Next year will be the breakthrough year for blockchain technology, according to Jonathan Galea, Founder of BitMalta, Malta’s first association dedicated to the promotion of blockchain technologies. At the organisation’s recent inaugural event, Galea said that more businesses and consumers are expected to take up this technology as more ‘plug-and-play’ solutions become available. Together with a panel of industry experts, he provided an overview of distributed ledger technologies and discussed how Malta can put itself on the global blockchain map.
BitMalta is a non-profit initiative that seeks to act as the main umbrella under which a solid and inclusive blockchain ecosystem can thrive. The organisation’s roots date back to 2014 when Galea and a group of like-minded people started meeting up to discuss the potential of Bitcoin. “At that point we were just six to seven people, and here we are today with some 60 participants attending our inaugural event,” he said. BitMalta plans to host regular seminars related to cryptocurrencies and the blockchain in order to drive awareness and foster dialogue between industry players.
The BitMalta team (from left): CFO Michael Scicluna, Founder Jonathan Galea, Secretary General Jan Stockhausen, Vice President Joseph F. Borg and COO Mario Di Florio.
Blockchain beyond Bitcoin
The sector has grown significantly in recent years and today encapsulates more than the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. While Bitcoin is still the best-known example of blockchain technology, a host of other applications and platforms have been developed, Galea said. Etherum, for instance, was designed as a platform for smart contracts and has also become the platform of choice for so-called Initial Coin Offerings (ICO), which is a way of crowdfunding to release a new cryptocurrency.
A Hub for Blockchain Businesses
The panel, moderated by Joseph F. Borg, Senior Adviser of WH Partners, discussed Malta’s ecosystem for blockchain start-ups. All speakers agreed that the Government’s intention to develop a national strategy is a step in the right direction. Wayne Pisani, Partner at Grant Thornten Malta, said that Malta needs to present itself as a thought leader. He also suggested to initiate regulatory ‘sandbox programmes’ to attract startups to the island by offering them a framework in which to test and trial their products.
Jan Stockhausen, Managing Director of Quaestum Corporate Management, mentioned that many blockchain start-ups are currently looking for a home but are unsure where to set up their businesses due to the undefined regulatory environment. “If Malta plays its cards right, it should be able to replicate the success it had when it was the first EU member state to regulate iGaming”, he said. “However, it is unrealistic to assume that any regulatory framework currently in the making, including Malta’s, would be able to account for, and foresee, all issues related to the blockchain,” he added.
Karl Brincat-Peplow from the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) said that the gaming regulator is committed to the introduction of cryptocurrencies. “While we do not accept them as payment methods at the moment, I expect them to be included in the new gaming regulations that will be launched in the first quarter of 2018,” he said.
Lawyer Nicola Lapira was asked about the possible set-up of Bitcoin ATMs in Malta. She stressed that she would advise against an installation without first receiving approval from the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA).