News from around the world

Cornell University (NY, USA) professor Emin Gun Sirer is launching his own cryptocurrency coin and network. One of the “higher-profile academic experts on blockchain technologies,” Sirer has secured funding for his startup—Ava Labs Inc.—from some of field’s biggest VCs. Ava will be a competitor of Ethereum and other older blockchains. Bloomberg reports:

New crypto coin

Sirer, the co-director of the Initiative for Cryptocurrencies and Smart Contracts at Cornell University, said the Ava network will offer high throughput, fast confirmation times of transactions, and support applications ranging from supply-chain tracking to keeping tabs on securities and gold.

Many existing blockchains tend to be specialized, focusing on ensuring user privacy or functioning as a store of value. Ava aims to run as many transactions per second as Visa and with 1.35 second confirmation latency, which should enable all these applications, plus ones that aren’t even possible yet, Sirer said.

In February, Ava Labs Inc. raised $6 million (USD) and plans to launch the network (and the issuance of coin) in the coming months.

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Since launching last May, Facebook’s secretive blockchain unit has been staffing up—a significant portion coming from PayPal. Although the product is still being kept under wraps and closely guarded, those close to the group have stated that the product—speculated to be a type of cryptocurrency—could potentially be announced next quarter. Bloomberg reports:

Facebook blockchain project

According to Facebook insiders, the blockchain group is developing a stablecoin, a type of digital currency pegged to the U.S. dollar or a basket of currencies, making it less prone to swings in price. The first country that will test the new currency is said to be India, a region that is particularly appealing for Facebook because it still has room to expand. The product could eventually allow users to transfer money for remittances via WhatsApp through stablecoin.

The company is already testing regular payments in the country through a product called WhatsApp Pay. At Facebook’s developer conference, Mark Zuckerberg said that the company would soon expand WhatsApp payments to other countries as well. Money transfers and private commerce, Zuckerberg said during his keynote, are “a part of the vision that I’m particularly excited about.”

Insiders note that they’re still in early days, as a transition from traditional payments to blockchain-based stablecoin transfers would be a huge shift for Facebook.Not only that, but it also would represent a huge shift in the worlds of retail and finance.

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In other blockchain-related news, it’s been reported that many of the world’s largest banks are investing some $50 million (USD) in a digital cash settlement project that uses blockchain technology. The goal, as noted from the previously disclosed project known as the “utility settlement coin,” is to make “clearing and settlement in financial markets more efficient.” A new entitity called Fnality would run the project and the new system could launch as early as 2020. Reuters reports:

blockchain

Banks and other financial institutions have invested millions of dollars to test new blockchain systems aimed at reducing the costs and complexity of cumbersome processes. These include securities settlement and international payments.

Few projects have been deployed at scale so far.

The utility settlement coin, one of the most ambitious of such projects, would consist of a digital cash instrument that banks could use to settle transactions.

The coin would be a digital cash equivalent of central bank-backed currencies like the dollar or euro that would run on blockchain-based technology. It would be convertible at parity and backed by cash assets held at a central bank. Spending the digital coin would be the same as spending the fiat currency it is paired with.

The group of banks involved are in talks with central banks and regulators to ensure the project is compliant.

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The OS of finance hopeful OpenFin just raised $17 million (USD) in a Series C funding round. TechCrunch reports:

OpenFin
Source: OpenFin

Likening itself to “the OS of finance,” OpenFin seeks to be the operating layer on which applications used by financial services companies are built and launched, akin to iOS or Android for your smartphone.

OpenFin’s operating system provides three key solutions which, while present on your mobile phone, has previously been absent in the financial services industry: easier deployment of apps to end users, fast security assurances for applications and interoperability.

OpenFin CEO and co-founder Mazy Dar explained to TechCrunch the financial service sector has long been missing a component of cross-functionality that is seen with mobile operating systems. You can interweave through multiple apps, such as booking a rideshare from maps, to sharing your location with friends through messages. Dar believes the financial world should be the same.

As former analysts and traders at major financial institutions, Dar and his co-founder Chuck Doerr (now president & COO of OpenFin) recognized these major pain points and decided to build a common platform that would enable cross-functionality and instant deployment. And since apps on OpenFin are unable to access local file systems, banks can better ensure security and avoid prolonged yet ineffective security review processes.

OpenFin has secured $40 million (USD) in venture funding to date, with plans to use the latest round for hiring and expanding its reach.

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