stock and is fully backed by a depository portfolio of underlying securities that represents the outstanding tokens. Users will be able to trade fractional tokens.”

One-hundredth of a stock token therefore represents the same fraction of a Tesla share, and stock prices will be settled in Binance USD (BUSD), a stablecoin pegged to the U.S. dollar and issued by Paxos Trust Company. Stock tokens are not redeemable for shares.

Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao believes that digital stock tokens will provide a bridge between traditional and crypto markets and broaden access to equity markets, resulting in a “more inclusive financial future.”

Trading of the digital stock tokens will be commission-free, and the product has been developed together with licensed German investment firm CM-Equity AG and the Swiss-based asset tokenization platform Digital Assets AG. Participation in their trading is not open to restricted jurisdictions such as China, Turkey and the United States, and a Know Your Customer process must be completed to become eligible as a digital stock token trader on the exchange. 

Binance's Q1 2021 has been a strong one, according to today's announcement, with 260% growth in traded volume and a 346% increase in users. Meanwhile, the exchange's native token Binance Coin (BNB) has rallied by more than 900% so far this year. 

Pakistan’s central bank is ‘carefully studying’ CBDCs, says governor

State Bank of Pakistan governor Reza Baqir says the country is "waiting to burst as far as digitization is concerned."

The Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, Reza Baqir, has indicated that the institution is carefully studying the possibilities opened by central bank digital currencies, or CBDCs.

In an interview with CNN reporter Julia Chatterley on April 8, Baqir noted that countries such as China are “already showing the way” when it comes to CBDC issuance, further outlining the motivations behind the central bank's interest in CBDCs:

“The benefit for us is twofold: not only does [potential CBDC issuance] give another boost to our efforts for financial inclusion, but, second, if the central bank issues a digital currency it allows us to make further progress in our fight towards anti-money laundering, towards countering terrorism financing. So we are at a stage where we are studying it, we hope to be able to make an announcement on that in the coming months.” 

Baqir added that  the central bank has already given the green light for a framework within which digital banks can begin to operate in Pakistan, among them challenger or neobanks that don't necessarily have a brick-and-mortar presence.

In response to a question regarding Stripe, the world's largest fintech, and its reported interest in the Pakistani market, Baqir said that the company would be “very welcome.” He emphasized that Pakistan is a market that is home to the fifth-largest concentration of people worldwide, with high levels of tech literacy and a relatively young population. The country, in his view, is “waiting to burst as far as digitization is concerned.”

Bagir also noted that during the coronavirus pandemic, the central bank had moved to eliminate fees on interbank transfers, which led to a 150–200% growth in mobile banking transactions for the quarter ending December 2020 as compared with the previous year.

The State Bank of Pakistan had announced back in spring 2019 that it aims to issue a CBDC by 2025. As reported, regional Pakistani legislators have meanwhile been advocating for more movement on the decentralized digital currency front, with a resolution passed recently in the northwest of the country calling on the government to legalize cryptocurrency mining in the country.

Sri Lanka’s central bank warns public against risks of crypto investment

The central bank listed four chief concerns, including the lack of legal recourse in the event of investor disputes and possible violations of foreign exchange regulations when purchasing crypto from abroad.

Sri Lanka's central bank has taken the 2021 crypto bull market as an opportune time to warn the public against the risks associated with cryptocurrency investments.

In a public notice published on April 9, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, or CBSL, flagged up three types of crypto activities: cryptocurrency mining, investment in initial coin offerings and trading via cryptocurrency exchanges. All these, CBSL warns, expose investors to significant risks. As there are no regulatory safeguards in place for crypto activities in Sri Lanka, the institution has identified four main areas of concern for retail investors getting into cryptocurrency.

The first involves the lack of any specific legal or regulatory recourse for investors in the case of issues or disputes related to their investments. Second, a broad distrust of the high volatility of cryptocurrency value has led the bank to warn traders against their exposure to potentially large financial losses.

Third, the CBSL asserts that there is a high likelihood of cryptocurrencies being associated with criminal activities, including terrorism financing and money laundering. Sri Lanka has, in recent years, been recognized by the Financial Action Task Force for its efforts to crack down on money laundering risks, and secured its delisting from a so-called “grey list” of problematic jurisdictions.

The last warning, specific to foreign exchange regulations in Sri Lanka, entails traders' potential violation of the country's Foreign Exchange Act. The bank states: 

“As VCs are traded as assets in Exchanges, purchasing VCs from abroad would lead to a violation of Foreign Exchange Regulations, as VCs are not identified as a permitted investment category in terms of the Foreign Exchange Act No. 12 of 2017 (FEA). Electronic Fund Transfer Cards (EFTCs) such as debit cards and credit cards are also not permitted to be used for payments in foreign currency related to virtual currency transactions, in terms of the Foreign Exchange Regulations in Sri Lanka.”

As previously reported, while the CBSL may be wary of decentralized cryptocurrencies, it has nonetheless initiated a national project to test their underlying technology, blockchain, for its potential to improve  Know Your Customer data sharing and management. 

Digital yuan campaign planned for contested island in the South China Sea

Participants will receive a discount for every central bank digital currency expenditure worth 100 yuan.

South China’s Hainan Province, which administers the prefectural Sansha City on a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea, will run a two-week campaign later this month to promote the use of the digital yuan among island residents.

The city, established in 2012, is on the front line of disputes over territorial claims in the South China Sea and is unusual in being both the People Republic of China’s smallest city by population and its largest by geographic reach — formally encompassing over 280 islands and their surrounding waters, reaching almost 800,000 square miles of sea and land area.

Between April 12 and April 25, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China’s Hainan Branch, together with Haikou Branch of China’s central bank and the Sansha municipal government, plans to host a themed digital yuan consumption parade in a bid to encourage consumer adoption of the forthcoming digital currency. 

Official reports herald the event as a temporary transformation of Yongxing Island, where the city’s administrative seat is located, into a “digital renminbi consumer island.” The promotional campaign will be targeted at Sansha City government staff, local corporate employees, other institutions and residents of the island.

The Industrial and Commercial Bank’s Hainan Branch, or ICBC Hainan, will support various consumption offers across island supermarkets, hotels and restaurants, where participants will receive a 99-yuan discount ($15) for every expenditure worth 100 yuan. 

ICBC Hainan’s merchant and mobile banking infrastructure, together with digital yuan wallets, will be implemented to illustrate the safety and convenience of the new currency and foster public awareness of it. In a brief outline for the public, Chinese official media reports explain:

“The digital renminbi can be simply equivalent to the cash renminbi, but in a different form, and has the characteristics of legal compensation and controllable anonymity.”

As previously reported, China has already organized a swath of digital yuan promotional events, including a recent one in conjunction with International Women’s Day and festive lotteries for the Chinese New Year. Earlier pilots to test the central bank digital currency and its infrastructure were held in the regions of Shenzhen, Suzhou, Xiong’an and Chengdu provinces, with further tests across Shanghai, Hainan, Changsha, Qingdao, Dalian and Xi’an set for 2021.

Jump Trading makes equity investment in sports fan token ecosystem Chiliz

Chicago-based high-frequency trading firm Jump Trading has made an equity investment in sports fan token platform Chiliz.

Blockchain-based sports platform Chiliz has sealed an equity investment of an undisclosed amount from Chicago-based trading firm Jump Trading LCC. 

Jump Trading — a proprietary trading firm founded 20 years ago by Chicago futures pits veterans Bill DiSomma and Paul Gurinas — has been engaged for some time in the cryptocurrency space, alongside its wider activities in global futures, options and equities markets. The firm specializes in algorithmic and high-frequency trading strategies and has reportedly been market making for Chiliz’s tokens since early 2021.

Chiliz’s year so far has been a bullish one, with its native token, CHZ, hitting all-time highs in the spring of this year and many of its associated sports club fan tokens seeing major gains during the same period. Speaking to Cointelegraph, Chiliz CEO Alexandre Dreyfus said:

“The support of Jump Trading into the Chiliz and fan tokens ecosystem is a recognition for the sports crypto space [...] It is also an interesting move, as we firmly believe that fan tokens are a much, much, bigger market than NFTs and digital sports collectibles.”

Dreyfus said that Chiliz is focusing on building out the technology platform and providing utility for sports fan token holders through its consumer-facing Socios.com mobile application. 

“Having the support of Jump Trading for the liquidity and network effect of our marketplace is definitely a big upside. Their expertise and resources will help us and clubs to grow this industry globally, as it is a global game,” he said.

This year, as well as onboarding new club partners such as FC Barcelona, AC Milan and Manchester City, Chiliz revealed plans for a $50-million expansion to set up an office in New York and attempt to forge ties with North American leagues and sports franchises. 

The company has also joined forces in a long-term strategic partnership with cryptocurrency exchange Binance. In late 2020, Binance announced that Chiliz fan tokens for Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Juventus (JUV) football clubs would be featured on its Launchpool platform.

Hong Kong Customs seizes 300 crypto mining GPUs in anti-smuggling operation

Hong Kong Customs intercepted a large volume of pricey exotic foods, cosmetics and dedicated cryptocurrency mining GPUs in their latest successful anti-smuggling action.

In the waters off Hong Kong International Authorities on April 2, Hong Kong Customs detected suspicious figures offloading cartons from a fishing boat to a nearby speedboat. While the men successfully fled, the authorities reportedly detained the fishing vessel and found there a large batch of apparently smuggled goods: everything from dried shark fins and cosmetics to electronics.

Notably, among these goods — worth an estimated $31 million in total — were reportedly a stash of over 300 Nvidia CMP 30HX graphics cards; a new line of GPUs dedicated to cryptocurrency mining, which Nvidia released earlier this year in order to ensure that its other GPU hardware will remain primarily used by gamers.

“To address the specific needs of Ethereum mining, we’re announcing the NVIDIA CMP, or, Cryptocurrency Mining Processor, product line for professional mining,” Nvidia explained in mid-February. 

The CMP 30HX offers an Ether hash rate of up to 26MH/s and is reportedly based on earlier 12nm Turing architecture. It comes without any display outputs, as it is not intended to be used for graphics workloads. The 30HX is said to have been retailed at over $700, a price point that has been met with some derision by tech reporters, due to its unfavorable comparison with other, cheaper GPUs that can be used for cryptocurrency mining.

Some have speculated that the smuggled cards were en route to China, where several regional authorities have made moves to prevent cryptocurrency mining operations, although no evidence as yet exists to substantiate this claim.

Back in Hong Kong, the official announcement indicates that the 43-year-old owner of the fishing vessel has been arrested, with an investigation into the foiled operation ongoing. Under Hong Kong's Import and Export Ordinance, anyone found guilty of smuggling faces a maximum fine of $2 million and a jail term of seven years.

South Korea will use blockchain to prevent counterfeit vaccine passports

Blockchain technology is being used to cement confidence in the integrity of new health surveillance measures such as COVID-19 vaccine passports.

South Korea, which has begun its COVID-19 vaccine rollout for residents over 75 years of age, has revealed plans to use blockchain technology to certify forthcoming vaccine passports for immunized citizens. 

According to Reuters, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a government meeting that a new mobile app will be used to manage digital proofs of vaccination, and is expected to launch later in April. Blockchain technology will be used to ensure that citizens are not able to forge evidence of having ostensibly received a jab. 

“The introduction of a vaccine passport or ‘Green Pass’ will only allow those who have been vaccinated to experience the recovery to their daily lives,” Chung said.

The vaccine passports are also targeted at travelers from overseas, who will be supported by the app and be permitted to enter the country subject to having certifiable proof of having been vaccinated. 

Many countries and international blocs, among them China, Israel and the European Union have either already embraced or indicated their readiness to implement vaccine passports domestically and/or to facilitate cross-border travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Other countries, such as the United Kingdom, are still internally politically divided as to the potential benefits and drawbacks of such a certificatory regime.

Whatever its eventual approach toward vaccine passports will be, the U.K. has, like South Korea, recognized the usefulness of blockchain technology for managing the complex logistical challenges of the vaccination procedure itself. In addition, the Brazilian government has indicated its intent to use the Hyperledger Fabric blockchain framework for keeping tabs on its own vaccinated citizens.

XRP holders get green light for motion to intervene in SEC vs Ripple case

A federal judge has accepted tokenholders' claim that their interests are not being adequately represented in the SEC's ongoing lawsuit against Ripple Labs.

XRP tokenholders who have sought the right to intervene in the ongoing case against Ripple Labs by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC, have been given the green light by the district judge of the court of the Southern District of New York.

According to a letter filed by District Judge Analisa Torres on Monday, the proposed intervenors have until April 19 to file their motion to intervene, with two deadlines up until mid-May being set to file oppositions and responses for both the SEC and the defendants themselves.

Their argument was backed up by a letter filed with the court on Friday by lawyers representing Ripple Labs executives Brad Garlinghouse and Christian Larsen, both defendants in the SEC's case.

They wrote to Judge Torres that in their view, “The six named individuals seeking to intervene in order to protect the interests of a putative class of ‘thousands’ of ‘holders’ of XRP” have concerns that are “well-founded” regarding the “lack of clarity” in the SEC's case.

The SEC, according to the defendants, has “conclusory allegations suggesting XRP is always a security,” implying that “every offer, sale, or transaction involving XRP is subject to the panoply of regulatory requirements mandated by the federal securities laws.”

This was echoed in a letter filed by Deaton Law Firm on March 19 on behalf of the token holders, where lawyers wrote that the SEC’s claim that all XRP are securities, “from 2013 to the present,” appears to imply that “All XRP constitute unregistered securities, including the XRP in the accounts of the XRP Holders.”

“XRP holders have suffered great prejudice based on these ‘present day’ allegations,” Deaton Law Firm wrote. Their request to intervene rests on the fact that they seek to ensure that “Adjudication of this case considers the full array of vested property interests at stake, and to make sure those interests and related rights are fully and vigorously defended.”

As previously noted by both Deaton Law Firm and the Ripple Labs defendants, the SEC’s action had resulted in the value of circulating XRP declining by over $15 billion.

In its own letter to Judge Torres, filed on Friday, the SEC argued that those filing the motion to intervene itself lacked clarity and did not “explain what claims they would assert against whom in this action if the Court were to permit them to intervene.”

In addition to citing the fact that Congress has “barred by statute the consolidation or coordination of claims without the SEC’s consent,” the agency argued that the holders' appeal rested on an “improper basis.”

Norwegian billionaire ditches skepticism, invests in local crypto exchange

Norwegian billionaire investor Øystein Stray Spetalen made a 180° reversal in his opinions about cryptocurrency this month and now part-owns domestic crypto exchange MiraiEx.

Within the same month, Norwegian billionaire investor Øystein Stray Spetalen has gone from dismissing Bitcoin (BTC) as a "nonsense currency" to revealing that he has joined the board of Norway's top domestic crypto exchange MiraiEx.

Spetalen's former position was that cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin should be "immediately" banned by the Norwegian and European authorities due to the destructive effect that mining them has on the environment. In a pre-recorded interview screened at the DNB Invest conference on March 18, he said:

“Bitcoin today consumes as much energy as all of Norway. It is extremely environmentally hostile. The authorities and the EU should ban it immediately. Then you’d cut CO2 emissions considerably [...] It's just nonsense. We’re doing well with the payment systems that are in place today.”

Yet by March 26, in an interview with Norwegian newspaper Finansavisen, Spetalen had changed his tune. “When the facts change, I change,” he said, “I met the MiraiEx founders Thuc and Øyvind the day after the podcast was recorded, early in March, and I realized that I had been wrong.”

Norwegian cryptocurrency exchange and custodian MiraiEx had just raised 5 million kroner ($580,000) in late 2020 to further expand its operations. Aside from investing in a successful local exchange and joining its board, Spetalen has also apparently now bought Bitcoin, although in a lesser quantity than fellow Norwegian billionaire Kjell Inge Røkke has. Disclosing his unspecified investment in the top cryptocurrency, Spetalen said:

“When I also read that Kjell Inge Røkke had got into Bitcoin, it was quite obvious. I can't bear to see that Røkke makes money and not me.”

Røkke serves as chairman of the $6 billion industrial holding company Aker ASA, which set up a dedicated unit for investing in projects and companies in the Bitcoin ecosystem in early March of this year. The unit has been initially capitalized with 500 million kroner (~$58.6 million) and plans to keep all its liquid investable assets in Bitcoin.

It has also recently been revealed that the $1 trillion Norwegian Government Pension Fund, also known as the Oil Fund and the world's largest sovereign wealth fund, indirectly owns almost 600 Bitcoin through its investment holdings.

European Central Bank tries to quell Germans’ doubts about digital euro

A future digital euro wouldn't be a threat to savers, say officials from the European Central Bank.

The European Central Bank, or ECB, has been investigating the possibility of launching a digital euro project within five years to complement existing central bank money. But whereas high-profile leaders such as ECB president Christine Lagarde have been largely positive about the prospect, officials from Germany's Bundesbank have remained unconvinced.

In a new op-ed for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, ECB board member Fabio Panetta and fellow official Ulrich Bindseil attempted to tackle some of the Germans' misgivings head on:

“The ECB is by no means planning to use a digital euro to enforce interest rates that are significantly more negative. As long as there is cash, it will always be able to be held at an interest rate of zero percent.”

Panetta and Bindseil's comments picked up directly on the Bundesbank's previous suggestions that a digital euro could be "catastrophic for savers," and economist Richard Werner's opinion that the ECB's interest in a digital euro would wrest crucial deposit-taking business away from commercial banks.

Yet Panetta and Bindseil argued that the digital euro's design could ensure that it would not compete with bank deposits, in reference to earlier proposals for caps on digital euro holdings for citizens. Most crucially, they stressed the project's importance for securing the Eurozone's financial autonomy and resilience against overseas corporations and other regional actors:

“We have to prevent European payment transactions from being dominated by providers outside Europe, such as global technology giants who will offer art currencies in the future. [...] By preparing for a digital euro, we are also securing the autonomy of Europe. It is a safeguard in the event that undesirable scenarios occur.”

Panetta and Bindseil's emphasis clearly alludes to Facebook's longstanding attempts to launch a stablecoin backed by fiat currency. Meanwhile, ascendant economic powers such as China are already well ahead of the game with their own central bank digital currency.

German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz has recently critiqued Facebook's Diem stablecoin proposal, rebranded from its former name, Libra, as being a “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” He reiterated that the German government would "not accept its entry into the market,” citing inadequately addressed regulatory risks.

CBOE keen to meet high demand for crypto from retail, institutions, says CEO

Ed Tilly, the CEO of Cboe Global Markets, says that the Chicago-based exchange holding company hasn't “given up on” crypto, despite earlier setbacks.

Chicago-based exchange holding company Cboe markets — an early pioneer of regulated Bitcoin futures trading in the United States — plans to build out more futures products within the crypto sector in future. 

In a new interview with BNN Bloomberg on March 25, CEO Ed Tilly said that the company's not always straightforward journey until now by no means dampened its commitment. 

Having been the first North American exchange to list Bitcoin (BTC) futures back in Dec. 2017, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, or CBOE, later ended the product in 2019, faced with stiff competition from popular BTC futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, or CME. This notwithstanding, Tilly said:

“We’re still interested in the space, we haven’t given up on it. We’re keen on building out the entire platform. There’s a lot of demand from retail and institutions, and we need to be there.”

Another frustration has been U.S. regulators' reluctance to give the green light to a Bitcoin exchange-traded-fund, or ETF, with Cboe already having unsuccessful attempts to list one. After a recent, withdrawn proposal, Cboe's BZX exchange is now waiting on the Securities and Exchange Commission's initial decision on its latest March filing to list the VanEck Bitcoin ETF. Tilly told reporters the company is “very keen to move along approval” for the VanEck product.

VanEck has meanwhile fallen out of favor with former partner SolidX over the Bitcoin ETF filing, with the latter filing a lawsuit accusing VanEck of plagiarizing its work in its earlier ETF application this January.

Blockchain.com raises $300M in crypto industry’s third-largest capital raise

The investment round was led by DST Global, Lightspeed Venture Partners and VY Capital and gave Blockchain.com a $5.2 billion valuation.

London-based cryptocurrency services provider Blockchain.com has raised $300 million in a new investment round that valued the firm at $5.2 billion — up from a $3 billion valuation just one month ago.

The investment round was led by DST Global, Lightspeed Venture Partners and VY Capital, and is the crypto industry's third-largest capital raise to date. The sum is equal to that raised in a single round by Bakkt in March 2020, trailing only behind BlockFi's $350 million earlier this year and Bitmain Technologies' $400 million back in 2018.

Just one month ago, Blockchain.com raised $120 million at a subsequently reported valuation of $3 billion. The Wall Street Journal notes that while capital raising in the crypto space declined from a total of $4.5 billion in 2018 to $2.7 billion by 2020, this year has already seen three of the si largest-ever capital raises in the industry's history.

Blockchain.com plans to use the fresh funds to recruit more employees and support its institutional business. According to CEO Peter Smith:

“The institutional side requires more capital. When you’re pitching asset managers they want to see a big balance sheet.”

Smith added that if the current Bitcoin (BTC) price boom continues, he expects Blockchain.com's profit for 2021 would hit an all-time high in the “mid-nine digits.” Its business has already reportedly over double since just the start of this year. According to Smith, the company has 31 million verified users across 200 countries and 70 million registered digital wallets. It has meanwhile raised a total of $1.5 billion since its founding back in 2011.

Smith also hinted that the company is “carefully considering its public-market options,” with a watchful eye on the outcome of Coinbase's much-anticipated initial public offering, or IPO, later this year. Coinbase had an estimated pre-IPO valuation of around $100 billion by early March and aspires to sell up to 115 million shares on the Nasdaq stock exchange, according to its recent filing with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission.

Most asset managers still in ‘education mode’ on crypto, says Fidelity

Michael Derbin, head of Fidelity Institutional, says that while some wealth managers are by now “sophisticated” and “comfortable” with crypto, many others are still playing catch up.

Michael Derbin, head of Fidelity Institutional, thinks that many wealth managers and financial advisors still lack the requisite in-depth knowledge when it comes to digital assets.

Whereas some wealth managers are by now “sophisticated” and “comfortable” with cryptocurrencies and their underlying technology, he said, many others lag behind. In an interview at Reuters Digital Asset Week, Derbin noted:

“They know what they are doing, and more importantly their end investor base also knows what they are doing — but the vast majority are still in the education mode.”

Fidelity Institutional is a division of Fidelity Investments, whose $9.8 trillion in client assets (as of the end of 2020) make it one of the world's top investment managers. It has also been one of the first to take cryptocurrencies seriously, launching a subsidiary focused on the new asset class back in fall 2018. 

While the knowledge gap remains among financial managers, Derbin stressed that demand for digital assets among larger investors has increased. Tesla and Bank of New York Mellon are just two of the latest household names to venture into the crypto space, during the course of a historic bull season for Bitcoin (BTC). Over the past year, the top cryptocurrency has soared in value by over seven-fold and was trading as high as $61,200 earlier this month.

Back in October 2020, Fidelity Digital Assets published a report forecasting that heightened institutional interest could expand Bitcoin’s market capitalization by hundreds of billions of dollars in the near future, and argued that portfolio managers could significantly increase their returns by allocating a portion of their holdings to Bitcoin.

Forex and crypto investors seek thrills and social status, says FCA study

A new study commissioned by the United Kingdom's Financial Conduct Authority found that the profile of cryptocurrency traders skews towards thrill-seeking, trading on gut “instinct.”

Cryptocurrency traders — according to the findings of a new study commissioned by the United Kingdom's Financial Conduct Authority — are a young and diverse bunch who are not always level-headed in their investment choices.

The study, conducted by the international strategy consultancy BritainThinks between mid-August 2020 and late January 2021, was based on a sample of 517 “self-directed investors” i.e. those who make investment decisions on their own behalf and don't seek professional financial advice.

The findings indicate that 38% of those surveyed don't have a functional reason for their investment choices, giving priority instead to emotional factors such as the thrill of trading and enjoying a sense of ownership towards the companies they invest in, which sustains a perceived social status. 

Challenge, competition and novelty, for these investors, eclipse more sober, long-term motivations, such as putting their cash holdings to more efficient and gainful ends. While most respondents claimed they had high confidence and sufficient knowledge about their field of investment, many reportedly lacked awareness or belief in the risks they are courting. 

Over 40% didn't view “losing some money” as a potential risk of investing, and a vast majority of 78% agreed with the statement “I trust my instincts to tell me when it’s time to buy and to sell.” 78% also agreed that “there are certain investment types, sectors or companies I consider a ‘safe bet.’”

Moreover, this investor cohort was found to be more ethnically diverse and younger, as well as more likely to be female, than conventional investors. The study attributes this to the greater accessibility offered by new investment apps, as well as ads on social media and YouTube, which many respondents rely upon for tips and investment news.

Coupled with this thirst for novelty and investment challenges, however, is these investors' relative inability to financially weather potential investment losses. 59% of respondents with less than three years of investment experience would find their lifestyles fundamentally impacted by a significant loss. Commenting on the study's findings, the FCA Executive Director of Consumer and Competition Sheldon Mills said:

“We are worried that some investors are being tempted — often through online adverts or high-pressure sales tactics — into buying higher-risk products that are very unlikely to be suitable for them.“

“Investors need to be mindful of their overall risk appetite, diversifying their investments and only investing money they can afford to lose in high risk products,” he added.

Parallel to the study's publication, the FCA is today launching a digital campaign to discourage investment harm, with a series of pointed questions intended to prompt traders to pause to reflect before taking the plunge.

Experts say new South Korean crypto rules will create a monopolized market

Blockchain industry members claim that smaller-scale startups have struggled to forge partnerships with local banks in South Korea and are therefore unable to register under regulators' new requirements.

South Korea is heading into a new period for its crypto industry, with stringent new rules coming into effect on March 25 that will require all cryptocurrency businesses to comply with new crypto reporting regulations and registration rules.

As an article from the Korea Herald outlines, industry experts fear that the impact of the new measures — specifically, the incoming Specific Financial Transactions Act — will have damaging consequences for most domestic cryptocurrency firms. The act requires all virtual asset operators to seek official registration, for which they must show evidence that they are operating using real-name accounts at South Korean banks.

While this is intended to prevent financial crimes such as money laundering, the vast majority of smaller-scale crypto firms have reportedly thus far been unable to forge partnerships with local financial institutions. Koo Tae-eon, a layer specializing in tech firms, told the Herald:

“Since the promulgation of the law a year ago until now, so many crypto exchanges have tried to abide by the new law by getting real-name accounts from the local banks, but it didn‘t work. Even those that are equipped with an information security management system and have CEOs with no criminal records were not able to forge a partnership with banks.”

Koo added that the new law, which fails to differentiate between crypto firms of different types and sizes, risks pushing smaller firms "into a corner" and creating a market in which only the four largest exchanges are able to operate in a compliant manner. Out of over 100 local exchanges, this is exactly the number that have so far reportedly been able to secure the necessary bank accounts.

Kim Hyoung-joong, chair of the Korea Society of Fintech Blockchain and a professor at Korea University, has echoed other experts' concerns and urged Korean financial authorities to draft new guidelines that will take into account the fact that banks are loath to issue real-name accounts to many of these firms.

As reported, alongside the current swath of new compliance requirements for crypto firms, South Korea will also implement a new crypto tax rule in the future, due to effect in January 2022. The law will see capital gains taxes imposed on all crypto trading profits in excess of $2,300.

Bank of Thailand plans to regulate asset-backed stablecoins this year

After issuing a warning against a Baht-pegged stablecoin produced by a South Korea-based firm, Thailand plans to introduce a series of regulations for stablecoins in 2021.

The Bank of Thailand, or BoT, is upping its game on the stablecoin front. This week, the institution had warned citizens that Thai Baht Digital (THT), a baht-pegged stablecoin issued by the South Korean firm Terra, has no legal assurances or protection and violates the country's currency act.

According to a report published on March 19, central bank assistant governor Siritida Panomwon Na Ayudhya has told a briefing that the BoT is taking into consideration opinions from market regulators and participants before introducing its measures.

The plans are to regulate asset- and foreign currency-backed stablecoins and algorithmic stablecoins, but not decentralized cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin (BTC) or Ether (ETH). For these latter, the BoT states that investors can weigh their own risks, according to Siritida.

Regulations for baht-backed stablecoins will reportedly follow a policy roughly in line with measures in Singapore,  Japan and the United Kingdom. These would include a requirement to receive official approval from the BoT and their possible classification as e-money. The classification would make them subject to central bank oversight when it comes to money laundering and settlement risks.

Siritida emphasized that the BoT understands the upsides of fintech and innovation and will continue to monitor emerging technologies, while also implementing policies that support the domestic economy and preserve financial systemic stability.

The BoT is meanwhile collaborating with the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates, and the Digital Currency Institute of the People’s Bank of China on a central bank digital currency prototype using distributed ledger technology. Dubbed the Multiple Central Bank Digital Currency Bridge, or m-CBDC, the project seeks to ease pain points in conducting cross-border transfers.

SBI Crypto’s Bitcoin mining pool goes public

The mining subsidiary of Japanese financial conglomerate SBI Holdings is opening its pool services to institutional and retail customers alike.

SBI Crypto, the mining subsidiary of Japanese financial conglomerate SBI Holdings, has opened its mining pool to the general public. 

As one of the fruits of a strategic partnership between SBI and the German tech firm Northern Data AG, the pool reportedly now ranks 11th globally, according to SBI's announcement on March 19. It mines three assets, Bitcoin (BTC), Bitcoin Cash (BCH) and Bitcoin SV (BSV), with a revenue measured in dollars per terahash per day of $0.3897, $0.3805 and $0.3519 respectively. 

Prior to its partnership with Northern Data AG and the Texas-based data center operator Whinstone US back in February 2020, SBI's announcement summarizes the company's mining activities to date as follows:

“SBI Crypto has been self-mining digital assets in overseas mining farms since August 2017 and continues to expand its scale. The company will use its current mining power of approximately 1.1 EH/s to support and provide stability to the pool.”

The pool was first opened on a limited release earlier this year, and as of March 19 new users are able to request an account. By April, open signups without requesting an account will be available, with services in English, Mandarin and Japanese. While SBI notes that many of the pool's features are specifically designed for an institutional clientele, individual customers are able to use the service.

SBI Holdings' multiple cryptocurrency ventures via various subsidiaries to date have included the introduction of a Bitcoin lending service through its crypto investment subsidiary SBI VC Trade and acquisition of crypto exchange TaoTao via its foreign exchange and derivatives arm. 

In December 2020, SBI announced a joint crypto-related project with Switzerland’s principal stock exchange SIX Swiss Exchange and has recently hinted at further crypto-related ventures in collaboration with foreign financial firms in the near future.

The Japanese conglomerate has also been extensively involved with Ripple, and has been supportive of the company throughout its ongoing legal difficulties in the United States. SBI CEO Yoshitaka Kitao has previously said that Japan would be the most likely country for Ripple to relocate to if it is compelled to leave the U.S. 

Bank of Japan governor says CBDC preparation can’t wait until hour of need

In fresh remarks, Bank of Japan Governor Kuroda Haruhiko said that experiments with a domestic central bank digital currency will begin in spring 2021.

Japan is taking a measured but attentive approach to global interest in central bank digital currency issuance. In his latest remarks published on March 16, the Bank of Japan's governor, Kuroda Haruhiko, noted that the institution has not changed its stance and still does not currently have a concrete plan to issue a CBDC.

However, this non-commitment does not mean inactivity on the CBDC research and development front by any means. In Oct. 2020, Japan's central bank pledged to begin the first of several testing phases for its own CBDC proof-of-concept. Haruhiko has now confirmed that these are due to begin this spring.

The governor underscored that, as per a Bank of International Settlements report, 86% of central banks globally are currently exploring the benefits and downsides of CBDCs. Of these, 60% are already at an experimental or proof-of-concept stage of development. Haruhiko noted:

“Central banks share the view that it is not an appropriate policy response to start considering CBDC only when the need to issue CBDC arises in the future.”

Haruhiko said that “from the viewpoint of ensuring the stability and efficiency of the overall payment and settlement systems, we consider it important to prepare thoroughly to respond to changes in circumstances in an appropriate manner.” Taking into consideration the “significant changes” that are underway in an increasingly digital society, he signaled that the bank is taking the opportunity to carefully weigh up the various approaches to potential changes in central bank money provision.

Haruhiko went so far as to group these emergent approaches under the theme of "Central Banking-as-a-Service." In his wider account of these trends, he argued that "As-a-service" is an emerging tendency in finance more broadly, transposed from earlier developments in the corporate and software spheres. This implies a move towards constructing business models that hinge on providing services on customer demand, rather than taking a traditional sales approach centered on products.

"Everything as a Service," as Haruhiko noted, now spans phenomena such as Mobility-as-a-Service (purchasing a mobility service rather than a car), or Infrastructure-as-a-Service, which increasingly makes it redundant for firms to own certain hardware. In the framework of finance, he summarized:

“There is also a recent trend toward unbundling financial services that financial institutions used to provide as tightly coupled, thereby enabling componentized financial services to be combined with services of non-financial firms. This is referred to as ‘Banking as a Service’ [...] also known as embedded finance.” 

The Bank of Japan has been tracking innovations across public and private finance closely, cooperating with the BIS and five other major global banks on CBDC research since Jan. 2020 and devoting attention to issues such as offline availability when it comes to supporting a digital currency.

Texas securities board takes action against hoax ‘Binance’-branded scheme

The Texas State Securities Board has entered an emergency cease and desist order against a shape-shifting, fraudulent cryptocurrency scheme using the Binance brand to lure investors.

Texan regulators have, for some time now, viewed cryptocurrency investment schemes as a risk to Main Street investors, and have continued to issue public warnings against possible crypto-related scams during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The latest move from the Texas State Securities Board, or TSSB, is action not words — an emergency cease and desist order against an entity misappropriating the Binance name. 

According to an announcement on March 15, the target of the order is a business claiming to operate from the United Kingdom, which has previously been subject to an advisory warning from securities regulators in the Philippines. They had already warned that Delta Crypt was “illegally offering securities paying ‘ridiculous’ returns,” cautioning the public to stay away. 

Since then, the business has apparently ditched its erstwhile name "Delta Crypt," and launched an online investment scheme — while not being registered to sell securities in Texas — using various misleading brands such as Binance Assets, BinanceAssets Ltd and Bit Kind Ltd. The TSSB summarized the schemes:

“The pitch is relatively simple – invest a little, gain a lot, and don’t worry about risk. In fact, the ‘Gold Plan’ pays a guaranteed 30% return, and the ‘Diamond Plan’ pays a guaranteed 40% return.”

The TSSB has found that these offerings are “fraudulent and deceptive” and that Delta Crypt has concealed crucial information from its principals, including the prior intervention from Philippine government agencies. It has also failed to warn investors against the risks associated with cryptocurrency investments and has illegally solicited its sale agents. This latter point implies the business pledged to pay commissions without regard for registration requirements or licensure.

The TSSB is relatively active against perpetrators of fraud in the crypto space, recently issuing orders against two alleged scams in Sept. 2020, which carried penalties of $10,000 or two to 10 years in jail, or both. 

Oakland A’s major league baseball team now accepts Bitcoin for suites

The Oakland A's, the team at the center of the box office hit movie “Moneyball,” is accepting a single Bitcoin as payment to secure a six-seat suite throughout the 2021 home season.

The Oakland A's — the San Francisco East Bay ballclub at the heart of the Academy Award-nominated 2011 movie Moneyball — is greeting the new season with a Bitcoin-friendly offer for their fans.  

Until April 1, the club is offering a full season, six-person suite for the home season at the price of one Bitcoin (BTC), currently valued at $57,653. That works out — for the time being — at a slight discount, given that the fiat currency price for a suite is fixed at $64,800. 

Bitcoin's unprecedented price rise since Dec. 2020 has opened up the possibility for the A's to design an offer for fans that is also economically sound for the club. In an interview with reporters on March 14, club president Dave Kaval said:

“Part of the reason we’re doing this is the price makes sense. Since a Bitcoin is worth about the same as a season suite it gives our fans some different choices. And it kind of tests it to see if it’s something we’d like to do in more aspects of our business."

Kaval added that a further factor in the decision to engage with crypto was its rising popularity in California, noting that "especially in the Bay Area you see more people discussing or transacting with Bitcoin." 100 full season suites, priced at 1 BTC, will be on sale for the new season. The go-ahead for games to open at 20% audience capacity was only recently confirmed by California Governor Gavin Newsom and remains subject to COVID-19 cases remaining under control.

Aside from the A's adoption of cryptocurrency payments, the increasingly popular market for non-fungible tokens has also been making inroads at the intersection of the art world and the Major League sports community. This February, bidders forked out millions of dollars for tokenized art from former second baseman Micah Johnson

Meanwhile, blockchain sports firms like Chiliz have been attempting to get a foothold in the MLB fan base, recognizing the game as a potentially lucrative route to mass adoption of the technology.

Russian protest group Pussy Riot sells NFTs for latest single ‘Panic Attack’

The Russian protest group Pussy Riot is auctioning four non-fungible tokens tied to a new single in order to support a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

Russian punk feminist group Pussy Riot has released a new music video and is auctioning a series of four, non-fungible-tokens to accompany its release and raise funds for their art projects and local activism.

The group first rose to prominence in 2012 after staging a guerilla performance of an iconoclastic feminist punk song in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral in protest against the Orthodox Church's complicity with Vladimir Putin's regime. Shortly after, the group's members were arrested for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" and later sentenced to two years in a penal colony. 

The music video for the group's latest single, Panic Attack, features co-founder Nadya Tolokonnikova as an avatar journeying through a dystopian virtual wasteland, culminating in her battle with an ominous doppelgänger. Commenting on the video, Tolokonnikova said: 

“After serving 2 years in a labor camp, I'm still struggling with mental health issues. Trauma, fear and insecurity never fully go away, causing depression episodes and deep anxiety. ‘Panic Attack’ was born as the result of me staring at the wall for 24 hours in the middle of the pandemic, feeling 100% helpless.”

To create the video for Panic Attack, which was produced by Chris Greatti, the augmented reality artist Asad J. Malik created a photorealistic hologram avatar of Tolokonnikova using footage of her captured by 106 cameras. 

Following the video's release, the single is being auctioned as a series of four non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, for collectors to purchase via the platform Foundation. Held this Saturday, March 13, proceeds from the auction will go towards financing Pussy Riot's future projects, as well as to raise funds for a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Russia.

Tolkonnikova's extended commentary on the single offers further clues as to why the simulated reality — which begins as a saccharine dreamworld and degenerates into something altogether apocalyptic — was felt to be particularly apt. 

The video, in her words, “reflects on the objectification of human beings, loneliness, disconnection from the environment that causes us to feel small and powerless. And it's us who caused it with our own hands — that's why at the end of the video I'm fighting with my own clone.”

Masha Alekhina and Lucy Shtein, Tolkonnikova's fellow Pussy Riot members, now face two years in jail for showing public support for opposition figure Alexei Navalny during the recent wave of protests that followed his attempted assassination for anti-corruption activism.

Gensler confirmation as SEC chair would be good for crypto, says Hester Peirce

SEC commissioner Hester Peirce is optimistic that the U.S. will eventually offer more clarity for cryptocurrency investors.

Hester Peirce of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission is well-known as a regulator who has shown consistent support for digital assets, so much so that her moniker "crypto mom" has become unshakeable.

In a new interview with the Thinking Crypto podcast, Peirce reflected on the United States' regulatory approach to the asset class to date, arguing that, “I think we have missed the boat a bit on crypto. And I think a big piece of that comes from the failure to provide clarity in our rules.” She said that contrary to the persistent narrative that crypto is somehow indissociable from illegality and a desire to outwit the system, her own experience has been that industry participants want to comply with the rules, but have often struggled to do so without adequate guidance:

“Am I optimistic that we're going to finally get to the point where we do provide more clarity? I think we have a good chance. [...] We're likely about to get a new chairman, Gary Gensler, who had his hearing in front of the Senate. That's one step in the process. Then he has to get voted on. And if he does get confirmed and come to the SEC, he brings with them really deep knowledge of this asset class.”

The Senate Banking Committee has now voted 14-10 in favor of Gensler's nomination being sent to the Senate floor, after two Republicans joined ranks with 12 Democrats to support the choice. 

Peirce underscored Gensler's recent experience teaching courses on blockchain at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, noting that he's been “surrounded by people who are enthusiastic about this technology.” In her view, Gensler understands the positive potential of the industry, as well as the need for more clarity in order to facilitate its development. Not having to convince him of these things will be “very helpful,” she said.

Peirce did note, however, that while the chairman does “set the agenda for the agency” and, in the case of Gensler, can be expected to support a better rulemaking approach to crypto, a considerable degree of day-to-day continuity at the SEC in its interaction with the crypto industry will be assured regardless of who's chairman:

“The intent of having a five member commission is to have continuity over time, so that you don't see massive swings in policy [...] so it is important for people to know that the work of the commission [...] [is] not going to change dramatically when a new chairman. [...] The regulatory agenda may change quite a bit, but the work of the commission, [its] day-to-day work, [...] will continue on regardless of who's chairman.”

On this note of cautious optimism, Peirce also commented with good humor on her affectionate nickname in the U.S. crypto space, saying, “You know, I've always loved the idea of being a mom, and I'm not a mom in the real world. So being a mom in the virtual world is not a bad thing at all.” However, she quickly pushed back gently against any unwanted implications, commenting:

“I think it's really important to say, no, regulators can't be your parents. They're not going to make your decisions for you and they're not going to bail you out when you run into trouble.”

Peirce stressed that she's “not an advocate for any particular asset class,” but rather “I'm an advocate for people having the ability to invest in the asset classes that they deem valuable for whatever their end objectives are.” Having first learned about Bitcoin (BTC) when she was at George Mason, she said she is a “big believer in the power of decentralization" and that cryptocurrency "fit really nicely into that.”

Tether tokens go live on Ethereum competitor Solana blockchain

Tether's integration with the Solana blockchain is intended to help support a range of projects in DeFi, blockchain gaming and Web 3.0.

Stablecoin issuer Tether has announced that USDT tokens are launching today, March 9, on the Solana (SOL) blockchain. Speaking to Cointelegraph, Tether's chief technical officer said that the integration with the layer 1 blockchain promises to support a wide array of projects in the Decentralized Finance, or DeFi, sector and other Web 3.0. activities.

As previously reported, Solana is being pitched as a competitor to Ethereum, with the hope of drawing DeFi actors into its network as they wait for the full benefits of Eth2 to finally kick in.

According to Tether, Solana will enable users to transact USDT at speeds higher than 50,000 transactions per second. It also claims that transaction fees could be as low as $0.00001 each and that this lower-cost, higher-speed alternative to Ethereum will provide a boost to new applications and projects in the DeFi space. Tether has already integrated with multiple blockchains alongside Ethereum, among the Algorand, EOS, Liquid Network, Omni and Tron.

Among the projects that have recently been built upon Solana is Serum, a decentralized derivatives exchange. In a recent interview with Camila Russo, host of the Defiant Podcast, FTX exchange co-founder and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried said that Serum had chosen Solana over Ethereum due to its superior speed and infrastructure. "We need [a blockchain], like, a million times faster than Ethereum,” he said.

Even as competitor blockchains continue to proliferate to meet the needs of the growing DeFi sector, many industry actors believe that ultimately Ethereum 2.0. has key advantages for decentralized applications, including DappRadar's Jon Jordan.

Tether has meanwhile integrated with layer-two networks such as Hermez, which have become increasingly popular during periods when gas fees have soared on the Ethereum network.