A True Prisoner’s Dilemma

Banks are no strangers to controversy – we only get a glimpse of their colossal levels of errors of judgement during times like the great financial crash of 2008.

Most big banks have a mandate (without your consent) to use funds deposited to trade and participate in complex and highly risky investments like stocks, currencies, futures and derivatives – but to what extent?

This also brings to the fore a potential issue of what is known as the principal-agent problem. Where the agents – bank employees, are given a ‘license to “ deal’ in all sorts of investments, often under the radar of both local and global financial authorities.

When one of such agents makes an overwhelming error in judgement, causing a large chunk of investment monies to be lost;  the agent is said to ‘go rogue’.  Questions arise as the agents often do not operate alone without supervision or consent from their seniors/managers.

A good example is that of a convicted bank fraudster; imprisoned and released on good behaviour, 38-year-old Kweku Adoboli who was eventually deported from Britain to Ghana.  A country he has lived in for 26 years in comparison to Ghana where had lived for a mere 4 years. This ends a long-protracted appeal process to allow him to remain and continue living in the UK after serving his sentence.

Some say he was a scapegoat for the deportation policies in the UK and argue that the colour of a person’s skin has no bearing on the immigration policy of Britain. This assumption holding some substance after what happened with the Windrush scandal

Others have also contended that he was the perfect scapegoat to throw in jail as a warning shot that the UK was willing to crack down on fraudulent bankers especially after the 2008 financial collapse which banks played a significant role in.

N26_banner-300x250-ENThis is also the reason why no top manager went to jail at UBS. Had Adoboli believed regulators did not know about money laundering and illegal trading in central London? The banks want to continue raking in profits and the last thing they wanted was a former insider with an appetite to take them on. These are the practices that have made them powerful. Adoboli failed to recognise that.  

“Adoboli did not syphon money to a private personal account, he did not pay himself a golden parachute, he did not launder money for terrorists or drug cartels, he did not manipulate interest rates and did not cause financial loss to the UK government. Other UK bankers who were never prosecuted however did.”

The word scapegoat is applicable because the banks that needed bailouts like RBS were savings banks, unlike UBS which was at least at that time, an investment bank. Adoboli did not syphon money for himself, he did, however, recklessly trade to make money for the Bank.

UBS is a bank which ordinary folks do not readily have access to. The very practices by Adoboli that lost the bank $2 billion led them to eventually record an overall profit of over $3 billion that same year. We, therefore, need to deprive our minds of the fact that Adoboli defrauded taxpayers of the UK and was a rogue agent of the bank.

He was, however, not alone in this practice and UK taxpayer bore no responsibility for the money that he lost. Therefore, in several ways, the own architect of his misfortune; either advertent or inadvertently.  

Let us, however, turn our attention to finance because this is what this post is about. And even before that, it is essential to get some perspective before jumping on to ‘lynch’ Adoboli. The Royal Bank of Scotland which manages cheque accounts of ordinary workers had to be given taxpayers money of £45,5 billion as a bailout.

It appears that the government will not get the money back according to the current chair of UBS, Sir Howard Davis. Interestingly enough, no one was arrested for causing financial loss to the state (that happened). UK taxpayers had to take a hit for this.

 Another interesting issue worth considering is the LIBOR scandal which was the manipulation of interbank lending rates by a host of global financial institutions. These banks, incidentally, including UBS by the way, have been implicated in manipulating interest rates for profit sharing. This was as far back as 2003 according to the counc39935_1200x628il of foreign relations. Again, no one was jailed for this ‘heist’. Before addressing Adoboli ’s case again, some large multinational banks were publicly known to launder money (for terrorists and drug cartels) guess who was convicted? That’s right, no one.

We do not refute that what he did constituted a crime –  it apparently was and perhaps he deserves the jail time he got. But the way he was plastered all over the newspapers in the UK in 2011 as some poster boy for out of control banking in the UK was why the term “scapegoat” was used.

  In investment banking, trading of commodities and currencies can go wrong which is why he should have insured his bets. But then, what no one is willing to talk about is the reward associated with high risk (uninsured) betting in the financial markets. That is the modus operandi of these banks; which does not make for sufficient juicy material for the corporate press. 

This is the height of the power of the big financial institutions and what they can get away with. Lose taxpayer’s money and there is no consequence. Fund terrorist or drug cartels and you will just be fined a fraction of your profits; fix international interest rates and all you receive is a fine. However, dare to lose their money through a risky bet and you will be undone just like Adoboli was.

Until the current financial framework is considerably changed to end monopolies of big financial institutions, the risky bets will continue. With blockchain and cryptocurrencies, who knows what the future hold? All the best to the “rogue trader” in his future endeavour nonetheless.

**This is a summarised section of a column by Julius Owusu-Paddy.  He is a staunch advocate for challenging social norms that elevate the powerful and suppresses the powerless. The full article can be read here. This section attempted to cover the issue of principal-agency problem and related issues in the financial industry.

One unanswered question is why investigators never scrutinised the practices of the entire UBS bank rather than just hauling two comparatively low-level managers to court (the afore-mentioned Kweku Adoboli and another Ron Greenidge). UBS did, however, make a profit that year despite the loss of $2 billion attributed to Adoboli.

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Digital Fundraising

The latest abbreviation in finance and crypto-world is ‘ICO’. A word that gives both local and global financial authorities like the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) nightmares for several reasons.

Not to be confused with Initial Public Offering (IPO) which is used by firms to raise cash through the issuing of shares to the public. An ICO (Initial Coin Offering) serves the same function and works like crowdfunding , but for digital currency and tokens only.

We recently covered a feature on raising funds and capital for a business but missed out on one relatively new method. More and more companies are using ICOs to raise capital for their businesses.250x250

The concept of an ICO works similarly to how a company raises capital through shares in that it is all based on contrived value.

Funding raising in effect boils down to sales! If your actual product or service has nothing substantial or intrinsic to offer a client base, then it is nothing more than a scam.

Launching an ICO is quite easy, and to an extent, many tech companies are now catching onto it.

An ICO is the cryptocurrency space’s rough equivalent to an IPO in the investment world. ICOs act as fundraisers of sorts; a company looking to create a new coin, app, or service launches an ICO — Investopedia.

If you still do not believe it is possible, just listen to this testament from someone who did it after unsuccessfully knocking on doors of conventional funders – the angel investors, venture capitalists and banks.

The alarming spurt rate of ICOs often brings with it a scourge of potential scammers. The SEC and other institutions have to step in to monitor and regulate them.

Social media Platforms like Facebook and Google – which house a bounty of users (potential investors) have banned ICOs ads due to possible prey on unsuspecting investors; exposing them to con artists.

Basically, the scammers use fancy websites, laden with impressive figures and terminology to con users into buying into their coins or tokens.

Though the tokens barely even cost a cent, it adds up if they have millions of people buying in.  Once they have reached a certain amount in funding – they close shop and disappear!

Hypothetically speaking if one wanted to create a new coin called ‘DebunqedCoin’, these are the steps:
  • Create a product concept or Business Plan for the coin or what is called a Whitepaper. This describes in great detail what the coin or token aims to do; the core technologies behind it; the team and their qualifications; the product’s lifecycle/growth path etc.

  • Once completed and water-tight, the whitepaper would be submitted along with an application to one of the best Cryptocurrency Exchanges for review.
  • Naturally, the business would need some initial working capital for liquidity. Some of this is raised by the owners and other institutions (through loans) etc. These will serve as collateral/insurance that there is indeed genuineness in the venture for all stakeholders.
  • You must then assure your investors of a solid return on investment (ROI) and deliver – which goes back to sales and growth. Unless your offering is a scam you actually need to do some work! This comes with regular updates (marketing campaigns can have a tremendous or adverse impact on the uptake and price) on milestones reached.
  • The above is necessary to keep the investors abreast with progress and in the process, getting them to possibly increase funding. Growing interest and addition of more funds creates demand for the coin/ token which, in turn, drives up the price and market capitalization.
  • Voila! you would then be in business!

Here are some of the most successful ICOs of all time

NEO:

Known as “China’s Ethereum”, and backed by Microsoft, Alibaba and the Chinese government, NEO uses smart contract applications. It does so, however, with the addition of decentralized commerce, digitized assets and identification.

It enjoyed a considerable hike in token value from $0.03 to $88.20, NEO has big things coming with a 294,000% ROI.

Ethereum:

Unlike Bitcoin, the second-most valuable cryptocurrency in the world has more functionality than just being a coin. Its ledger technology is used to build and deploy decentralized applications a.k.a. “smart contract” technology.

Ethereum’s ROI has been nothing short of jaw-dropping at 230,000%. Having sold its tokens at $0.31, an Ether token now sits at a whopping $713, second in value only to Bitcoin.

Spectrecoin:

The “premier privacy-focused cryptocurrency” enables users to send and receive currency worldwide with total anonymity. It is currencies like SpectreCoin that have most government tax offices quaking in their boots.

If you had repurchased a token in November 2016, that puny $0.001 would be worth $0.64 today, or an ROI of 64,000%.

Stratis:

This UK-based start-up has craftily created a platform that is compatible with .NET and C#. As a result, the product appeals to veteran users of Microsoft products.

Raising 915 BTC in 5 weeks, those who cashed in on the low investment of $0.01 per token have seen a titanic ROI of 56,000%.

Ark:

With Ark, collaboration is the name of the game. The platform’s SmartBridge is a lightning-fast ecosystem designed to integrate other cryptocurrencies into its blockchain.

Investors were eager as any to buy in, and they have made a 35,400% gain given today’s token price of $3.54.

DigixDAO:

DGD, which stands for Digix Decentralized Autonomous Organization, is a self-governing community. It gives out grants to different projects which will promote the growth of the DGX network.

At a current value of $346.88 per token, this gives them a return of 10,722%.

Quantum (QTUM):

QTUM is an open-source value transfer platform which focuses on mobile decentralized apps or Dapps. QTUM is the world’s first proof-of-stake smart contracts platform.

They hosted a highly successful ICO in March 2017, and since that time has seen an ROI of 6,400%.

Source: investinblockchain.com

The prospect can be daunting for a cryptocurrency investor looking to make money off new investment opportunities, while remaining cushioned from fraudulent ICOs and dodgy coins and tokens.

As there is no guarantee that any cryptocurrency or blockchain-related start-up will be genuine or successful. One simply needs to be vigilant and take steps such as getting to know the core team, poring over the whitepaper with a big magnifying glass. Naturally you should be monitoring progress of the token sales.

Most importantly, one must  just using common sense to gauge just how feasible the project is to ensure that you’re not falling for a scam.

Remember, if it’s too good to be true, then it isn’t true!

Modern-day Profit Hunters

Dealing with Cryptocurrency has its interesting dynamics. There are, however, many hidden facets making it still a mystery to the masses. Not knowing about it makes you prone to, get rich-schemes or outright scams.

We are all by now aware of the mania caused by the soaring prices and then, the subsequent decline that followed early this year. 

What people don’t pay attention to, however, is finding out exactly just how complex it is to physically “acquire” and store these Cryptocurrencies.

Mining coins can be described very basically as the process where users “or miners” become part of a Cryptocurrency network. This by making hardware (PC processors and graphics cards) available to support that specific network’s operations.

As a miner, you contribute towards the working of the Blockchain. The technology requires millions of calculations to validate transactions into what are known as public ledgers.

Click here for more about how the Blockchain works.

There are three main ways to mine these coins but we will not be highlighting them in this post. The matter to be covered here, however, is the business aspect: how the Blockchain has created a new line of commercial entities and profit takers.

These modern tech “enterprises” offer a specific or cluster of altcoins and tokens as a reward for helping them maintain their Blockchain.

Sounds like a win-win situation right?  Or is it?

Mining is hard

If you have actually looked into the main methods of  mining you will discover that only miners with high-end hardware are able to produce enough power to contribute to the Blockchain. This is called “hash power” or “hash rate”. This is  kind of like horsepower for cars, but for PC processing.

There are sites that illustrate how to calculate potential profits such as one conveniently called ‘what to mine’.

The opportunity cost of operating the customized computer systems (commonly known as Mining Rigs), will have to be offset with the cost of acquiring hardware such as the Antminer S9i. Then there are energy costs associated with running the rigs for long periods of time.

Your profit would, therefore, be the balance of the costs versus the revenue involved in mining coins – which is usually observed over a year to make a clear profit or loss assessment.

Mining profit = Revenue (quantity x price of the coin in local fiat currency)  minus cost of the mining devices + annual electricity costs (measured in local currency per KWh).

The problem with going at it alone is that it is very hard to break even. You are also faced with a conundrum:  the more powerful your hardware is, the more electricity it consumes.

It also takes a lot longer to acquire the coins which you are awarded by the respective blockchain network after successful hashing is completed.

To make it worth your while you would hope that the coin you mine’s market value exceeds the costs of the monthly/annual electricity bill.

Value proposition

There a now hundreds of these so-called Crypto/Tech companies spurting up by the day. Their modus operandi: to relieve you of the burden of the high electricity and hardware costs. This in exchange a monthly or once-off fee.

In return, they promise to mine coins and provide you with daily or monthly profits (payable in Crypto or in cash). They can do this because they presumably have bigger (and more powerful) mining setups and therefore benefit from larger economies of scale.

Some of these establishments use big rooms, whole buildings or even warehouses to run thousands of mining rigs throughout the year.

The payments you make supposedly help them with maintenance costs and pay for the said electricity bills. They are also usually stationed in countries where the cost of electricity is very low.

MiningCosts

You are likely to, however, run the risk of dealing with the occasional Ponzi-scheme – setup.  Such companies dive at the opportunity to swindle those not familiar with Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies.

By dazzling you with the price increases and potential astronomical returns which is public knowledge anyway, they take your money and make a run for it!

One can also ponder, as it is incredibly difficult and expensive to mine Bitcoin these days, if these setups are actually just people who have already made their millions from acquiring Cryptocurrency.

The acquisition naturally, would have been when they were dirt cheap, and are now offering the residue to make more profit off unknowing investors.

An example

How it would work is: let’s say you owned 100 Bitcoins mined in 2010 for the opportunity cost of $100 each (cost of electricity).

You then sold half at the height of the Crypto ‘bull run’ in January 2018 when they were worth $19 000 each.  You would have been $945 000 richer.

So, with almost a million bucks in the kitty and another 50 units of coins (which would be now worth a lot less); the natural inclination would be to look at ways to make the extra coins ‘work for you’.

And what better way than to be one’s own boss and head a Crypto company! You can with your new setup, sell off the residue of Crypto coins  in bits for profits in cash.

This is likely what some of these companies offering coins for an opportunity to acquire Bitcoins. This under the pretense of partaking in a mining operation.

Meanwhile,  in reality, the actual mining probably took place almost a decade ago!

All in all, do stay alert and do your research before parting with your money to join a mining pool or Crypto investment scheme!