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CBDC Settlement System in Full Force in Russia and the EU

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Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC) implementation continues to see new development in 2023. From Europe to Russia, all have taken significant steps to fasten the process. But at what costs? 

Over ninety percent of central banks worldwide are working on Central Bank Digital Currencies or CDBCs. Regions have focused on steady development, from Africa to China, for smooth CBDC deployment.  

Europe, in particular, has been rushing to roll out its digital euro. Its second and most recent progress report, titled “Progress on the investigation phase of a digital Euro,” was published towards the end of last year. The European Central Bank (ECB) shared an accelerated timeline vis-à-vis its Sept. 2022 report.

Digital Euro project timeline
Source: ECB

The 2023 Update: Digital Euro CBDC

ECB has been actively exploring a digital euro since October 2021. This was shortly before the crypto market peaked, which is not coincidental. The ECB has explicitly stated that it sees stablecoins as competition. The ECB has actively discussed developing its digital euro with public and private entities. 

Source: YouTube

This digital euro scheme is stated to start to be drafted at present, that is, in Jan. 2023. The European Commission intends to propose a regulation establishing a digital euro in the second quarter of 2023. Even has begun legislative preparations. This means that the digital euro could become live in the next few years.

Further, the report shares a few possible designs for the digital euro. Refraining from resorting to peer-to-peer transactions, the ECB wants most digital euro transactions to involve an intermediary, mainly the big banks. However, the ECB will ultimately control the issuance and settlement of the digital euro. Further, asserting that the intermediaries will act as user-facing side apps, websites, or wallets.

While privacy remains a top priority for many users regarding CDBCs, the ECB has claimed that complete anonymity is impossible with the digital euro. Not just because of crime. But if the digital euro is anonymous, people could protect their purchasing power by holding lots of CDBC. This is something the ECB doesn’t want for financial stability reasons. 

For everyday use, the digital euro scheme requires every merchant in the Eurozone to not only accept payments in digital euros. But also can pay employees in digital euros. It also requires that digital euros be made accessible to people without access to digital payments.

CBDC Update in Russia

Across the border, Russia is exploring two possible cross-border CBDC settlement models this quarter. This was in response to the sanctions placed on it due to the ongoing war with Ukraine. The Bank of Russia shared a presentation with Kommersant, a local media outlet. Essential insights were shared with BeInCrypto over Telegram. 

Digital Rouble Implementation as sanctions endure
Source: Kommersant

Herein, the proposal presents two models that can be taken as a basic version. However, skeptics believe that the technological capabilities and the geopolitical situation will likely keep these models a concept of a distant future. 

The initiative is a part of the broader digital ruble project. It aims to build a digital currency that will coexist with cash and non-cash rubles. Unlike virtual currencies such as bitcoin, the digital ruble is projected to pose a minimal risk. Mainly as it will be issued by the state monetary regulator and backed by traditional money. 

Two Routes to Look Into

The report shows that the two cross-border CBDC models differ in operation and currency transfer modes. The first model relies on one-on-one bilateral agreements between countries on integrating digital currency platforms among themselves. This would require individual country platforms to facilitate the conversion and transfer of formats between countries according to agreed rules and standards. 

The second option adopts a more centralized approach. Herein, each county’s individual platform will be connected to a single integration platform. This will act as a facilitator of payments between digital currency platforms based on unified protocols and standards developed. The integrated platform will serve as a hub, and a star will connect the individual platforms. 

Russia Central Bank Digital Currency CBDC

The first model presents a more straightforward solution. Whereas the second model ensures transparency since all countries would be connected to a central entity. Roman Prokhorov, Chairman of the Board of the Association of Financial Innovations (AFI), acknowledges, 

“The implementation of cross-border settlements using the Central Exhibition Center will depend on the readiness, not so much of the Russian side. Here our jurisdiction to promote the CECB project is confidently in second place after China but on the readiness of our partners”

Practically, the two-way settlement scheme would be implemented initially, beginning with China, considering the technological and political readiness. The multi-party approach seems a futuristic concept, considering global scrutiny over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But apart from the geographical tension, CBDCs, in general, do pose some risks. 

Concerns to Consider

BeInCrypto extensively covered problems regarding CBDCs, which can be weaponized as a total state surveillance and control tool. Different policy analysts have said otherwise, despite attempts to incorporate privacy in the CBDC. Last year in a Nov. 28 report, Nick Anthony asserted that: 

“A CBDC would most likely be the single largest assault on financial privacy since the creation of the Bank Secrecy Act and the establishment of the third-party doctrine.”  

Nevertheless, authorities continue to take steps to implement CBDC control whatsoever. Now, 2023 can be a crucial era to understand the practical implementations of CBDCs. 

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US Treasury Sanctions Hit Russian Arms Dealer’s Crypto Wallets

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The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has imposed full blocking sanctions on 22 individuals and entities across several countries, including Russia and Cyprus, as part of its sanctions evasion network that supports Russia’s military-industrial complex.

The sanctions were imposed under Executive Order 14024 and are part of the U.S.’s strategy to target sanctions evasion globally, close key channels, and limit Russia’s access to revenue for its war in Ukraine.

US Treasury Goes After Russian Arms Dealer’s Cryptos

The U.S. Treasury’s sanctions were imposed by the Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs (REPO) Task Force, a multilateral effort to identify, freeze, and seize assets of sanctioned Russians worldwide. This task force leverages information from international REPO partners and key data from Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to share information, track Russian assets, and sever Russian proxies from the international financial system.

The REPO Task Force aims to maximize the impact of multilateral sanctions while preventing opportunities for Russia to evade or circumvent U.S. and partner sanctions.

The primary target of the sanctions is a Russian sanctions evasion network led by Russia and Cyprus-based arms dealer Igor Zimenkov and his son Jonatan Zimenkov. The Zimenkov network has been involved in projects related to Russia’s defense capabilities, including supplying a Russian company with high-tech devices after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. They have also supported sanctioned state-owned Russian defense entities, Rosoboroneksport OAO and State Corporation Rostec, which are critical components of Russia’s military-industrial complex.

Igor and Jonatan Zimenkov have worked closely together to enable Russian defense sales to third-party governments and have engaged directly with Rosoboroneksport’s potential clients to facilitate sales of Russian defense material. Igor Zimenkov has also supported the Belarusian military-industrial complex by enabling the sales efforts of State Owned Foreign Trade Unitary Enterprise Belspetsvneshtechnika in Latin America.

Today, Igor Zimenkov was designated for operating in the defense and related materiel sector of the Russian Federation economy, while Jonatan Zimenkov was designated for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for Igor Zimenkov, Rosoboroneksport, and other sanctioned entities.

The Zimenkov network used front companies to funnel money and maintain a lawful appearance. Singapore-based Zimenkov network shell company Asia Trading & Construction PTE Limited and its director, Serena Bee Lin Ng, have sold helicopters to clients in Africa on behalf of the Zimenkov network. Additionally, Cyprus-based Zimenkov network shell company Lobster Management Limited and its director, Mikhail Petrov, have facilitated sanctions evasion by providing support to sanctioned entities.

The Treasury’s OFAC continues to work with its international partners to coordinate information sharing and enforcement and to travel the world in pursuit of sanctions evasion. The sanctions imposed today are a clear signal to Russia and its military-industrial complex that the U.S. and its partners are committed to tightening sanctions enforcement and preventing the evasion of international sanctions.

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BeInCrypto has reached out to company or individual involved in the story to get an official statement about the recent developments, but it has yet to hear back.



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Digital Wallet Growth Will Enable More Closed-Loop Transactions

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Crypto and fintech investment firm Ark Invest has made bold predictions about digital wallets, estimating that more than half the world will soon be using at least one.

In its Jan. 31 ‘Big Ideas 2023’ research report, Ark Invest revealed that digital wallet global population penetration is currently 40%. This equates to around 3.2 billion users, the firm added.

However, the research suggests that the number of online wallet users will increase at an annual rate of 8%. The firm predicted that this will result in a global population penetration of 65% by 2030:

“Having onboarded billions of consumers and millions of merchants, digital wallets could transform the economics associated with traditional payment transactions, saving them nearly $50 billion in costs.”

It also noted that digital wallets were gaining market share in online and offline transactions. Cash is definitely in decline, accelerated by government initiatives to go digital, as recently seen in Nigeria.


Payment method trends - Ark Invest
Payment method trends – Ark Invest

Digital Wallet Growth to Continue

Ark reported that digital wallets were scaling faster than accounts at traditional financial institutions. Furthermore, U.S. digital wallet adoption rebounded in 2022, surpassing previous highs following a COVID-induced dip.

The firm estimates that U.S. digital wallet users will increase by 7% annually during the next eight years. This will be a growth of around 160 million in 2022 to more than 260 million by the end of the decade.

Digital wallet user growth - Ark Invest
Digital wallet user growth – Ark Invest

Furthermore, online wallets are enabling “closed-loop” ecosystems. This is where consumers and merchants can transact directly, cutting out the middleman. 

“Digital wallets are onboarding millions of merchants to platforms that enable direct consumer-merchant transactions that disintermediate traditional financial institutions,” it noted.

In this closed-loop environment, wallet providers capture more value per transaction, enabling savings to be shared with merchants and consumers.

Open and Closed Lopp transactions - Ark Invest
Open and Closed Lopp transactions – Ark Invest

Additionally, Ark noted that closed-loop transactions could boost the margin structure of wallet providers.

It used Block Inc. (formerly Square) as an example, stating that it paid around 60% of customer transaction fees to third parties in 2022. The fees were paid for interchange, assessment, processing, and bank settlement fees. Block’s net take rate could more than double if customers transacted directly with merchants.

Block Inc. fee structure - Ark Invest
Block Inc. fee structure – Ark Invest

Closed Loop Transactions Could Top 50%

Finally, Ark predicted that these closed-loop transactions could account for over 50% of digital payments by 2030.

It used China as an example where wallets and merchants are largely internal or domestic only.

Closed loop cost savings - Ark Invest
Closed loop cost savings – Ark Invest

In conclusion, digital wallet growth is set to continue. Cutting out the intermediary which they facilitate is beneficial to both the consumer and merchant.

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Strike Launches Lightning Remittances in the Philippines

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Bitcoin fintech giant Strike rolled out its Lightning Network money transfer service Send Globally in the Philippines, a $35 billion remittance market.

Send Globally launched in the Southeast Asian country on Jan. 31, 2023, enabling businesses and tourists to receive international money transfers in the Philippine peso. The country receives $35 billion in remittances globally.

How Strike’s Send Globally Service Works

“Remittances are a broken system and Strike delivers an incredibly empowering experience for people to send money around the world in nearly an instant,” Strike CEO Jack Mallers said.

According to a press release, Strike’s remittance service converts a sender’s fiat into Bitcoin and sends the Bitcoin to a Strike partner in the destination country using the Lightning Network, which in the case of the Philippines, is Pouch.ph. Pouch.ph then converts the Bitcoin to the recipient’s fiat currency and credits their bank or mobile money account, with Strike shielding both parties from the tax implications of handling Bitcoin directly.

Bitcoin’s Lightning Network is a layer-two solution on the Bitcoin blockchain that allows micropayments between nodes over a payment channel. Unlike traditional payment networks, Lightning’s low fees enable almost zero-cost remittances.

Recently, Mallers announced a trial to bring Bitcoin Lightning Network payments to retailers through a partnership with Fiserv’s point-of-sale solution Clover Commerce. The trial allows any application with Lightning capability to pay Bitcoin for goods and services at Clover merchants.

Philippine Smartphone and Internet Adoption Auger Well for Strike

Send Globally rolled out to Strike users in Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya on Dec. 6, 2022, where it has reportedly gained rapid traction.

However, mainstream adoption in the Philippines will depend heavily on network effects, driven by smartphone and internet penetration.

According to Statista, the number of smartphone users will increase from 85 million in 2022 to 87 million by 2023. Additionally, forecasts suggest smartphone users will increase to 91.5 million in 2025, representing roughly 83% of the island nation’s population.

Smartphone Adoption in the Philippines
Smartphone Adoption in the Philippines | Source: Statista

Additionally, Statista predicts that about three-quarters of the population will have internet access by the end of 2023. Growing internet access increases the chance of Strike’s success, since it helped drive adoption of crypto game Axie Infinity.

For Be[In]Crypto’s latest Bitcoin (BTC) analysis, click here.

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BeInCrypto has reached out to company or individual involved in the story to get an official statement about the recent developments, but it has yet to hear back.



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