Why the GCC will become a leading financial hub for digital assets
HAYVN is the new global standard in institutional digital currencies. Its fully compliant platform provides secure OTC, custody, and research capabilities, delivering transparency, security and enhanced compliance. Chris Flinos, co-founder of HAYVN, shares with us his insight into why the GCC will become a leading financial hub for digital assets.
Over the last 18 months we have witnessed a boom, bust and recovery in cryptocurrencies and digital assets, from the roller-coaster ride in the Bitcoin price, through to the crash in ICO issuance, and then to the recent rally. Sceptics will argue that this volatility was inevitable, given the perceived lack of regulation and investor protection in this nascent asset class.
Is the so-called ‘crypto winter’ over? The recent rebound in bitcoin might suggest so but ultimately, I would argue that it doesn’t matter what particular cryptocurrency might be up or down. Bitcoin or Ethereum won’t necessarily win out in the battle to be preeminent digital currency. Nor will the crypto revolution happen overnight. But it is happening.
If you’re looking for analogies, I would compare this to 1994 when Netscape launched Navigator, the first web browser. Netscape never survived past 1999, but can you say the same about the internet?! The underlying point is that both the blockchain infrastructure and the digital currencies that it enables are both here to stay- and they are quietly revolutionising capital markets.
Part of the slow adoption of, and volatility in, cryptocurrencies has been down to the lack of regulation which had effectively created two parallel worlds struggling to make sense of each other- the traditional financial world and the upstart new digital currency world. This schism is starting to narrow, as tougher regulation is enacted globally and the digital currency space begins taking on characteristics of the traditional capital markets. Encouraged by regulation, institutional investment is helping to drive this transition into a regulated financial asset class.
In recent months we have seen some of the biggest names in finance dip their cautious toes into the sector. First JPMorgan announced they would launch their own cryptocurrency. More recently, media reported that Fidelity would soon be offering crypto trading to its clients. HNW and family office interest is gaining. A recent survey by financial advisor deVere Group showed that more than two thirds of HNWIs would be invested in crypto by 2022.
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The crypto industry must embrace tougher regulation if it is to continue transitioning into a financial asset class and attracting institutional interest. And those financial hubs that can move more swiftly to provide a tough but pragmatic regulatory framework will attract more crypto start-ups, more entrepreneurs and more investment.
That’s where the Gulf region comes into play.
Even today, we see GCC governments proactively driving the implementation of digital currencies forward well ahead of their global peers. We are encouraged by the Saudi Arabian and UAE governments’ move to pilot a shared digital currency for cross-border bank transactions. The UAE itself is reportedly aiming for half of all government transactions to be processed through the blockchain. Saudi Arabia is already one of the world’s biggest digital currency markets, driven by a young and dynamic population who tend to have a more ambitious investment profile and a higher tolerance for risk and return.
Tough, but sensible regional regulation is helping to attract global digital currency players, led by both Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. In June 2018, the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) quietly unveiled the world’s most advanced framework to regulate digital assets. The framework addresses the full range of risks associated with crypto asset activities- looking at consumer protection, custody, technology governance risks related to financial criminality and money laundering. This is an ongoing process, reflecting the dynamic nature of this asset class. For instance, only this month the ADGM provided further guidance on stable coins, digital currencies that are pegged to a fiat currency such as the dollar.
They have developed a robust, protective framework for businesses and investors, that will also attract bona fide digital currency actors who want to embrace regulation. They do this because they realise that strong and effective regulation will see this industry grow exponentially as it transitions into a key component of traditional capital markets. It is precisely for this reason that Hayvn, our global digital currency platform, was attracted to base itself in Abu Dhabi and has sought to be regulated within the Abu Dhabi Global Market.
Stripe backs Step - the digital bank for teens
The Series C round raised US$100m in capital from a number of backers, including Coatue, TikTok star Charli D’Amelio, actor Jared Leto, and Will Smith’s Dreamers VC, for the enterprise.
Step provides a free FDIC-insured bank account and Visa card to teenagers. The accounts are backed by Evolve Bank and there is no subscription charge for its usage. Users don’t pay for their accounts and there are also no overdraft fees.
The mobile banking app enables parents to set controls and limits on spending and encourage responsible finances. According to data released by the company, 88% of the platform’s users say this is their first bank account.
To date, Step has seen great success in the marketplace. The company has raised more than $175m from investors and now has 1.5m users.
Stripe, which was founded by Irish brothers Patrick and John Collison, previously led Step’s $22.5m Series A round in 2019.
Step's Series B funding round also brought in $50m, and has a distinctly celeb-tinged reputation with investors including Justin Timberlake and the pop duo The Chainsmokers.
Users get access to a free, FDIC-backed bank account, a spending card and P2P payments platform to send and receive money instantly.
CJ MacDonald, chief executive of Step, said the company is aiming to improve the financial futures of the next generation. “Step is the only banking platform that enables teens to start building a positive credit history before they turn 18 and does not charge fees of any kind.
He has previously spoken about the importance of financial literacy for young people. “Money is just one of those things where I think the more educated and equipped you are early, the better decisions you can make down the road,” he told . “And you can also prevent yourself from making costly mistakes. I mean, the average American doesn't have $400 in emergency savings and pays $350 a year in banking fees. If we can help this next generation just ultimately be smarter and more educated as it pertains to money, I think we'll all be better off.”
Kyle Doherty, managing director at General Catalyst and Step board member, explained, “Gen Z is flocking to modern financial solutions that can be easily embedded within their digital lives and Step has a unique model for how to do this right.”
The news follows on from Stripe’s recent announcement that it plans to acquire TaxJar. The fintech, which builds software for online businesses that automates the reporting and filing of sales taxes, will most likely be integrated with Stripe’s billing services.
Currently, No terms have been disclosed but the Boston start-up had raised more than $60m from investors including Insight Partners.
Stripe chief financial officer Dhivya Suryadevara said of the move, “With TaxJar, we will help millions of internet businesses running on Stripe with their sales tax and make it easier for them to sell internationally.”