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NEM in a State of Flux – Sabbaticals, Community Consolidation, and High Hopes for Symbol

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NEM

NEM, a mainstay in blockchain, is currently in a state of flux.  As the NEM community, tasked with nurturing and driving growth of the NEM blockchain, navigates turbulent times, they have taken some bold steps.

These include the development and launch of Symbol, consolidation of entities which comprise the community, and new industry approaches involving governance, etc., moving forward.

Beyond a change in tactics surrounding their market approach, the NEM Foundation also notes the recent temporary loss of their newly appointed leader.

Consolidation

In their recent statements, NEM notes that the overarching goal, which is driving this current state of flux, is their desire to develop and launch Symbol.

An imminent, and major, step towards facilitating the launch of Symbol is the consolidation of the various entities which comprise the foundation.

  • The NEM Foundation
  • NEM Ventures
  • NEM Studios

With this consolidation, the resulting group will be known, simply, as the ‘NEM Group’.  The advent of this new entity marks a move taken in hopes of increasing efficiency, and the cohesive development of Symbol over the coming months.

The newly created NEM Group states, “In short, by mutual agreement between the NEM entities and the Core Team, the three existing NEM entities will move into a single common governance framework, NEM Group. This change does not reflect on the performance of anyone. It is a positive, collaborative step to ensure Symbol is best supported through to launch and beyond. It is also an appropriate structure to help NEM engage open source and enterprise projects post launch.”

The NEM Group will be spearheaded by CEO, David Shaw.

Symbol

As indicated above, the scheduled launch of Symbol is a root cause behind much of the flux being seen at NEM.  Why all the fuss though?  What is Symbol, and why is it worth restructuring efforts of this level?

While the benefits of Symbol are plentiful, there is one that stands apart – interoperability.  This attribute has long been noted as woefully lacking, throughout the blockchain sector.  By acting as a bridging platform between various entities, market participants will no longer need to take ‘detours’ to arrive at their destination – they will now have a direct path to their endpoint.

What has caught our eye here at securities.io, is the ability for Symbol to support security tokens.  Only weeks ago, the team at NEM released new standards for asset tokenization through Symbol.

NEM Releases Symbol Blockchain Standards for Issuing Security Tokens

It is clear that the team behind NEM believes that Symbol is the future of the project, and the best path forward.  Interoperability? Check.  Security tokens? Check.  Enterprise blockchain’s? Check.   The list goes on.

Looking Forward

Thankfully, these moves discussed by NEM do not simply represent hopes.  They have established a clear game plan for achieving their goals, and have elaborated on what this plan entails.  The following is an excerpt from their recent statement, touching on their next steps.

  • Formalise and centrally organise the software development, consulting and treasury management capabilities of the existing entities to be more efficient and operationally effective. This underpins the other two priorities.
  • Create a formal and publicly visible project plan (and roadmap), within 10 days of this announcement, for what is required to get to Symbol’s launch, including anticipated timelines and where the community can help.
  • Engage the NEM community. Over time, the community has understandably become disengaged. A plan will be put in place within 1 month of this announcement with recommendations for how to rectify this. It will include opportunities for the community (existing and new members) to get more involved in Symbol’s launch and future milestones. It will encompass specific tasks and incentives.

Sabbatical Backlash

While news of restructuring, and the upcoming launch of Symbol, is being viewed as a positive, there remains a point of contention that a portion of the NEM community is not happy about.

Alexandra Tinsman, who was appointed as the President of the NEM Foundation less than 1.5yrs ago, is going on a 6mth paid sabbatical.

While valid notable health issues are being noted as the reason for the move, not all members of the NEM community were convinced a 6mth paid sabbatical was earned after only 1.5yrs – despite the reported 14hr days every day.

The NEM Group stated, “At this time, we would like to announce that Alexandra Tinsman, President of the NEM Foundation, has decided to step back from operational leadership. She will be taking a well earned 6 month sabbatical (paid) after the long hours of running the NEM Foundation.”

NEM

NEM, originally known as the ‘New Economy Movement’, was established in 2015.  Operating out of Singapore, NEM has long been touted as the ‘Ethereum of the East’.  The company describes the NEM blockchain as a ‘plug-and-play’ business blockchain offering unique smart-contract capabilities.

It is expected that an updated roadmap for the project will be released in the coming days.

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Joshua Stoner is a multi-faceted working professional. He has a great interest in the revolutionary 'blockchain' technology. In addition to this, he is a licenced Paramedic in Nova Scotia, Canada. As such, he can provide emergency care/medicine to any situation necessitating it.

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Investment Activity in Japan Signals Interest in Digital Securitization

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Investment Activity in Japan Signals Interest in Digital Securitization

All the pieces are falling into place for the digital securities market in Japan. One of the biggest traditional financial institutions in Japan, Tokai Tokyo Financial Holdings is advancing rapidly with its plans to digitize the financial services the company provides in a traditional sense.

New Investment in Blockchain Company by Tokai Tokyo

According to a Nikkei report, Tokai Tokyo completed a new investment in blockchain development company Hash Dash Holdings. Tokai Tokyo Financial Holdings will own 33% shares of the company, which is working on integrating the blockchain technology into the traditional financial industry. The aim is to enable the issuance of digital securities while providing investors with a trading service on their mobile devices.

Digital securitization is picking up steam as more traditional financial institutions dare into the digital asset space. With uncertainty looming over traditional markets, digital assets are piquing the interest of investors – and not only retail, but institutions are taking clear steps to be part of the paradigm shift. Tokai Tokyo’s efforts to build a digital securities exchange is an example of the latest venture into the field.

Per the report, Tokai Tokyo’s platform will tokenize securities, and will start with Japan’s real estate industry with plans to explore digitization of Intellectual Property assets as well as corporate bonds.

Alongside Tokai Tokyo, other shareholders are the founder of Hash Dash and ICH X Tech, the company operating iSTOX. With this venture, the goal is to issue digital securities powered by blockchain technology and trade these on iSTOX, the digital security exchange based in Singapore.

The iSTOX exchange also has previous strong ties with Tokai Tokyo, as the latter had announced a $4.5 million investment in ICH X Tech just seven months ago in November 2019.

As reported, the iSTOX digital exchange was part of the MAS Fintech Sandbox program undergone by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and was one of the select successful products. The motivation behind the investment was to make digital securities on the iSTOX platform available to Japanese investors; this being possible through the brokerage capabilities of Tokai Tokyo Financial Holdings.

If at the time, the digital securities exchange was a sandbox, it has since become a recognized market operator with a capital market services license. Other iSTOX investors included the Singapore Exchange (SGX), state-owned Temasek’s investment firm Heliconia Capital, and Hanwha Asset Management.

Asian countries have been known to be at the forefront of the digital asset industry – starting off with a dominant presence in the mining industry to having a lot of cryptocurrency exchange platforms across different countries and a population eager to experiment with novel cryptocurrencies.

Japanese Companies Bringing Digital Securitization Closer to Mainstream

In the past few years, Japanese companies have also been actively seeking opportunities to enter the digital securitization space. SBI Holdings has been long making the headlines in the industry with their collaboration with Ripple and XRP.

In the past year, Nomura and Nomura Research Institute started the BOOSTRY platform, which focuses on securities and bonds issuance. Tokenization platform Securitize already created a Japanese real estate investment platform, receiving funding from numerous high profile Japanese investment firms.

While Tokai Tokyo Financial Holdings is almost a century old company with deep roots in the traditional financial markets, the company is determined to adapt to changing market conditions.

In December, Tokai Tokyo made an investment of 500 million yen ($4.7 million) in Huobi Japan, the popular crypto exchange licensed in Japan. In order to execute their vision of becoming an “advanced financial integrated group”, Tokai Tokyo is focused on meeting consumer needs by deploying leading technologies from FinTech and the cryptocurrency space, according to the company’s press release at the time.

Further in the press release it was stated:

The financial business using blockchain technology has advanced rapidly in recent years with the application area of crypto assets and Security Token Offering (STO) expanding globally.

Also, in March Tokai Tokyo became a member of Japan Security Token Offering Association, a self-regulatory organization for STOs.

The intent from the Japanese financial giant is clear and it looks like the company is making it a priority to have a strong foothold in the digital securitization industry.

Overall, it’s a natural and likely necessary progression that financial institutions have to consider, seeing that in the next decade digital securities may become the prevalent financial products that investors look for.

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Thai Government to Use Blockchain in Bond Issuance

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Thai Government to Use Blockchain in Bond Issuance

Another minor, but significant development in digital securitization is unfolding in Thailand, where the public debt management office (PDMO) is set to issue government saving bonds that will be distributed with the help of blockchain.

This is an initial trial done by PDMO, which is part of the country’s finance ministry, to leverage the blockchain technology in issuing and distributing government bonds to the public.

According to local reports, the office is issuing bonds in total value of around $6.5 million (200 million baht). One particular feature of the blockchain technology is already clearly visible, as the bonds are being sold at a face value of 1 baht – the lowest ever amount for government bonds, which are usually priced at 1,000 baht.

Why is Bond Tokenization Important

The bond market is one of the oldest and most relied-upon asset classes, providing key financing for governments, corporations, and investors. Despite the market’s popularity with both institutional and retail investors, digitization has been incredibly slow.

Bond issuance is generally a long process that involves multiple intermediaries, incurring high costs and the risk of human error. These are common pain points in the financial securities market that technological innovations are hoping to solve. 

This is where bond tokenization comes into play with the aim to lower the various costs associated with bond issuance. The application of blockchain technology can benefit the bond market as a whole by enhancing data visibility, reducing counterparty risk, and improving operational efficiency.

When buying and selling bonds, buyers can instantly verify that the sellers own the bond by looking at the blockchain. This also immediately eliminates the need of having intermediaries since the bond lives on a trustless and immutable ledger.

Blockchain also eases the process of bond issuance with the terms and conditions including the principal amount, coupon rate, and maturity date, being ingrained into code. As a result, the payment process can be automated: issuers can distribute interest payments directly to the bondholder’s wallet address. 

With the novel technology, issuers of securities have the possibility to represent financial assets as granular as necessary. Since verifications, transactions and settlements take place on a blockchain ledger, there is no additional hassle or paperwork to go through, compared to traditional methods of asset securitization and distribution.

This is a huge advantage technology provides and general director of the PDMO Patricia Mongkhonvanit, recognizes that this will also open up new opportunities for everyone to buy government bonds:

“This should enable more people at the grassroots level to buy the government’s saving bonds,”

Thailand Pressing Forward with Digital Securitization

The government savings bonds will be available for purchase through the Krung Thai Bank’s (KTB) blockchain platform, which is wholly state-owned and the distribution will take place through an e-wallet. While this is an entirely novel way of conducting a government bond issuance, it is not an unfamiliar experience for many.

If the smallest bond partition is 1 baht, the minimum acquiring limit is set at 100 bonds per purchaser, with investment capped at 500,000 baht – according to PDMO.

The initial rollout will take place through digital channels, but PDMO also plans to broaden savings bond distribution channels to bank branches, ATMs and mobile banking.

In order to gauge public interest and spread the message, the government had beforehand let people subscribe through the blockchain-based e-wallet. The 200-million-baht savings bond offering is an initial test and those who are interested in participating must have accounts at KTB and apply through the bank’s e-wallet.

Thailand’s PDMO had recently closed the sales of savings bonds worth 50 billion baht, which was part of the government’s 1-trillion-baht plan to mitigate the economic damage following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rising interest on the side of the Thai government to pursue more efficient ways for issuing bonds is further confirmation that the role of blockchain technology for digital asset securitization is broadening. Should the trial issuance on the blockchain be viewed as a success, there is a chance to see more government bonds being distributed this way.

Thailand has also been one of the countries eager to step forward with their experimentation of blockchains for financial securitization. For instance, back in 2019 the Thailand Bond Market Association announced it would adopt blockchain for bond registration. The local Toyota Leasing in the country had issued a blockchain bond. In addition to that, the stock exchange also has plans to launch a blockchain-based digital asset platform.

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Real-World Assets as Collateral for DeFi, Made Possible with MakerDAO

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Real-World Assets as Collateral for DeFi, Made Possible with MakerDAO

The cryptocurrency space was borne out of a desire to bring about a better financial system and infrastructure that is inclusive for anyone, anywhere.

The crypto industry has matured significantly since 2010 when Bitcoin kicked off a new wave that today spawned a whole new industry. The crypto community continually progressed with new tools and capabilities being gradually built up.

Nonetheless these capabilities that promise quicker settlement times, trustless global accessibility and granular asset control have mostly remained gated within the crypto realm.

Bringing Together Real-World and Crypto Assets

Now, the ambition is to bridge the gap between real-world assets and cryptocurrencies. Specifically in the DeFi space, that aims to provide a borderless financing infrastructure, the first steps are being made to bring real-world assets as collateral for loan issuance.

The community of MakerDAO, that is behind the DAI stablecoin, arguably one of the most popular DeFi projects, has confirmed the vote on whether to allow real-world assets to be included as collateral options.

This comes following the effort led by the startup Centrifuge, that developed a protocol that lets users turn real assets into securities against which ERC20 tokens can be issued. This enables real world asset securitization as these tokens are interest-bearing and will be issued as NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens).

DeFi applications built mostly on top of the Ethereum blockchain promise to give more people access to borrowing, lending, and other services because they eliminate the need to go and transact through a financial institution. 

In the case of MakerDAO, the system built with Maker (MKR) and DAI lets users deposit cryptocurrency-denominated collateral to take out loans denominated in the U.S. dollar-pegged stablecoin DAI. 

While recently the DeFi space celebrated a huge milestone with $1 billion locked in various applications across the board, participation in DeFi today is limited because it requires that users have purely crypto-native assets.

Getting real-world assets involved in the DeFi industry is what Centrifuge is pursuing with its Ethereum Dapp called Tinlake. The app allows for the securitization of real-world assets and have these represented on the blockchain as tokens, which can in turn be used to gain access to DeFi services.

What is Asset Tokentization?

Asset tokenization refers to the act of turning the ownership of a real-world asset into a digital token. This can be done in various ways, but all result in the legally-upheld bridge between the physical asset and its representative token.

Deeds, titles, and certificates are all traditional versions of a token. A deed to a house represents ownership of that house. The token refers to the digitally native asset which represents the real-world asset itself.

 The first two types of assets that are available for tokenization are music streaming royalties enabled by PaperChain and ConsolFreight’s freight shipping invoices.

With the positive vote from the MakerDAO community, now anyone – be it individuals or companies – is able to utilize future cash flows from music streaming royalties or shipping invoices as collateral to take out loans for example.

Centrifuge’s Lucas Vogelsang notes the partnership could be the world’s first application of DeFi to a real-world business issue. Particularly, the solution helps ensure quick liquidity for artists and supply chain firms, without the hassles of going through traditional ways of financing. 

MakerDAO’s Rune Christensen has also shared a highly optimistic vision as the two proposals represent the first step towards the expansion of DeFi’s field of application:

“These should be seen as the first two [RWAs] in the greatest portfolio of assets that’s ever been built. It’s just the first step. Thousands and thousands of assets will exist alongside them.”

There are still issues and restrictions when it comes to securitization of real-world assets and introduces new risks to the DeFi space.

For instance, Centrifuge’s tokenization process through its app still falls under the securities law. Since both Paperchain and ConsolFreight are based in the U.S. only accredited investors will have access to these assets.

Another compromise that was made in order to bring real-world assets to DeFi is Centrifuge setting up a special purpose vehicle (SPV) that will have the assets associated with, from a legal touchpoint. Lenders, in the event of default, would have to rely on the legal system to enforce their rights to the collateral, rather than an automated smart contract that can do so with on-chain assets.

While this is necessary to have a claim for the tokenized real-world assets, it represents a single-point of failure. But this is a trade-off that Centrifuge’s Lucas Vogelsang says is necessary in order to bring real world assets on-chain.

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