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Litecoin's Lee: Bank Deal Might Lead to New Crypto Services

Litecoin creator Charlie Lee could be made a board member at the German bank the Litecoin Foundation – the group in which he serves as managing director – recently obtained a stake in.

The deal for a 9.9 percent stake in WEG Bank AG resulted through a partnership with the crypto startup TokenPay, as previously reported. And while the response on social media seems to have been mostly positive, Lee nonetheless took to Reddit on Tuesday to offer “clarifications” on the nature of the deal, the foundation’s involvement and what benefits the arrangement could bring.

According to Lee, that best-case scenario would see WEG Bank attempt to launch crypto products and services – but that’s not a done deal by any means, the litecoin creator conceded.

He wrote:

“Best case is that with this bank, we are able to create and deliver crypto solutions like debit cards, merchant processing, and other innovative solutions. However, even with a stake and influence at the bank, it’s not guaranteed that this will succeed.”

Lee also clarified that the deal didn’t see the foundation spend any money, saying that the stake came “in exchange for technical work and marketing support for TokenPay, eFin decentralized exchange, and integration with the bank.”

“To be clear, LF did not pay any money for this stake in the bank. The plan is also for me to get a board seat at the bank,” he explained.

Lee noted that there are still some obstacles to overcome in order to launch a crypto debit card, writing: “People have brought up valid concerns that we still need to work with and be approved by players in the current financial systems like Visa and SWIFT.”

That being said, owning a stake in a licensed bank gives the Litecoin Foundation “a much higher chance of succeeding.”

Litecoin image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Why Litecoin's Creator Is Buying Into A Bank (And How It Could Go Wrong)

One of the most unusual and potentially transformative deals in the cryptocurrency space started as an argument on social media.

Back in April, Charlie Lee, the creator of litecoin, was exchanging barbs on Twitter with Derek Capo, the CEO of payment processor TokenPay. But their fight quickly turned into a friendly exchange of direct messages, in which the two crypto enthusiasts realized they shared a common problem: In a word, banking.

Both the Litecoin Foundation, the non-profit that promotes the sixth-largest cryptocurrency and where Lee is a managing director, and Capo’s Virgin Islands-based startup had encountered difficulty securing bank accounts – a longstanding problem for the industry.

“We had lots of trouble” on that front, Lee told CoinDesk.

Capo elaborated: “Some banks, they close down bank accounts if they get a whiff of anything to do with crypto. We saw a lot of competitors with similar offerings get cut off because they didn’t own the bank and they didn’t have control.”

But Capo was working on a solution for TokenPay by trying to buy a bank. And he realized this plan, if successful, could address another problem for Lee.

“Why don’t we talk about having a litecoin debit card so that you’ll have a real solution?” Capo recalled telling him. “Because, you know, they had been trying very hard to have a litecoin debit card… I said, why don’t we talk?”

That is how the Singapore-based Litecoin Foundation ended up owning 9.9 percent of WEG Bank AG, an until-now obscure German financial institution, in a surprise transaction revealed this week.

But the foundation didn’t put money in; TokenPay previously acquired the stake and traded it to the non-profit in exchange for future technical support. TokenPay also acquired another 9.9 percent (the maximum allowed in Germany without prior regulatory approval) of WEG and is seeking the green light to buy up to 80 percent. (The price was not disclosed.)

If all goes according to plan, not only will TokenPay and the Litecoin Foundation have a reliable banking partner, they would also transform WEG into an on-ramp for consumers worldwide who want to trade fiat for cryptocurrency or pay for goods and services with crypto.

But owning a bank, by itself, won’t necessarily solve crypto’s banking problem, according to compliance experts who’ve worked in both fields. Even if the regulators bless the pending takeover, Capo and Lee may face new challenges operating in a heavily regulated industry where “coin” is frequently treated as a four-letter word.

The roadmap

Undaunted by regulatory hurdles, Capo and Lee have ambitious plans to usher in a new wave of crypto banking services.

Stepping back, while transacting in cryptocurrency may be frictionless, converting from dollars or euros to crypto and back is anything but. Buying crypto through an online exchange can mean registering a credit card with an exchange platform, then waiting days, sometimes longer, to complete the transaction.

Meanwhile, most of the merchants that accept crypto are wary of the price volatility and generally rely on a payment processor like BitPay to convert it to fiat. All these options incur processing fees along the way.

That’s why Capo wants to offer crypto debit cards and the ability to convert litecoin to euros directly through a traditional bank account, to make it a smoother experience for crypto users transacting in a fiat-dominated economy. He hopes to offer such services within nine months of receiving regulatory approval for the acquisition.

“Connecting cryptocurrency to fiat rails is very useful,” said Lee, who told CoinDesk he aims to join the WEG board as the Litecoin Foundation’s representative (a move that would make him possibly the first person to simultaneously hold the titles of “cryptocurrency founder” and “bank director”).

“We will have a say in influencing the bank to work on crypto projects,” he said.

Eventually, after tackling debit cards and payment processing, Capo and Lee plan to integrate banking services directly with TokenPay’s decentralized exchange (DEX) platform, eFin, which offers peer-to-peer trading between cryptocurrencies.

If traders pass all the know-your-customer (KYC) and anti-money-laundering (AML) demands for a crypto bank account, they will be able to seamlessly cash out TokenPay’s own token, known as tpay, from the exchange as fiat, plus buy or sell cryptos like litecoin without delay.

“eFin will have LTC. We will help them with it technically,” Lee said. “And they will also airdrop [tpay] tokens to litecoin users.”

In addition to the promise of technical expertise and litecoin’s relatively stable popularity among cryptocurrency fans, Capo said he gave the nonprofit equity in the bank based on Lee’s massive online following, a marketing boon, and professional connections.

“Litecoin has a very influential leader, someone who’s been around for a very long time,” Capo said in describing Lee, an alumnus of the popular cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase.

Challenges ahead

Yet even if they obtain a banking license, Capo and Lee are not guaranteed unlimited liquidity.

Located in the town of Ottobrunn (population: 21,378), WEG was previously a property management bank that offered loans to housing associations. After TokenPay acquires a majority stake, the plan calls for the bank’s CEO, Matthias von Hauff, to stay involved as WEG transitions to a retail bank with more consumer-facing products and services.

But such a tiny institution likely would likely rely on outside organizations – larger global banks, the German central bank, or SWIFT – to be able to move large amounts of fiat around the world, according to Simon Taylor, a former Barclays banker and co-founder and director of the U.K. fintech advisory firm 11:FS. If those partners became squeamish about crypto in general, they could cut off WEG’s access to fiat, Taylor cautioned.

“The really, really big banks tend to be the ones that connect you through the global corridor to the U.S. dollar, they’re the ones that get the big KYC fines,” Taylor said, adding, with regard to the WEG acquisition plan:

“I don’t think it’s going to achieve what they want it to achieve. I get the temptation to buy a bank. But buying a bank doesn’t give you what you think it gives you.”

Joe Ciccolo, president of the compliance service provider BitAML Inc., said regulators would probably expect extra diligence on WEG’s part if it were to become a crypto-focused bank.

“On its own, running a bank and implementing AML anti-money laundering] across a broad range of products and services is difficult to begin with,” Ciccolo said. “This is going to be a much higher barrier to entry than one would associate with traditional AML.”

The idea of integrating a decentralized exchange into a bank gave Ciccolo the most pause. He described DEXs as “nails on a chalkboard for regulators,” who have taken years to wrap their heads around bitcoin. If Capo and Lee plan to pull this off, Ciccolo said, it will require significant investment in educating regulators on an ongoing basis and constant communication with larger banks.

Acknowledging the challenges, Capo said the first and most costly step of converting WEG into a crypto-savvy bank will be restructuring all of its KYC and AML processes to create a new crypto-centric model.

“We’re being conservative because we want to build this bank so it will be around for a long time,” he told CoinDesk, concluding:

“The infrastructure is there, we just might have to potentially modify it for crypto-based services.”

Litecoin image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Litecoin Payments Startup That Won Trader Favor Abruptly Shuts Down

Would-be Litecoin merchant processor LitePay has abruptly terminated its operations, the Litecoin Foundation announced in a post on its website on Monday.

LitePay – which also claimed it would offer a crypto wallet and “LitePay debit card” through which users could convert litecoin into U.S. dollars – was unveiled in December of 2017 and set to launch in February of this year. Data from OpenGovUS shows that LitePay Inc. started operating on February 1.

The proposed business venture had won plaudits from the Foundation previously, which took to Twitter in December to write: “Finally, someone is taking the opportunity to create litepay.us. Good job!”

However, as of February 26, LitePay had only started to roll out its merchant service, according to a post on Twitter. The last public messages from the company related to a mid-March Ask Me Anything session on Reddit, and an email account listed on LitePay’s website did not reply to a request for comment by press time.

The foundation, which oversees development of the cryptocurrency, said in its post that it contacted the business’ founder and CEO, Kenneth Asare, following the AMA on March 16, expressing concerns regarding the “less than transparent nature” of LitePay. It was then that Asare revealed that he had decided to halt operations and planned to sell the company.

The Foundation’s post further explained:

“It was at this time that Kenneth asked the foundation for more funds to continue operations. The foundation refused any further funding as he was unable to provide a satisfactory picture of where the money had been spent and refused to go into exact details about the company and show objective evidence to back up his statements.”

Both the Foundation and litecoin founder Charlie Lee expressed regret for their support of the project.

“Like everyone else, we got too excited about something that was too good to be true and we optimistically overlooked many of the warning signs,” Lee wrote on Twitter. “I am sorry for having hyped up this company and vow to do better due diligence in the future.”

The Litecoin Foundation made a similar statement in its post:

“We are greatly disheartened that this saga has ended in this way and we apologize for not doing enough due diligence that could have uncovered some of these issues earlier. We are currently working hard to tighten our due diligence practices and ensure that this does not happen again.”

Nonetheless, the Foundation struck a hopeful tone.

“Litecoin was doing perfectly fine before the promise of LitePay and will continue to do so,” it said.

Litecoin image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.