JP Morgan still has Cryptophobia

It may have seemed that with the announcement of the JPM Coin, the banking giant had overcome its ‘cryptophobia’. However, I cam across a story last week that indicates it is still some way from showing crypto the love.

Cryptoraves, a company that is working on the tokenization of social media, had its bank account shut down last month by JP Morgan, without any explanation whatsoever.

In the long run, JP Morgan told them they were working in a “prohibited industry.” But that is as much information as Cryptoraves could wring out the stone that is the bank.

Cryptoraves was surprised to receive a letter saying, “After a recent review of your account, we have decided to end our relationship with you.” That is like ending a relationship by text. It is rather harsh, all the more because it doesn’t provide any reason for the break-up. Who wants a bank that treats its customers like this?

And is Cryptoraves really operating in a “prohibited industry”? Go to its website and the first thing you see is that you can get “FREE TOKENS.” People use the tokens to boost their credibility on social media. For example, a Twitter user can request free tokens and send them to other Twitter users. The tokens have no actual value, therefore they are not securities in the regulatory sense.

Cryptoraves has published an assessment of where it thinks the issue with JP Morgan arose: “We did send two wire transfers to Gemini to buy ETH and LOOM in order to cover future blockchain fees. We suspected that these transactions flagged our account, but the Chase rep would not confirm this. They would not give us a reason for the closure. We called the number in the letter and the agent told us to visit a branch for these details. Visiting our branch resulted in no other details except when our branch rep pressed the agent (yep as the primary course of action, our rep called the same phone number), they said we were operating in an ‘prohibited industry’. I guess JPM’s own blockchain department didn’t get the memo?”

Furthermore, Cryptoraves had had a 15-year relationship with the bank and praised its service. There is a suggestion that the timing of the account closure is connected to the launch of the JPM Coin, but that may just be a bit of a conspiracy theory. What is clear though is that banks are still making it difficult for crypto-related companies and crypto owners, especially when something as innocuous as a transfer can result in your account being closed.

JP Morgan surprises us with a stablecoin

When JP Morgan announced the launch of its very own stablecoin, the industry was somewhat shocked. Was this not the big bank that loathed cryptocurrencies? The move got people excited, both in traditional banking and in the crypto community. But is the JPM Coin really as big a deal as everyone seems to think it is.

Naturally, the industry pricks up its ears when JP Morgan speaks, and any of its previous explorations of the blockchain have produced similar interest. As Ben Jessel, head of enterprise blockchain at Kadena remarks, “In the last few weeks, blockchain innovation managers’ phones across Wall Street investment banks have been ringing with executives inquiring about JP Morgan’s stablecoin and how they should be responding.”

That’s because enterprise blockchain technology has been the way that big companies have sought to harness blockchain technology to meet their needs as large organisations. JP Morgan’s move has made others question what to do next — is this the time to jump in and be first in the fast-follower line?

Initially, the JPM Coin seems exciting, because it suggests that Wall Street is beginning to “blur the lines between institutional banking and the brave new world of cryptocurrency,” as Jessel suggests. But the reality is not so simple.

Faster, cheaper settlements

JP Morgan’s stablecoin seeks to solve two problems in financial markets today: the expensive and inefficient process of settlement and the volatility involved in holding money in cryptocurrency. Settlement is expensive for banks for a number of reasons: first, payments are rarely made in real-time, which means that in many cases funds that should be paid are not actually made available until the end of the day. For the banks, this means billions of dollars can be tied up and can’t be used.

Blockchain speeds the process up, making the process less expensive for banks and reducing the liquidity trap, i.e. funds being tied up in the process of settlement.

JP Morgan’s stablecoin neatly connects the dots between the aspects of settlement and volatility management by providing digital cash that can be used and enabling the ability to redeem the coin at a stable rate. This may sound like a big deal, but in fact all it means is that any counterparty would be paid by JP Morgan issuing a digital certificate. At its most fundamental, JP Morgan is promising to credit the account of a user when presented with a digital certificate that has a redemption value of a dollar.

Having said all this, JP Morgan’s new ‘Coin’ is not an insignificant development. Don’t forget, this is an industry where they still use fax machines, so in that context, the JPM Coin is actually a pretty big deal.

Is Google making the blockchain searchable?

I came across an interesting article on Forbes the other day by Michael del Castillo. He tells a story about data scientist Allen Day, a former Google employee, who while looking at some of the tools he developed there, saw something puzzling. What he saw was “a mysterious concerted usage of artificial intelligence on the blockchain for Ethereum.”

Day was able to look into its blockchain and see a “whole bunch” of “autonomous agents” moving funds around “in an automated fashion.” Although Day has no idea who created the AI, he suspects “they could be the agents of cryptocurrency exchanges trading among themselves in order to artificially inflate ether’s price.”

Day also remarked that he didn’t believe this was the work of a single exchange, but is rather a group effort. Part of Day’s job is anticipating demand for a product before it even exists, and in the light of what he has seen, he believes that making the blockchain more accessible is the next big thing.

Let’s not forget that Google made the Internet more usable, bringing it billions in revenue, and if Day is correct in his predictions it could have another major pay day by making the blockchain searchable. Del Castillo says if it does, “the world will know whether blockchain’s real usage is living up to its hype.”

Day has already been working on this with a team of open-source developers, who have been loading data for bitcoin and ethereum blockchains into Google’s big data analytics platform called BigQuery. And, with the help of lead developer Evgeny Medvedev, he created a suite of sophisticated software to search the data.

Day is hoping that his project, known as Blockchain ETL (extract, transform, load) will bring Google’s revenues from cloud computing services up to the level of Amazon and Microsoft. Google is some way behind both of them, but it will struggle to match Amazon’s revenues of $27 billion from cloud services, because Amazon has been in the blockchain game since 2018 with a suite of tools for building and managing distributed ledgers. And Microsoft got into the space in 2015, when it released tools for ethereum’s blockchain. These two companies are focused on making it easier to build blockchain apps, whereas Day wants to reveal how blockchains are actually being used, and by whom.

Day has been demonstrating how his Blockchain ETL could function by examining the hard fork that created bitcoin cash (BCH) from bitcoin. “I’m very interested to quantify what’s happening so that we can see where the legitimate use cases are for blockchain,” Day says. “Then we can move to the next use case and develop out what these technologies are really appropriate for.”

Day is now expanding beyond bitcoin and ethereum. Litecoin, zcash, dash, bitcoin cash, ethereum classic and dogecoin are being added to BigQuery.

It seems Google is waking up to blockchain and is now powering ahead by filing numerous patents related to the blockchain. The company is also encouraging its developers to build apps on the ethereum blockchain, and GV, Google’s investment division has made some investments in crypto-related startups.

Is the crypto community just smoke and mirros?

You’ve probably noticed that ‘community’ is a buzzword in the crypto sphere. There isn’t an ICO that doesn’t refer to building its ‘community’, which is really another way of talking about their investors, because that is what they are. But ‘community’ sounds warm, fuzzy and friendly when compared with the ‘investor’, which instead suggests neutrality, detachment and anonymity.

Why crypto geeks chose ‘community’

In the traditional world of business it is very important to build loyalty among clients and customers; that’s one of the functions of great branding, but the crypto startups focused on the concept of ‘community’ at the start, in my opinion because they were operating on the fringes and therefore wanted to use a word that suggested a coming together of like-minded people, as well as a sense of equality between those who developed the crypto projects and those who basically crowdfunded them.

In the early days of crypto, this rather ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’ approach served a good purpose; it strengthened belief in a new technology by making everyone feel they had skin in the game, even if an individual’s financial commitment to a new project was $100, let’s say. However, as the ICO took off and every project wanted to build followers who would buy into it, what had been a collection of believers turned into, as Michael K. Spencer writes in his article for Medium, “communities more prone to pump and dump” who were never really loyal followers.

Now crypto projects need to get real

Spencer’s argument is, and I agree with him, is that the so-called ‘communities’ built up by ICOs on Telegram and elsewhere are not as useful to projects as they were once thought to be. The reason for this is that the crypto world has moved on significantly since the launch of bitcoin. Crypto projects now need real clients and products with a real world use.

Communities show no loyalty

In short, a project’s community that has come together just for the Airdrop, or whatever freebies a project wants to hand out, is rarely loyal. These marketing tools may build numbers of followers on social media quite rapidly and make a project look as if it has broad support, but most of those people are just there for the giveaways and once they have them, they’ll be off.

Spencer says, “Crypto saying that its community is its best resource, is like Facebook saying it’s valuable because it has over 2 billion users.” Building community is not where crypto projects should be focusing; they should focus more on real world applications, demonstrate utility and by doing so attract loyal clients and investors.