laBITconf 2019 in its 7th Edition

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LaBITconf, the Latin American Bitcoin and Blockchain conference is probably one of the conferences that I enjoy the most every year. And this time, in its 7th edition in Montevideo, Dec 12-14, it was quite an event again.

LaBITconf is so full of life, creativity, originality, where you can feel the desire for change, a sense of positivism, of mending what is broken and bringing solutions to the financial markets in the region and the world. Yes, (r)evolution is a word you see in banners and posters at the event, and for the first time I saw come to surface the underlying clashes between revolution and evolution. But more to that later.

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An Unconference

The ONG Bitcoin Argentina group has taken their conference from Buenos Aires, to Rio de Janeiro, to Mexico, Bogotá, Santiago de Chile, this year Montevideo and next year Guatemala. The team is great: from Rodolfo, Efra, Diego, Diana, Juano and others, it’s hard to understand that they have a life and jobs besides converging every year to bring magic to the event. The crowd is happy, the speakers have a blast and the sponsors seem to be getting their money’s worth. It was great to see Bitso, Bitstop, OKCoin, Dash, CoinFabrik, rsk, Kraken, ShapeShift and many more. For a guy like me who speaks at many conferences and helps in organizing the IMTC & Regliance conferences, I can feel this event is a bit disorganized and the machine doesn’t seem to be totally oiled. But they want it that way: it is an unconference. And it is quite all right. It is perfect. They want to differentiate themselves from other conferences. And that is why I come to moderate panels, planned ones and unplanned ones that need moderating on the spot.

My Panel

I moderated a panel on “How Does Cryptomoney Flow Around The World” with Tim Byun from OKCoin, Dan Torrey from Genesis and Fernando Martinez from OSL. You can watch a video of the panel here https://youtu.be/7Fnaw0oCO-Y. What I mostly love about panels is how much I end up learning as I did again in LaBITconf with the great panelists I had. Connecting payment systems across the world is what I have been doing all my life, and with blockchain and cryptocurrencies we are at a developing stage in a path that is bringing solutions that I am very eager to see being developed. Tim Byun speaks about “Fiat to Crypto” as a mission for OKCoin and I can surely understand where his company wants to make a stand.

Challenges

Thirty-five years ago I traveled everywhere in the Americas & Europe helping ethnic travel agencies and foreign exchange bureaus use faxes to send money transfers for their clients, to be paid in the countries where they had family. As the remittance business developed, I was questioned in Miami by DEA Officers stubbornly not believing that migrants could send USD $800 even if they were making only USD $1,000. It was all money laundering they said. And yes, some criminals in the early days used remittances to launder money and it took hard work to establish regulations, reporting requirements, risk matrices, KYC procedures, develop compliance professionals, a task that we proudly have worked on at the IMTC Conferences and more so now with our new Regliance Conference and our Online Certification Courses.

And the blockchain, a technology just like the fax, the internet, etc. is changing the structure of financial markets. And cryptocurrencies are being regulated and requirements and reporting are being set with on-ramp and off-ramp KYC procedures. More dialogue between industry and regulators is needed, as well as more information for politicians, so we can move ahead with innovations and needed solutions for cross-border payment systems to become more efficient and less costly.

Banks are still a problem as we discussed with many of them avoiding the sector completely, some because their compliance departments are not quite ready to manage the risks, the complexities and the creativity needed, some because of the competitive challenges the non-bank sector is bringing to the once totally “siloed” bank rails.

Coming of Age

At LaBITconf I have seen crypto companies come of age and work through the challenges of being innovators, such as Bitso, a company that I know since its beginnings who time after time has proven that they can re-invent themselves. And it is a case of many and I mention it just as an example. And at the event in Montevideo I could see the underlying conflict between the permissionless bitcoin ideologues and the growing number of people who are compromising so this innovative sector can deal with the more traditional sectors of the financial industry. They have to satisfy investors, they need to increase revenues, they need more stability. In some panels this was evident, and I enjoyed the discussions. And I am not using “ideologues” as a synonym of “impractical idealists”. We all need a lot of idealism to change the systems in place looking for fairness, openness and transparency. We are partnering with LaBITconf in our IMTC LATAM 2020 conference in Buenos Aires on May 5-7 at the Hilton in Puerto Madero. We need to keep on bringing the old and the new inches closer, sometimes two steps forward and one backwards.

And one of my favorite speakers, Mr. Andreas Antonopoulos was again brilliant. I hope one day he will join us in IMTC so he can bring his wisdom to a maybe less enthusiastic crowd, but one that needs the passion and inspiration that challenging established financial systems need. The non-bank world of payments has come a long way in these last 25 years and fintechs are driving this change more than ever. This is something that we have been highlighting every year with the RemTECH Awards that will be hosted by the Global Forum of Remittances, Investment and Development GFRID2020 in Nairobi, Kenya in June 24-26.

You did it again!

I also moderated a panel with the Uruguayan Free Zones, The World Trade Center, Aguadas Park and Zona America, all housing service companies in the payments world such as Koibanx, Mercado Libre, Ripio, More Money Transfers and others, with big clients like Amazon, Verizon, etc. It was interesting to find out all the services they provide established and start-ups alike in a country with so much talent and skills like Uruguay.

LaBITconf ends each year with the greatest gathering ever, this year in Punta del Este where I sadly couldn’t go as I had to be present for my son’s university graduation in Miami. Last year in Chile I gladly went down the river in a raft, a great experience that I won’t forget. Congratulations LaBITconf! You did it again!