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Crypto Banking Wars: Can Non-Custodial Crypto Wallets Ever Replace Banks?

Crypto Banking Wars: Can Non-Custodial Crypto Wallets Ever Replace Banks?
Can they overcome the product limitations of blockchain and deliver the world-class experience that consumers expect?
https://reddit.com/link/i8ewbx/video/ojkc6c9a1lg51/player
This is the second part of Crypto Banking Wars — a new series that examines what crypto-native company is most likely to become the bank of the future. Who is best positioned to reach mainstream adoption in consumer finance?
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While crypto allows the world to get rid of banks, a bank will still very much be necessary for this very powerful technology to reach the masses. As we laid out in our previous series, Crypto-Powered, we believe companies that build with blockchain at their core will have the best shot at winning the broader consumer finance market. We hope it will be us at Genesis Block, but we aren’t the only game in town.
So this series explores the entire crypto landscape and tries to answer the question, which crypto company is most likely to become the bank of the future?
In our last episode, we offered an in-depth analysis of big crypto exchanges like Coinbase & Binance. Today we’re analyzing non-custodial crypto wallets. These are products where only the user can touch or move funds. Not even the company or developer who built the application can access, control, or stop funds from being moved. These apps allow users to truly become their own bank.
We’ve talked a little about this before. This group of companies is nowhere near the same level of threat as the biggest crypto exchanges. However, this group really understands DeFi and the magic it can bring. This class of products is heavily engineer-driven and at the bleeding-edge of DeFi innovation. These products are certainly worth discussing. Okay, let’s dive in.

Users & Audience

These non-custodial crypto wallets are especially popular among the most hardcore blockchain nerds and crypto cypherpunks.
“Not your keys, not your coins.”
This meme is endlessly repeated among longtime crypto hodlers. If you’re not in complete control of your crypto (i.e. using non-custodial wallets), then it’s not really your crypto. There has always been a close connection between libertarianism & cryptocurrency. This type of user wants to be in absolute control of their money and become their own bank.
In addition to the experienced crypto geeks, for some people, these products will mean the difference between life and death. Imagine a refugee family that wants to safely protect their years of hard work — their life savings — as they travel across borders. Carrying cash could put their safety or money at risk. A few years ago I spent time in Greece at refugee camps — I know first-hand this is a real use-case.

https://preview.redd.it/vigqlmgg1lg51.png?width=800&format=png&auto=webp&s=0a5d48a63ce7a637749bbbc03d62c51cc3f75613
Or imagine a family living under an authoritarian regime — afraid that their corrupt or oppressive government will seize their assets (or devalue their savings via hyperinflation). Citizens in these countries cannot risk putting their money in centralized banks or under their mattresses. They must become their own bank.
These are the common use-cases and users for non-custodial wallets.

Products in Market

Let’s do a quick round-up of some of the more popular products already in the market.
Web/Desktop The most popular web wallet is MetaMask. Though it doesn’t have any specific integration with DeFi protocols yet, it has more than a million users (which is a lot in crypto land!). Web wallets that are more deeply integrated with DeFi include InstaDapp, Zerion, DeFi Saver, Zapper, and MyCrypto (disclosure: I’m an investor and a big fan of Taylor). For the mass market, mobile will be a much more important form-factor. I don’t view these web products as much of a threat to Genesis Block.
https://preview.redd.it/gbpi2ijj1lg51.png?width=1050&format=png&auto=webp&s=c039887484bf8a3d3438fb02a384d0b9ef894e1f
Mobile The more serious threats to Genesis Block are the mobile products that (A) are leveraging some of the powerful DeFi protocols and (B) abstracting away a lot of the blockchain/DeFi UX complexity. While none get close to us on (B), the products attempting this are Argent and Dharma. To the extent they can, both are trying to make interacting with blockchain technology as simple as possible.
A few of the bigger exchanges have also entered this mobile non-custodial market. Coinbase has Wallet (via Cipher Browser acquisition). Binance has Trust Wallet (also via acquisition). And speaking of acquisitions, MyCrypto acquired Ambo, which is a solid product and has brought MyCrypto into the mobile space. Others worth mentioning include Rainbow — well-designed and built by a small indy-team with strong DeFi experience (former Balance team). And ZenGo which has a cool feature around keyless security (their CEO is a friend).
There are dozens of other mobile crypto wallets that do very little beyond showing your balances. They are not serious threats.
https://preview.redd.it/6x4lxsdk1lg51.png?width=1009&format=png&auto=webp&s=fab3280491b75fe394aebc8dd69926b6962dcf5d
Hardware Wallets Holding crypto on your own hardware wallet is widely considered to be “best practice” from a security standpoint. The most popular hardware wallets are Ledger, Trezor, and KeepKey (by our friends at ShapeShift). Ledger Nano X is the only product that has Bluetooth — thus, the only one that can connect to a mobile app. While exciting and innovative, these hardware wallets are not yet integrated with any DeFi protocols.
https://preview.redd.it/yotmvtsl1lg51.png?width=1025&format=png&auto=webp&s=c8567b42839d9cec8dbc6c78d2f953b688886026

Strengths

Let’s take a look at some of the strengths with non-custodial products.
  1. Regulatory arbitrage Because these products are “non-custodial”, they are able to avoid the regulatory burdens that centralized, custodial products must deal with (KYC/AML/MTL/etc). This is a strong practical benefit for a bootstrapped startup/buildedeveloper. Though it’s unclear how long this advantage lasts as products reach wider audiences and increased scrutiny.
  2. User Privacy Because of the regulatory arbitrage mentioned above, users do not need to complete onerous KYC requirements. For example, there’s no friction around selfies, government-issued IDs, SSNs, etc. Users can preserve much of their privacy and they don’t need to worry about their sensitive information being hacked, compromised, or leaked.
  3. Absolute control & custody This is really one of the great promises of crypto — users can become their own bank. Users can be in full control of their money. And they don’t need to bury it underground or hide it under a mattress. No dependence, reliance or trust in any third parties. Only the user herself can access and unlock the money.

Weaknesses

Now let’s examine some of the weaknesses.
  1. Knowledge & Education Most non-custodial products do not abstract away any of the blockchain complexity. In fact, they often expose more of it because the most loyal users are crypto geeks. Imagine how an average, non-crypto user feels when she starts seeing words like seed phrases, public & private keys, gas limits, transaction fees, blockchain explorers, hex addresses, and confirmation times. There is a lot for a user to learn and become educated on. That’s friction. The learning curve is very high and will always be a major blocker for adoption. We’ve talked about this in our Spreading Crypto series — to reach the masses, the crypto stuff needs to be in the background.
  2. User Experience It is currently impossible to create a smooth and performant user experience in non-custodial wallets or decentralized applications. Any interaction that requires a blockchain transaction will feel sluggish and slow. We built a messaging app on Ethereum and presented it at DevCon3 in Cancun. The technical constraints of blockchain technology were crushing to the user experience. We simply couldn’t create the real-time, modern messaging experience that users have come to expect from similar apps like Slack or WhatsApp. Until blockchains are closer in speed to web servers (which will be difficult given their decentralized nature), dApps will never be able to create the smooth user experience that the masses expect.
  3. Product Limitations Most non-custodial wallets today are based on Ethereum smart contracts. That means they are severely limited with the assets that they can support (only erc-20 tokens). Unless through synthetic assets (similar to Abra), these wallets cannot support massively popular assets like Bitcoin, XRP, Cardano, Litecoin, EOS, Tezos, Stellar, Cosmos, or countless others. There are exciting projects like tBTC trying to bring Bitcoin to Ethereum — but these experiments are still very, very early. Ethereum-based smart contract wallets are missing a huge part of the crypto-asset universe.
  4. Technical Complexity While developers are able to avoid a lot of regulatory complexity (see Strengths above), they are replacing it with increased technical complexity. Most non-custodial wallets are entirely dependent on smart contract technology which is still very experimental and early in development (see Insurance section of this DeFi use-cases post). Major bugs and major hacks do happen. Even recently, it was discovered that Argent had a “high severity vulnerability.” Fortunately, Argent fixed it and their users didn’t lose funds. The tools, frameworks, and best practices around smart contract technology are all still being established. Things can still easily go wrong, and they do.
  5. Loss of Funds Risk Beyond the technical risks mentioned above, with non-custodial wallets, it’s very easy for users to make mistakes. There is no “Forgot Password.” There is no customer support agent you can ping. There is no company behind it that can make you whole if you make a mistake and lose your money. You are on your own, just as CZ suggests. One wrong move and your money is all gone. If you lose your private key, there is no way to recover your funds. There are some new developments around social recovery, but that’s all still very experimental. This just isn’t the type of customer support experience people are used to. And it’s not a risk that most are willing to take.
  6. Integration with Fiat & Traditional Finance In today’s world, it’s still very hard to use crypto for daily spending (see Payments in our DeFi use-cases post). Hopefully, that will all change someday. In the meantime, if any of these non-custodial products hope to win in the broader consumer finance market, they will undoubtedly need to integrate with the legacy financial world — they need onramps (fiat-to-crypto deposit methods) and offramps (crypto-to-fiat withdraw/spend methods). As much as crypto-fanatics hate hearing it, you can’t expect people to jump headfirst into the new world unless there is a smooth transition, unless there are bridge technologies that help them arrive. This is why these fiat integrations are so important. Examples might be allowing ACH/Wire deposits (eg. via Plaid) or launching a debit card program for spend/withdraw. These fiat integrations are essential if the aim is to become the bank of the future. Doing any of this compliantly will require strong KYC/AML. So to achieve this use-case — integrating with traditional finance —all of the Strengths we mentioned above are nullified. There are no longer regulatory benefits. There are no longer privacy benefits (users need to upload KYC documents, etc). And users are no longer in complete control of their money.

Wrap Up

One of the great powers of crypto is that we no longer depend on banks. Anyone can store their wealth and have absolute control of their money. That’s made possible with these non-custodial wallets. It’s a wonderful thing.
I believe that the most knowledgeable and experienced crypto people (including myself) will always be active users of these applications. And as mentioned in this post, there will certainly be circumstances where these apps will be essential & even life-saving.
However, I do not believe this category of product is a major threat to Genesis Block to becoming the bank of the future.
They won’t win in the broader consumer finance market — mostly because I don’t believe that’s their target audience. These applications simply cannot produce the type of product experience that the masses require, want, or expect. The Weaknesses I’ve outlined above are just too overwhelming. The friction for mass-market consumers is just too much.

https://preview.redd.it/lp8dzxeh1lg51.png?width=800&format=png&auto=webp&s=03acdce545cd032f7e82b6665b001d7a06839557
The winning bank will be focused on solving real user problems and meeting user needs. Not slowed down by rigid idealism like censorship-resistance and absolute decentralization, as it is with most non-custodial wallets. The winning bank will be a world-class product that’s smooth, performant, and accessible. Not sluggish and slow, as it is with most non-custodial wallets. The winning bank will be one where blockchain & crypto is mostly invisible to end-users. Not front-and-center as it is with non-custodial wallets. The winning bank will be one managed and run by professionals who know exactly what they’re doing. Not DIY (Do It Yourself), as it is with non-custodial wallets.
So are these non-custodial wallets a threat to Genesis Block in winning the broader consumer finance market, and becoming the bank of the future?
No. They are designed for a very different audience.
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Playing with fire with FinCen and SEC, Binance may face a hefty penalty again after already losing 50 percent of its trading business

On 14 June, Binance announced that it “constantly reviews user accounts to improve (their) platform security and to comply with global compliance requirements”, mentioning that “Binance is unable to provide services to any U.S. person” in the latest “Binance Terms of Use” attached within the announcement.
According to the data from a third-party traffic statistics website, Alexa, users in the U.S. form the biggest user group of Binance, accounting for about 25% of the total visitor traffic.
In the forecast of Binance’s user scale compiled by The Block, the largest traffic is dominated by users in the U.S., surpassing the total of the ones from the second place to the fifth place.
Also, considering that the scale of digital asset trading for the users in the U.S. far exceeds that of the users of many other countries, it could mean that Binance may have already lost 50 % of the business income by losing users in the U.S. Apparently, such an announcement by Binance to stop providing services to users in the U.S. means Binance has no other alternative but “seek to live on.”
So, what are the specific requirements of the U.S. for digital asset exchanges and which of the regulatory red lines of the U.S. did Binance cross?
Compliance issues relating to operation permission of digital asset exchanges
In the U.S., the entry barrier for obtaining a business license to operate a digital asset exchange is not high. Apart from the special licencing requirements of individual states such as New York, most of the states generally grant licences to digital asset exchanges through the issuance of a “Money Transmitter License” (MTL).
Each state has different requirements for MTL applications. Some of the main common requirements are:
Filling out the application form, including business address, tax identification number, social security number and statement of net assets of the owneproprietor Paying the relevant fees for the licence application Meeting the minimum net assets requirements stipulated by the state Completing a background check Providing a form of guarantee, such as security bonds
It is worth noting that not all states are explicitly using MTL to handle the issues around operation permission of digital asset exchanges. For instance, New Hampshire passed a new law on 12 March 2017, announcing that trading parties of digital assets in that state would not be bound by MTL. Also, Montana has not yet set up MTL, keeping an open attitude towards the currency trading business.
On top of obtaining the MTL in each state, enterprises are also required to complete the registration of “Money Services Business” (MSB) on the federal level FinCEN (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network of the U.S. Treasury Department) issued the “Application of FinCEN’s Regulations to Persons Administering, Exchanging, or Using Virtual Currencies” on 18 March 2013. On the federal level, the guideline requires any enterprise involved in virtual currency services to complete the MSB registration and perform the corresponding compliance responsibilities. The main responsibility of a registered enterprise is to establish anti-money laundering procedures and reporting systems.
However, California is an exception. Enterprises in California would only need to complete the MSB registration on the federal level and they do not need to apply for the MTL in California.
Any enterprise operating in New York must obtain a virtual currency business license, Bitlicense, issued in New York
Early in July 2014, the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYSDFS) has specially designed and launched the BitLicense, stipulating that any institutions participating in a business relevant to virtual currency (virtual currency transfer, virtual currency trust, provision of virtual currency trading services, issuance or management of virtual currencies) must obtain a BitLicense.
To date, the NYSDFS has issued 19 Bitlicenses. Among them includes exchanges such as Coinbase (January 2017), BitFlyer (July 2017), Genesis Global Trading (May 2018) and Bitstamp (April 2019).
Solely from the perspective of operation permission, Binance has yet to complete the MSB registration of FinCEN (its partner, BAM Trading, has completed the MSB registration). This means that Binance is not eligible to operate a digital asset exchange in the U.S. FinCEN has the rights to prosecute Binance based on its failure to fulfil the relevant ‘anti-money laundering’ regulatory requirements.
Compliance issues relating to online assets
With the further development of the digital asset market, ICO has released loads of “digital assets” that have characteristics of a “security” into the trading markets. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has proposed more comprehensive compliance requirements for digital asset exchanges. The core of the requirements is reflected in the restrictions of offering digital assets trading service.
In the last two years, the SEC has reiterated on many occasions that digital assets that have characteristics of a security should not be traded on a digital asset exchange
In August 2017, when the development of ICO was at its peak, the SEC issued an investor bulletin “Investor Bulletin: Initial Coin Offerings” on its website and published an investigation report of the DAO. It determined that the DAO tokens were considered ‘marketable securities’, stressing that all digital assets considered ‘marketable securities’ would be incorporated into the SEC regulatory system, bound by the U.S. federal securities law. Soon after, the SEC also declared and stressed that “(if) a platform offers trading of digital assets that are securities and operates as an “exchange,” as defined by the federal securities laws, then the platform must register with the SEC as a national securities exchange or be exempt from registration.”
On 16 November 2018, the SEC issued a “Statement on Digital Asset Securities Issuance and Trading,” in which the SEC used five real case studies to conduct exemplary penalty rulings on the initial offers and sales of digital asset securities, including those issued in ICOs, relevant cryptocurrency exchanges, investment management tools, ICO platforms and so on. The statement further reiterates that exchanges cannot provide trading services for digital assets that have characteristics of a security.
On 3 April 2019, the SEC issued the “Framework for ‘Investment Contract’ Analysis of Digital Assets” to further elucidate the evaluation criteria for determining whether a digital asset is a security and providing guiding opinions on the compliance of the issuance, sales, holding procedures of digital assets.
As of now, only a small number of digital assets, such as BTC, ETH, etc. meet the SEC’s requirement of “non-securities assets.” The potentially “compliant” digital assets are less than 20.
Early in March 2014, the Inland Revenue Service (IRS) has stated that Bitcoin will be treated as a legal property and will be subject to taxes. In September 2015, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) stated that Bitcoin is a commodity and will be treated as a “property” by the IRS for tax purposes.
On 15 June 2018, William Hinman, Director of the Corporate Finance Division of the SEC, said at the Cryptocurrency Summit held in San Francisco that BTC and ETH are not securities. Nevertheless, many ICO tokens fall under the securities category.
So far, only BTC and ETH have received approval and recognition of the U.S. regulatory authority as a “non-securities asset.”
Since July 2018, the SEC has investigated more than ten types of digital assets, one after another, and ruled that they were securities and had to be incorporated into the SEC regulatory system. It prosecuted and punished those who had contravened the issuance and trading requirements of the securities laws.
Although there are still many digital assets that have yet to be characterised as “securities”, it is extremely difficult to be characterised as a “non-securities asset” based on the evaluation criteria announced by the SEC. As the SEC’s spokesperson has reiterated many times, they believe the majority of ICO tokens are securities.
Under the stipulated requirements of the SEC, Coinbase, a leading U.S. exchange, has withdrawn a batch of digital assets. The assets withdrawn included digital assets that had been characterised as “securities” as well as those that have high risks of being characterised as “securities.” However, it is worth noting that although the risk to be characterised as “securities” for more than ten types of digital assets, which have not been explicitly required by SEC to be withdrawn, is relatively small, they are not entirely safe. With the further escalation of the SEC’s investigations, they could still be characterised as securities and be held accountable for violating their responsibilities. However, this requires further guidance from the SEC.
*Coinbase’s 14 types of digital assets that have yet to be requested for withdrawal
Poloniex announced on 16 May that it would stop providing services for nine digital assets, including Ardor (ARDR), Bytecoin (BCN), etc. under the compliance guidelines of the SEC. On 7 June, Bittrex also announced that it would stop providing trading services to U.S. users for 32 digital assets. The action of the SEC on its regulatory guidance was further reinforced apparently.
In fact, it is not the first time that these two exchanges have withdrawn digital assets under regulatory requirements. Since the rapid development of digital assets driven by ICO in 2017, Poloniex and Bittrex were once leading exchanges for ICO tokens, providing comprehensive trading services for digital assets. However, after the SEC reiterated its compliance requirements, Poloniex and Bittrex have withdrawn a considerable amount of assets in the past year to meet the compliance requirements.
In conclusion, the takeaways that we have got are as follows: Under the existing U.S. regulatory requirements of digital assets, after obtaining the basic entry licences (MSB, MTL), exchanges could either choose the “compliant asset” solution of Coinbase and only list a small number of digital assets that do not have apparent characteristics of a security, and at all times prepare to withdraw any asset later characterised as “securities” by the SECs; or choose to be like OKEx and Huobi and make it clear they would “not provide services to any U.S. users” at the start.
Binance has been providing a large number of digital assets that have characteristics of a security to U.S users without a U.S. securities exchange licence, so it has already contravened the SEC regulatory requirements.
On top of that, it is also worth noting that the rapid development of Binance has been achieved precisely through the behaviours of “contrary to regulations” and “committing crimes.” Amid the blocking of several pioneering exchanges, such as OKCoin, Huobi, etc. providing services to Chinese users in the Chinese market under new laws from the regulatory authorities, Binance leapfrogged the competition and began to dominate the Chinese market. Similarly, Binance’s rapid growth in the U.S. market is mainly due to its domination of the traffic of digital assets withdrawn by Poloniex and Bittrex. One can say that Binance not only has weak awareness of compliance issues, but it is also indeed “playing with fire” with the U.S. regulators.
In April 2018, the New York State Office of Attorney General (OAG) requested 13 digital asset exchanges, including Binance, to prepare for investigations, indicating it would initiate an investigation in relations to company ownership, leadership, operating conditions, service terms, trading volume, relationships with financial institutions, etc. Many exchanges, including Gemini, Bittrex, Poloniex, BitFlyer, Bitfinex, and so on, proactively acknowledged and replied in the first instance upon receipt of the investigation notice. However, Binance had hardly any action.
Binance has been illegally operating in the U.S. for almost two years. It has not yet fulfilled the FinCEN and MSB registration requirements. Moreover, it has also neglected the SEC announcements and OAG investigation summons on several occasions. The ultimate announcement of exiting the U.S. market may be due to the tremendous pressure imposed by the U.S. regulators.
In fact, the SEC executives have recently stressed that “exchanges of IEO in the U.S. market are facing legal risks and the SEC would soon crack down on these illegal activities” on numerous occasions. These were clear indications of imposing pressure on Binance.
Regarding the SEC’s rulings on illegal digital asset exchanges, EtherDelta and investment management platform, Crypto Asset Management, it may not be easy for Binance to “fully exit” from the U.S. market. It may be faced with a hefty penalty. Once there are any compensation claims by the U.S. users for losses incurred in the trading of assets at Binance, it would be dragged into a difficult compensation dilemma. It would undoubtedly be a double blow for Binance that has just been held accountable for the losses incurred in a theft of 7,000 BTC.
Coincidentally, Binance was tossed out of Japan because of compliance issues. In March 2018, the Financial Services Agency of Japan officially issued a stern warning to Binance, which was boldly providing services to Japanese users without registering for a digital asset exchange licence in Japan. Binance was forced to relocate to Malta instead. Binance may have to bear hefty penalties arising from challenging the compliance requirements after it had lost important markets due to consecutive compliance issues.
The rise of Binance was attributed to its bold and valiant style, grasping the opportunity created in the vacuum period of government regulation, breaking compliance requirements and rapidly dominating the market to obtain user traffic. For a while, it gained considerable advantages in the early, barbaric growth stage of the industry. Nonetheless, under the increasingly comprehensive regulatory compliance system for global digital asset markets, Binance, which has constantly been “evading regulation” and “resisting supervision” would undoubtedly face enormous survival challenges, notwithstanding that it would lose far more than 50 per cent of the market share.
https://www.asiacryptotoday.com/playing-with-fire-with-fincen-and-sec-binance-may-face-a-hefty-penalty-again-after-already-losing-50-percent-of-its-trading-business/
submitted by Fun_Judgment to CryptoCurrencyTrading [link] [comments]

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