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US gives the green light for 11 bitcoin ETFs – Industry roundup: 11 January

SEC approves 11 bitcoin exchange traded funds

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has given its approval to 11 exchange-traded funds (ETFs) for bitcoin in the US, potentially opening up cryptocurrencies to many new investors reluctant to take the extra steps involved in buying actual bitcoin.

The regulator’s green light for the first US-listed ETF to track bitcoin, marks a watershed moment for the world’s largest cryptocurrency and the broader crypto industry.

The SEC’s announcement followed a tweet sent from the regulator's account on Tuesday supposedly confirming its approval of the long-awaited ETFs, leading the price of bitcoin to spike by more than US$1,000. Soon after, the SEC said its account had been “compromised” and that the tweet was “unauthorised”.

Now that the SEC’s approval has been legitimately confirmed “the move will allow US retail investors to access Bitcoin exposure without having to have crypto wallets and with the assurance that if they wish to sell, they will be able to and that there is a degree of regulation of the underlying trading behind the ETFs,” commented Steve Clayton, head of equity funds at UK financial services firm Hargreaves Lansdown.

“If that sounds like an endorsement, it’s not,” he added. “SEC Chair Gary Gensler issued a statement immediately after the approval, stressing that the agency does not endorse digital assets. “…we do not approve or endorse Bitcoin” and “investors should remain cautious about the myriad risks associated with Bitcoin and products whose value is tied to crypto”.

“Markets had been anticipating the approval and pushing Bitcoin through $45,000 in recent trading sessions in expectation of a surge in volumes once Bitcoin ETFs hit the market. In this event, Bitcoin actually erased its latest gains on the news, even though several major Wall Street firms have said they intend to launch Bitcoin ETFs in short order.”

UK daily The Guardian reported: “The decision to approve the ETFs is a major win for huge fund managers like BlackRock, Fidelity Investments and Invesco who will manage the funds – and have pushed hard to get the SEC to approve them.

“Some products are expected to begin trading as early as Thursday, kicking off a fierce competition for market share.”

Companies are also expected to heavily market these ETFs, with a flurry of online advertisements and other forms of promotion. Some issuers, such as Bitwise and VanEck, have already released promotional material.

“It is pretty unprecedented, so we'll see how it works. I’ve never been in a situation where 10 of the same ETF was launched on the same day, so this is a new one,” said Steven McClurg, the chief investment officer at Valkyrie, whose ETF was among those approved on Wednesday.


Misinformation the WEF’s main concern ahead of Davos

Risk specialists regard extreme weather and misinformation as the risks most likely to trigger a global crisis in the next couple of years, according to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual survey.

While extreme weather was identified as the bigger risk in 2024, misinformation and disinformation came second and were found to be the most severe global risk in the next two years. The latter will come to the fore over the next 12 months as voters in many countries head to the polls.

Major economies from the US and the UK to India and Mexico will hold elections this year, leaving industry and political leaders reliant on polls and forecasts to assess what the policy environment will look like by 2025.

“The widespread use of misinformation and disinformation, and tools to disseminate it, may undermine the legitimacy of newly elected governments,” warned the WEF report. which was prepared in partnership with Zurich Insurance Group and the insurance broking and risk management group Marsh & McLennan.

“Resulting unrest could range from violent protests and hate crimes to civil confrontation and terrorism,” added the report, which has been published ahead of the Davos summit for the past 18 years and factors the views of 1,200 figures across the private and public sectors.

Twelve months ago, the WEF’s annual Global Risks Report identified the cost-of-living crisis as the biggest short-term risk facing the world in 2023.

Across a 10-year horizon, environmental risks including biodiversity loss and critical change to the earth's systems topped the rankings, with misinformation, disinformation and adverse outcomes of artificial intelligence (AI) just behind.

Two in three of the risk experts surveyed expect a multipolar or fragmented world order to emerge in the next decade, “in which middle and great powers contest, set and enforce regional rules and norms”, the survey said.

This year’s Davos summit opens in the Swiss resort on Monday and more than 300 public figures will participate, including more than 60 heads of state and government such as Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general; Kristalina Georgieva, who heads the International Monetary Fund (IMF); Ajay S. Banga, president of the World Bank Group; Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) chief; and Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of NATO.

Political leaders attending include Li Qiang, China's premier; French President Emmanuel Macron; Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president; Javier Milei, the Argentina president; Pedro Sanchez, Spain's prime minister; Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine's president; Gustavo Francisco Petro Urrego, Columbia's president; Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis; Mohammed Shyaa Al Sudani, Iraq’s prime minister and others.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the country's national security Advisor Jake Sullivan will also attend the forum. An estimated 1,600 business leaders, including over 800 of the world's top CEOs, are also expected to participate.


UAE bucks global drop in fintech funding

More data confirming a decline in funding in 2023 for the fintech industry has been released by industry body Innovate Finance, which reports shows that global investment in fintechs fell to US$51.2 billion last year, down 48% from US$99 billion in 2022.

The total number of fintech fundraising deals also sank considerably, to 3,973 in 2023 from 6,397 in 2022 — a 61% drop.

Against that overall decline there was one standout performer on the list when it came to funding: the United Arab Emirates. According to Innovate Finance, the UAE saw total investment soar 92% in 2023, thanks in part to more fintech-friendly regulations, and as adoption of digital banking and other tools expanded in the region.

That marks the first time the UAE has made it to the top 10 list of most well-funded fintech hubs in 2023, according to Innovate Finance. There were more Asian and Middle East countries in the top 10 last year than there were European nations, the group noted, as some major European economies slipped down the table, such as France and Germany.

“Some of the markets now adopting this technology, we’re seeing that reflected in investment numbers,” said Innovate Finance CEO Janine Hirt, who noted that the momentum in Asia and the Middle East offered an opportunity for the UK to boost cooperation and partnerships with countries in those regions. “We are seeing appetite and real momentum coming from a lot of hubs in Asia,” she said.

On the slowdown, Hirt noted that growth-stage companies were the most likely to be affected by the downturn in funding in 2023, whereas seed-stage and early-stage firms were more immune to those pressures.

“If you’re a later-stage company, you might not be going out for a raise right now,” Hart said, adding that early-stage fintechs had a better time in the market last year raising about US$4 billion. “That’s a really positive sign,” she added.

“What is a testament to the strength of our sector is that deal sizes are very, very healthy,” she added “Globally, and in the UK, investment in seed, Series A and B fintechs has normalised, which is a testament to the strength of investors.”

Innovate Finance’s figures confirm that the US remains the biggest country for fintech investment, with total investment coming in at US$24 billion, although funding levels remained down from 2022 as fintech firms raised 44% less in 2023 than they did a year ago.

The UK was a distant second, pulling in US$4.5 billion last year as London continued to dominate when it comes to fintech funding in Europe more broadly. However, the UK’s capital saw overall funding drop 56% from 2022.

India came in third after the UK., with the country seeing fintech investment worth US$2.5 billion last year, while Singapore was fourth with US$2.2 billion of funding, and China was fifth on US$1.8 billion.

The value of the top five biggest deals globally in 2023 was over US$9 billion, or about 18% of total global investment in the space.

Stripe pulled in the most amount of cash raising US$6.9 billion, according to the data, while Rapyd, Xpansiv, BharatPe, and Ledger won the second, third, fourth, and fifth-biggest investment deals, respectively.


SAP agrees US$222 million penalty to settle US bribery charges

German software company SAP has agreed to pay about US$222 million to resolve two investigations into bribery schemes in seven countries, according to US authorities.

The US Department of Justice said SAP has entered a three-year deferred prosecution agreement to resolve criminal charges that it conspired to bribe government officials in Indonesia and South Africa in order to win business.

The payout comprises a US$118.8 million criminal fine and US$103.4 million of forfeiture, the Justice Department said.

SAP also reached a related civil settlement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to address similar alleged bribery schemes in Azerbaijan, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Tanzania, as well as Indonesia and South Africa.

The company “has accepted responsibility for corrupt practices that hurt honest businesses engaging in global commerce,” US Attorney Jessica Aber in the Eastern District of Virginia said in a statement.


Revolut ready to roll out HR platform to more than 300 firms

Revolut, the UK-based global neobank and fintech firm is set to launch its Revolut People platform in Europe in the second half of this month.

The human resources (HR) platform – dubbed Revolut People the “global people platform” – has seen 325 corporate signups since 6 December, when it was officially made available to other companies.

“We designed an all-in-one solution addressing everything we needed for global HR, performance, and recruitment, drawing on our financial app's ease of use,” said the group at the time of the launch. “Revolut People isn't just a platform: it's a chronicle of our growth — from a small startup to a global powerhouse.”

“Even if one of our competitors gets our product, we are absolutely fine,” said Andrei Opriso, Revolut's head of people product.”

Revolut, which has expanded its offering to include banking services, currency exchange, stock trading, crypto, peer-to-peer payments, travel, insurance, and even instant messaging, said prior to the launch that it was ready to add its “secret sauce” HRtech, which manages its 7,500 staff, as a B”B proposition as it branches out further into new business lines.

Founded in July 2015 by two Credit Suisse staffers, Nikolay Storonsky and Vlad Yatsenko, Revolut was initially launched as a digital bank to challenge traditional lenders and has developed into a diverse fintech.


Standard Chartered arranges €533m funding for Côte d’Ivoire

Standard Chartered has arranged €533 million (US$584 million) of financing, with the support of the African Development Bank (AfDB), for the Ministry of Finance and Budget of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire. 

This financing initiative will provide funds for sustainable projects as part of the Republic’s National Development Plan for 2021–2025. It aims to boost Côte d’Ivoire’s economic and social progress in line with the country’s own Sustainable Framework, which has been evaluated and endorsed through a Second Party Opinion.

The financing will be channelled into projects that promote sustainable development and encompass a variety of social and environmental initiatives. They include enhancing education and health infrastructure, developing renewable energy sources, improving wastewater management, and implementing measures for pollution prevention and control.

Standard Chartered “has taken a multi-faceted role in this transaction, serving as the sole Global Coordinator, Structuring Bank, Sustainability Coordinator, Bookrunner, Mandated Lead Arranger, and Underwriter,” a statement confirmed.

The financing comes in the form of a Partial Credit Guarantee loan with a substantial 15-year tenure and advantageous borrowing costs. These terms have been carefully crafted to align with Côte d’Ivoire’s preferred financing conditions, ensuring access to cost-effective funding. 

This transaction marks a crucial move towards bolstering the country’s ability to attract long-term, competitive financing for projects focused on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria.

Sujithav Sarangi, Executive Director, Structured Export Finance at Standard Chartered, said: “Standard Chartered is pleased to have played a leading role in successfully delivering the first African Development Bank guaranteed sustainable loan to finance social and environmental projects for the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire.

“As a leading financial institution, we promote sustainable finance in our markets and look to replicate this type of financing, in partnership with AfDB, for other sovereigns in the African region.”


Visa and CIBC partner on sending remittances to digital wallets

Visa and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) are partnering to help the bank’s clients send remittances across borders more conveniently. 

Using Visa Direct’s money movement capabilities, clients of CIBC and its digital banking division Simplii will be able to send money to more digital wallets in the Philippines, China, Bangladesh, Kenya and other key remittance destinations in which digital wallets are commonly used, a press release stated. The new capability will be available” in the coming months”.

“Sending foreign currency has become an increasingly important part of many Canadians’ daily banking needs — a trend that we expect will continue for years to come,” said Jimmy Dinh, managing director of Direct Financial Services at CIBC Capitak Markets, said in the release. 

Three in four new Canadians send money overseas at least once a month, and 79% are looking for a more convenient way to do so, according to the release. 

Digital wallets, as a solution to this demand, are among the fastest-growing financial instruments in the world and are especially valuable to unbanked individuals in developing markets, the release said. 

Visa Direct provides access to nearly 8.5 billion endpoints, including more than 2.5 billion digital wallets, 3 billion cards and 3 billion accounts, per the release. 

Another recent Visa collaboration saw the company partner with International Money Express, aka Intermex, to extend the latter’s money transfer services to more than 20 countries not previously served. This expansion of Intermex’s services is made possible by its expanded integration with Visa Direct. 

In November, Visa and US online remittance service Remitly expanded their collaboration to streamline cross-border fund flows.. The companies’ expanded efforts enable Remitly customers in more than 15 countries, including the US, Canada, the UK and Australia, to push funds directly to holders’ Visa debit cards and bank accounts in more than 100 jurisdictions globally. 


ETC Group lists MSCI Crypto Index Basket ETP on Euronext Paris

ETC Group, the European provider of digital asset-backed securities, announced the listing  of DA20, as the world’s first and only MSCI benchmarked crypto index exchange-traded product (ETP), on the Euronext Paris exchange. 

Launched together with MSCI in April 2023 on the Deutsche Börse XETRA in Germany, the ETC Group MSCI Digital Assets Select 20 ETP tracks the performance of the MSCI Global Digital Assets Select Top 20 Capped Index.

The index, developed by MSCI with ETC Group's input, represents the 20 leading digital assets. These currently include cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin (BTC), Ethereum (ETH), and Solana (SOL). Each individual constituent of the index is capped at a maximum of 30%. Stablecoins, privacy tokens and meme-coins, are excluded from the index universe. 

The exchange-traded security allows both private and institutional investors to diversify their exposure to the crypto market. Similar to all ETC Group crypto ETPs, the ETC Group MSCI Digital Assets Select 20 is fully backed by cryptocurrency and secured against issuer insolvency risk by a trustee. The tokens are securely stored in cold storage by a regulated crypto custodian. Additionally, all transactions undergo independent monitoring by a designated administrator. 

DA20 covers approximately 85% of the crypto market.


Finverity and Tesselate Group cooperate on working capital finance digitisation

Finverity, the UK-based trade and supply chain finance (SCF) digital ecosystem announced a strategic partnership with Tesselate Group, a provider of adaptable and scalable business systems.

The collaboration enables more banks and non-bank financial institutions (NBFIs) to fully digitalise their operation using Finverity’s technology, FinverityOS while managing all working capital and supply chain finance products on a single operating system.

“Tesselate’s breadth of banking relationships and interoperability combines with Finverity’s technology to create a solution that can be seamlessly integrated,” stated a company release.

“Digitalising trade and SCF operations promotes innovation and allows banks and NBFIs to increase revenue streams from new and existing clients and streamline operational processes. The partnership comes at an opportune moment for supply chain finance and banks, as demand for this technology has never been higher.

“By combining Finverity’s technology and expertise in working capital and supply chain finance products with Tesselate Group’s adaptable business systems, and interoperability layer Hive.t, new systems can be deployed in as little as 30 days. Better equipping banks and NBFIs with a robust and adaptable system in this way enables them to navigate the triple threat of rising interest rates, inflation, and geopolitical uncertainty.

Said Guida, Managing Partner at Tesselate Group commented: “This collaboration not only enhances operational efficiency but also empowers businesses to diversify their product offerings and drive revenue growth.”

“Speed to market and time of implementation have become key decision-making factors for banks when choosing a technology partner,” added Alex Fenechiu, COO and co-founder, Finverity. “Our solution in collaboration with Tesselate allows Banks and NBFIs to access fully integrated, world-class SCF solutions in record time.”

Ghana’s bonds rise as debt restructure talks continue

Ghana’s sovereign international dollar bonds have risen this week on a report that its government is about to receive a draft term sheet from its official creditors to restructure US$5.4 billion of bilateral debts.

The draft term sheet would pave the way for the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Executive Board to approve the disbursement of US$600 million under its US$3 billion bailout programme, the country's Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta told Bloomberg News. The IMF board is scheduled to meet next Thursday, 18 January.

According to reports, the US$5.4 billion owed by Ghana to lender nations includes about $1.9 billion to China, but its debts to commercial creditors are much larger, at about US$15 billion, including roughly US$1 3billion owed to holders of its eurobonds. It also has about US$34.5 billon of domestic debts, mainly to local banks and pension funds.

“The Government of Ghana is essentially bankrupt and has turned to the IMF for its 17th financial rescue since 1957,” commented the New York Times last September.



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