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End of Mt.Gox, future of BTC exchanges? An interview with BTC Global's Steven Morrell

| Published on June 10, 2013 at 16:21 BST

If you’re not a fan of Mt. Gox, hold on tight: A Bitcoin startup based in Uruguay says it aims to shake up the world of Bitcoin exchanges.

On June 5, BTC Global announced its Massive Parallel Licensing (MPL) program, which it describes as a distributed solution to address the regulatory challenges facing Bitcoin adoption both in the US and globally.

In a Skype call with CoinDesk, Steven Morrell, one of the founders of BTC Global, talked about why he believes his company will be the Google of the Bitcoin economy.

“If you’re not a bank, you can’t become a bank,” Morrell began. “You have to do so many things in order to be a bank, that it’s nearly impossible unless you’re already well established in the financial sector.”

1To start a bank from scratch, you'd need banking lawyers, compliance officers, security bonds, security bond renewal and much more. All of this takes money … so much that few startups would be able to afford it. And even then, they probably couldn’t make it work without teaming up with an already established bank.

According to Morrell, though, BTC Global’s Massive Parallel Licensing program would make it incredibly easy for people in the US and elsewhere to set up their very own local Bitcoin exchanges by joining the network. They would have on hand the support of local and international banks, compliance lawyers and proven regulatory protocol at their fingertips … enough support to set up an exchange in their state without having to shell out all the cash themselves to ensure they do everything by the book.

This essentially means we could see the Bitcoin equivalent of local banks, regional banks and credit unions springing up. People frequenting these 100-percent-compliant BTC exchanges would be able to buy, sell, store and send bitcoins as easily as they now transact in dollars at their local banks.

In fact, these Bitcoin exchanges could also act as normal banks. In theory, someone could walk in, deposit a paycheck, convert half of it into bitcoins to be secured in a cold-storage lock box and cash the other half in dollars for a night out on the town. US dollars and bitcoins could be seamlessly interchangeable in full compliance with the law. That could conceivably put Bitcoin on the path toward becoming a truly mainstream, globally accepted currency. It’s even possible that already established local banks might join BTC Global’s MPL program to add bitcoins to their current operations.

“You have people that say Bitcoin has nothing to do with the government – it’s the end of the government, the beginning of the revolution – that’s nonsense,” Morrell said. “First of all, revolution is never a good thing – revolution ends with blood on the street. We don’t need a revolution. We need an evolution and that’s what it takes to get Bitcoin mainstream and global.”

2Morrell continued, “Most countries of the world have implemented a taxation system that is based on surveillance. You need to prove: what did you buy, what did you sell, what did you spend, with whom did you go to dinner and what did you have for dessert – it’s insane. A friend of mine is the director at a huge German theater, he lives in a small village an hour from Munich and he had to discuss the list of books he bought over the last two years and explain which of those books he was reading for pleasure, and which for work – it’s idiotic.”

Morrell believes Bitcoin could fundamentally change how we interact with our governments. If BTC Global has its way with its network of exchanges, he believes surveillance-based taxation could become impossible to maintain in a Bitcoin world: “It’s too much – you’re losing more money enforcing it than you will ever get back.”

Morrell said BTC Global has already made some very real and very solid partnerships with local and international banks operating in several US states. The company also has a distributed network of professionals, including commercial attorneys and more. And it has a strong foundation for funding, he added.

Funding, Uruguay-style

So why has BTC Global – a company made up of a board of directors based in the UK, US, Germany, Romania and so on – set up its headquarters in the small South American country of Uruguay, population around three million? The company’s website says why:

3 “Known for its reputable and stable jurisdiction, philosophy of financial deregulation, and friendliness towards foreign investors, Uruguay spells love for Bitcoin. Uruguayans regularly deal with multiple currencies: the Uruguayan peso, US dollar, the euro, and, soon, crypto-currencies. Uruguayans have a culture of strict banking secrecy. Uruguayans also make it easy for foreigners to open bank accounts. Even better, the lack of exchange controls, including a lack of limits on the transfer of funds and profit remittance, allow for frictionless business of high volumes on our exchange.”

Without Uruguay, BTC Global would not have been able to pull off its funding mechanism. Typically, funding is done by angel investors and venture capitalists, which takes a lot of time and a lot of effort. Then comes the big question, “What’s your net worth?”

“If someone asks me what the net worth of my company is, I say $1.82 million and the discussion is over,” Morrell asserted. Why? Because, at the time of this writing, that is the amount of money other people are willing to pay for it, he said.

4What BTC Global has done is set up a pre-IPO auction. They are selling 6 percent of its equity, which is something it can do only because it's based in Uruguay.

“Nearly all of our investors are Bitcoiners – it’s like Facebook being funded by Facebook users,” Morrell said “The Bitcoin community is giving birth to its own offspring. In the future, we want to make this type of funding option available for other startups.”

Morrell said this funding method means he and his board of directors don’t need to waste time peddling to investors. They can get right down to business … which is what they’ve done since the company was incorporated in April.

Target: Mt. Gox

5Morrell said BTC Global's aim is to far outperform current bitcoin exchanges, including the leading one, Mt. Gox.

“Our engine runs 100 times faster than theirs – our agent does over 300,000 orders per second and it’s only that low because we’re using very modest hardware,” he asserted. By setting up fully compliant and more numerous exchanges, BTC Global seeks to render today’s leaders irrelevant, he added.

Morrell is even less impressed with how we send fiat money to one another.

“When I want to send money, I have to go to the bank while it’s open, fill out a form, pay sometimes hundreds of dollars in fees, and if I’m lucky the money will arrive in three to seven business days,” he said. “It’s the same way we sent money 30 years ago. There is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to send money from A to B around the globe, when I live in a global community. It’s the biggest technological gap we have right now in our global world.”

When money takes that long to send, it's a problem. Many see Bitcoin as the natural solution. Morrell also sees it as a better way to do business in today’s highly connected world.6

“We have Middle Eastern uprisings that are successful because of social media,” he said. “A Middle Eastern uprising 20 years ago would have been crushed in a massacre and no one would care. Today, we have a demonstration in Turkey and the whole world is watching and supporting and talking and discussing. We live in a 21st-century world, but we send money the 20th-century way.”

What a Bitcoin world could look like

“I want all factions of the government to have a Bitcoin address,” Morrell said. “I want to look up the DOD (Department of Defense) and see all transactions. Those 5,000 BTC you sent? What was it for? That’s my money.”

While there’s a lot of talk about how Bitcoin is anonymous, that’s not true, Morrell insists. Cash is anonymous, not bitcoins.

7“There is no anonymity with Bitcoin," he said. “Dollars are anonymous. In the future, dirty stuff will be done in dollars and clean stuff with Bitcoin. The easiest way to launder money is in dollars. HSBC was actively and knowingly involved with money laundering for three decades. They laundered trillions of dollars, and the government didn’t touch them. Yet Liberty Reserve allegedly launders $6 billion over a 10-year period and they’re shut down and the newspapers say it’s because of Bitcoin. How do you explain that to a child in school? How do you tell them the law is the same for everyone and then show them that?”

On the other hand,  if Bitcoin one day becomes mainstream and globally accepted, with exchanges set up in every state and country, every transaction from every individual will be on the blockchain. Your average, everyday individual could see how giant corporations or small businesses are spending their money and vice versa. In that scenario, the only way to really be anonymous is to deal in cash.

What would a world like that look like? Morrell thinks it would look great.

8“There is always a group of people out there who think major changes will screw up our society – women voting, gays getting married, civil rights – but it always turns out just fine," Morrell said. "The same is true with Bitcoin. There is nothing wrong with people being free.”

Still, even he acknowledges there are times he worries that Bitcoin will fail. At times like those, he reminds himself that change isn’t always easy.

“Sometimes I think this idea is really scary and unpredictable,” Morrell said. “But we are riding a tiger, and we can’t get off just because the tiger is upset – you have to ride the tiger. It’s the only way to do this.”

Editorial note: This piece was amended on June 11, 2013.

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