Tag Archives: bitcoin

Bankers Battle Banks

By Barry Elias | Friday, 09 Oct 2015 07:27 AM

Newsmax_Image_100915_BanksBattleBanks
Bank profit margins are expected to decline at an accelerating pace over the next five years as bankers team up with technology firms to provide more cost-effective products and services.

Technological competition is expected to reduce profits from non-mortgage retail lending, such as car loans and credit cards, by 60 percent and revenues by 40 percent over the next ten years. Profits and revenues for mortgages, wealth management, small and medium-sized lending, and payments processing are also slated to fall between 35 and 10 percent, and earnings on some financial products may decline by nearly two-thirds, according to McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm.

Technology firms are focusing on the most lucrative segments of bank portfolios, especially those that involve customer relations. This will return banks to their roots as a utility: one that manages balance sheet assets and liabilities. McKinsey says banks generated $1.75 trillion of revenues in 2014 from origination and sales activities, earning a 22 percent return on equity, compared with $2.1 trillion of revenue and only a 6 percent return on equity for managing balance sheet net interest.

McKinsey calculates banks earned a record $1 trillion last year with a 9.5 percent return on equity. Nearly two-thirds of banks in developed markets and a third of those in emerging markets earned a return on equity below the cost of equity, causing their equity prices to fall below book value.

McKinsey expects this rate of return to plummet rapidly as bankers continue to enter technological finance as advisors, investors, board members, and company executives, such as former JP Morgan executive Blythe Masters, who is the current Chief Executive Officer of Digital Asset Holdings, a start-up that provides ledger and settlement services for digital and mainstream assets.

Thirteen more banks are now collaborating with R3CEV, a New York based start-up to develop a private, distributed ledger system for financial institutions, bringing the total to twenty-two financial institutions. In contrast, the bitcoin blockchain platform permits access to all and is secured by a digital token.

These 13 banks are: Citigroup, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, HSBC, Bank of New York Mellon, Deutsche Bank, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Commerzbank, National Australia Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, SEB, Société Générale and Toronto-Dominion Bank.

Nasdaq is also using the blockchain to set up a private share trading platform with Chain, a start-up that has received funding from Nasdaq, Citi Ventures and Visa.

The bitcoin blockchain methodology ensures more timely, efficient, cost-effective and secure asset ownership transfer. This will be especially useful for the syndicated loan market, where settlement can take 20 or more days to finalize.

The New York State Department of Financial Services recently approved two firms to operate Bitcoin exchanges: Gemini, founded by Cameron and Tyler Winkelvoss, and ItBit. The Wicklevoss brothers are also working on a bitcoin-backed exchange-traded fund, which is expected to trade on the Nasdaq exchange and awaits regulatory approval.

Banks are beginning to brace for the coming seismic shifts of the financial terrain.

© 2015 Newsmax Finance. All rights reserved.

Advertisements

Banks Bank on Saving Billions Using Bitcoin Blockchain

Newsmax_Image_092515_BanksBankonSavingBillionsUsingBitcoinBlockchain

By Barry Elias | Friday, 25 Sep 2015 09:36 AM

Banks are investing millions of dollars in the development of the bitcoin blockchain technology in the hopes of saving billions of dollars down the road.

Nine investment banks are collaborating with start-up R3CEV, a New York-based group of trading and technology executives, to develop governing standards and procedures to implement a more effective and efficient settlement system for asset movements between counterparties. They have invested several millions of dollars in seed capital with R3CEV thus far for the research, experimentation and design of prototypes.

The blockchain methodology is viewed as an instant, real time update of payment ledgers in multiple locations without a single, centralized authority overseeing the process. Banks, financial exchanges, and settlement clearinghouses are exploring how to harness this technology for the automatic execution of contracts that could potentially save billions of dollars in bank operational expenditures.

The nine investment banks are Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Credit Suisse, Barclays, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, State Street, RBS, BBVA, and UBS. Many banks, including Barclays and UBS, are working toward their own blockchain model or partnering with other start-ups, as a way to hedge their bets and align with the best possible option in the future.

Advocates of this industry collaboration point to the successes of other ventures such as the Depository Trust Clearing Corporation, to clear trades for corporate stocks and bonds, municipal bonds, and money market instruments; the CLS, to clear funds for global currency trades; and the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a global financial messaging system.

Circle Internet Financial recently became the first firm to be issued a BitLicense by the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS), permitting it to offer digital-currency services in New York. The company was founded two years ago and backed by Goldman Sachs.

The DFS said 22 firms applied for the license, including CoinSetter, Consensys, Gemini (founded by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss), ItBit, and Symbiant, and it expects more approvals shortly.

The BitLicense was originally introduced by then- DFS Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky in January 2014. The license allows digital-currency firms to expand their services while protecting clients with anti-money-laundering compliance and cybersecurity protocols.

Circle is able to offer mobile payment services to receive, hold, and send U.S. dollars and bitcoins via text messaging that does not require conversions from one form to the other.

Circle is pursuing this same option with other currencies, such as the euro.

There seems to be no turning back from bitcoin.

© 2015 Newsmax Finance. All rights reserved.

Bankers Getting On-Board With Bitcoin Blockchain

By Barry Elias   |   Friday, 04 Sep 2015 12:50 AM

NewsmaxImage_090415_BankersGettingOn-BoardWithBitcoinBlockchain

Bankers are going bonkers for the bitcoin blockchain.

Go figure. Several years ago, the financial industry was abhorrently opposed to the introduction of bitcoin, a virtual currency that would revolutionize the way we conduct our banking business. Fearful of a massive professional upheaval, the financial cognoscenti steeled themselves in undermining this virtual currency.

Fast forward a few years, and ironically, Wall Street is now the largest proponent and investor in this space and the momentum continues to grow.

The financial industry has taken exceptional note of the possible applications of the blockchain distributed ledger methodology that underpins the bitcoin technology. Essentially, the blockchain functions as a trusted “third party” to verify the validity of a digital asset transfers. However, this third party is comprised of the entire universe of bitcoin market participants, rather than a centralized authority subject to unpredictable behavior. Digital miners independently confirm that all the ledger transactions are bona fide, for which they are compensated.

The blockchain method is now being viewed as a way to digitize any good or service so its ownership can be transferred accurately, timely, cheaply, transparently, and securely. In particular, the financial industry has its eye on utilizing this ledger system to trade currencies, public and private equities, corporate bonds, and syndicated loans.

Goldman Sachs, Santander and BBVA have invested in start-ups that focus on harnessing this technology. Citigroup and JP Morgan have been conducting internal groups to assess how best to enter this area. And Barclays would like to implement this technology to offer consumer products that are less expensive than credit cards and direct money transfers.

Bank of America and more than a dozen financial institutions have met with R3Cev to coordinate a foreign currency exchange platform using the blockchain ledger apparatus. This has huge implications, since the daily trading of foreign currencies was $5.3 trillion in April 2013, according to the September 2013 Triennial Survey of the Bank of International Settlements.

Nasdaq OMX Group has embarked on what may be the largest project in this area. It would like to use the blockchain to process privately held equity transfers. Currently, these transactions take as long as several weeks to complete. The Nasdaq Group believes this new methodology is more efficient, transparent and secure than the current techniques.

The U.S. Federal Reserve Bank and the Bank of England are also in the mix.

Further, the applications for other industries are significant, since this model provides a more effective and efficient accounting system. Governments are looking into this for more robust record keeping and the music industry sees potential in tracking and tabulating artist royalties based on internet download activity.

The consensus now among bankers is the blockchain technology is here to stay. The new question is not when it will be adopted, but how.

© 2015 Newsmax Finance. All rights reserved.

Finance Returns to Its Roots – A Utility

Over the past few decades, the financial industry grew at the expense of its clients. Technology is beginning to change this – fast.

Technological finance, such as virtual currencies, is paving the way for the financial community to return to its original mission: helping consumers and business grow, which provide employment opportunities, stimulate economic activity, and promote prosperity.

A friend, who left a hedge fund to work at a major U.S. bank, recently informed me of his disillusionment when the bank wanted him to keep the good products for the bank and give the bad products to the client: He elected to resign.

As a share of the economy, finance grew 60 percent from 4.9 percent in 1980 to 7.9 percent in 2007 prior to the financial crisis, according to Harvard Business School professors Robin Greenwood and David Scharfstein, in a recent study.

Further, more than 20 percent of all corporate profit sits with the financial industry, according to The Federal Reserve. These data exclude the high levels of compensation received by financial employees in the form of salary, stock options, healthcare, and other benefits.

Intense political lobbying and rampant insider trading have distorted the competitiveness of the financial marketplace. Algorithmic trading is based on a model of receiving proprietary information ahead of others and manipulating the market accordingly to maximize profit at the expense of economic growth for the many. Similar sentiments were echoed this week to me by a friend, who is one of the chief economists for a global financial institution.

We are now witnessing the movement of Wall Street elites into this digital space at a quickening pace.

In the mid-1980s, Daniel Masters entered the oil trading market when it was volatile, relatively illiquid and lightly regulated. He had a successful career in this sector with Shell, Philbro and JP Morgan Chase – until 2013 when slow Chinese economic growth precipitated price declines in commodities and investor outflows. (I presaged the slowdown in this piece more than four years ago.)

Daniel Masters now sees the same opportunities in the virtual currency space that he saw with oil 30 years ago. New Jersey recently approved his Global Advisors fund, which trades bitcoin using an arbitrage strategy to leverage price volatility.

Initially driven by the libertarian-tech community, which favored anonymous, cross-border transactions that eliminated much unnecessary financial intermediation, high profile financial folks are now entering this market segment, despite the recent market turmoil: the collapse of Mt. Gox, the largest trading platform of bitcoin at the time; extreme price volatility; and a large price reduction, from nearly $1,200 at its peak in November 2013 to roughly $300 today.

Lawrence Summers, former treasury secretary, and John Reed, former Citibank chief executive, are now advisory board members of Xapo, a bitcoin startup. Barry Silbert, a former investment banker and founder of SecondMarket – a provider of liquidity for restricted securities – and a prolific angel investor in the bitcoin space, recently launched the Bitcoin Investment Trust that enables investors to trade its shares on an over-the-counter marketplace, though not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Blythe Masters, former wife of Daniel Masters and former chief financial officer and head of Global Commodities at JP Morgan Chase, is now the chief executive officer at Digital Asset Holdings, a virtual currency start-up that plans on settling digital and financial assets using the bitcoin blockchain ledger technology.

She was instrumental in creating credit derivative products in the 1990s, including credit default swaps that ignited the global financial and economic collapse of the Great Recession.

Separately, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who both had early involvement with Facebook, are now venture capitalists and await approval for their bitcoin exchange-traded fund.

The total market capitalization of bitcoin is slightly more than $4 billion, a pittance relative to the $5.3 trillion of daily turnover in the global foreign currency market, according to the Bank for International Settlements in 2013.

Daniel Masters suspects demand for bitcoin will continue to grow due to its convenient, low cost transaction model for small purchases that integrate more effectively and efficiently with our digital economy: a utility and opportunity unparalleled by today’s payment systems.

The key here: unlike many bitcoin aficionados, Daniel Masters believes the digital currency movement offers significant synergies to the legacy financial institutions, such as banks, and can prosper with proper transparency and regulation: views sympathetic to the financial community and government, which I, too, support.

Where I differ with Daniel Masters is the future pricing of the virtual currency market. Masters expects strong price appreciation for bitcoin. In my view, the purpose of this currency is to ensure more stable purchasing power over time. This suggests the price of bitcoin will rise commensurate with the general price level of goods and services, and offer little in terms of unearned capital appreciation.

Either way, the future is bright for bitcoin.

© 2015 Newsmax Finance. All rights reserved.

Financial Disruption: Part III

Finance is continuing down the path of technological disruption with marked acceleration.

Helping to lead the charge is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, known for an environment that incubates innovative intellectual ideas with pragmatic applications. (Disclosure: my son is currently an undergraduate student at MIT.)

At the forefront of this revolutionary change is the concept of the virtual currency, such as bitcoin.

As the pioneers at MIT describe it, this “currency” is much more than a currency: it represents a platform and protocol for ownership and transfer of virtually any good or service in return for any another – whether it is a carrot, a car, condominium, a contract, or a convertible bond.

The principle reason for this highly perfected barter arrangement is the infinitely divisible property of digital assets. In this model, a portion of your kitchen table can be sold and used to purchase a two-year internet connectivity contract. The title of ownership will be more secure and less susceptible to manipulation by individuals, corporations or governments, since the information is decentralized and available for the world to see. Moreover, this system removes many financial intermediary layers, thereby affording quicker and cheaper transactions.

Michael Casey, the senior advisor to the Digital Currency Initiative at the MIT Media Lab explains the real beauty of this system is that no one needs to trust anyone else in the transaction – neither the counterparty nor a neutral third-party – since the information is available to an extraordinary number of people globally. He believes this methodology will enable irrefutable, self-sovereign identity markers of property ownership, irrespective of their socioeconomic or financial status, and enable asset collateralization for exchanging of goods and services He also makes the case that these digital assets can be used to collateralize currency creation, which would be helpful to a country like Greece, so it could pledge state-owned assets to reorganize and service its debt obligations.

Brian Ford, the Director of Digital Currency at the MIT Media Lab, has spent decades at the nexus of technology, public policy and entrepreneurship. He has been leading efforts to mainstream digital currencies through research and incubation of high-impact applications of this emerging technology. In collaboration with global experts from government, nonprofits and the private sector, he is exploring how cryptography, economics, privacy, and digital systems can be used to support the commercial and social viability of this technology. . He recently served as the Senior Advisor for Mobile and Data Innovation at the White House where he led efforts to leverage emerging technologies to address the President’s most critical national priorities.

One of the goals of this initiative is to seriously engage the MIT community to test digital currency concepts that address issues surrounding security, stability, scalability, individual rights, and the economy – with an eye on high social impact. The world-at-large has been taking important note, including government and regulatory entities, central banks, the financial community, and business organizations.

Yanis Varoufakis, a former Greek finance minister, suggested a digital currency could replace the euro if it were backed by future tax revenue; the Bank of England claims the technology will have extraordinary implications; Deloitte issued a report on the potential for state-sponsored cryptocurrencies as an alternative to conventional money; the chief information officer at UBS believes it would simplify banking substantially; Nasdaq is testing bitcoin technology for use on its stock exchange; and many large corporations accept bitcoin for purchases of their products and services, including DISH TV, Dell, the Sacramento Kings, and Kmart.

In my view, the most important application of digital currencies is its use in partially backing the creation of money and credit.

Monetary creation becomes much more responsible, effective and efficient when it is partially backed by the production of goods and services, such as digital assets. This model permits more consistent monetary growth that is linked to the supply and demand of goods and services. The cost of currency production is then reflected more proportionately in the real economy with greater stability and predictability across geographic boundaries and through time. This minimizes extreme and volatile business cycles, enables a more fluid employment environment, and increases income and purchasing power for the many.

We should warmly welcome this new technological disruption.

© 2015 Newsmax Finance. All rights reserved.

Bitcoin Surges as Predicted

By Barry Elias

June 21, 2014

On April 11, 2014, I penned a piece for Newsmax suggesting a positive prognosis for bitcoin.

The previous day, the price of bitcoin closed at $360.84, according to Coindesk, a digital currency publication.

Within 5 days, the price rose nearly 50 percent.   On June 3, 2014, the price was $665.73, an 84 percent increase.

The current price of bitcoin is $588.52, a 63 percent gain in slightly more than two months.