ELIAN D. ALVAREZ

- VENTURE CAPITAL - ANGEL INVESTMENT -
- ENTREPRENEURSHIP - LATAM - INNOVATION -
- INVESTMENTS - PRIVATE EQUITY - FINANCE -

Should Regulators be Concerned About This Profitable Investment?

Nov
23

Although investors from around the world have shown increasing interest in the digital currency, many regulators negatively criticize Blockchain and Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). However, there has been an exception recently as Yao Loong Ng, the executive director of the Financial Market Strategy department, is encouraging the regulatory authorities around the globe to learn about cryptocurrency and ICOs. He even pointed out the fact that learning about the developments in the world of digital currency can be useful for regulators.

In a panel discussion of the South East Asian Nation Capital Markets Conference that was held in Malaysia, Ng said that it takes a lot less time to market for the ICOs as compared to IPOs (Initial Public Offerings).

IPOs can take as much as 9 months to market. This is why he believes that if the entire process of writing a white paper for ICOs and its subsequent listing is taking just a few days, then regulators certainly have something to learn from it.

 

Current Developments in Cryptocurrency

But the question is, why is there a need to regulate it? Cryptocurrencies have gained a lot of traction in the last few years and so many investors have been investing in the virtual currency. In fact, in July 2017, Alex Tapscott, Blockchain Revolution’s author, made an announcement of closing an over-subscribed financing of 20 million dollars for his digital investment funds. The hedge fund is called NextBlock Global. His opinion is that this fund has everything, including domain expertise, and market access to have a bright future.

Last year in September, Olaf Carlson also created a hedge fund of digital currencies, which had more than $200 million in Assets Under Management. Among many venture capital firms that are backing this fund, Union Square Venture, Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz are a few leading names.

Currently, the majority of the investors in the world of digital currency are either individuals with high wealth or retail investors. Institutional investors have so far shown very limited interest in cryptocurrencies. But this is not going to stay the same. In fact, the change has already started taking place. The new flow of investment by the institutional investors will give a boost to bitcoins and other altcoins by pushing its value rapidly in the upward direction due to their small market capitalization.

In times like this, it has become increasingly important to step forward. Instead of negatively criticizing the new form of currency, it’s time to embrace it and start the efforts of regulating it. Although, there has been a constant backlash from the regulators community at large, there are a few countries where authorities are working on creating regulations.

 

Regulating the Digital Currency

In Malaysia, the Security Commission has made an announcement that it is currently in the process of preparing guidelines and regulations on how these currencies should function, which includes secondary market trading of established digital assets and currencies.

Tan Sri Ranjit Singh, the chairman of the commission said that they are working closely with the central bank of Malaysia to develop a framework on cryptocurrencies. He further added that it will take a few months for the framework to complete. He also mentioned that they are observing it very carefully and since the Security Commission control and regulate the secondary market, they will design the rules and regulations in such a way that there is a right condition in place for trading values in order to secure market integrity. This is also being done for providing the projection to investors.

 

Regulatory Efforts

A consultant at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, Munish Sharma, talked about the dilemma faced by most regulators, especially when it comes to the existence of this new technology in the highly regulated space. He said that digital currency has gained a lot of investors’ attention in the past 5 years, but at the same time, there have been growing concerns among the financial institutions’ regulators around the world.

Instead of just letting the digital currency grow without any interference or regulation, governments of various countries are brainstorming with the regulators on how to regulate these virtual currencies.

Rising Trend of Initial Coin Offerings

Nov
09

According to a report by Mangrove Capital, 204 ICOs have made a return of about 1,320 percent.

At the same time, investment banks and hedge funds have shown increasing interest in the digital currency with over 55 crypto-specific hedge funds. Before diving deep into why investors are showing greater interest in cryptocurrency, let’s take a look at what ICO is.

 

What is ICO?

Unlike conventional financial system, ICO or Initial Coin Offering is an alternative and unconventional way of crowdfunding. It has enabled a number of successful firms and projects to get the finance to start their business. New businesses and startups around the globe are getting millions of dollars in funds by issuing digital coins. The rising trend of digital currency has made people both worried and excited.

In ICO, the coins bought by investors are for businesses and marketplaces that are not developed yet. By purchasing these coins, they make a bet that a firm or startup will end up becoming successful and as a result, the coin will increase in value.

In average it takes about six months or a year to raise money with conventional venture capital (VC) system, but it is different when it comes to ICOs. In this token crowdfunding, you get to have a large crowd of engaging supporters who want to see you succeed. Not only do they campaign for you, but they are also your early adopters.

 

Growing Trend of ICO

Startups have raised more than 2 billion dollars since the start of 2017. It is a huge amount of funding, given the fact that not many people knew about it a few years ago. Businesses are making money via this mode of funding faster than usual.

In April this year, Gnosis (prediction market for Ethereum) managed to raise 12 million dollars in just ten minutes. In June, Mozilla’s founder raised 35 million dollars by selling Basic Attention Tokens in under 30 seconds for his new web browser startup called ‘Brave’.

ICOs have become the name of the game as they have left the venture capital market behind and are the biggest source of funding. It is a great option for those companies that are pursuing the application of blockchain technology.

 

Concerns by the Regulators

Despite the increasing trends of ICOs, regulators have shown serious concerns. They are warning investors that it is a high-risk investment.

Although, some coins value has dramatically increased, a very high volatility cannot be ignored. Some have also considered it a ‘speculative boom’, but that did not stop investment banks and hedge funds from showing their interest by making an investment in cryptocurrencies and ICOs.

 

Reason behind the Increasing Interest of Institutional Investors in ICOs

The digital currency market has made massive profits in the past one year or so. Initially, institutional investors were curious about what this is all about, but they started getting a hang of it gradually and became less apprehensive and more interested in this alternative investment. It is a kind of chain reaction that started with the rising interest among venture capitalists and now institutional investors, including mutual funds, investment banks, and hedge funds are following their lead. They have shown growing interest and are making an effort to estimate and grab the opportunities in the cryptocurrency market.

The reason why they are more interested in the new and unconventional currency is that it promises a higher return as compared to market averages. According to a fintech analytics firm, there have been at least 55 cryptocurrency hedge funds and a former manager at Fortress, Mike Novogratz, has recently announced a plan to use 500 million dollars for a new digital currency hedge fund. Blockchain Capital also made an announcement of raising 150 million dollars; a part of this fund will be for cryptocurrencies.

 

Goldman Sachs’ Approval

Goldman Sachs is planning to set up a bitcoin trading desk, as they believe that institutional investors are interested in cryptocurrency more than ever. The firm has reported it to be ‘a major milestone’. They believe that the investors need an over-the-counter brokerage platform where they can sell or buy as much cryptocurrency as they want. Goldman Sachs is of the opinion that it can take up this role, but there will be other issues, including market infrastructure and serious concern by the regulators.

 

If, however, ICOs becomes regulated, it will change the way how businesses raise money and will also impact the venture capital market.

ICOs Surpassed Early Stage Venture Capital Funding

Sep
15

New startups that raised funds through Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) have now surpassed the early stage VC Funding for internet firms.

But before diving into it, it is important to know what ICOs are.

 

What is Initial Coin Offerings?

This is another way of raising cash.

Cryptocurrency and blockchain startup companies raise capital through ICOs by selling tokens of investors in exchange for equity funds. It is somewhat the same as Initial Public Offering in which stocks are issued in exchange for equity. Just like crowdfunding, ICOs provide a way to get funds from users by enabling them to have a share of the business. They get digital currency in exchange for the money they invest in the business.

 

Rising Popularity of ICOs and VC Funding

ICOs have gained massive popularity in the last few months among blockchain and cryptocurrency startups. In April this year, the total capital raised via these offerings was around $100 million and in May, the amount went up to about $250 million. The month of June turned out to be the biggest surprise when the total funding exceeded $550 million. According to Goldman Sachs, it was the first time that it performed better than seed and angel venture capital funding. Early stage and angel venture capital funding was less than $300 million in June.

In July, the offerings were a little more than $300 million, whereas, early stage and angel funding was just a bit higher than $200 million.

 

Popularity Among the Celebrities

ICOs have become so popular that even the celebrities, including Paris Hilton and Floyd Mayweather, have started jumping on board. In fact, Paris has been involved in it for over a year now and also met the COO of Ethereum last year.

 

Total Value of ICOs in 2017

The total value raised by 92 ICOs in 2017 is $1.25 billion. This is a really good number, given the recent boom of such offerings in the VC sector. There are so many firms that have used these offerings to raise money. For example, Tezos managed to get the capital of over $200 million by creating a new blockchain, whereas, another firm, Bancor secured $153 million via ICO.

 

Criticism and Scrutiny from Regulators

Despite the boom, this phenomenon has been under severe criticism and scrutiny from regulators and other authorities. For example, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) released a statement in which it was mentioned that these offerings are exposed to money laundering and other terrorist financing risks, because the nature of these transactions remains anonymous. Another concern raised by the MAS was the collection of large amounts of capital in such a short time frame, which makes ICO vulnerable to high-level risk.

On the other hand, the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) said in July this year that the security law of the U.S. will be applicable to this cryptocurrency. The experts are also showing concern over its legitimacy. They have highlighted that the sale of a cryptographic token makes the investor entitled to a certain share of profit in the firm, which can be considered as a violation of financial rules and regulations. The People’s Bank of China and a lot of other government departments have released a joint statement that people and firms that have raised money through ICO should also make arrangements to return that capital.

 

Firms Facing Increasing Risk of Getting Hacked

Despite all the boom and criticism, the risk of ICOs cannot be ruled out. A clear example of this is CoinDash that initiated an ICO, but ended up getting hacked in July. As a result, all of its funds got stolen. Although, it has gained popularity in the past few months, yet, the risks cannot be ruled out entirely.

 

Future of ICOs

The Chief Information Officer of UBS, Oliver Bussman, raised his concern and said that strict regulations and measures, as applied to IPO businesses, are required in ICO to safeguard the interest of investors. However, he is quite confident about this new mode of raising funds and expressed that such offerings will continue to happen in future. He said that as a new business model that is benefiting the blockchain technology, ICO will continue to sustain by combining hybrid equity ownership/currency and crowd funding.