While some blows are tough to take on the chin and some punches bring it –almost- to the floor, Crypto continues to fight against security knock-outs, fears and naysayers. What makes these crusaders stand up again and again. Let’s find out from an MMA fighter
From a kid who worked with his parents in a candy shop at Columbus Circle to a brief stint as an actor to being an MMA fighter (his alias- well, Ray Savant) to the guy who actually went homeless after a string of startups in the early ’00s, Ray Youssef, CEO, and co-founder, Paxful bumped into Crypto in the most uncanny way. While he was struggling, he tried to post his motorcycle for sale on an internet forum. The poster suggested that he take his payment via bitcoin – and thus, began his Crypto journey. Even he thought it was ‘nerd money’ in the initial years, but as he kept reading and learning about it, he fell in love with the cryptocurrency for the innovation muscle of the technology and the passionate community ringside.
Today, after wrestling with real-world problems and business realities, he is all set for a new kind of sparring. He has launched the #BuiltWithBitcoin charitable initiative in 2017 and he wants to show that bitcoin can help people around the world. So far, the initiative has built two schools – a nursery, and a primary school in Rwanda, Africa, provided scholarships to Afghan refugees and food drives in Venezuela. For him, cryptocurrency means looking out for the little guy. If you ask him, his favourite thing about bitcoin and Paxful is that it gives people the power to take control of their own finances. And he looks at other countries with struggling economies – thinking that bitcoin could be their way out of financial struggle.
With the company’s trading volume jumping 198 per cent during the lockdown, and with regulatory changes showing a ray of hope after some major clampdowns, Ray tells us what’s it like to balance responsibilities against fraud and bad actors with the appetite that true Crypto-enthusiasts and investors have. He also argues why Crypto is much more than an investor-fad or a speculation corner as it is, sometimes, criticized to be. Also learn why Crypto can be a good charity medium and why derivatives are still a long shot. Fighting some misconceptions and assumptions, Ray gets into the ring again…
What challenges and turning points have you observed in the space of P2P finance, especially for crypto; and in light of the regulatory uncertainty we face?
Soon after the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) banned financial institutions from providing any kind of services related to cryptocurrencies in February 2018, many local crypto exchange service providers pivoted to ‘P2P’ trading. This is, however, not the typical P2P trading offered globally, as the exchanges have tied up with HNIs who allow users to convert INR into USDT that the users can then use to buy any other cryptocurrencies on the exchange. This emerged as a quick fix following the RBI ban.
There are threats like in any industry in P2P trading, since anybody, even miscreants, could trade on such sites. However, most of the exchanges have adopted KYC and AML policies to safeguard users’ interests to the best of their abilities. At Paxful, we have a top-tier Compliance team whose goal is to keep the marketplace free from fraud and bad actors. We have implemented our own Know-Your-Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering guidelines and partnered with companies like Chainalysis and Jumio to safeguard the platform.
Was the lock-down a blessing or a pause-button for this space?
Since the lock-down, the local exchanges have seen an increase in trading volumes and more number of new people signing up on the exchanges collectively. Hence, the lockdown was definitely a booster for the Crypto space as this gave room for Crypto companies in India to digitally educate and onboard new users into Crypto space. Our trading volume has increased by 198 per cent since March from 3.52 million USD a month to 10.5 million so far in August.
Can Crypto ever be a mainstream element of finance? Or would it be all about speculation and wealth investment? Why or why not?
Yes, and we’re already seeing it. Crypto, more specifically Bitcoin, has use cases other than speculation or wealth preservation. It is a clearing layer for any form of money to be translated into another form of money, a gift card can instantly be money in your bank account, for example. In the same way, any currency can be exchanged to another easier with bitcoin and a series of peer to peer transactions.
Does the decentralisation vs. centralised debate have any implications for the space you cater to?
Centralised platforms usually have few avenues of payments (bank transfer, credit cards etc) and have steeper learning curves with order books, margins etc, while peer-to-peer platforms are easy to use and you have the comfort of knowing your trading partner is just a human being like you.
Tell us something about your next set of plans? Will you look beyond Bitcoin and P2P? Also, how do you see India changing in the realm of crypto and blockchain adoption?
Bitcoin and peer-to-peer will be the core of our business, but, we know that the industry is ever-evolving that’s why we are adopting our product to cater to such needs. We have a few product announcements lined up that you can watch out for.
Would open banking, SWIFT-alternatives, stable coins by major banks – be flashes in the pan or would they really redefine the industry?
These developments will only bring more attention to the Crypto industry itself, thus, more people will be interested in learning more about the space. We think that every company plays a role in the whole ecosystem and bringing bigger names to the industry validates the use-cases of Crypto, and advances adoption to the mainstream.
What strengths and gaps do charity/philanthropy areas have when we talk about Bitcoin for Charity?
There are a number of strengths in cryptocurrency donations, including the fact that a bull market could lead to extra funds. Another common factor that leads to the use of cryptocurrency for donations is that when donating Bitcoin, you may not owe any capital gains taxes. Additionally, by encouraging the use of cryptocurrency in something as common as a charitable donation, we are ultimately driving the overall adoption of digital currencies.
There is also the ability to track how a charity is actually using its donations if completed on the blockchain, adding another level of transparency. We will also be able to reduce the fees that are usually associated with international transfers and ultimately provide more immediate financial support.
How important are collaborations to make the space more secure, fair and simple – like with OKEx and Infinito? Is the ecosystem (Apps, terminals, P2P cards) strong enough to assure retail users of smooth crypto payments?
B2B partnerships in India with global exchanges like OKEx and Luno are great to the Indian crypto industry. The combined efforts of these partner companies definitely help foster the growth in the Indian crypto community. As we said early on, every company plays a role in the whole ecosystem, and these collaborations help in advancing adoption to the mainstream.
Anything new that you can advise or reckon for the major criticism that this space faces: security (all those hacks, forks and bankruptcy incidents)? How easy is it to balance security and liquidity/user convenience when you deliver a P2P offering?
I think the criticism is always going to exist no matter what. But what’s most important is to use that criticism constructively and move ahead in the market. Being close to the community and being transparent about everything would definitely help the company build trust against the threats and security hacks. Running bug bounty programs to make systems more robust always helps!
Anything interesting about hot wallets, private keys, crypto-fiat on ramps or other areas that users should know of – from the context of security?
As a general rule, do not store large amounts of cryptocurrencies in your hot wallet, back your seed phrase up, and do not lose private keys.
Some thoughts on crypto derivatives and crypto-insurance – a crystal ball peek those retail-segment users should be cognizant of?
India is developing an appetite for crypto derivatives, even as the country’s Supreme Court continues to deliberate over the future of the exchange industry. However, the restrictions from RBI on banks providing on-ramps and off-ramps are making the growth complicated and keeping the customer away from the derivatives market.