Ever since the end of the World Wars, there has been a growing level of frustration with how the government for the people, by the people is seemingly working against the people. This has led to radical movements around the world. Some gaining a little success but most are repressed in the end. Therefore, there is an increasing sense of alienation and a strong dislike for authority or “the Man”. And Bill Barhydt would know a thing or two, having seen both sides of the coin. The ex-cryptographer for the Central Intelligence Agency is now the founder of Abra, a cryptocurrency investment platform. He hopes to be able to work out how to legally work a crypto bank, outside the regulatory environment.
Bill Barhydt is certainly a man with many hats. His impressive resume shows a collective experience in fields as varied as the internet to finance to intelligence. Apart from the CIA, Bill worked at Goldman Sachs, where he was a quantitative analyst in fixed income research. Following that he joined as the technical director at Netscape, focusing on e-commerce and banking projects. Finally, his work on Dodd-Frank where, along with a team of tech leaders, he addressed various angles of the policy language in relation to remittance rules. All this should stand him in good stead for his latest foray which incorporates a bit of all those worlds.
What Is Abra
All this extensive knowledge with a wide base will undoubtedly help Bill to formulate plans and strategies best suited to leverage cryptocurrencies and help reinvent modern banking in the way he desires. He explains how this all will come together, “When you’re putting fiat into your Abra wallet, the experience looks like Venmo, like a Venmo deposit, but what you’re really doing is you’re depositing money at an exchange which then automatically buys Bitcoin for you, and then, in the case of Ripple, enters into that multi-sig contract where you effectively short Bitcoin versus Ripple. And Abra takes the long position on that contract versus Ripple. All of that happened in the background without you having to know.”
The single most important thing is to understand the interplay between Bitcoin and general economics. He wants to be able to truly disempower banks and let the actual customer enjoy that power. In a recent interview, Bill thoughtfully reasoned, “The long play for Abra is to develop a crypto bank. From my perspective, it reverses the model of a central bank-based custodianship model to one where the consumer is in control of their own funds – whether it’s for investing, which there are lots of examples beyond just investing in crypto, credit or person-to-person money transfer and remittances, which is one of the big reasons I started Abra in the first place. You're in control of your own money for the first time, without having to understand the nuances of how the crypto works, or Abra having to be licensed in 175 countries to execute those transactions.”
The unsurpassed power of a crypto will reach its zenith when it is a universally accepted currency and is utilised as programmable money. Towards that end, the use of cryptocurrency will have to be in a space beyond the regulators, though not outside the law. As Bill further elaborates, “We’ve developed a model which is free of, effectively, SEC, CFTC or European e-money style regulation because of the fact that we’re not a custodian of consumer funds. We’re not developing swap execution facilities or other security-based products doing this. We’re entering into very simple crypto contracts which are effectively able to roll over whatever system we set up. We’re not actually implementing them the same way that a leveraged European-style CFD is implemented. These are zero-leverage, instant capability for roll over. Abra is always the counterparty, which, again, gets around a lot of those regulations.”
Talking about the networks security, with a justifiable smile, Bill continues the conversation and points out,” I can effectively develop a legal, crypto-based bank in every country in the world, with zero licensing that puts the consumer in control of their own money – that’s not hackable from Abra’s perspective, because if you hack me, yes, you might be able to steal my crypto, but you can’t steal the consumer’s crypto.”
How Legal Is This Framework
While the theory and implementation of the idea seem really meticulous and sound, reality can sometimes be a downer. It will be hard to predict how enforcement agencies will react. However, Bill is unfazed, “Even in China, it’s not illegal to hold your own private keys on a hard disk or a smartphone.” He points out that having a bunch of bits on a personal portable device is not contraband and not regulated; thus he sees no reason to fear.
A great hope of Bill Barhydt is that people develop a greater understanding of what Bitcoin can be. More importantly, what programmable money can mean for the future. He ended the conversation with an interesting quote, “I see an entire shadow banking system. And I don’t say ‘shadow’ in the negative ‘this-is-bad’ sense. I say ‘shadow’ in terms of finally being competition to The Man.”
Societies function on order, thus no one is disputing the need for rules and laws. However, a path-breaking or for that matter system breaking idea is surely worth a look. One waits to see how this interesting story develops.