Blockchain and Cryptocurrency: 2018 in Review – The Maritime Executive

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By Sean M. Holt 2019-01-03 01:20:00

“What is needed is an electronic payment system based on cryptographic proof instead of trust, allowing any two willing parties to transact directly with each other without the need for a trusted third party.” – Satoshi Nakamoto

Bitcoin is dead…again. According to 99bitcoins.com’s “Bitcoin Obituaries”, Bitcoin has died 337 times since 2010 (91 times in 2018, alone). Despite the clickbait, this year has seen great strides for blockchain and distributed ledger technologies (DLT), particularly for the transportation and logistics sectors. Since its debut as a fundamental component of Bitcoin 10-years ago, in 2009 (see an article on its origins here), DLTs have experienced a tumultuous journey from the basements of cypherpunks tonow receiving daily coverage on major networks and even gaining its own ticker symbols of XBT, NYXBT and BTC.  

At the time of writing this article, Bitcoin is priced (USD) at around $3,600 ($16,000 YTD), with a market cap of $63B (total of all 2071 listed cryptocurrencies is $120B) [source: coinmarketcap.com]. Although most of MarEx’s coverage on this space has been primarily directed towards blockchain applications, it is fundamentally important to recognize the direct correlation with cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Understanding how the research and development of either, fosters and benefits the other, will convey a more meaningful appreciation for the transformation at hand within the new cryptoeconomics

As mentioned earlier this year in the article, A Force Awakens, “business as usual” is being vastly disrupted, and new technologies are being adopted. Such adoptions are removing both friction and middlemen in “trustless” environments (i.e. “seller A” has never met “buyer B” but can still trade or interact confidently and with verifiable traceability). This year, to better understand and share with our audience, MarEx was an official media partner with four different blockchain-related conferences. So, for purposes of providing a sampling of demand signals in the sector and a recap of this year’s summits, we offer this review.

Follow the Money

Despite its lackluster performance with respect to their prices, what perhaps the layperson fails to understand is the amount of infrastructure and acceptance these technologies have gained in 2018.  As William Mougayar points out in a recent article, “That’s because the largest mindshare has been on the price of tokens and cryptocurrencies. That is an unfortunate frame of reference, because it symbolizes the velocity of hype, more than enlightens on the real measures of progress in the industry.”

One admirable aspect of financial markets is its propensity to cut through the nonsense and find the most efficient paths. However, the hype cycle associated with blockchain has also made it a depot for snake-oil salespersons. In one instance, last December, the Long Island Ice Tea company, in threat of being delisted from NASDAQ, pivoted and changed its name to Long Blockchain (LBCC) and saw its stock price quadruple almost overnight. Its stock has since flatlined.  

Nonetheless, by following ‘smart money’ one can begin connecting the dots and better understand the operational and fundamental shifts occurring in organizations, along with industry trends. Tim Draper, a well-known venture capitalist who was an early investor in Tesla, Hotmail, and Skype, stated back in April that bitcoin will “be bigger than all those [previous investments] combined.” Draper, who is bullish on Bitcoin and predicts a [BTC] price of $250,000 within four years, debated that, “This is bigger than the internet. It’s bigger than the Iron Age, the Renaissance. It’s bigger than the Industrial Revolution. This affects the entire world and it’s going to be affected in a faster and more prevalent way than you ever imagined. In five years, you are going to try to go buy coffee with fiat currency and they are going to laugh at you because you’re not using crypto.”

As it were, Draper is not solo on his long position. Big league players and institutions have made significant investments in several notable projects and/or announcements. Below is a sample of a few of the major demand signals that are expected to drive the sector in 2019:

Bakkt – Created back in August by Atlanta-based Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), owners of the NYSE, in order to facilitate Bitcoin futures markets along with “enabling consumers and institutions to seamlessly buy, sell, store and spend digital assets.” Subject to regulatory approval, they have been coordinating closely with the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and set a launch date of January 24, 2019, to begin trading. Kelly Loeffler, CEO of Bakkt, wrote that operations will have no reliance on cash platforms for settlement prices for pricing the daily Bitcoin futures contract. Their platform leverages Microsoft’s cloud and has been working with Boston Consulting Group and Starbucks on cryptocurrency settlement solutions. 

Fidelity Investments – With $7.2 trillion in customer assets and providing services to 13,000 institutional advisory firms and brokers, the world’s fifth-largest asset manager has launched Fidelity Digital Assets.  Having quietly been working on blockchain technology since 2013 with its Blockchain Incubator, this stand-alone spin-off company has already begun onboarding customers and plans to make products available by early 2019. In a recent Forbes article, Fidelity Investments chairman and CEO Abigail Johnson stated, “Our goal is to make digitally native assets, such as Bitcoin, more accessible to investors.” Interestingly, Fidelity Charitable began accepting Bitcoin donations in 2015. Bringing in more than $69 million, it is the organization’s fasting growing form of donations.

Digital Capital Management – Located in La Jolla, California, this boutique firm led by Managing Director Tim Enneking focuses on actively managing investment portfolios of digital currencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum for high-net-worth individuals and institutions, as well as early-stage blockchain investing. DCM recently received significant clarification and exemption status from the SEC to operate as an “exempt reporting advisor” or “ERA”, and an exemption from the CFTC as a commodity pool operator (CPO). Together with their Cayman Island feeder, Crypto Asset Fund (CAF), DCM is globally servicing this emerging asset class with, what appears to be, the blessing of the perhaps the sector’s biggest hurdle, the United States. For those wanting to learn more about ICOs and how to assess them, see the MD’s article The Seven Pillars of ICO Investing.

Bank of America – Rivaling IBM and Alibaba’s race to have the most blockchain patents (ironic due to the open-source nature of cryptocurrencies and blockchains), BoA  recently filed their 53rd patent. This time it was for blockchain-enabled cash handlers (ATMs). 

Ohio & U.S. Congress – The Buckeye State is rolling out the red carpet for blockchain companies as their state treasurer Josh Mandel announced in November at the Consensus Invest conference in New York that Ohio would accept Bitcoin for payment of taxes. Currently only available to businesses, Bitcoin payments can be made through OhioCrypto.com and are verified by third-party payment processor BitPay (which also issues Visa debit cards in the U.S. that can be loaded with Bitcoin). Mandel, a former U.S. Marine Corps Intelligence Specialist with multiple combat tours, told CNBC that, “By leading the charge at the state level, we hope that will inspire other states and ultimately the federal government to allow people to pay their federal taxes [with Bitcoin].”

In addition to Ohio, the U.S. Congress has now had several of its members reach an “ah ha!” moment and founded the Congressional Blockchain Caucus in the 114th Congress. It is a bi-partisan group of Members of Congress, Co-Chaired by Representative (now Colorado Governor-elect) Jared Polis (D-CO), Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ), Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) [a Ph.D. whose team helped discover the neutrino burst], and Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN). Their areas of focus are government applications, data ownership, and healthcare, with a vision that declares a “hands-off regulatory approach, believing that this technology will best evolve the same way the internet did; on its own.”   

We the People expect great things from the Caucus, but no pressure.

Ripple – A blockchain-based solutions providers, whose associated cryptocurrency, XRP (a htird generation coin currently ranked no.2 by market cap), is focusing on financial institutions with offices in San Francisco, New York, London, Luxembourg, Mumbai, Singapore, and Sydney. Ripple, along with RippleNet (Ripple’s Global Payments Network), have made significant progress through their strategic partnerships with over 160 financial institutions and banks around the world. 

Strategic partnerships with the likes of PNC Bank, Santander Bank, SWIFT, MoneyGram, WesternUnion, National Australia Bank, Bank of Montreal, Barclays, CIBC, Royal Bank of Canada, Standard Charted, Bank of England, Bank of Thailand, and American Express have provided confidence for more and more institutions to join the collective ranks. You can see a live list of their strategic partners here

Most recently, the CEO at Malaysian Banking Group CIMB, Tengku Dato’ Sri Zafrul Aziz, stated, “We are delighted to be part of RippleNet and look forward to a fruitful partnership with Ripple by leveraging each other’s strengths and capabilities. This innovative blockchain solution will revolutionize international cross-border remittances, and is a testament to CIMB’s ongoing efforts to enhance its digital banking proposition by providing speedy and cost-efficient solutions to our customers across ASEAN.”

In the same press release, Ripple’s CEO Brad Garlinghouse elucidates that, “We’re seeing banks and financial institutions from across the world lean into blockchain solutions because it enables a more transparent, quicker and lower cost payments experience.”

EOS – One of the most fascinating projects to emerge has been that of the EOS coin (a 3rd generation coin currently ranked no.5 by market cap) and eco-system. During their yearlong initial coin offering (ICO) crowdsale, they raised a record-breaking $4 billion, without even having a live product (now live since June). With an unrivaled war chest, they have laid the foundation for an entirely new eco-system that uses common and familiar coding languages such as C++ and Python (compared to Ethereum’s apparently more difficult Solidity). This eco-system serves a sandbox for others to teach and learn how to build other projects as well as launching their own cryptocurrencies and decentralized applications (dApps) through the use of “sidechains” on the EOS platform.  

The EOS mainnet reached a significant scalability landmark this year and was able to demonstrate 3,996 transactions per second (tps). For reference, Visa is apparently capable of 24,000 tps, but it only receives 4,000 tps at peak hours. This may well solve the scalability issue presently holding adoption back.  

And if that wasn’t intriguing enough, as the ICO market seems to have died by way of regulation (and lack of trust), genius minds prevail and have discovered a workaround.  Instead of soliciting for money and possibly violating securities laws, projects may simply ‘airdrop’ their tokens to other holders of EOS token and then let the market provide a valuation (let’s see how regulators react). For example, say your project puts 100M tokens out into circulation through a free “airdrop,” and then that market values your coin at $0.30; your project would have a $30 million market cap. If your team held 30 percent of those coins, then WHAM! Your company just raised $9 million and didn’t have to ask for a dime.  

Granted there are several more variables involved, but you get it. Furthermore, because these ‘airdrops’ are happening all the time, EOS holders are essentially getting free money. Better still, to play in the EOS platform, projects need to purchase and then “stake” their coins (think escrow), thus adding even more scarcity and demand for the EOS token. Here’s a comprehensive video explanation by The Modern Investor. Also, watch this video on The Million Dollar EOS Bet, which someone is about to lose.

To further articulate the potential upcoming tsunami, a recent podcast with Trace Mayer explains how the world economy has gained tens of trillions of dollars more debt than was accumulated before the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC). He reminds listeners that Bitcoin spawned out of frustration from the mishandlings of the GFC. Now that the technology has experienced a rapid professionalization of the space, legacy models and institutions are in for a rude awakening on the dawn of the “everything bubble.”  

As outlined by an article in Forbes, “since the GFC’s low in March 2009, the S&P 500 stock index has gained over 300 percent, taking it nearly 80 percent higher than its 2007 peak.” Mayer continues that, as we move forward with this new technology, a new financial paradigm shift is occurring both psychologically and fundamentally. That shift is going to be from fiat currency and fractional reserve banking to equity-based money that isn’t a liability in terms of financial-sovereignty (can’t be seized), and provides protection against “shadow tax,” or inflation, from such heinous actions like the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). 

With degrees in accounting and law, Trace Mayer was an early Bitcoin adopter, a self-proclaimed student of Austrian economics, and founder of projects such as Armory, Kraken, the aforementioned BitPay, as well as host of The Bitcoin Knowledge Podcast. For those interested in learning more about the financial-sovereignty aspect, Mayer is starting a new tradition every January 3 – in celebration of Bitcoin’s Genesis Block – called “Proof of Keys.” Its intent is to educate and demonstrate how to maintain your own cryptocurrency keys and defend against the dark arts. 

Blockchain Conferences (2018)

Chain of Things (CoT): Future of Shipping & Logistics – Hong Kong-based Chain of Things was formed by a group of veteran technologists who now specialize in the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain applications. Their website has an array of fascinating information and reading material broken down into easy, medium and hard. The Future of Shipping & Logistics forum was hosted in partnership with the Hong Kong Maritime Week. The event featured several existing projects and examined how a combination of these technologies could reduce billions of dollars of cost in the shipping and logistics industries, as well as examined legal implications that may arise from the use of blockchain technology and smart contracts.  

Here are a few notable speakers of projects:

Conor Colwell, Blockpass Director of Special Projects, Chain of Things Co-founder – Having initially met Mr. Colwell at a crypto ‘meet-up’ in Asia, it was immediately obvious how well-read on the subject and bright this individual was. With a background in film and producing war documentaries in Iraq, he also is a serial tech entrepreneur. Conor is a person to watch. Their Blockpass Project is helping solve regulatory compliance issues in a ‘trustless environment’ to support the verification of humans to Know Your Client (KYC), objects (KYO), and connected devices (KYD).  You can see the presentation here.

Sam Coyne, Head of Marketing, OpenPort – OpenPort has been demonstrating throughout Asia the ability to remove friction in the supply chain with technology that provides irrefutable proof of delivery (PoD) and financial liquidity to the eco-system. You can see their presentation here, as well as being covered our previous article here.

Dick Catlin, ioSlate – Another major segment of the supply chain ripe for disruption is that of trade finance. Given the fragmentation of data from the multitudes of participants in the entire trade finance vertical, ioSlate is developing a single platform, not hindered by the current constraints of blockchains, in order to facilitate rapid trades. The real fruit from this process, ioSlate explains, is the harvesting of data into assets that can be used to determine even better insurance, risk, and pricing models with more certainty. You may watch their one-minute video here, as well as their presentation here.

Ron Nicholas, Head of Customer Success for APAC, Gravity Supply Chain – GSC firmly demonstrated the evolution of the retail consumer and what the future holds for that segment’s supply chains.  Understanding how generational lines have transitioned from using active platforms such as the radio to the now highly-connected smart devices is a key component on how the entire value chain has shifted. You may see their presentation here. Additionally, you may watch this fascinating and frightening video on how automation will almost obliterate the developing world’s retail clothing labor market here.

Scott Salandy-Defour, Co-founder Magnet, Special Projects, Chain of Things – Salandy-Defour is another polymath on the CoT roster who presented on the nexus of using blockchain (digital scarcity + trust), machine vision (authenticity + recognition), and augmented reality (interaction + personalization).  Their solution is maximizing interaction with customers with a brilliant embedding of technology to combat counterfeiting of products. Watch these two videos on using augmented reality with labeling on a Moet bottle and on a t-shirt.  You can see their presentation here.

Brian Kanda, Founder & CEO, FloraChain – MarEx first ran into Kanda at the CryptoEvent Blockchain INDO 2018 (see below), as he stood out amongst the crowd for possessing a practical understanding and working knowledge of the sector. Having been in the space for several years and finding a profitable niche in the floral segment, he was invited to present once again at this forum. Kanda demonstrates how FloraChain’s use of IoT and blockchain drastically reduces layers within the supply chain, such as verification of source, quality (e.g., organic or use of pesticides) and delivery (including streamlining of customs clearance). This, in turn, fosters significant reductions in the cost of goods, highly competitive price points and increased consumer confidence. You can see their presentation here.

Bloconomic – The Blockchain Economic Summit 2018 was organized by Alphacap and the Malaysia Blockchain Associated, and was hosted in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  The summit focuses on blockchain fundamental applications such as legislations around the world, eKYC, advertisement technology, AI, Big Data and asset tokenization, without any cryptocurrency speculation discussion taking place.  

Key highlights from the summit included:

Discussions on the current legal & regulatory framework of cryptocurrency, ICOs & blockchain by John Ho, Head of Financial Markets and legal Dept., Standard Chartered Bank.

Financial inclusive solutions to poverty and infrastructure financing through blockchain by Hazim Mohamad, World Bank Representative.

Blockchain Summit Singapore 2018 – Organized by Blockchain Summit, as part of the Global Blockchain Summit Series, this event was hosted in Singapore. With 60+ speakers, 25 case studies and 34 sessions, the 18-hour event was jammed packed with over 1,000 attendees. The conference uniquely focused on industry leaders, business decision makers, tech innovators and investors from various sectors.  

Here are a few notable speakers and/or projects:

Scoop.tech – This Singapore-based team aims at providing the average Joe with the opportunity to get into the cryptocurrency mining space without having to actually perform the operations. Despite cryptocurrencies intent to be decentralized, the current state of affairs shows, in fact, that the space is actually quite concentrated. One article shows a chart with the Bitcoin wealth istribution/concentration demonstrating approximately four percent of all the crypto wallets holding roughly 96 percent of Bitcoin. Not ideal circumstances for an idea that is centric to wealth inclusion. So, by lowering the barriers of entry and decentralizing the cryptocurrency production process (mining), more individuals can get skin in the game.  

Additionally, Scoop’s decentralized wallet (nerd talk for “additional layers of security”) is solving another fascinating legal question about what happens to your cryptocurrency in the event of death or incapacitation through what are known as Ricardian [Smart] Contracts.

Dr. Meeta Yadav, Director of the Singapore Research Center (former Chief Data Officer for Blockchain Technologies), IBM – Yadav is an extraordinary and fascinating leader in her field and was kind enough to give some of her time to sit with MarEx. Yadav’s recent move to IBM’s Singapore lab is a clear signal of how serious they are about this technology, given the “Little Red Dot’s” significance in the game.  As she told the Summit, “The biggest obstacle for blockchain technologies is regulatory acceptance.” Perhaps having IBM on the bench will gain more credibility in the eyes of policymakers.  Singapore has made itself the globe’s largest transshipment port and the third largest financial center in the world. To capture this, IBM is working closely with the Singapore’s Monetary Authority (MAS), Port Authority (PSA), Economic Development Board (EDB), and Infocomm Development Authority (IDA).

Dr. Paul Sin, Partner, Asia Pacific Blockchain Lab, Deloitte – Within seconds of listening to Sin, it was clear that he is a leader in the field. Deloitte’s investment into both the technology and this individual appears to be reaping in significant yields. For those serious projects or corporations in the Hong Kong region needing guidance or management, check out their Asia Pacific Blockchain Lab. The Lab is collaborating with the Hong Kong Monetary Authority and five leading Hong Kong banks.

Brice Achkir, Ph.D, Cisco Distinguished Eng./Sr. Director, Cisco Systems – For those around Silicon Valley, this technology leader is gunning hard for enterprises with Cisco Blockchain. There are some good infographics and data on their landing page.

Iris Taguet, Head of Blockchain Program, Air France KLM – The world’s fifth-largest airline by revenue (2018), Air France KLM is getting ahead of the ball and has implemented their Blockchain Program. Aimed at harmonizing data and traceability with the added benefit of better luggage tracking, less overbooking, and a more efficient loyalty program. With hopes of cutting costs, perhaps the end users will witness even more competitive rates in the near future. 

Carl Ward, Global CTO, Accenture Health and Public Service – Also based in Singapore, Ward demonstrated how blockchain can and will profoundly affect and improve health and public services.

CryptoEvent Blockchain INDO 2018 – Organized by CryptoEvent and hosted in Jarkata, Blockchain INDO 2018 was one of the first large-scale international blockchain, digital assets and fintech shows of its kind in the country. Having recognized Indonesia’s population of more than 260 million and one of the largest economies in Southeast Asia, it also serves as one of the biggest potential markets the technologies.  

Here are a few notable speakers of projects: 

Zach Piester, Investor, Co-founder Intrepid Ventures – Presentation on Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) hype and a realist view on the power and potential of crowdfunding.  The ICO market now seems all but dead and the traditional funding methods and well-established valuations have regained control.

Dan Gaily, CEO of Synapse AI – Presentation on “Exploring Artificial Intelligence Economies” that explored profound impacts yet untapped and the major organizations that are quietly gaining competences in the space.

Garlam Won, Chief Strategy Officer, TIP Blockchain – Presentation on “How to simplify blockchain so even your Grandmother could get it” offered simplification and discussed how technological evolution will help make it easier.

Summary

When attempting to determine the future of Bitcoin, there are a few factors which may provide some clues. These include; the scarce supply of only 21M BTC to ever reach circulation in the year 2140 (currently there are 17.45M, or 83 percent), the fiat markets being overdue for another massive correction, as well as the $30 trillion wealth transfer (history’s largest) to occur over the next 30 to 40 years from Baby Boomers to their heirs. As such, the younger tech-savvy generations may decide to invest in the digital world they were raised in, instead of stepping backward into the unfamiliar analog fiat realm of their grandparents. If you think about it, why would a younger person ever feel inclined to walk into a bank when their phone now serves the same function. Except your phone’s crypto-wallet never closes or tells you that you have to wait three to five business days.  

With 87.5 percent (18.38M) of all Bitcoins to be mined by 2020, in order for Drapers predicted price of $250,000 to occur, only 15 percent ($4.6T) of the $30T of wealth to be transferred would need to be injected into its market cap [# of coins in circulation x $price/coin = $ market cap]. A feat not entirely out of the question. As well, the reward block size for the mining of Bitcoin will experience a halving from its current 12.5 coins to 6.25 on or about May 28, 2020. This, in turn, is suspected to ignite the laws of supply and demand and cause an exponential price spike.

With over 3,000 blockchain listed companies on angel.co, alone, and over 2,000 different cryptocurrencies listed on coinmarketcap.com, the indicators appear to be pointing to the beginning of a movement, not the endings of a fad. Of course, many will, and should, wash away over time. But for those of us who first remember hearing the name Google in the late 1990s – and then making the same face a Golden Retriever does when asked to “go fetch ball” – the parallels should be clear. Nonetheless, if there is one certainty that can be offered for 2019 within this space, it is to expect the unexpected.  

Having spent a few years entrenched in the blockchain and cryptocurrency space, by far the most impressive aspect is ironically not the technology, but the intelligent and passion human spirit driving this endeavor. Yes, of course, there are the same try-hards and charlatans that diluted Mario Savio’s Berkley Free Speech Movement, but the revolution continues.  

For those interested still in learning more, yours truly was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview Andreas M. Antonopoulos, the author of Mastering Bitcoin, Mastering Ethereum and The Internet of Money, Vols. I & II. You may read the highlights in the aforementioned A Force Awakens article or may dive even deeper in the one-hour YouTube interview found here, and/or visit here. A special thank you to Antonopoulos for graciously providing his time. As well to all those this year that helped in my journey.

We hope you found this review useful. Please help like, comment and share if you did. As always, MarEx wishes everyone a safe and joyous 2019, especially those of you abroad and/or out at sea. We’re thinking of you. See you next year.

Sean M. Holt, MBA is a Kings Point graduate, regular contributor and founder of roguecoin.io. Disclaimer – Sean M. Holt is either an investor or consultant to the following organizations mentioned in this article: OpenPort, Scoop.tech, Digital Capital Management, Chain of Things, EOS, XRP, and Bitcoin. 

The opinions expressed herein are the author’s and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.

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