Blockchain and cryptocurrency industry insiders called on those interested in getting into the space to do so right away by taking advantage of the many opportunities to educate and familiarise themselves with the technology, saying that the "train is moving forward fast!"
Tuesday’s episode of The Boardroom featured a multifaceted conversation touching on various themes like the threat of decentralised finance (De-Fi) to the global financial system, the rise of Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs), the philosophical questions posed by technological developments, and the potential for crypto to bring finance to the billions of people without access to it.
The episode, presented by Jo Caruana and featuring as guests the Chairperson of the Malta Digital Innovation Authority (MDIA) and Director of Centre for DLT at the University of Malta Joshua Ellul, CEO of BCA Solutions Jonathan Galea, and Co-Founder of Unit Ventures & DLT Talents Thy-Diep Ta, can be viewed here:
Dr Ellul explained that although distributed ledger technologies do represent a revolution, it is less evident and harder to comprehend than previous digital revolutions like the internet and the switch to mobile.
“Digital innovation has transformed the way we relate to services,” he said. “The internet changed our homes into offices, and today we can access these services by reaching into our pockets.”
“Now,” he continued, “the transformation comes at the level of the trust we have in service providers.
Crypto-lawyer Dr Galea said that while the monopoly banks have on the worldwide financial system is not something that can be wiped out, there will nonetheless be big changes in the way that finance in general is handled.
“Certain services by banks, like loans, will be more decentralised and offered by alternative institutions.”
For Thy-Diep Ta, better known as Yip, a blockchain entrepreneur, mindfulness teacher and former management consultant, the development of blockchain technologies offers creators the possibility to monetise their work without losing a major share of their creation to a centralised authority, or in the case of Facebook, all of it.
She reflects that hers was the first generations to be internationally connected via the internet and reminisces on having created content on MySpace.
Things have progressed even further with the proliferation of mobile and cloud computing, with numerous new ways to be connected, but the question remains for those creating content for the internet: “How do I benefit from the content I’m creating?”
Asked what steps Malta needs to take to regain relevance in the blockchain sphere, Dr Ellul made it clear that reputational issues are a significant stumbling block the country will need to overcome.
“With all the challenges Malta has faced in the last years, reputation remains a key issue affecting the country’s attractiveness.”
He also advised against being too loud just yet.
“Let’s get everything in place,” he said. “Let’s get our ecosystem set up, make sure the industry is happy with the regulatory framework, see that educational institutions are offering programmes of worth. Then we can go out there and get other players to Malta.”
He also pointed out that despite the lack of noise, Malta does host a lot of big players, including large blockchain infrastructure.
“However, at one point we were boasting about all the companies coming to Malta, seemingly forgetting that this is a start up sector – and nine of 10 start ups go bust.
“So we need to be prudent if we want to attract the right players. We need a realistic, robust framework in place that can build up our reputation.”
Dr Galea agrees, saying that “there need to be a change in terms of mentality on how we see the crypto and general DLT sector”.
“When the regulatory framework was announced in 2018, there was a lot of hype, but when Malta started going through reputational issues, what became apparent was that the DLT industry in general was being seen as one of the pieces of baggage you throw off the ship once problems come in.”
He stressed that Malta needs to stop throwing DLT overboard.
“We struck gold when we launched the regulatory framework, and received praise for how we handled the tech and financial side of the industry,” he said.
“We need to send a clear message that we mean business when it comes to DLT and the blockchain sector. It needs to be one of the strongholds of Malta.”
“If we do not, somebody else will, and Malta will lose its lead in the sector.”
Dr Ellul made it clear that crypto and blockchain are not the same.
“There was a lot of talk a few years ago that cryptos are being used for illegal activity, with some arguing that means that blockchain can be discarded.”
“That’s like saying a bank did something evil, so we should not use a particular kind of database.”
He was insistent that this is a wrong perspective – “one is a use, the other is a technology”.
Dr Ellul explained that the argument saying crypto is only used for certain activity goes out the window once you realise that all monetary systems are used for such activity.
“However, crypto, singularly among methods of payment, retains records in an unalterable state.”
“This allows for transparency, auditability, and democratisation,” he said, “and it is hard to argue these values are not part of a vision for the greater good.”
Similarly, Dr Galea dismissed the “negative media a few years back”, pointing to studies, including one conducted by an ex-director of the CIA, which say the use of Bitcoin for money laundering activities is minute and does not compare to such activities related to euro and US dollar.
“Since they use Bitcoin for this activity it actually aided investigators and authorities to track down the criminals.”
Meanwhile, Ms Ta compared the use cryptocurrency to using a knife.
“They’re technologies, which is not inherently good nor bad,” she posits. Whether it creates good or bad outcomes depends on the skills of those who use them, and their intentions.
“There needs to be some kind of protection system, and some type of training system, so you can not hurt anyone”, she said.
Asked to share one piece of advice, all three invited listeners to get involved in the space, with Ms Ta making it clear that “The train is running, and you don’t want to miss it!”
Dr Galea also advised against treating cryptos as get-rich-quick schemes, and recommended getting familiar with the systems.
“Buy a very small amount, dabble with it, send payment, see how it works. That’s the best teacher of all.”
Dr Ellul agreed, saying, “When you think about what this technology can bring, it’s about more democracy or less democracy.”
“Read a lot and familiarise yourselves,” he concluded, “because change is coming.”