KPMG reports surge in Singapore crypto investments

KPMG’s ‘Pulse of Fintech’ report highlights the strong growth in Singapore’s crypto markets. According to the latest report, “Singapore has seen a tenfold increase in crypto-related investments last year worth $1.48 billion, up from $110 million in 2020,” and this surge is expected to continue.

Government support

It is true that the city-state has for some time been recognised as a cryptocurrency hub, with over $1.48 billion in investment completed in 2021 alone. KPMG suggests that this growth is “in part due to government efforts to stimulate the capital market.” One of the actions it has taken is the establishment of a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) listing framework that positions Singapore as the best location for firms that are growing fast, as well as unicorns, wishing to go public.

Currently, regulators are making decisive efforts to regulate what they see as speculative digital assets. However, KPMG believes that that this will not hamper Singapore’s crypto investments, and that they will continue to grow this year.

Singapore crypto market changes from services to software

Whilst it is true that in January, Singapore’s central bank ordered cryptocurrency businesses to stop advertising their services to the public, and a significant number of firms have been refused the crypto licenses needed to operate a regulated cryptocurrency business in Singapore, KPMG forecasts that growth will continue because “the majority of cryptocurrency and blockchain investments last year were focused on software and underlying infrastructure rather than services.” Indeed, this sector now accounts for a third of the total fintech investment in Singapore, which rose to $3.94 billion last year , according to KPMG.

Asia-Pacific region going strong

Another highlight of the report is that the Asia-Pacific region is doing well in general. The region saw fintech investments hit a record high of $27.5 billion in 2021, with total funding surpassing $17.4 billion in the second half alone (compared to $11.5 billion in 2020). Furthermore, in 2021, venture capital funding rose to $19.6 billion from $11.5 billion in 2020.

KPMG’s trends to watch out for in 2022

Although KPMG reports cover all world regions, these are its predictions for 2022 in the Asia-Pacific region – ASPAC:

  • Singapore growing on the radar of companies looking for a base from which to expand outside of the Asia-Pacific region;
  • growing investment from Asia-Pacific based countries into developing regions, including the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia;
  • continued growth of embedded finance, including banking and insurance.

Money in 2022

This coming year might see many changes in the financial world, especially in money itself. It’s difficult to predict how things might play out, although there have been predictions in the MSM that Bitcoin and crypto generally will crash and burn, but that seems unlikely for those of us that are more immersed in cryptocurrencies than MSM journalists and their readers.

One scenario revolves around central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). Will they be more influential this year as governments look to control digital currencies? Or will the stablecoins, such as Tether, issued by private companies rule the roost? Then there are the decentralised currencies, such as Bitcoin. Will they become the dominant force in finance?

Various factors are driving the debate around money. For example, China is rolling out its Digital Currency Electronic Payments (DCEP) project during the Winter Olympics in February. And the USA is developing regulations targeted at private issuers of stablecoins, whilst adoption of decentralized cryptocurrencies for payments continues to grow around the world.

The Regulations debate

In 2021, the US government debated crypto tax provisions in the infrastructure bill and the approval of a futures-based Bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF.) This year it is likely that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission will find ways to clarify its position on whether tokens are unregistered securities. At the same time, DeFi tokens may find themselves being included in this debate, which would be unwelcome.

The future of Ethereum

Although Ethereum still dominates DeFi, will its high gas fees for NFTs and other transactions become too expensive? It depends on the success of Ethereum 2.0. There are many big moves to be made before the full 2.0 project can be deemed a success. It has to merge its mainnet with the Beacon chain and that could disrupt token economics for miners and validators. And there are challenging upgrades within Eth 2.0, including sharding. The future of the dominant smart contracts platform depends on these going well.

Crypto and the climate

As climate change continues, crypto needs to shift the conversation away from how bad it is for the environment and towards one about mining-integrated energy systems that create incentives not only for miners to use renewable energy.

Web 3.0

Finally, there will be many discussions about Web 3. Jack Dorsey has been leading at least one discussion about its future, in which people will have greater control over their data and content. So far Web 3 is not really well defined, but there is a need to adjust our systems for managing digital property and for establishing users’ rights in this new era. We can expect this year to bring more clarity on Web 3 might be like and to get a better idea of the projects that will form part of it.

The DeFi developer running for US Congress

There is a saying, ‘If you can’t beat them, join them!’, which is apparently what Matt West from Yearn.Finance, and formerly of  MakerDao, is trying to do. The Yearn developer is running for Congress in the USA and has said that he may need the help of the decentralized finance (DeFi) community to win.

West declared his candidacy for Oregon’s newly formed 6th U.S. House district on 12th October. He holds a Ph.D from the University of Texas in chemical engineering with a focus on renewable energy, and works at tech giant Intel. Yearn is his side gig. He taught himself Solidity and won the Yearn hackathon in 2020 and lately has been working with the team from no-loss lottery protocol PoolTogether on Yearn’s stablecoin yield farming strategies.

West is the “first DeFi-literate candidate to run for office, and is certainly the first DeFi developer to launch a campaign,” according to Coindesk.

DeFi and crypto needs inside support

The fact that West is running is good news for DeFi platforms, and has been prompted by “recent actions from legislators – such as an amendment to an infrastructure bill that nearly rendered running an Ethereum node legally impossible – are out of touch and destructive.”  However, West is not just focused on protecting crypto and DeFi, he’s also campaigning to improve his state of Oregon. He told Coindesk, “My state’s constantly on fire, there’s federal overreach, there’s outside protestors like the Proud Boys coming in to start riots – it came to a breaking point.”

Messari founder to run for US Senate

He’s not the only crypto advocate to consider entering politics. Messari founder Ryan Selkis is currently threatening a 2024 run for Senate because of recent regulatory scrutiny. He tweeted in September: “If you’re wondering when I actually decided to run for Senate, it was when these fuckers came to my event, didn’t buy a ticket, and served one of the speakers a subpoena. Enough talk. More war on our out of control regulatory state.” Those who didn’t buy a ticket were from regulatory organizations, in case you’re wondering.

West to tackle crypto regulation and wider political issues

But West’s decision is more based on a broader political landscape. He says his decision to run came after he saw the crackdown on the Black Lives Matter protests. He pointed out that “individuals contributing to the crypto technology sport a variety of ideological stripes. “This isn’t a vanity project for me. I want to make a difference, and if I can’t do it like this I’ll find another way,” he said.

Now that he’s declared, however, he says he needs the community’s support and even postponed announcing his run on Twitter until his campaign and BitPay managed to overcome the legal hurdles presented by crypto donations.

He wants to be the first DeFi developer in Congress, and asks the community to help him achieve that by donating through BitPay.

He told Coindesk, “It was a big deal for me to accept crypto donations from the start of the campaign. There are a few folks who run as crypto-friendly and take donations, but as someone who is coming directly from the crypto community as a developer and contributor it wasn’t just a marketing gimmick,” he said. “I wanted to show to the crypto community that they matter to me.”

Crypto could play a vital role in Afghanistan’s future

Most of us have watched the events of August in Afghanistan with dismay. For those of us with an eye on the country’s precarious financial position, the long lines of people queuing outside banks to withdraw limited amounts of money reminds us of just how difficult life is for Afghanis right now, and there is little reason to for optimism about the future. Charles Hoskinson, the CEO of IOHK and Cardano, believes that cryptocurrencies offer a solution to the Afghan people.

In an interview with CNBC on 1st September, Hoskinson said, “ “cryptocurrencies will play a larger role in Afghanistan […] in the war for and against the Taliban forces,” not least because there is a massive need for financial privacy-preserving technologies.

Frozen assets

Let’s not forget that the bulk of Afghanistan’s reserves –around $9 billion – are actually stored in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and access to them has been frozen, a fact the Taliban only recently discovered. The World Bank and IMF have also halted access to significant sums earmarked for the country. Ajmal Ahmady, former acting governor of the Afghan central bank, Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB) reportedly had to explain to Taliban leaders that the country’s assets were not in the country, and that DAB was “reliant on obtaining physical shipments of cash every few weeks,” the Biden administration had cancelled shipments as the Taliban approached Kabul. Meanwhile a Biden administration said, “Any central-bank assets the Afghan government have in the United States will not be made available to the Taliban.”

Taliban funding

So where will the Taliban get money from? To date, the organisation is largely funded by drug money from Afghanistan’s opium poppy crops, but whilst this might have sustained them, it’s not enough money to run a government, which means there will soon be a financial crisis in a country that already depended on foreign aid to support so much of its infrastructure. Furthermore, analysts predict that the economy will collapse, with prices exploding into hyperinflation. 

The rise of crypto adoption

Which brings us back to crypto for the Afghan citizen who wishes to evade the Taliban’s attempts to track personal spending or seize their crypto assets. For example, Western Union has suspended its services in the country until further notice last week — limiting the means available to Afghani citizens seeking to transfer their assets internationally. However, there are already many organizations that have shifted to accept cryptocurrencies in an effort to facilitate funding of basic needs and medical care for the Afghan people arriving as refugees in western countries. This does not answer the needs of those left behind.

Crypto adoption appears to have been rising in Afghanistan over recent years, with the country currently ranking 20th according to Chainalysis’ 2021 Global Crypto Adoption Index. It is notable that other countries with poor financial infrastructures, such as Pakistan, Venezuela, Vietnam and the Philippines also rank high on the index.

Cryptocurrency exchanges  in Afghanistan

There are a number of cryptocurrency exchanges operating in Afghanistan, including Binance. CNBC suggests the current situation is “a perfect test case for the usefulness of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.” One young Afghan crypto trader interviewed by CNBC said he has been keeping a very close eye on his crypto portfolio on Binance, as the local currency touches record lows and nationwide bank closures make it next to impossible to withdraw cash. It doesn’t give him access to cash, in a majority cash economy, but it does give him peace of mind that some of his wealth is safeguarded against economic instability at home. It also offers him and other crypto holders access to the global economy from inside Afghanistan, as well as certain protections against spiralling inflation.

Another young trader in Kabul said he sees crypto as the safest place to park his cash. “If a government isn’t formed quickly, we might see a Venezuela-type situation here.” He isn’t alone in his thinking. Google trends data shows that web searches in Afghanistan for “bitcoin” and “crypto” rose sharply in July just before the coup in Kabul. 

It is difficult to be definitive about how crypto could help Afghanistan, and the current number of crypto owners there is well concealed by the use of VPNs, plus nobody there is talking about it loudly, because most digital currency supporters inside Afghanistan often don’t want others to know they exist. There are also multiple barriers to entry for citizens: complex on-ramping processes, low Internet access and unreliable electricity leading to daily outages. Another factor is that 85% of the country is unbanked. So people wishing to deal in crypto have to get creative, usually through international contacts. One trader said, “It’s very easy in Pakistan,” he said. “Most people have relatives in Dubai, who buy crypto for them using their credit cards.”  This situation requires a great deal of trust, because when the person wants to liquidate their crypto stake, relatives will sell it for them and use the hawala system, an honour-based system of credit common in Asia and the Middle East, to transfer the funds across the border to Afghanistan. 

At the moment the situation is so unstable that crypto traders are unable to operate, and are resigned to HODLing until a government is formed. But many of the enthusiasts are determined to teach fellow Afghans about the benefits of owning crypto, with grassroots adoption coming down to one Afghan teaching another about how cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin work. It may be some time before we see much movement in crypto in the country, but it is going to be something to watch out for and see what happens.