Summary: Issuers of today’s fiat-backed stablecoins (such as PAX, USDC and TUSD) need to identify (or KYC) only those users who convert between bank account money and stablecoin, not all holders.
Some people might be surprised that intermediate users of stablecoin may transact without needing to being identified by the issuers. Yet few people know that there are kill-switches built in that can hinder bad actors. This arrangement can be described as permissioned pseudonymity. Stablecoin issuers have permission by their regulators to have pseudonymous users in their network.
Permissioned pseudonymity is positive for innovation while the industry explores the most productive uses for stablecoins.
💹 Which stablecoins?
In this post I am specifically discussing USD denominated stablecoins which are redeemable for USD in commercial bank accounts, and whose issuers seem to work with financial regulators to stay compliant with applicable laws and regulations. Popular stablecoins in this category are:
- PAX issued by Paxos
- USDC issued by Circle and Coinbase
- TUSD (TrueUSD) issued by TrustToken
(Note: USDT issued by Tether (the company) is the most popular USD stablecoin by far, but the working relationship between the issuer and financial authorities unclear to me.)
📇 Knowing Your Customer
Many people think that all financial institutions need to know all of their customers all the time. In many cases, it’s true – think of the documents you need to produce when you open your bank account.
But in other cases this isn’t so. Often issuers can take a risk-based approach. In some jurisdictions you can buy and load prepaid cards up to certain limits and use them widely. Hong Kong’s Octopus card is one example. In other cases you can hold small amounts in digital wallets before you hit transaction or balance limits.
The rule certainly isn’t “You must always know all your customers all the time”. Fortunately we live in a world of nuance and risk-based approaches. Stablecoins provide another example of something somewhere in the middle.
😨 Not Knowing Your Customer
When you want to buy a stablecoin from an issuer, you send them money through the existing banking system. The issuer then transfers stablecoin tokens to your blockchain wallet. Redemption is the opposite of this: You send your stablecoins back to the issuer and they send money to your bank account.
Purchasers and redeemers of blockchain-based stablecoins need to have a Know-Your-Customer or “KYC” relationship with the issuer. Yet once you hold a stablecoin, you can send it to anyone with a cryptocurrency wallet. The stablecoins can be passed from unidentified account to unidentified account, with transactions recorded on the underlying blockchain (currently Ethereum is the most popular blockchain for this). Only the redeemer, who brings the stablecoin back to the issuer, needs to be identified by the issuer.
This is similar to physical cash: customers who wish to convert bank deposits into physical cash or vice versa need to be identified by the bank and have a KYC relationship. But outside of the banking system, cash can be passed between people without them having a direct KYC relationship to the bank.
😱 Oh no, unidentified money!
Relax. While pseudonymous accounts may sit uncomfortably with people believe that all money should be identified (lest terrorists become enabled). blockchain-tracked digital money is no worse than other ways of transferring money in the existing financial system. In fact, in some ways it’s more traceable.
Today, people can use numbered bank accounts or bank accounts controlled companies with nominee directors. Criminals British companies because you can set one up for under £20 in less than 20 minutes. And you don’t have to provide any identity information. Then you just set up a few more companies in different jurisdictions, and you can make large amounts of money disappear. Here’s How Britain can help you get away with stealing millions: a five-step guide by Oliver Bullough in The Guardian.
In fact, due to the nature of the blockchains that record these transactions, stablecoins are more traceable than money moving around the traditional financial systems, recorded as debits and credits in different independent banking systems. On the blockchains, law enforcement can see in realtime the movement of funds from account to account, without needing to subpoena anyone or trying to cooperate internationally or across jurisdictional lines.
This is also of course is much more transparent than physical cash, which does not leave any record of ownership; but it’s much less financially inclusive than physical cash, which everyone knows how to use.
🥶 Freezing and wiping accounts
If you look into the smart contract code that defines the stablecoins, you can see that accounts can be frozen using special transactions sent to the blockchain.
For example, Paxos (my previous employer who sets a high bar for regulatory compliance) states in its Terms and Conditions (retrieved 29 Oct 2019) that they can freeze all tokens regardless of where they are held:
A law enforcement user can freeze and wipe PAX balances associated with specific Ethereum accounts. Search for “freeze” in the PAX smart contract code. This is different to physical cash!
This means that although the issuer may not be able to map a real world identity to the pseudonymous account holding their stablecoin, they can effectively freeze and wipe the account – presumably on demand from a financial regulator or law enforcement. This ability gives comfort to those who want to see a “kill switch”. Here’s an article about it from TheNextWeb.
🎉 Enabling innovation
So with approved stablecoins, we have:
- Low-volatility assets (typically, fiat-backed stablecoins trade within 1% of their underlying fiat price, ie between 0.99 and 1.01 to 1)
- Money that can move with a lot less friction than money in bank accounts (banks have opening hours, they may not allow programmatic instructions, they may overburden their customers for unnecessary information requests as they over-comply with regulations)
- Money that can move as long as the blockchain is working (instead of catering to scheduled and unscheduled system downtime that exists with centralised financial service providers)
- Money that can be programmed, escrowed, released, automated in smart contracts defined by code
- Money that leaves an ownership trail on their respective blockchains, that can be analysed
- Money that can, if needed, be frozen and wiped
Permissioned pseudonymity seems to be a sensible balance between allowing innovation without enabling large scale abuses of the financial system.
Research: Altseason is Upon Us, But Not For XRP or EOS
In its latest ‘State of the Network’ bulletin, industry data provider Coin Metrics has delved into altcoins and their impressive performance so far this year.
It acknowledged that many of the hot altcoins that surged during the 2017 crypto boom are now ‘dead and gone’, and have been replaced by a new breed of DeFi assets. It added that with new capital flowing into Bitcoin and Ethereum, some of that money may start flowing into altcoins.
In this week’s State of the Network @natemaddrey looks at recent altcoin performance. Is a new altseason incoming?
Read the full issue here:https://t.co/pO4mmIPhby
— CoinMetrics.io (@coinmetrics) January 19, 2021
The report acknowledged that institutional investment has largely been behind the current rally and institutions are very wary of altcoins.
“Altcoin investing is largely considered a retail phenomenon. Similar to penny stocks, it’s often driven by individual investors looking for outsized gains.”
XRP and EOS Missing The Party
Looking at returns since the beginning of December 2020, Bitcoin and Ethereum have outperformed most other Layer 1 blockchains, it noted. However several high-cap crypto assets have also performed well hitting their own all-time highs.
There are two notable exceptions to this trend; Ripple’s XRP and Block.one’s EOS.
The glaring red charts for these to former darlings of crypto show that XRP has lost 54.6% since December 1, and EOS has dumped 7.5% over the same period.
Ripple’s problems started when it finally lost the battle with the SEC and the selloff began. Since its late November high of almost $0.70, XRP has dumped almost 60% to today’s sub $0.29 prices. There have been reports of Ripple executives selling their stashes, while Grayscale dissolved its XRP Trust as confidence in the company dwindles.
Block.one’s problems have not been as bad, but they have had them. Company CTO Dan Larimer announced his resignation earlier this month and there has been very little on the development or product front for the project.
Over the past year, EOS has lost 23% on a chart that has been flat for months. Since its February 2020 high of $5.40 it has dumped 50%, and since its giddy all-time high in April 2018 of over $22, EOS has been smashed 87%.
Top Altcoins so Far in 2021
Those that are enjoying the altseason sun include Polkadot, Binance Coin, Chainlink, and of course Ethereum, though it shouldn’t really be termed an altcoin any longer.
Coin Metrics highlighted Cardano, Decred, and Dogecoin as three that have made three figure gains since December one, outperforming Bitcoin itself.
Biden’s US Treasury Secretary Nominee Raises Concerns Over Crypto Terrorism Financing
Janet Yellen is keeping true to form as a crypto critic and has linked cryptocurrencies to terrorist financing and money laundering. Meanwhile, another report has emerged showing that virtual currencies only account for an insignificant proportion of global financial crimes.
Yellen Espouses Well-Worn Crypto FUD
Speaking during her virtual confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate, Janet Yellen — President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for the Treasury Department — identified cryptos as a concern in terms of terrorist financing and money laundering.
Doubling down on her anti-crypto rhetoric, Yellen remarked:
“I think many [cryptocurrencies] are used, at least in transactions sense, mainly for illicit financing and I think we really need to examine ways in which we can curtail their use and make sure that money laundering doesn’t occur through those channels.”
According to Yellen, if confirmed, her leadership of the Treasury Department will focus on dealing with crypto-related terrorism financing, adding:
“The technologies to accomplish this change over time and we need to make sure that our methods for dealing with these matters, with tech terrorist financing, change along with changing technology, cryptocurrencies are a particular concern.”
As previously reported by CryptoPotato, Yellen is a known crypto critic. Back in 2018, she described Bitcoin as “anything but useful.” She has also countered claims of BTC being a store of value.
Cryptocurrency Crime Grossly Overstated
Yellen’s remarks are a common refrain among members of the mainstream financial establishment. However, the entire record of crypto forensic investigations do not support the claim that virtual currencies are the preferred channel for criminals and terrorists.
As part of the highlights of its upcoming 2020 crypto crime report, blockchain intelligence firm revealed that criminal transactions in the cryptocurrency space fell to 0.34% in 2020. This figure represents an even smaller percentage than the 2.1% recorded in 2019.
Reacting to Yellen’s statements, several crypto stakeholders were quick to dismiss her claims with verifiable data. Morgan Creek digital co-founder Anthony Pompliano tweeted:
“Janet Yellen stated today that cryptocurrencies are concerning because of terrorist financing and money laundering. She forgot to mention that the US dollar is the choice currency of criminals around the world. The large banks launder more money than [the] entire Bitcoin market cap.”
Indeed, in its report from 2020, SWIFT revealed that crypto-related money laundering was only a drop in the ocean compared to the volume of dirty money funneled via banks. Back in May 2020, Chainalysis also issued a report debunking claims that terrorist group ISIS held $300 million in Bitcoin.
Featured image courtesy of CNBC.
3 reasons Bitcoin abruptly dropped by 7.4% overnight
The price of Bitcoin (BTC) dropped sharply from $37,800 to $35,000 overnight, liquidating $572 million worth of cryptocurrency futures positions.
There are three major reasons why the price of Bitcoin declined steeply in the past 12 hours. The reasons are an overheated derivatives market, growing doubt in the market, and the lack of upside volatility.
Derivatives market was overheated before the correction
Before the pullback occurred, the Bitcoin derivatives market was extremely overheated. The futures funding rate was hovering at around 0.1%, which is 10 times higher than the average 0.01%.
The futures funding rate is a mechanism that achieves balance in the futures market by incentivizing long or short contract holders based on market sentiment.
If there are more long contracts or buyers in the market, then the funding rate turns positive. If it becomes positive, then buyers have to compensate short-sellers with a portion of their contracts every eight hours, and vice versa.
Almost all major cryptocurrencies saw their funding rates spike to around 0.1% to 0.3%, which meant the market was extremely overleveraged.
When the market is this overcrowded, the likelihood of a long squeeze increases, which could cause many futures contracts to get liquidated in a short period.
Growing market uncertainty
According to researchers at Santiment, there is “trader doubt” in the market on whether BTC would hit $40,00 again. They wrote:
“Thinking face There is an increasing amount of trader doubt that #Bitcoin will revisit $40,000. But according to address activity and trade volume, the long-term trend still looks plenty healthy. Keep a close eye on whether $BTC’s usage rate stays propped up.”
The fundamentals of the Bitcoin blockchain network, such as address activity and trade volume, remain strong. However, the market sentiment has dwindled in the past week as BTC continues to struggle to break out of the $38,000 resistance area.
Lack of upside volatility
Bitcoin has been seeing weak reactions from buyers throughout the past several days, compared to the initial rally to $42,000 in early January.
During the early phase of the rally, whenever Bitcoin dipped to key support levels, like $35,000, there was often a big reaction from buyers.
However, since mid-January, there have been weaker reactions from buyers at key support levels. This indicates that the expectations of a rally toward the $40,000 to $42,000 resistance area have subsided, at least in the near term.
The selling pressure on Bitcoin mostly came from Asia in the first two weeks of January. But, as shown in the overnight correction on Jan. 19, Bitcoin has started to see weakness in the U.S. market as well.
The combination of limited upside volatility and the lack of upside momentum is seemingly causing traders to become cautious in the near term. This likely means that BTC sees a prolonged consolidation phase until February.
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