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Major Chinese Financial News Provider Quietly Adds Crypto Index

Sina Finance, financial website owned by China’s major tech firm Sina Corp, silently launched crypto index on its mobile app.

Sina Finance, a finance-focused website owned by China’s major tech company Sina Corp, has added crypto index into its mobile app, China-focused online Twitter resource Cnledger reported on July 3.

The new index on China’s major financial news channel provides data on prices and performance of major cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin (BTC), bitcoin cash (BCH), litecoin (LTC), XRP, and ether (ETH), according to a mobile app screenshot provided by Cnledger.

Screenshot of Sina Finance’s Crypto Index on Mobile

Screenshot of Sina Finance’s Crypto Index on Mobile. Source: Cnledger

The new crypto index is only available on the Sina Finance’s mobile app, but not its desktop version, as Chinese tech news outlet TechNode reports on July 4. According to the report, the new feature also provides the latest news in the industry.

Sina has reportedly not issued a public announcement on the issue to date.

China has been known for its anti-crypto stance towards cryptocurrencies since late 2017, when the country banned both bitcoin trading and initial coin offerings (ICOs). Most recently, Chinese popular social media and payment operator WeChat banned crypto transactions as a part of its payments policy, which envisions the termination of accounts involved in crypto trading.

Alongside, Chinese authorities suggested a potential elimination of crypto mining in the country in April 2019, with the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) having included crypto mining as part of its draft for revised list of industrial activities that agency plans to shut down due to regulatory or ecological reasons, among others.

Meanwhile, as much as 73% of Chinese enterprises believe that the underlying technology of cryptocurrencies, blockchain, is a top-five strategic priority, as reported on June 27.

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Ripple Incubator Xpring Announces $500 Million Invested in XRP Projects

Ripple’s investments arm Xpring reports that it has invested around $500 million on XRP initiatives so far.

Ripple incubator and investment arm Xpring has spent $500 million on XRP projects since its launch in May 2018, according to an official blog post on July 2.

These funds have reportedly been distributed to over 20 companies, including the blockchain-based gaming platform Forte.

In general, the report says that Xpring investments are intended to create use cases for Ripple’s XRP token. They hope to accomplish this by making development easier, and say they are supporting developers by providing “tools, libraries and services for developers on the XRP Ledger and Interledger protocols.”

Additionally, Xpring is reportedly taking a two-pronged approach to creating more use cases, through infrastructure development and innovative projects. As examples of infrastructure development, they cited a contribution to the XRP Ledger and Interledger protocols, i.e. the native Ripple ledger and a protocol for blockchain interoperability.

The announcement briefly notes that Xpring is also focused on decentralized finance, and will look to invest in crypto-based solutions for aspects of finance like debt and derivatives.

As previously reported by Cointelegraph, ex-Facebook Developer Network director Ethan Beard was appointed as the Senior Vice President of Xpring and Ripple’s developer program. It was also noted that Ripple would finance Xpring, although Xpring would operate independently from Ripple.

On July 2, former Ripple executive Catherine Coley was hired as the CEO of BAM Trading Services, the operator of Binance US — a new, United States-exclusive branch of Binance. Coley previously worked as a liquidity management expert at Ripple from 2017 to 2019, with the recent title of Head of XRP Institutional Liquidity.

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UN Looks to Blockchain to Aid Sustainable Urban Development in Afghanistan

The UN is developing blockchain solutions for development in Afghanistan.

The United Nations is working on blockchain solutions for sustainable urban development in Afghanistan, according to a report from tech news site The Sociable, published on July 2.

Stephane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General reportedly told The Sociable that the United Nations Office of Communication and Information Technologies (UN-OICT) is developing blockchain solutions for land records and services transparency as part of the UN’s “City for All” initiative. 

The UN’s “City for All” program began in 2016 with a charter set to continue through 2020 and aims to advance 12 of Afghanistan’s cities, including the capital, Kabul. The initiative anticipates Afghanistan’s population becoming majority urban within the next 15 years. Its three stated priorities are effective land management, strategic urban planning, and improved municipal finance.

The new move to experiment with blockchain technology to solve Afghanistan’s infrastructural challenges is the product of a recent memorandum of understanding between the UN-OICT and UN-Habitat, the latter of which is responsible for technical support on “City for All.”

Per the memorandum, the two offices of the UN are looking to expand collaboration across South Asia and to work on “the development of emerging technology tools and digital platforms for urban design and planning.”

The UN has previously used blockchain in development in such areas as health services in East Africa, as Cointelegraph reported in December 2018, and to establish a blockchain-based credit bureau in Sierra Leone at the UN’s General Assembly in September 2018.

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Kraken Raises Over $13 Million In Its Latest Fundraising Round

San Francisco-based cryptocurrency exchange Kraken has raised over $13.5 million in financing on online investment platform BnkToTheFuture.

San Francisco-based cryptocurrency exchange Kraken has raised over $13 million in financing on online investment platform BnkToTheFuture.

Kraken has raised $13.5 million from 2264 investors, surpassing its initial target of $10.2 million purportedly due to popular demand. The fundraising campaign of Kraken — which has over four million clients in nearly 200 countries — is the most successful funding round by individual contributors on BnkToTheFuture.

As previously reported, Kraken raised over $6 million in the first day of the campaign from almost 300 investors. On BnkToTheFuture, Kraken describes itself as the only regulated spot and futures cryptocurrency exchange with over $85 billion in trading volume in 2018 alone, making its compound annual growth rate of 387%.

In recent months, Kraken has made some developments in security and international expansion. In late March, the exchange announced that two-factor authentication (2FA) is now mandatory for the exchange’s users. The measure is part of a broader set of changes included in its security features roadmap that spans “into 2020 and beyond,” but which is currently unavailable to the public .

Kraken acquired United Kingdom futures provider Crypto Facilities earlier this year in a move which produced significantly heightened interest in its products. Crypto Facilities, which began operating in 2015, is fully regulated by the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority, giving Kraken a major foothold in the European market.

Kraken is currently the 33rd-largest crypto exchange in terms of adjusted trading volume, according to CoinMarketCap. The exchange’s daily trading volume is around $326.3 million, with 74 crypto markets on offer.

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Visa Set to Join the Expanding Field of Blockchain-Based International Payment Providers

Visa launches a blockchain-based centralized payment settlement service for international business transactions, challenging USC and Ripple.

Visa has launched a payment system for business-to-business (B2B) transactions partially based on blockchain technology. The United States payment behemoth says its platform, called Visa B2B Connect, offers seamless cross-border payment processing for institutional clients without going through the complex web of third-party intermediaries.

In doing so, Visa becomes the latest entrant into the blockchain-based payment processing arena. This move brings the company into direct competition with cryptocurrency startups like Ripple and mainstream players, such as Barclays and BNY Mellon with their Utility Settlement Coin (USC) project under the aegis of the Fnality Consortium.

Visa B2B Connect — three years in the making

Visa first announced plans to build a blockchain-based network for business payments back in 2016. At the time, the credit/debit card payment giant said the service would be developed in partnership with blockchain startup Chain.

According to a statement issued by the former executive president for strategic partnerships and innovation, Jim McCarthy:

“The time has never been better for the global business community to take advantage of new payment technologies and improve some of the most fundamental processes needed to run their businesses. We are developing our new solution to give our financial institution partners an efficient, transparent way for payments to be made across the world.”

Visa’s initial timeline included a pilot launch in 2017, but the company had to navigate a more complicated route than initially envisaged. The company replaced Chain as its partner on the project, electing instead to go with fintech firm FIS, e-payment operator Bottomline Technologies and IBM.

Starting in 2017, the company began to announce job vacancies for crypto and blockchain experts to work on a new payment gateway. In March 2019, the company also published another job listing for specialists in crypto payment solutions.

Three years on, Visa has finally gone ahead with the launch of its payment service, which promises near-real-time settlement for B2B transactions. In a blog post published by Visa on June 11, the company described its platform as the answer to the issues plaguing cross-border transactions for businesses.

An excerpt from the company’s statement reads:

“Visa B2B Connect takes a different approach, turning weeks into one to two days. The non-card-based platform — the first of its kind — removes friction from the process by expediting transactions directly from the origin bank to the beneficiary bank — no intermediaries necessary.”

Simplifying interbank transactions for businesses

According to the company, the newly developed system aims to simplify the process of business payments around the world, eliminating the convoluted transaction flow process involved in interbank settlements for commercial payments.

Kevin Phalen, head of Visa’s Global Business Solutions, hailed the project as one capable of establishing a new paradigm for international business payments. “With Visa B2B Connect, we are making commercial payments quicker and simpler, while enhancing transparency and consistency of data,” Phalen declared.

Transaction Flow Process

In the June 11 launch announcement, the company revealed that the Visa B2B Connect platform is now available in 30 markets across the globe. Visa has plans to triple the reach of the service, making the platform operational in 90 markets around the world before the end of 2019.

From a technology standpoint, the platform isn’t a fully realized blockchain network. Rather, Visa B2B Connect takes certain elements of distributed ledger technology (DLT) to create an interbank network for business transaction settlement. The development team utilized the open-source Hyperledger blockchain base layer, created by the Linux Foundation.

Details released by Visa show that the platform is a non-card-based network made up of companies and participating banks. It allows businesses to transact directly with one another across the globe via their banks, with the Visa B2B Connect acting as the single connection between all transacting entities.

In a phone interview with Cointelegrah, Marta Piekarska, director of Hyperledger ecosystem at the Linux Foundation, explained the role of the company in the project, saying:

“We [Linux Foundation] provide the base layer on top of which developers can build their projects. Visa has integrated with the Hyperledger Fabric 1.0 to create the B2B Connect platform. They [Visa] partnered with IBM to implement the payment technology infrastructure.”

In legacy interbank transactions, there can be as many as three third-party intermediaries, each with their own fees and contribution to the throughput time of the process. Rather than a settlement occurring in 24 to 48 hours, interbank payments for business can take much longer.

A typical flow process for a payment transaction from Company A in Country Y to Company B in Country Z would look like the image below.

Legacy Banking Infrastructure Vs. Visa B2B

First, the funds move from Company A’s bank to a domestic correspondent bank (the first link in the intermediary chain). The next “handshake” involves a transfer to the main transaction authenticator (the second link in the intermediary chain) — which is most likely a regional clearing house — before arriving at the account held by the foreign correspondent bank in Country Z. Finally, the funds will move to the Company B’s bank account.

The Visa B2B Connect platform eliminates unnecessary handshake procedures and replaces them with a centralized service that connects companies and their banks across the world. Aside from reducing cost and throughput time for interbank payments, Visa says its platform solves the problem of inconsistencies in the flow of data.

By employing elements of DLT, the payments giant believes Visa B2B Connect creates an infrastructure with immutable record-keeping capabilities. If this proves true, participating businesses can utilize the predictable cost matrix inherent in the system to improve upon the accuracy of their cost and budgeting documentation. Furthermore, the system will have all the fee calculations indicated before the commencement of each transaction.

According to Visa, the new service even provides far greater payment flexibility for “one-to-many” business transactions. In such instances, Company A would wish to transfer funds to multiple businesses around the world at the same time. With so many participants involved, the usual flow process would become even more convoluted with a geometric increase in the number of intermediaries and handshakes involved.

However, with the Visa B2B Connect system, the company would need only interface with a centralized platform that handles the disbursement of payments to the receiving entities in the different banks across the globe. Participants will also be able to track the progress of the transactions in real-time, which could vastly improve the transparency of international business payments.

Blockchain technology in cross-border payments

Visa is the latest mainstream actor in the payment processing arena to announce a product that utilizes DLT in its settlement infrastructure. At the start of the year, JPMorgan Chase (JPM) unveiled the launch of its blockchain-based platform for institutional payment settlements.

As reported by Cointelegraph at the time, the U.S. banking giant also plans to launch its own cryptocurrency, dubbed “JPM Coin,” which will serve as a stablecoin facilitator of transactions between major corporations. Reports also indicate that the early iterations of the project will involve internal settlements between JPM clients.

The decision by the Wall Street behemoth struck a chord across the industry, given the sentiments previously espoused by its CEO, Jamie Dimon. Back in 2017, Dimon infamously characterized bitcoin as a fraud.

Apart from JPM, banking giants from Japan, Europe and the U.S. recently launched the Fnality Consortium with a $63 million Series A funding round. Fnality will utilize a system of USCs to facilitate cross-border payments involving many of the major fiat currencies in the world today.

Related: Bank to Basics: USC Project Seeks to Disrupt Traditional Wholesale Banking

The USC project extends even beyond payment settlement, as it aims to establish a network of blockchain-powered distributed Financial Market Infrastructures (dFMIs). These dFMIs will allow for full-spectrum value exchange transactions.

Much like Visa B2B Connect, the USC project has been four years in the making, and reports indicate that the system will be up and running by mid-2020. Some of the major banks involved in the project include some big companies, as seen below.

Fnality Stakeholders

However, not everyone believes that decentralized technology can disrupt the global payments arena. Tweeting on June 14, Henry Blodget, the CEO of Business Insider, maintained that the legacy digital payment systems worked fine and do not need to be replaced with cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. For Blodget, decentralized technology could find some application in cross-border payments, but beyond that, the mainstream avenues were still the more superior technology.

Serious competition for Ripple?

Given the target markets of these newly emerging payment networks, there is a question of whether these projects might constitute serious competition for cryptocurrency startup Ripple. Since it began operations, Ripple has consistently reiterated its intention of becoming the de facto global standard for international payment processing.

Ripple continues to sign partnerships with banks across the globe, encouraging the use of not only its ledger and payment products, but also the XRP cryptocurrency — in so, boosting its utility. With Wall Street banks and major corporations entering the blockchain-based payments arena, Ripple could face increasing competition for relevance in the evolving digital payments arena. It is, however, too soon to say which company will establish dominance when the landscape becomes fully realized.

The question could ultimately be decided by the strength of the technology offered by these different projects. Settlement layers that offer faster, cheaper, more efficient and more secure payment environments should see increased patronage, irrespective of the pedigree of the companies offering the technology.

For example, the Visa B2B Connect platform promises transaction settlement in 24 to 48 hours. This throughput time is significantly slower than that being offered by SWIFT’s Global Payment Initiative (GPI), which settles payments within an average of 24 hours.

Still, even SWIFT, the international payment network, has its sights set on blockchain technology adoption to further improve the operational capabilities of its GPI. In January, SWIFT announced a partnership with R3 to develop a blockchain-powered upgrade to its GPI technology in the hopes of further reducing the throughput time for international payments.

On the Ripple ledger, the average settlement time is around four seconds, and it can handle close to 1,500 on-chain transactions per second. Ripple also charges significantly lower fees — even when compared to other blockchain networks — with a median transaction cost of about $0.0004.

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Brazilian BTC Exchange Faces Numerous Lawsuits From Clients Unable to Access Funds

Bitcoin Bank Group faces numerous lawsuits from customers unable to withdraw funds from its cryptocurrency exchange, BBG claims delays are due to malicious activity.

Clientele from multiple states in Brazil have filed lawsuits against bitcoin (BTC) investments firm Bitcoin Bank Group for inaccessible crypto funds, according to a report by Cointelegraph Brasil on June 18.

The lawsuits are reportedly over issues with users being unable to withdraw funds from the BBG’s associated cryptocurrency exchange, Paraná-based NegocieCoins.

As of press time, the page for NegocieCoins on crypto market information website CoinMarketCap shows the following message regarding the ongoing issue:

“We have received reports that user deposits and withdrawals are impeded. Please be careful with your funds.”

Some customers unable to withdraw their funds are attempting to liquidate these assets at a steep discount, offering to sell their frozen BTC on social media platforms for up to 90% off.

Numerous lawsuits have reportedly poured in from 10 states including São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro..

NegocieCoins has reportedly been facing issues with exchange theft since May and is citing malicious activity on the exchange as the reason for delayed withdrawals. The Bitcoin Bank Group has commented on the issue, saying:

“The company has never denied service to its users, always prioritizing good relationships. Despite the attacks launched against the platform, the team has excelled in service and conflict resolution and in promoting solutions to all situations raised by those who entrust their investments to it. In addition, the GBB is already acting decisively to resolve the matter, and will take steps to correct any misunderstanding that may have been experienced by the client “

The Bitcoin Bank Group has reportedly been investigating the attacks, and has subsequently blocked 2,568 accounts and forwarded associated information along to police.

As previously reported by Cointelegraph, Brazilian officials from the government and financial sectors are partnering to create a sandbox model for regulating cutting-edge technologies, such as blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI).

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Global Banking Giant HSBC Launches Tokenization-Based Receivables System for India

HSBC has deployed tokenization tech in its receivables infrastructure for corporate clients in India.

Major global banking group HSBC has implemented tokenization technology into its receivables infrastructure for corporate clients in India, according to an announcement on June 18.

The British multinational financial services company has reportedly launched its Digital Accounts Receivable Tool (HSBC DART), based on tokenization technology developed by Australian blockchain-powered Fintech company Identitii Ltd., the firm said in the announcement.

According to the statement, HSBC DART was developed for HSBC’s Global Liquidity and Cash Management (GLCM) business and deploys Identitii’s approach to tokenization within HSBC’s existing infrastructure of receivables to enhance involved processes.

The instrument is designed to automate the accounts receivable (AR) process for HSBC’s corporate customers and their network of buyers, enabling a secure communication layer between network participants and reducing manual work such as invoice payments documentation. Accounts receivable is the balance of money owed to a firm for services or goods provided or used but not yet paid by customers.

In the announcement, Identitii revealed HSBC’s plans to expand HSBC DART in new markets in Asia.

Originally founded in 1865 in British Hong Kong, United Kingdom-based HSBC was the 7th largest bank in the world by 2018, and the largest in Europe, with total assets of about $2.6 trillion. In mid-March 2019, HSBC was reported to be seeking banking partners in South Korea to deploy the blockchain platform Voltron.

Previously, HSBC reported that implementation of blockchain tech in its forex trade settlement reduced costs of operations by 25%.

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UK Financial Watchdog Blacklists Clones of Two Major Financial Firms

The United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority warned investors of two fraudulent clones of financial firms.

The British Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has warned investors of a fraudulent company posing as the Swiss Investment Corporation, an FCA-authorized firm offering crypto investments, and another company that is a clone of Goldman Sachs, the regulator announced on June 14.

The financial regulator has blacklisted a firm operating under the domain swissinvest.biz. According to the announcement, the fraudulent clone firm offers services on its website swiss-investissement.com and is involved in scam activity.

On the website, the alleged clone firm divides its proposed investments into the safest —  assets such as precious metals, and the most successful — major cryptocurrencies including bitcoin (BTC), ether (ETH) and ripple (XRP).

The FCA released another warning against Goldman Sachs Asset Management International, a clone of major global investment bank Goldman Sachs. The popular investment bank has recently denied its plans to launch a crypto trading desk, claiming that multiple media reports suggesting otherwise were incorrect.

In both cases, the FCA has expressed the particular danger of cold calls from companies pretending to be legitimate financial institutions.

Earlier in May 2019, the FCA warned investors against another clone firm posing as ICAP Europe Ltd.

Also in May, the British regulator reported that local crypto investors lost more than $34 million due to cryptocurrency and foreign exchange (forex)-related scams over 2018 and 2019.

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VP of Largest Brazilian Bank: Local Banks to Soon Introduce Unique Blockchain Platform

Mauricio Minas, vice president of Bradesco bank, stated that Brazilian banks will adopt an unnamed blockchain platform on June 12.

The vice president of Brazil’s biggest bank, Bradesco, revealed that major local banks will introduce a unique blockchain platform on June 12, Cointelegraph Brazil reports on June 11.

Bradesco VP Mauricio Minas has delivered a speech devoted to the role of blockchain in the global financial system, speaking at major Latin American banking and fintech event CIAB Febraban on June 11.

The Bradesco VP unveiled the plans of local banking institutions to soon adopt an unnamed blockchain-powered solution, adding that a number of Brazilian banks have been developing applications using distributed ledger technology (DLT).

Speaking at the event, Minas expressed confidence in blockchain technology despite its nascent character, urging that the technology is able to “break traditional barriers,” as well as to change user behavior and the financial system.

The news comes on the heels of the recent report on Brazilian banks deploying a standardized blockchain identity solution co-developed by the country’s central bank, CIP, and global tech giant IBM.

Based on the open source DLT Hyperledger Fabric, the identity solution will be reportedly integrated into the Brazilian Payment System and will be used by all banking and financial institutions across the country.

Yesterday, Cointelegraph reported on leading cryptocurrency company Ripple’s launch of an office in Brazil with the wider aim to expand across Latin America.

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Visa Launches Global Cross-Border Network Based on Certain Aspects of Blockchain

Visa B2B Connect contains elements of Hyperledger technology in order to transfer more data on cross-border payments.

United States’ payment giant Visa has launched a cross-border payment network derived from some aspects of blockchain technology, Reuters reports June 11.

The network, called “Visa B2B Connect,” is designed to facilitate international payments made by global financial institutions by enabling direct interbanking transactions between businesses and beneficiaries.

According to the report, the network already covers 30 trade channels worldwide to enable faster and cheaper cross-border payments, and is expected to expand to 90 markets by the end of 2019.

Visa B2B Connect is partially based on blockchain technology, containing elements of Hyperledger, the open source distributed ledger technology (DLT) developed by a group led by the Linux Foundation, the report notes.

Specifically, certain aspects of blockchain tech were reportedly used due to its capability to transfer more data on a payment than any existing payment system, global head of Visa Business Solutions Kevin Phalen said in the report.

The new network is a result of collaboration with tech global giant IBM, as well as e-payment operator Bottomline Technologies and fintech firm FIS. In order to develop the product, Visa was reportedly initially working with cryptographic ledger systems builder Chain.

Recently, Visa also partnered with the fintech operator of Japanese messaging app LINE — LINE Pay Corporation — in order to develop new blockchain and digital payments solutions.

Earlier this year, software startup DataLight released a report claiming that bitcoin (BTC) has a potential to replace global payment systems such as Visa and MasterCard within ten years.