The Economist on “initial coin offerings:”
Many ICOs are designed to finance applications that will make use of the blockchain … In some cases, the “coins” can be exchanged for services on the site. In a way, this is like selling air miles in a startup airline; investors can either use the miles for flights or hope they can trade them at a profit. For the business, it is also a way of creating demand for the product they are selling.
But in plenty of cases, an ICO is just a way of raising capital without all the hassle of meeting regulatory requirements, or the burden of paying interest to a bank.
On bankunderground, Simon Scorer reminds us that a central bank issued digital currency (CBDC) need not operate on a distributed ledger platform. The two do not have much to do with each other.
Scorer suggests a series of technical requirements for a CBDC:
And he concludes that a distributed ledger does not meet all requirements.
It’s unlikely that all of the above attributes could be perfectly met with today’s technology; you may need to make compromises between features – e.g. the trade-off between resilience and privacy …
CBDC is far from just a simple question of technology; any central bank contemplating CBDC will need to answer a host of fundamental economic questions, as well as considering how feasible it is to achieve all the required features and what type of technology might enable this.
The ECB has published a first report on Stella, a joint research project with the Bank of Japan. The two banks are interested in potential roles that distributed ledger technology could play to support the financial market infrastructure. The report assesses whether existing payments systems could be safely and efficiently run on a distributed ledger. It concludes that
- a distributed-ledger-based system could meet the performance needs of real-time gross settlement systems, up to some limits;
- such a system could strengthen resilience.
On the FT’s Alphaville blog, Izabella Kaminska points to a paper by Italian academics arguing that the Ethereum technology tends to incubate Ponzi schemes.
The uniqueness of the “smart Ponzi” is its capacity to protect the identity of the initiator but also its ability to persist even after being exposed. Since contracts are unmodifiable and thus unstoppable there is no central authority to terminate the execution of the scheme or force the initiator to refund victims. What’s more, the inability to shut it down means victims can be led to believe the scheme will last forever.
On the FT’s Alphaville blog, Izabella Kaminska questions the value of decentralization (and thus, blockchain technology) in intermediation.
Decentralisation is, in almost all cases, not an efficiency. To the contrary, it’s a cost that adds complexity and creates an unnecessary burden for both users and operators unless centralised layers are added on top of it — defying the whole point. …
At the end of the day, there are only two groups of people prepared to go to costly lengths to decentralise a service which is already available (in what is often a much higher quality form) in a centralised or conventional hierarchal state. One group is criminals and fraudsters. The other is ideologues and cultists. …
It’s not privacy, because a centralised system can be encrypted just as much as a blockchain-based one.
The Economist reports about a new digital currency platform, Zcash. The platform could handle more transactions than for example, Bitcoin. The open-source project backed by outside investors offers confidentiality:
Bitcoin obscures the identity of currency owners, but the “blockchain”, the ledger that keeps track of all the coins, is open and can be analysed to see the flows of funds. This is a serious barrier for banks: blockchains could reveal their trading strategies and information about their customers. Zcash, by contrast, shields transactions from prying eyes with a scheme based on “zero-knowledge proofs” (hence the “Z” in its name). These are cryptographic protocols proving that a statement (who owns coins, for instance) is true without revealing any other information (how many and where the money came from). And it is by selling this technology—called “zk-SNARK” (don’t ask)—to banks that Zcash, the company, wants to earn its keep.
In the FT, Philip Stafford reports about a digital currency initiative by the Bank of Canada and commercial banks. It
will involve issuing, transferring and settling central bank assets on a distributed ledger via a token named CAD-Coin.
The Bank of Canada said the experiment was a proof-of-concept and confined to interbank payment systems. … “None of our experiments are to develop central-bank issued e-money for use by the general public.”
The Economist reports about initiatives by commercial and central banks that aim at adopting the blockchain technology.
For commercial banks, distributed ledgers promise various advantages—but they also cause problems:
Instead of having to keep track of their assets in separate databases, as financial firms do now, they can share just one. Trades can be settled almost instantly, without the need for lots of intermediaries. As a result, less capital is tied up during a transaction, reducing risk. Such ledgers also make it easier to comply with anti-money-laundering and other regulations, since they provide a record of all past transactions (which is why regulators are so keen on them).
… Yet … [o]ne stumbling block is what geeks call “scalability”: today’s distributed ledgers cannot handle huge numbers of transactions. Another is confidentiality: encryption techniques that allow distributed ledgers to work while keeping trading patterns, say, private are only now being developed. … Such technical hurdles can be overcome only with a high degree of co-operation …
Meanwhile, central banks plan digital currencies built around the same technology.
Like bitcoin, these would be built around a database listing who owns what. Unlike bitcoin’s, though, these “distributed ledgers” would … be tightly controlled by the issuers of the currency.
The plans involve letting individuals and firms open accounts at the central bank …
Central banks … could save on printing costs if people held more bits and fewer banknotes. Digital currency would be tougher to forge, though a successful cyber-attack would be catastrophic. Digital central-bank money could even, in theory, replace cash. …
Better yet, whereas bundles of banknotes can be moved without trace, electronic payments cannot. … The technology first developed to free money from the grip of central bankers may soon be used to tighten their control.