Cointelegraph By Jon Rice
Let’s get one thing out of the way: You will not agree with every selection on the Cointelegraph list of the Top 100 Notable People in Blockchain.
In fact, you will almost certainly disagree, vehemently, with many of the people we’ve included on this year’s list.
You will rage at the inclusion of [insert comedy villain here] and the exclusion of, say, Charles Hoskinson. Particularly if you are indeed Charles Hoskinson.
You will seethe at the fact that Arthur Hayes is nowhere to be found. (We looked.) You’ll eat your own… words because you once tweeted that John McAfee was a shoo-in.
And despite your fury at the absence of the delightful Charlie Lee, and the presence of [really, that guy?], we hazard that our Top 100 is the blockchain industry’s most comprehensive, thoroughly researched… and indubitably controversial selection.
Our criteria for inclusion this year recognizes that the Cointelegraph Top 100 is not a Who’s Who of crypto. Nobody is guaranteed a position based on their reputation. Instead, it references those whose choices over the last year have made a major impact on the industry, or who we expect to be particularly influential over the course of 2021.
Irreverence toward the “establishment” in crypto, if such a thing can exist in an industry barely over a decade old, is reflected by the fact that there are an astonishing 75 new entrants on this year’s list.
Even more surprising is the fact that not a single person from last year’s Top 10 kept their spot in the top bracket of this year’s list — and five of them are gone from our Top 100 completely.
Our list, compiled with the input of the entire editorial team at Cointelegraph, is not an endorsement of the individuals who appear on it, nor a celebration of every achievement. We actively dislike black hat hackers, but you can’t deny the impact they’ve had on our industry.
And although it’s somewhat Western-centric, that’s a deliberate choice since some of our regional editions have created lists of their own. We should also note that we had no quotas regarding diversity and inclusion, despite a robust internal debate; the list is meritocratic, although we continue to be surprised and disappointed at the pace at which underrepresented groups are entering the sector.
With that said, we are encouraged by the fact that women now represent 24% of the Top 50 — a significant increase from the 10% of 2020.
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Our list includes 10 people from each of our 10 categories:
In preparing our list of Founders, we necessarily have to choose those whose ideas have begun to come to fruition. These are people who have demonstrated that they have the patience and stamina to succeed, as well as the burning desire to innovate.
The figures on our Investor list often act as a bridge between the blockchain and the traditional finance world, and the more investors join the crypto ranks, the closer the industry approaches widespread adoption.
The list of top DeFi personalities attempts to cast a spotlight on this diverse list of characters. In their own — often startling — way, each of them made a contribution to the space in 2020, and many of them will continue shaping the future of DeFi.
We’re talking rockstars, influencers, sports personalities, OG tech wizards, converts from traditional finance and creatives of all stripes — even a starship captain — each sharing a willingness to broadcast a common view that distributed technology is the way we move humanity forward.
Media, Data & Research
Some of the figures we’ve highlighted in our Media, Data & Research category are well known in the media, from crypto influencers and podcasters to cable TV hosts. Others head up data analytics firms or aggregators that help us separate the signal from the noise. And there are a few figures who toil mostly behind the scenes, heading up influential research firms and funds.
The individuals we’ve highlighted in our Markets category represent the sector’s most talented, ingenious analysts. Some have the uncanny ability to forecast macro market moves with a succinct single chart posted on Twitter, while others pore over Bitcoin’s on-chain activity to develop elaborate metrics geared toward institutional and long-term investors.
Those chosen for our Exchange category this year responded to scaling challenges and emerging financial models in various ways, including ramping up server capacity, improving user experience, and rolling out solutions such as the Bitcoin Lightning Network, sidechains and decentralized exchange protocols.
For our Adoption category, we’ve highlighted the individuals in crypto who are creating and supporting products that are going mainstream, as well as those helping to remind us why we’re here in the first place. These figures have found genuine use cases for the relatively young digital asset class and are dedicated to solving real-world problems with cryptocurrencies.
Law & Politics
As adoption marches on, governments become ever-more involved in setting out rules of the road. Given how new crypto is and how fundamentally blockchain could decentralize data that is critical to governments functioning, the laws and regulations surrounding the industry are evolving rapidly. The individuals in our Law & Politics category come from both the public and private sectors, but they are united in that they have pushed for the most tangible legal breakthroughs for the crypto industry.
Some are dedicated to rectifying some of blockchain’s flaws, while others yet are bringing privacy solutions to public ledgers and beating hackers and exploiters to the punch on vulnerable smart contracts. Bitcoin was engineered with supreme grace and elegance — it’s a marvel that will likely last centuries. But on the back of blockchain, there is more to be built, and these developers are doing just that.
The Notable 100 will be released in batches of 10, counting down from #100, each day from Monday, Feb. 1 until the announcement of the Top 10 on Wednesday, Feb 10.
We hope you enjoy it — despite how clearly wrong we were about the vital contributions of that-person-we-excluded-because-we’re-so-ludicrously-biased.
Don’t worry, we’ll get them next year.
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Finance Minister predicts “very calibrated” stance
Cointelegraph By Andrew Thurman
Yet another “crypto ban” turns out to be temporary FUD.
In an interview with CNBC this morning, Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that reports of a blanket ban on cryptocurrencies are overstated. While negotiations are ongoing, she said she expects the end result to be more tempered:
“Yes, a lot of negotiations, discussions are happening, with Reserve Bank,” said Sitharaman. “Obviously the Reserve Bank will be taking a quorum on how, what kind of unofficial currency, cryptocurrency will have to be planned, and how it has to be regulated. But also, we want to make sure that there’s a window available for all kinds of experiments which will have to take place in the crypto world.”
She went on to say that regulations won’t be as “severe” as have been previously reported. Authorities will “look inward” and take a “very calibrated” stance, in contrast to the “mixed messages coming in from across the world.”
“The world is moving fast with technology. We can’t pretend that we don’t want it. […] I can only give you this clue: that we are not closing our minds, we are certainly looking at ways in which experimentations can happen in the digital world, in cryptocurrency and so on.”
— BlockchainedIndia (@blockchainedind) March 6, 2021
The comments from Sitharaman is no doubt a source of relief for crypto businesses, users, and hodlers in the world’s second most populous country. Earlier this month, a report from Bloomberg citing a senior Indian financial minister said that the country would be banning all cryptocurrencies.
The hypothetical ban drew widespread criticism from across the crypto community, with some likening it to an attempt to ban the Internet. Some companies found the reports to be hot air, however, and continued on with developments apace.
The United Arab Emirates’ green digitization vision
Cointelegraph By Selva Ozelli
The United Arab Emirates is the world’s sixth-largest oil producer and one of the richest countries in the world, with a gross domestic product per capita of above $43,000 as of 2019, according to the World Bank. As per its “Vision 2021,” Iis petroleum- and natural-gas-reliant economy is committed to sustainable development in order to emerge as the Gulf Cooperation Council’s, or GCC’s, most diversified economy. This includes the digitization of the economy, which has become a priority during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Related: Not like before: Digital currencies debut amid COVID-19
A green economy for sustainable digitization
The first virtual Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week Summit 2021 was broadcast live around the world in English and Arabic on YouTube, receiving over 100,000 views during the event from participants hailing from over 175 countries, and it featured over 500 influential global leaders from government, business and technology who explored the social, economic and technological opportunities supporting a sustainable green recovery from the pandemic.
At the summit, GCC leaders reconfirmed their decarbonization pledges “to save the equivalent of 354 million barrels of oil through the deployment” of renewable energies. This represents a 23% reduction in oil consumption to reduce the power sector’s carbon dioxide emissions by 22%, according to the latest figures from the International Renewable Energy Association.
In his opening address, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber — the UAE’s minister of industry and advanced technology, special envoy for climate change, and chairman of clean energy company Masdar — pointed out that with the COVID-19 pandemic, society is now witnessing the implementation of artificial intelligence, machine learning and the digitization of different spheres of life all over the world. Accordingly, electrification, decarbonization and digitization initiatives have become increasingly important across all industries.
Masdar’s solar energy initiatives
New digital technologies require a high consumption of electricity, which in the UAE is currently produced predominantly using fossil fuels that adversely impact the environment. Given the UAE’s vast hydrocarbon resources, Masdar is aiming to become a major blue hydrogen producer and contribute to the nation’s efforts to cut polluting carbon emissions by nearly a quarter. Masdar recently reached an agreement with Abu Dhabi’s Department of Energy and five additional institutions to develop clean hydrogen fuel solutions.
But the UAE’s Paris Agreement commitment to zero emissions by 2050 is heavily reliant on solar energy to diversify Abu Dhabi’s energy sector into renewable sources. Solar energy is seen as an anchor to Masdar’s renewable strategies from many perspectives. In Abu Dhabi, it is building the world’s largest solar power plant, as deserts are some of the best places to harvest solar power. They are never short of sunlight and are rich in silicon — the raw material for the semiconductors from which solar cells are made. Another benefit to installing solar panels in the desert, according to a 2018 study, is that it may create a more humid environment that causes vegetation to spread to combat desertification.
Masdar City: The UAE’s aerospace and green technology zone
Developed by Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City is one of the world’s most sustainable urban communities, offering a strategic base through which companies can build their networks locally and globally and can explore multiple investment opportunities and test innovative new technologies from inception through to implementation to help the UAE diversify its economy.
Housing a free zone area, the city has more than 900 organizations, from international conglomerates to startups, developing innovative technologies in the areas of energy, water efficiency, mobility, space, blockchain technology and artificial intelligence to address the world’s most critical sustainability challenges in more than 30 countries.
UAE Space Agency
Based in Masdar City, the UAE Space Agency contributes to supporting a sustainable national economy by developing satellites used in natural resource mapping, environmental monitoring, land-use planning and security, and it has also launched a probe to Mars.
The UAE government has made the digitization of its economy a priority in order to bring efficiency to government, creativity to industry, and build international leadership. To accomplish this goal, the UAE has established in Masdar City the world’s first graduate-level, research-based artificial intelligence university, Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence, which welcomed its first students in January 2021.
The UAE also adopted the Emirates Blockchain Strategy 2021 and The Dubai Blockchain Strategy, which have undertaken several blockchain projects. SustVest is a crowd-investing blockchain-based platform that lets people invest in solar projects and earn returns from consumers who use their funding to install solar panels. The company is based in the Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority and has built its solution on the Nem blockchain. Its founder, Hardik Bhatia, explained:
“The global rooftop solar segment is booming with opportunities, and is valued at over $66 billion. Emerging economies are looking to transition to solar as it offers a green and cheap alternative to conventional energy sources. SustVest enables this transition in emerging economies by crowdfunding rooftop solar projects in emerging economies on its platform. We tokenize solar projects granular to the level of individual solar cells, and investors purchasing these tokens can earn dividends generated by the sale of electricity from these individual solar cells. We are opening the gates for retail investment into solar space, and we do so by tokenizing the projects to reduce the barrier of entry and creating a secondary marketplace for providing liquidity to investors.”
The Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates, along with the Saudi Central Bank, is developing a state-backed bilateral central bank digital currency, “Aber.” Aber is initially set to help the UAE and Saudi Arabia make more cost-effective bank-to-bank, cross-border payments and financial settlements using blockchain technology on a probationary basis, and according to official statements, it will be exclusively available to a limited number of banks. Eventually, Aber will be used globally on China’s blockchain-based service network, or BSN, which will support future CBDCs from various countries such as the UAE.
Related: The United Arab Emirates chase crypto and blockchain adoption
Crypto-asset regulations in the UAE
The UAE prioritizes blockchain and distributed ledger technology and has launched various related ventures, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, cryptocurrency regulation in the nation remains limited.
Toward the end of 2020, the UAE’s Securities and Commodities Authority, or SCA, published “The Authority’s Chairman of the Board of Directors Decision No. (21/R.M) of 2020 Concerning the Regulation of Crypto Assets.” The SCA’s decision lays out its licensing regime for anyone who wishes to offer crypto assets within the UAE, including exchanges, crowdfunding platforms, initial coin offerings, custodians, and other services that use crypto assets.
The Financial Services Regulatory Authority, or FSRA, of the Abu Dhabi Global Market considers crypto assets to have characteristics like those of shares, meaning they are to be treated as securities and are subject to information disclosure requirements related to risk and transactions. On the other hand, utility tokens and non-fiat cryptocurrencies are considered commodities and are not subject to market regulations. Law No. 20 of 2018 on Anti-Money Laundering defines laundered funds to be assets in whatever form, including digital currencies. Article 3 of Law No. 8 of 2017 on value-added tax imposes a 5% tax on imported and exported commodities. This tax may apply to utility tokens and non-fiat cryptocurrencies, as the FSRA considers them to be commodities.
The UAE does not have a signed tax treaty agreement with the United States. However, according to the Conduct of Business Rulebook, crypto-asset businesses are obligated to declare international income for tax purposes according to the requirements of the intergovernmental Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act agreement between the UAE and the United States.
A green recovery is an absolute imperative for a sustainable social and economic future in the post-pandemic world, as pointed out by Alok Sharma, president of the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties — better known as COP26 — who praised Masdar’s undertakings in developing green energy technologies.
Related: The need to report carbon emissions amid the coronavirus pandemic
Finding financing for this green transition will likely not be too challenging, according to Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak, managing director and group CEO of Mubadala Investment Corporation. Because a tectonic paradigm shift has occurred since the COVID-19 pandemic, with the markets pricing climate risk into the value of securities, there is a fundamental reallocation of capital toward sustainable investing to ensure a green recovery in a post-COVID-19 world. As Laurence Fink, chairman and CEO of BlackRock — the world’s largest asset manager — pointed out:
“I believe that the pandemic has presented such an existential crisis — such a stark reminder of our fragility — that it has driven us to confront the global threat of climate change more forcefully and to consider how, like the pandemic, it will alter our lives. It has reminded us how the biggest crises, whether medical or environmental, demand a global and ambitious response.”
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Selva Ozelli, Esq., CPA, is an international tax attorney and certified public accountant who frequently writes about tax, legal and accounting issues for Tax Notes, Bloomberg BNA, other publications and the OECD.
Thailand’s crypto market seeks clearer regulations as industry interest peaks
Cointelegraph By Shiraz Jagati
Thailand currently lays claim to one of the more regulated crypto trading markets in the world, with exchanges having to adhere to strict regulatory standards. For example, at the start of the year, Bitkub, the country’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, was shut down by regulators after the trading platform faced a series of lengthy service outages.
Despite these seemingly stringent conditions, the country’s crypto market has continued to thrive. That being said, a tipping point came recently when Thailand’s Securities and Exchange Commission released a statement that it plans to enact a 1-million-baht (about $33,000) annual income minimum requirement for crypto investment in the country.
The decision was met with immediate backlash from the local investor community — as it would potentially exclude low- and middle-income earners from the cryptocurrency market — so much so that the regulatory body had to clarify its above-stated stance within days of making the announcement.
In this regard, the SEC noted that the previous draft document was just a means of gauging investor sentiment, with Ruenvadee Suwanmongkol, secretary-general of the Thai SEC, claiming: “I proposed the criteria that many considered too tough to prompt people to express their opinions on the matter and did not intend to say these are the exact qualifications that will be implemented.”
Providing his thoughts on the matter, Pinpraaj Chakkaphak, CEO of local cryptocurrency exchange ERX, told Cointelegraph that the original intention of the SEC was not malicious but one that sought to create a mechanism that could help protect investors from any unwarranted market risks, adding:
“We understand the good intentions of the SEC. However, many stakeholders in the digital assets market and the majority of the public disagree with the plan. From ERX’s point of view, this protection mechanism should not focus on minimum income; instead, it should come in the form of improved information disclosure by operators and investor education.”
Regulations should not impede market growth
To gain a better overview of the situation, Cointelegraph spoke with Konstantin Anissimov, executive director at CEX.IO — one of the most widely used crypto exchanges in Thailand. In his opinion, by taking a stance that potentially hampers lower-income families from gaining access to a potentially lucrative investment class, the SEC was going against the very fundamentals of a free-market economy and freedom of choice.
However, on the other hand, he did concede that if a majority of the lower-income population did not have any basic financial education and understanding of the risks of such investments, the SEC’s approach may have been the only way to protect the public’s best interests. Anissimov added:
“Multiple approaches can be taken, and minimum income is just one of them. I am sure that the Thai SEC will take on the feedback received from the investment community and act in the interest of its population.”
Additionally, in a statement shared with Cointelegraph, Akalarp Yimwilai, CEO of a local crypto trading platform Zipmex, pointed out that he sincerely believes that the proposed draft law comes from a place of good intent and that it serves to protect investors by minimizing unnecessary risks.
He highlighted that the Thai crypto market is still in its infancy and that regulations around the space have only come into being around three years ago. As a result, the SEC is still looking to craft a legal framework for this asset class that can protect investors from future risks. However, Yimwilai did go on to say:
“The proposed draft aims to protect, but it is important to also see that in doing so, a higher wall is being proposed which limits the opportunity of access to digital assets for many in this country. The key here, I believe, is to work hand in hand with the SEC to ensure the sustainability and height of that wall.”
Lastly, he believes that if the current draft was to get implemented, it could potentially lead to a substantial rise in the number of scams, potentially driving investors into an unregulated market where they could run into uncharted territory. Not only that, it could also lead to a lot of much-needed capital flowing out of Thailand, resulting in the long-term detriment to the country’s development and finances.
The Thai crypto market has been booming
The Thai digital assets industry has grown significantly during recent months. According to the country’s SEC, the number of cryptocurrency trading accounts within the county has risen from 160,000 at the end of 2020 to 470,000 on Feb. 1. Not only that, approximately 50% of these accounts are owned by investors younger than 30 years of age.
Furthermore, Chakkaphak pointed out that crypto trading volumes in November 2020 lay at 18.44 Billion THB, compared to 100.90 billion in February 2021, thus showcasing a staggering increase of 447.18% within a matter of just three months. He went on to add:
“Investors wanting to invest in the traditional stock market or in digital assets should educate themselves and do in-depth research. Our priority is to enable and educate investors to learn and build knowledge about investing in digital assets, as it is a new opportunity for all investors.”
Also, according to Yimwilai, Zipmex traded $1 billion in 2020 in Thailand, with the figure expected to grow exponentially in 2021. Not only that, but the cryptocurrency exchange was also able to raise $6 million in fresh funding from U.S.-based VC firm Jump Capital.
He further highlighted that the assets under the company’s management are currently valued at around $100 million, which seems to back up the notion that the Thai masses are ready to dive head first into the burgeoning crypto sector.
Do things look promising?
Though for now, the SEC seems to be backtracking on its initial outline for market entry requirements. According to the Suwanmongkol, people who are putting their hard-earned money into cryptocurrencies are mostly new investors who may not be fully aware of the risks that come with investing in high-risk, highly volatile assets. “If the SEC just stands by and does nothing, it would be totally our responsibility if investors lose on cryptocurrency,” she added.
Lastly, the SEC reportedly had a dinner talk with representatives from local digital exchanges recently, suggesting that the government agency may still be looking to consult prominent members from within the space. The final hearing, regarding the matter, will take place on March 24 before the survey finally closes on March 27.
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