Bitcoin roundup: users could face imprisonment

The bitcoin price has been mostly range bound at $420-455 in April and May but did hit an 18-month high of $470 (£322) on 26 April according to the Coindesk bitcoin price index, much to the delight of speculators and the wider industry in general.

However, the standout story of the past few weeks was not the price action but the old chestnut of the quest to unmask the inventor of bitcoin. On that note, it would appear that a gullible section of the media was briefly taken in by the claims of an Australian entrepreneur.

On more serious matters, contrasting attitudes from governments around the world towards digital currencies was in evidence following the news that the Russian government is considering imprisoning people who use bitcoin, while their counterparts in the West continue to warm to digital currencies - or at any rate the underlying blockchain technology.

There's been a lot of talk, if not hype, about blockchain technology in recent times, but at last some real-world applications are beginning to go live, with the reinsurance industry leading the way.

Meanwhile, a platform for building bespoke blockchains and so called 'smart contracts' - Ethereum - seems to be going from strength to strength.

LONDON REINSURERS IN BLOCKCHAIN FIRST

Blem Information Management, a provider of software to the London reinsurance market, is now using blockchain startup Z/Yen Group's technology to increase the trust and security of its XLRAS claims administration system.

Z/Yen's MetroGnomo timestamping and document retrieval system working in conjunction with its ChainZy software that can broadcast distributed ledgers to multiple locations, enhances trust in reinsurance records by proving that a given piece of information existed at a given time - perfect for allowing reinsurers to manage debt calculations on a 'transparent authoritative immutable ledger'.

Insurers purchase reinsurance contracts that entitle them to aggregate the claims on the same event made by their customers and which they have suffered losses on. Depending on the contract, a portion of the losses from the claims can be recovered from the reinsurer.

Blem's XLRAS administration system calculates claims on these 'recoverables', in other words it determines whether or not the reinsurer owes the insurer money.

This is extremely important for reinsurers to get right, so that insurer and reinsurer can divide the costs between themselves accurately, and a blockchain provides an elegant solution for recording events and claims in an immutable and transparent fashion.

Gavin Blem, managing director at Blem, commented: 'I am sure our clients will find this seamless adoption of distributed ledger capability to be comforting and useful early steps into the blockchain era.'

The ChainZy software is not displacing any of the company's current systems. Instead, it provided the opportunity to 'pluck some low-hanging fruit' given that it took less than a month to implement, what Blem describes as a 'very simple time-stamping mechanism'.

He said: 'I wouldn't wish to overstate the importance of blockchain. It is just another layer of certainty.'

ChainZy is a competing blockchain and smart contract development platform to Ethereum. Z/Yen claims its system is cheaper to deploy than Ethereum-based solutions and is not as complicated.

Blem Information Management is working with both platforms on another product, which the company is not able to talk about at this stage.

ECB BOARD MEMBER EYES BLOCKCHAIN FOR EUROSYSTEM SETTLEMENTS

Blockchain enthusiasm continues to move forward despite scepticism in some quarters as to its ultimate worth.

European Central Bank (ECB) executive board member Yves Mersch told a conference of bankers in Frankfurt that blockchain use could 'range from practical aspects such as the possible usage of DLT [distributed ledger technology] for our Eurosystem market infrastructure, to more research-driven activities like the implications of the issuance of central bank digital money'.

The Eurosystem operates the Target2 real-time settlement system that is used by the individual National Central Banks in their dealings with the ECB of each member state.

The ECB has also released a paper on distributed ledgers, suggesting it will bring 'gradual change to the securities markets'. US State Department is recommending development of blockchain technology and is urging its international partners to get on board.

Meanwhile, Bart Chilton, a former commissioner on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), bemoans the fact that the US is lagging behind Europe in preparing the regulatory ground for digital currencies and distributed ledgers.

The CFTC recently carried out blockchain testing on credit default swaps, and believes the technology has proved its merit.

AIRBNB LOOKING AT ACCEPTING BITCOIN?

Social bitcoin tipping company ChangeTip has caught the eye of accommodation sharing company Airbnb.

It has hired the majority of the startup's key personnel, suggesting that the company may have plans to integrate bitcoin payments into their business plans.

CIRCLE BRINGS FREE DOLLAR TO POUND TRANSFERS TO THE UK

In a UK first, Barclays has become the first bank to partner with a bitcoin startup. Social payments app Circle, which counts Goldman Sachs among its backers, has launched a free currency exchange service on the dollar/sterling pair.

Barclays is the first European bank to allow a bitcoin company to make use of its infrastructure.

To date most banks have kept bitcoin start-ups at arms length, often refusing to provide them with banking services, or if they do, to insist that their business relationships are kept confidential.

CRAIG WRIGHT IS THE CREATOR OF BITCOIN - OR MAYBE NOT

The big news in the bitcoin world was the announcement by Australian entrepreneur Craig Wright that he is 'Satoshi Nakamoto', the creator of bitcoin.

The claim - divulged to the BBC, The Economist and GQ - has subsequently been debunked when it transpired that Wright was unable to provide community experts with proof that he was able to sign a transaction with the original cryptographic key used by Satoshi.

Days before Wright was going to provide irrefutable proof he wiped the content from his blog, replacing it with the words 'I'm Sorry'.

He went on to explain, unconvincingly: 'I believed that I could put the years of anonymity and hiding behind me. But, as the events of this week unfolded and I prepared to publish the proof of access to the earliest keys, I broke. I do not have the courage. I cannot.'

The search for the real Satoshi Nakamoto continues.

RUSSIA PLANS TO IMPRISON BITCOIN USERS

Bloomberg reports that the Russian ministry of finance intends to introduce fines of 2.5 million rubles (£25,626) and jail sentences of up to seven years for anyone using digital currencies.

Russia's official news service, Interfax, says bitcoin 'can be used to finance the shadow economy and crimes'.

MICROSOFT JOINS THE R3 BLOCKCHAIN CONSORTIUM

Microsoft has joined the R3 consortium of financial service companies and fintech start-ups that are working together on developing interoperable blockchain solutions for the industry.

In other Microsoft news, the software company made it known that the removal of bitcoin payment options from its digital marketplace was not a new policy but in fact a software bug.

BITCOIN'S DIGITAL CURRENCY RIVAL ETHEREUM STRENGTHENS

Ethereum, the platform developed specifically to make the development and deployment of distributed ledger applications, which unlike the original bitcoin version allows the building of non-transparent 'permissioned' solutions, is going from strength to strength.

Ether, the digital currency used on the platform has risen in value by 1,100 per cent year to date. An ether is today worth $14.

AUTONOMOUS CORPORATION BECOMES SELF-AWARE

A company developed on the Ethereum platform - The DAO - has raised the equivalent of $150 million (£103 million).

The brainchild of German software developer Simon Jentzsch, the business is a vehicle for investing in other business ventures - in other words a venture capital company, but with a difference.

This company does not have a manager or group of managers running the fund. Instead, decision-making is ultimately handled by computer code. The acronym DAO stands for decentralised autonomous organisation.

The 'autonomous corporation' uses a voting system among its 18,000 stakeholders to determine which business startup ideas to invest in.

Ethereum has a market cap of $976 million (price multiplied by the number of units 'in circulation').

Jentzsch has developed another startup on Ethereum called Slock.it, that enables Airbnb accommodation renting to be fully automated and the renting out of your wifi router. The founder describes Slock.it as 'the future infrastructure of the sharing economy'.

Subscribe to Money Observer Magazine

Be the first to receive expert investment news and analysis of shares, funds, regions and strategies we expect to deliver top returns, plus free access to the digital issues on your desktop or via the Money Observer App.

Subscribe now

Add new comment