Despite losing one of their most noteworthy speakers in the departure of El Salvadorian President Nayib Bukele, Bitcoin Magazine’s largest event of the year has compensated with a star-studded lineup of speakers and panels that have been able to set the tone on the makeup of the types of influential figures that have thoughts on digital assets.
David Bailey, CEO of BTC Inc welcomed old and new faces alike to kick off the event, making mention of what he perceived as some of the newest groups of attendees at the conference. In his opening remarks, Bailey gave personal welcomes to the IRS, DOJ, and Department of Homeland security.
“Welcome to the biggest financial freedom conference in the world,” Bailey told the crowd.
Companies making note in the opening days of the event were Cashapp, who announced they want to “redefine” consumer relationships with Bitcoin. Their Crypto Product Lead Miles Suter spoke to attendees about how access to digital assets can help individuals who are facing existential, political, or regional crisis achieve personal and financial freedom.
“I’ve always dreamed of Bitcoin taking off with those that need it the most,” said Suter. “Those that have traditionally been left out, who have to flee war, or authoritarian states, or suffer from raging inflation.”
I saw the power that Bitcoin was having on local communities,” he continued. “I also got to observe the challenges that come with introducing bitcoin to a country where 70% is unbanked.”
Michael Saylor, the tech phenomenon who has made a name for himself among Bitcoin connoisseurs was said to draw approximately 40,000 people to hear him speak. He told the crowd that people were “dancing on my grave” when Bitcoin fell from its highest point. He even told the crowd that there was a point in time he thought he would be removed from his company.
Other speakers at the event include professional athletes Serena Williams, Odell Beckham Jr, and Strike CEO Jack Mallers. Robinhood has an announcement planned for Thursday afternoon announcement prior to a keynote speech by Peter Thiel.
Follow @deCashed on Twitter for all of the latest updates on the event.
Products and services that provide access to liquidity in blockchain holdings, primarily NFTs, are in high demand as more and more cash pours into the buying and selling of digital assets. This, complemented by the logical implications brought upon by smart contracts in the funding process, has created a peer-to-peer lending space that companies like NFTfi have developed marketplaces in that are now facilitating multi-million dollar loans.
When asked about how to balance crypto’s fundamentals of decentralization while also making an effort to actively incorporate blockchain technology into legacy financial institutions worldwide, NFTfi CEO Stephen Young told deCashed that it comes down to the digital-nativeness of the user.
According to him, despite the access marketplaces like his give to either those who are holding lots of value in NFTs and are cash poor, or those who are looking to put their digital assets to work as lenders, it’s not for everyone.
“There are certain people that more of a centralized offering is better for,” said Stephen Young, CEO of NFTfi. “If I was going to get my Mom to buy crypto, I would just tell her to buy it on Coinbase and keep it there.”
Young spoke about how many people don’t want to deal with things like digital wallets and private keys that make up crypto’s “ideologically pure” ‘decentralization’ mantra. “For my Mom, self custody is not appropriate.”
Young touched on how easy-to-use centralized platforms allow different types of financial products inspired by blockchain technology to become accessible to a larger pool of potential borrowers.
“I can see centralized institutions like Coinbase making peer to peer loans viable to users via their platform,” said Young. “With all of their normal KYC, customer support, and everything they do, but they use something like NFTfi as a settlement layer underneath that actually just executes the loans.”
With APR-based scrutiny from regulators pertaining to disclosure being a major factor in the ongoing struggle in the American small business lending space, crypto regulation’s looming presence on the horizon in the states brings lending marketplaces like NFTfi into serious question when it comes to their function in regulated space.
Despite showcasing that their record funding came with an APR of just 10%, some of the loans being processed in the NFT space have calculated APRs of well over 100%.
When asked about how to justify the fairness of a financial product that has APR percentages in the hundreds, Young spoke on the financial literacy of his customer basse, citing play-to-earn gamers who have created streams of digital incomes or NFT flippers looking to unlock liquidity as part of a broad moneymaking strategy.
“Almost all of [the borrowers] are making way more than that in return by putting that capital to work,” said Young. “Obviously it doesn’t always work out for people, but these are people using these things as financial tools as part of a broader strategy during in which that type of transaction makes sense.”
In such a new space, Young said right now his focus is on facilitating a place where those with large amounts of digital assets can best leverage them for their liquidity. ‘These people are NFT rich, and cash poor,” said Young.
When asked about long term practicality, Young hinted at the smart contract being the key facilitator and point of value in these types of financial products being widely incorporated. “[Smart contracts] allow a speed of a transaction that you can’t really do in the real world,” he said. “I think that it’s also going to allow us to involve financial products that you can use in the real world.”
iHeartMedia has announced they’re pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into buying multiple NFTs, in an effort to create an NFT-infused podcast network. Executives told Axios they plan to make “10-15 investments over the next several days” on various types of NFTs that’ll include tokens from CryptoPunks, Mutant Ape Yacht Club, and World of Women.
This isn’t the audio platform’s first dive into Web3. Back in January, the company announced an expansion into the Metaverse by committing to the launch of a token via Roblox, attempting to leverage their consumer reach of “90% of Americans every month” into engagement via their web3-infused online communities and other iHeartMedia platforms.
This is one of the largest investments into the mainstream NFT space by a legacy media company as of yet. With a history of paying big bucks in acquisitions, iHeartMedia looks to have begun to bring those same spending habits to their Web3 efforts.
Executives also told Axios that the company plans on “testing five to ten of its existing podcast shows as IP for DAOs.” Khalil Tawil, EVP of strategy at iHeartMedia, compared this leveraging of IP attempts via NFTs as a way to avoid the problems faced by comic book companies when trying to combine characters from different stories into one film or series.
“There’s no real precedent for this,” said Tawil.
The ideas from iHeartMedia on how to initially utilize their investments into Web3 are based upon creating shared virtual spaces. According to iHeartMedia, the concept is to bring together the IP from the NFTs they acquire into content that it will call the “Non-Fun Squad” universe.
Conal Byrne, CEO of iHeartMedia’s Digital Audio Group told Axios, “we can world-build for them, creating narratives around them, and bring those stories to life via podcasts.”
The first content of this network will be called the Non-Fun Podcast Network, which will feature characters from the Non-Fun Squad. Members of the squad will be characters represented by NFTs, and voiced by real people that portray the characters.
This intersection between audio-based media and digital art will be an interesting thing to watch for those looking to capitalize on the media surrounding Web3 and digital assets.
In an unprecedented move regarding regulation of digital assets, the European Union has taken steps to force companies who have “unheated” wallets to incorporate KYC protocols on large transactions.
According to a draft report from the EU, companies who operate these wallets like MetaMask, WalletConnect, Ledger, and Trezor will be required to have accurate information on senders and recipients of crypto transactions that exceed €1000.
The Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs passed the laws in an attempt to inhibit money laundering via the blockchain within the EU.
In early December, Slovenian Minister for Finance Andrej Šircelj highlighted the steps the EU had made in preventing malicious leveraging of blockchain technology. This new law is a result of that continued effort.
“Today’s agreement is an important step towards closing the gaps in our financial systems that are malevolently used by criminals to launder unlawful gains or finance terrorist activities. Crypto-assets are more and more at risk of being exploited for money laundering and criminal purposes, and I’m glad the Council could make swift progress on this urgent proposal.”
This new implementation is a lighter version of previous attempts at oversight against cryptocurrencies by the EU, as mid-March saw the rejection of a proposal by the EU to outlaw both Ethereum and Bitcoin mining in EU member nations.
The EU argues that above the money laundering potential of blockchain technology and digital assets, the carbon footprint of proof-of-work model assets like Bitcoin and Ethereum are extremely detrimental to the environment. The union has brought this argument to the table before in what some have called previous attempts to ban the proof-of-work model all together.
Ernest Urtasun, shadow a member of the European Parliament within the Greens/EFA political group told Al Jazeera after previous attempts at regulation of cryptocurrencies by the EU that the union does not intend to ban proof of work tokens altogether.
“It was not as simple as this,” said Urtasun. “Our proposal was more complex and more taking into account the need of the industry to adapt.”
Much like in the US, lack of oversight in cryptocurrencies by the EU’s lawmakers have been a major cause of hesitancy when it comes to legacy financial institutions incorporating digital assets into their products and services.
The EU’s process of enforcing specialized regulation on the existing crypto industries is without a doubt being closely watched by both the private and public playmakers in the economic and digital asset landscapes here in the states— where nothing above acknowledgement of existence of digital assets has taken place.
As government bodies attempt to tame the wild west of crypto markets around the world, the blurry line of regulation and decentralization may become the next hurdle for those attempting to incorporate digital assets in legacy finance at an international level.