Crypto Experts in Demand as Countries Launch Digital Currencies

The number of countries issuing their own digital currencies is on the rise, with many looking to hire crypto experts. This has led to a shortage in talent that has been exacerbated by an influx of new entrants into the market.

The government digital currency is a new trend that has been popping up in countries across the globe. Countries are looking for experts to help them launch their own digital currencies.

Many are asking: Who knows how to create digital currencies? Monetary authorities across the globe are racing to develop digital currencies, and many are asking: Who knows how to accomplish this?

Cryptocurrency enthusiasts have provided a response to some of the first governments to go digital. The digital trend offers a chance for these anti-traditional finance rebels to generate virtual money for a whole country.

Barak Ben-Ezer, an Israeli crypto expert, had never visited the Marshall Islands before flying halfway around the globe in 2018 to suggest that the Pacific Ocean archipelago establish a national currency modeled after bitcoin.

The Marshall Islands, a US-supported country of 59,000 people scattered over more than a thousand islands with no currency and no central bank, offered a blank slate for financial innovation. Its sole connection to the global financial system—and access to the US dollars used as daily currency on the islands—was a bank in Honolulu.

Local authorities were informed by Mr. Ben-Ezer that the nation might develop and market its own digital money. It’d be similar to bitcoin. People from all around the world may invest in it, yet it would be issued by a national government.

Left: Barak Ben-Ezer testifying before the Marshall Islands Parliament.

Barak Ben-Ezer (photo)

He remembers telling them, “Bitcoin is great, but it’s not a sovereign currency.” “You’re sitting on a virtual gold mine.”

On his iPad, David Paul, a Marshall Islands cabinet member at the time, was researching bitcoin technologies. He remarked, “I didn’t need much persuading.”

Mr. Ben-Ezer was quickly given duties normally reserved for treasurers and legislators by the administration. Within months, the Marshall Islands Parliament approved a legislation making his creation—dubbed the SOV for sovereign—legal currency, marking a critical step toward its real issue.

China’s hints that it may be close to introducing a digital version of the yuan have boosted demand for digital-currency schemes in other nations. Beijing said on Friday that the e-CNY has been tested in more than 70 million transactions totaling more than $5 billion.

According to advisors, several major central banks have teams that simulate digitalization scenarios, but many are also discreetly turning to technologists with expertise in cryptocurrencies and blockchain. Even the Federal Reserve of the United States has joined up with such specialists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop a potential digital currency.

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According to Cornell professor Eswar Prasad’s book “The Future of Money: How the Digital Revolution Is Transforming Currencies and Finance,” which will be released in the autumn, smaller countries may have more to gain and less to lose by experimenting with a new kind of monetary system. Some smaller countries have been more open about enlisting the help of crypto experts.

In late 2018, Canadian Jay Joe received a text message from a financial-technology colleague informing him that the Bahamas central bank was seeking proposals to help develop a digital version of the Bahamian dollar.

The digital-security and blockchain expert put together a team that had worked on tokenized electronic payments, the cryptocurrency ethereum, and financial-system technology based on blockchain, the electronic ledger technology that underpins bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, despite having only visited the Bahamas on a cruise.

Mr. Joe said, “There was no playbook.” “We were relying on our blockchain experience.”

The Bahamas’ central bank has established wide guidelines. Mr. Joe’s team centered their idea on how a digital currency might help island inhabitants who live far away from bank offices since money would now be connected to their phones. For an unknown price, the team got the assignment.

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The Bahamas’ central bank introduced the’sand dollar,’ the world’s first central-bank digital money, last year.

Latin America News Age/Reuters photo

Mr. Joe’s firm, NZIA Ltd., was given shared credit for creating the Bahamanian sand dollar, which became the world’s first central-bank digital currency last year.

Suddenly, that sort of knowledge is in high demand. Mr. Joe said, “We’ve been in talks with a lot of [central banks] and it’s just increasing.”

Cambodia turned to Tokyo-based Soramitsu when it needed a method to allow its people pay bills or make other electronic transactions for free. Soramitsu creates financial techniques that are often at conflict with conventional government-run systems. Government agencies, on the other hand, are increasingly turning to it for assistance in navigating the digital future.

Bakong, Cambodia’s network, isn’t officially a digital currency, but it has some of the features of one since it is managed by the central bank rather than private banks or credit card firms. Bakong functions as a hub for a variety of payment applications, allowing users to send and receive money to anybody with a mobile phone number.

1626613093_107_Crypto-Experts-in-Demand-as-Countries-Launch-Digital-Currencies

Chea Serey, the director general of the National Bank of Cambodia, speaks during a ceremony in Phnom Penh last October to commemorate the introduction of the country’s digital currency, the Bakong.

Kyodo/Associated Press/Kyodo/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

“A lot of central banks are carefully looking at this technology,” said Makoto Takemiya, co-founder of Soramitsu, who claims to have advised central banks on blockchain and digital currencies in some of the world’s most powerful countries.

Soramitsu employs approximately 100 engineers and macroeconomics experts who have developed cryptocurrencies and trading platforms based on a customized blockchain called Hyperledger Iroha. Mr. Takemiya once created an experimental cryptocurrency called WSJCoin for an article in The Wall Street Journal on how simple it has become to issue money.

The National Bank of Cambodia’s director general, Serey Chea, refused to comment on Soramitsu’s involvement, but said the digital network it created seeks to increase use of the country’s native currency, the riel, a long-term objective in a country where the dollar is used in about 90% of transactions. Many Cambodians indicated they would trade in the riel if it was more easy to use, according to polls.

In a cashless future, the Federal Reserve is attempting to find out how to keep currency relevant. It’s thinking of digitizing the US dollar, providing individuals money they can access on their phones and avoiding electronic payments, which can be sluggish and expensive for companies. WSJ/Jacob Reynolds illustration

Mr. Ben-goal Ezer’s for the Marshall Islands was to make it the first country to issue a marketable cryptocurrency, which he said would be used to attract new financial flows, similar to how Panama’s canal drew ship traffic.

Bitcoin has always piqued his interest, and he hoped to see a country adopt something comparable. He had worked for the Israeli military and Microsoft Corp. as a technology consultant, with degrees in computer science and economics from the United States.

According to the accepted proposal, the Marshallese government and investment funds would get the majority of the currency stock for free, with 10% of the total being divided evenly by the whole people.

As compensation for the years of effort, Mr. Ben-team Ezer’s would get 10% of the issue.

To make it work, he enlisted the help of former US Treasury and Bank for International Settlements employees, as well as a Malta-based digital law specialist.

However, placing private advisors in charge, such as Mr. Ben-Ezer, may raise concerns about possible conflicts of interest and liabilities that are less obvious when bureaucrats create systems.

The Marshall Islands proposal then encountered a roadblock in the shape of First Hawaiian Bank, which threatened to cut off its relationship with the nation as a correspondent bank if the currency was issued.

The bank raised worries about the money being used for illicit reasons, according to letters obtained by the Journal from First Hawaiian and between Marshallese authorities. Requests for comment were not returned by the bank.

In a March study, the International Monetary Fund expressed concern about the currency, saying it “may disrupt foreign assistance and other vital financial flows, resulting in a substantial drag on the economy.”

As a consequence of the concerns, the money has yet to be released. Mr. Paul, a Marshallese politician, believes the concerns are unfounded. He claims that the currency would be safe and transparent because to its usage of blockchain ledgers. To him, blockchain recalls the Yap monetary system, in which huge limestone disks are carried between homes to symbolize changes in wealth, which are visible to everyone.

“The world has awakened up to it,” Mr. Paul remarked, referring to an old concept.

James T. Areddy can be reached at [email protected]

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