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Matthew Allen

Matthew Allen

When not covering banks, tax disputes, trade, Brexit, the World Economic Forum and FIFA, swissinfo.ch's business correspondent can be found playing cricket on various grounds in Switzerland - including the frozen lake of St Moritz. Initials: mga

Articles by Matthew Allen

How crypto mining tried, but failed, to gain a Swiss toehold

9 days ago

This crypto mine in Gondo could not keep up with competitors with cheaper electricity. (Keystone/ Valentin Flauraud)
There was a time when any Tom, Dick or Harry could create (or “mine”) bitcoin with a modified PC. Now only warehouses packed full of specialised computing gear stand any real chance. The bones of defunct crypto mines litter the Swiss Alps.
This week saw a special event in the bitcoin life cycle, called “Halving”. Like a super-rapid solar eclipse, blink and you missed it. So what happened?
Bitcoin is produced as a reward for “miners” (those warehouses of souped-up PCs) who create blocks of bitcoin transactions. The total supply of bitcoin is limited to 21 million, programmed to emerge at a regular pace until the year 2140.
Part of the bitcoin supply

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Digital grassroots response to government bailouts

April 19, 2020

Restoring shuttered companies back to health may take more than state handouts. (Keystone / Laurent Gillieron)
The CHF60 billion Swiss state bailout of companies is well underway. But there is a feeling that government funds that hand out loans and pay workers’ wages will not be enough. How do companies maintain contact with customers and develop their brands during a lockdown?
The obvious solution is to embrace digital. The last few weeks has seen a number of digital platforms focus their efforts on small enterprises.
Wemakeitexternal link, a crowdfunding platform, has opened a “solidarity” channel to invite people to donate money to struggling fitness studios, photographers, musicians and concert venues. Small businesses have signed up to projects such as

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Sygnum bank creates digital version of Swiss franc for trading

March 23, 2020

A number of projects around the world aim to create digital versions of money. (© Keystone / Gaetan Bally)
Sygnum bank has launched a digital version of the Swiss franc (DCHF) to allow faster payments when trading a new breed of securities. The DCHF digital tokens will be backed by the corresponding amount of Swiss francs that Sygnum will hold at the Swiss National Bank (SNB).
Sygnum is part of a consortium of companies taking part in the SDX digital assets trading platform, which SIX Group plans to launch by the end of this year. The platform, along with others being developed around the world, promises faster, more cost-effective trading of company shares, bonds and other financial assets.
A digital currency is required to settle the payment of such trades.

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Should rail commuter data be monetised through advertising?

February 26, 2020

Federal Railways has the personal data of some 3.7 million commuters. (SRF-SWI)
Swiss Federal Railways is coming under fire for using the personal data of commuters for advertising purposes. The data commissioner and a watchdog group have sounded the alarm bell as the volume of data being harnessed grows.
Thanks to the increasing digitisation of its services, the Federal Railways now has customer names, addresses, age, sex, telephone numbers, photos, details of trips taken and even the geo-positioning of commuters on its database. For example, some 500,000 people have signed up to the EasyRide app that makes it easier to buy fares.
“If you know where someone is working or sleeping, you also know who they are,” Adrian Lobsiger, Federal Data Protection

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Central banks weigh up response to Libra and bitcoin

February 10, 2020

Creating money may soon look entirely different in the digital age. (Keystone / Lm Otero)
Central banks are contemplating a response to alternative money systems, such as bitcoin or Libra, with new digital versions of their own currencies. They go by the name of Central Bank Digital Currencies, or CBDCs.
Libra’s stablecoin project launched in Geneva last year was a “watershed” moment that “kicked everyone in the pants”, Michael Sung, a professor at Fudan University, told the recent Crypto Finance Conferenceexternal link (CfC) in St Moritz.
This prompted China to “massively accelerate” its drive to digitize the renminbi. Sung is convinced that the plan is to spread the RMB far from China’s borders and “increase adoption throughout the world.”
Aleksander Berentsen,

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Swiss fintech firms venture deeper into Middle East

February 7, 2020

Qatar and other Middle East nations have announced fintech strategies. (Keystone / Yoan Valat)
Swiss fintech company Instimatch has launched into the Middle East, having won a licence to operate in Qatar, and signed up its first Kuwaiti bank. The mineral and cash-rich region is proving a magnet for financial innovation from Switzerland.
Instimatchexternal link’s digital platform directly connects deep-pocketed corporate, financial and municipal lenders with global investments. The unsecured money-lending market shifts $200 billion (CHF194 billion) per day in Europe alone.
The company, which is poised to incorporate Islamic finance-compliant solutions and blockchain into its platform, says Qatar will be a springboard for further expansion in the Middle East and

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Swiss ski resort accepts bitcoin for settling tax bills

January 30, 2020

Zermatt is a regular haunt for well-heeled international winter sports lovers. (© Keystone / Christian Beutler)
The iconic ski resort of Zermatt has become the second local authority in Switzerland to allow residents to pay their tax bills using the cryptocurrency bitcoin.
Zermatt, which lies in the shadow of the Matterhorn mountain, said on Tuesday that it will allow people living there to pay the whole range of taxes in bitcoin with no limit on the amount they contribute in the cryptocurrency.
In 2018, the town of Chiasso in the Italian-speaking area of Switzerland said it would accept bitcoin up to a limit of CHF250 ($257) to settle tax bills. Zug, which is home to Switzerland’s self-styled “Crypto Valley”, has since 2016 accepted bitcoin worth up to CHF200 as

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Negative interest rates have cost Swiss banks CHF8 billion

January 23, 2020

The more francs and euros banks accumulate at central banks, the greater the risk of negative interest charges. (© Keystone / Ti-press / Alessandro Crinari)
Swiss banks have been forced to fork out CHF8 billion ($8.3 billion) in negative interest fees since the Swiss National Bank (SNB) imposed its policy in 2015. Last year saw the heftiest annual bill of CHF2 billion, according to research from German company Deposit Solutions.
The findings are largely in line with the Swiss Bankers Associationexternal link(SBA), which says negative interest costs their members around CHF2 billion a year. The SBA has vigorously campaigned against the central bank’s monetary policy stance while commercial banks are increasingly passing on charges to wealthy clients and

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Neon banking app slashes fees in growth drive

January 22, 2020

Neon appears to be aiming to be Switzerland’s answer to Revolut. (Neon)
Swiss financial services company Neon says it will scrap card fees for customers shopping abroad to spearhead an ambitious drive to boost the number of clients to 250,000 in the next two years.
The Zurich-based fintech company has laid down a challenge to foreign competitors, such as Revolut and N26, with its announcement. From Monday (January 20) customers will no longer have to pay a combined 3.3% commission and exchange rate mark-up using the Neon Mastercard outside of Switzerland.
“We are going into attack mode,” Neonexternal link co-founder and chief marketing officer Julius Kirscheneder told swissinfo.ch. “We want to move fast and challenge the market. There is a clear need for

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Slice of prime Zurich real estate sold on blockchain

January 17, 2020

Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich is one of the most upmarket shopping streets in the world. (© Keystone / Gaetan Bally)
A building on Zurich’s most exclusive shopping street has been converted into a blockchain-powered investment following its CHF130 million ($134 million) sale. It is the latest attempt to unlock the value of bricks and mortar using digitally-coded tokens.
Bahnhofstrasse 52, which houses offices and a Swatch retail outlet, was bought by Zug-based real estate investment firm BrickMarkexternal link on Wednesday. The company has issued digital tokens, underpinned by a bond, which can be bought and eventually traded by investors who want a slice of the building’s rental income and increase in sale value.
BrickMark funded about 20% of the purchase by giving

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Crypto determined to emerge from the shadows

January 12, 2020

Early bird WEF delegates will be learning about blockchain in the ski resort of St Moritz. (Keystone / Martin Ruetschi)
Global politicians, regulators, financiers and technology pioneers will soon be gathering in Switzerland for the World Economic Forum. This has not been lost on the blockchain and crypto industry, which is redoubling efforts to engage with policy makers.
Next week’s Crypto Finance Conferenceexternal link (CfC), in the up-market ski resort of St Moritz, has positioned itself to attract such big-hitters, days before they attend the annual WEF summit in nearby Davos.
Initially conceived as a match-making platform between deep-pocketed investors and blockchain start-ups, the third edition of CfC has now broadened its scope.
Cameron and Tyler

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The spirit of Fintech past and the spectre of Fintech future

January 2, 2020

The drive for financial innovation shows no sign of slacking in 2020. (Keystone/ Valentin Flauraud)
It was a busy 2019 for Swiss fintech and there is promise for more to come in 2020. Here’s a round-up of fintech past and my observations of how things may shape up in the coming months.
Licenses
The year 2019 started with the arrival of a new breed of Fintech banking license, designed to allow small financial players to accept up to CHF100 million in deposits, but with restrictions. One notable restriction so far, is that FINMA has yet to issue a single license. That’s something that will surely be rectified in the first quarter of 2020?
Two blockchain banks, Sygnum and SEBA, were awarded full banking and securities dealer licenses last August. Sygnum followed this

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Retail digital franc remains taboo for Switzerland

December 14, 2019

Switzerland has no plans to launch a centralised Swiss franc version of bitcoin. (© Keystone / Christian Beutler)
Switzerland has ruled out the possibility of a central bank-issued digital franc for the general public in the foreseeable future. The government has backed up the Swiss National Bank’s (SNB) fears that this would lead to financial instability.
Responding to a parliamentary question, the Federal Council on Friday said an ongoing project to produce a digital franc that is restricted for use by financial players was a more sensible option than a cryptocurrency for people to buy their groceries or other goods.
Its report acknowledged claims that digital currencies could make payments more efficient and help tackle money laundering. But it

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Bank savers feel sting from negative interest rates

December 11, 2019

The Swiss franc is in such high demand that the central bank is imposing charges on stockpilers. (© Keystone / Gaetan Bally)
Swiss savers are being made to pay for global demand for the franc. The number of bank customers being charged negative interest rates on their deposits is on the rise – and shows no sign of reversing.
The problem for domestic savers stems from the popularity of the Swiss currency. Amid economic uncertainty worldwide and a paucity of return on many investments, people have taken to dumping their assets in the solid franc. They may not make much money, but they won’t lose anything either.
That’s until the Swiss National Bank (SNB) introduced negative interest rates in 2015 – literally charging domestic banks to deposit money (above a certain

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Blockchain shares – who needs lawmakers?

December 7, 2019

Swiss lawmakers have been tasked with getting the new furniture to fit into the financial and corporate landscape. (© Keystone / Gaetan Bally)
The Swiss parliament will soon get to grips with merging the current financial system with new blockchain architecture. This is a bit like refitting your whole house to make sure the swanky new furniture and fittings blend in.
Switzerland has deliberately chosen to not to tear the whole house down and build it again in a new style. But the structure still needs a major re-fit by amending banking, corporate and financial infrastructure laws.
At present, the new kitchen cupboards don’t fit, the refrigerator door keeps banging against the hob and the chaise lounge blocks the fire escape.
What good are digital shares if they

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Swiss crypto sector welcomes proposed blockchain law

November 29, 2019

Blockchain is tipped to bring efficiencies to the financial system – and beyond. (© Keystone / Ennio Leanza)
Proposed updates to the banking, corporate and financial infrastructure laws to accommodate Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) have been broadly welcomed by Switzerland’s growing blockchain industry.
Parliament is now set to debate the wide-ranging set of proposals presented by the governmentexternal link on Wednesday. The government’s intentions were first laid out last December, presented for consultation in March and are now complete in amended form having taken into account arguments from interested parties.
If enacted, they would allow for new ways to create, store and transact purely digital assets.
“The development of DLT is predicted to have

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Blockchain: your questions answered

November 28, 2019

Blockchain promises to touch many parts of our lives, but how do we touch it?
Blockchain: the very name fascinates and bamboozles in equal measure. Although businesses based around the technology are popping up all over Switzerland, many still wonder what exactly it does and how it can improve their lives.
The potential possibilities are myriad, yet many still appear tantalisingly out of reach. After asking readers to pose their questions about blockchain, we’ve answered a selection of them below to try to lift the veil on what’s behind the technology.
Anon: Explain just what it is and what are its implications for non-financial persons.external link
We appreciate your frustration. That’s why we put together this simple animation to explain the basic concepts

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Bitmain-backed crypto firm Matrixport opens Zurich office

November 26, 2019

The number of financial firms servicing crypto enthusiasts is growing in Switzerland.
Singapore-based crypto financial services company Matrixport is setting up a European operations centre in Switzerland. Matrixport has close links to the Chinese cryptocurrency mining giant Bitmain, which is simultaneously winding down its Swiss presence.
Matrixport joins a growing band of Swiss-based players, such as Bitcoin Suisse, Crypto Finance, Sygnum and SEBA banks, that are targeting crypto enthusiasts and institutional players like family offices, asset managers and private banks that want exposure to digital assets.
Registered under the name of Chaintech in Switzerland, Matrixport is fronted by former Bitmain co-founders Jihan Wu and John Ge. Having incorporated in

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Swiss company shares traded as digital tokens

November 19, 2019

DLT promises to make trading securities faster and cheaper. (Keystone / Patrick Sinkel)
A Swiss-German consortium has successful traded company shares on a blockchain-style digital platform using a Swiss franc-backed stablecoin to instantly settle the transaction. The trade marked a significant step towards creating a new breed of stock exchange.
Germany’s largest stock exchange Deutsche Börse teamed up with telecommunications company Swisscom, three Swiss banks and two digital finance companies to pull off the transaction, it was announced on Tuesdayexternal link.
An unnamed Swiss company issued digital tokens representing shares, which were then traded among Falcon, Vontobel and Zurich Cantonal Bank. Clearing and settlement of the trade was coordinated to

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Swiss crypto bank SEBA outlines ambitions

November 13, 2019

SEBA is part of a new wave of financial institutions that plan to offer a different style of banking service. (SEBA)
Crypto bank SEBA is confident of attracting a “three-digit” number of Swiss clients by the end of the year before setting its sights on global expansion and raising more than CHF100 million ($101 million) in extra funding from the public.
The Swiss financial regulator awarded SEBA a banking license in August, along with another bank specialising in blockchain-powered digital assets, Sygnum. SEBA has now officially opened its doors for business in Switzerland.
The Zug-based bank was coy about predicting the precise number of clients it hopes to onboard in the first wave. But CEO Guido Bühler expects to open hundreds of new accounts in the first few

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Swiss payments system aims to link bitcoin and retailers

November 9, 2019

Spending cryptocurrencies in shops is proving a difficult nut to crack. (© Keystone / Christian Beutler)
Prominent European payment infrastructure provider Worldline has teamed up with financial services firm Bitcoin Suisse to allow cryptocurrency enthusiasts to spend their bitcoin in Swiss shops.
Worldline last year took over SIX Payment Services, the former arm of the Swiss stock exchange group that provides payment card terminals in 85,000 Swiss retail outlets. The French company now wants to hook this infrastructure up with cryptocurrencies.
It has signed a letter of intentexternal link with Swiss crypto company Bitcoin Suisse, which will act as a go-between, converting bitcoin into Swiss francs that will be used to pay for goods and services in Switzerland.

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Is blockchain real estate in need of renovation?

November 7, 2019

Is the room half full or half empty for blockchain property enterprises? (© Keystone / Christian Beutler)
Our regular analysis of developments in the world of fintech and Crypto Nation.
Property has for some time been hailed as prime real estate for blockchain disruption. The incorruptible ledger will replace mountains of paperwork while interested parties will have a sovereign claim to validate transactions in property sales.
We are also told that smart contracts will replace notaries, speeding up transactions and cutting costs. And the nimble blockchain will make short work of carving up shares of buildings into bite-sized chunks for small investors.
So it comes as some surprise that one of Switzerland earliest blockchain real estate projects,

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‘Next generation’ private bank plans to open doors in Switzerland

October 29, 2019

The Swiss financial sector has been leaking banks in recent years.
A new private banking venture has joined the growing list of companies applying for licenses from the Swiss financial regulator. Tallyon aims to become a “next generation” private bank, riding the way of “radical change” in the industry.
“Banking is to be redefined, and the use of technology should ensure that employees and customers receive a higher esteem than many banks do today,” says chairman David Bisang, who last year founded the blockchain company Heymate.
But Tallyon is remaining tight-lipped about how exactly it plans to “democratise” private banking in Switzerland, other than a reliance on new technology that will release it from the “legacy burdens” of “outdated IT infrastructure” that

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Blockchain for Good faces familiar blockages

October 4, 2019

Is blockchain being used as a gimmick in achieving sustainable development goals? (Keystone / Un Photo/loey Felipe Handout)
Our regular analysis of developments in the world of fintech and Crypto Nation.
All eyes were on Libra at the Blockchain 4 Impact summit in Geneva last week. But the Facebook stablecoin project was only one part of a two-day event asking the question: Can blockchain help meet Sustainable Development Goalsexternal link?
The question of blockchain curing the world’s ills is one I’ve looked at beforeexternal link and the claim still attracts a fair amount of scorn. Can a piece of accountancy software really alleviate income inequality, the refugee crisis, democratic breakdowns and environmental catastrophe?
The United Nations Office in Geneva

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Another Swiss bank delves into cryptoassets

September 19, 2019

The canton Zug-based Arab Bank Switzerland joins a growing list of established banks now offering clients access to cryptocurrencies.
Arab Bank Switzerland has teamed up with blockchain technology firm Taurus to offer its wealthy clients access to bitcoin and ethereum. The bank joins a growing list of established players joining forces with fintech firms to tap into cryptoassets.
The partnership says it will launch a “new range of digital asset services, including custody and brokerage” of the two largest cryptocurrencies by market share. It utilises the fintech’s “Taurus Protect” crypto storage platform.
“We firmly believe that blockchain will disrupt the financial industry as we know it and we intend to be amongst the first banks to offer digital asset services

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Swiss Banks Slow on the Digital Uptake

August 28, 2019

Swiss bank customers do not easily change their habits.
Swiss banks are turning their attention to providing more digital services for customers, but their progress has been slow. This may have something to do with new technology upstarts struggling to gain significant traction thus far in Switzerland, according to a new study.
Once financial technology (fintech) innovation properly takes off in the over-crowded banking sector, the competition may well cause some traditional players to disappear, says the Swiss National Bankexternal link (SNB) in its “Survey on Digitalisation and Fintech at Swiss Banksexternal link”.
Fintech is a growing theme in Switzerland, but its current importance pales in comparison to countries like Britain, Germany, China and the United

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Switzerland’s First Crypto Banks Receive Licences

August 27, 2019

The world of crypto assets is forecast to explode in the coming years, moving on a long way from the cryptocurrency bitcoin.
The Swiss financial regulator has awarded banking and securities dealer licences to two new “crypto banks”. SEBA and Sygnum have been cleared to operate in the new world of tokenised digital securities, a major milestone for the fledging industry.
At the same time, the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) issued rules on how to apply anti-money laundering regulations to the banksexternal link “where the inherent anonymity of blockchain technology presents increased risks”.
This restricts the transfer of tokens to people the bank knows. “FINMA-supervised institutions are thus not permitted to receive tokens from customers of

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Swiss central bank asked to issue stock exchange digital currency

June 27, 2019

The Swiss central bank produces paper money for general use, but will only contemplate digital currencies for specific industry use cases.
The Swiss stock exchange wants the country’s central bank to issue a form of cryptocurrency to settle payments on its new digital securities trading platform. If the Swiss National Bank (SNB) agrees, it would represent a departure from its cautious policy on digital currencies.
Stock exchange operator SIX Group revealed at the Crypto Valley Association conferenceexternal link that traders on its forthcoming SDX platform would be able to swap cash for a new digital token. This token would be used to pay for securities bought on the exchange and could be redeemed for cash when

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‘Mature’ Swiss crypto industry demands banking access

June 27, 2019

A Korean delegation visited Switzerland’s Crypto Valley last autumn.
Representatives from Switzerland’s growing cryptocurrency and blockchain sector say it has matured into a viable and respectable industry that demands to be taken seriously by banks.
“The hype, nonsense and scams have gone away,” says Daniel Haudenschild, President of the Crypto Valley Associationexternal link (CVA), referring to a “wild west” phase over the last two years that saw several flimsy and phony companies set up and go bust, burning millions in public investments.
“We are now seeing products, that have been building up for the last two to three years, reaching maturity,” he said on the fringes of the CVA conferenceexternal link in Zug.

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Ailing fintech Monetas goes into liquidation again

April 10, 2019

Johann Gevers was an early pioneer of the Swiss blockchain scene with his payments firm Monetas.
Bankruptcy proceedings have been reignited against troubled Swiss digital payments company Monetas more than a year after the enterprise hit serious financial difficulties. Efforts to find a new buyer appear to have come to nothing as the firm goes into liquidation.
An entry in the Swiss commercial registerexternal link indicates that the courts in canton Zug have finally lost patience with Monetas, which has been dissolved. The company had been granted several stays of execution amid hopes that it could find a new owner.
Monetas was created in Vancouver in 2012 by South African businessman Johann Gevers and was moved to

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