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Digital Currency Summit Andorra: Bitcoin in the Banking Nation

Op-ed - Digital Currency Summit Andorra: Bitcoin in the banking nation

Last September 17th to 19th, the Digital Currency Summit was celebrated in Andorra, the small country placed three hours away from Barcelona; it was a three day debate forum which treated topics like the use and importance of cryptocurrencies for banks, governments, investors and general public. In order to achieve that goal there were organised conferences and debates around four threads: “Introduction to Digital Currencies,” “Investment opportunities,” “Regulation: laws and taxes,” and “Financial and Banking,” in addition to a presentation of several startups and cryptocurrency-related projects.

Andorra is a micro-state composed of 85,000 people and characterized by a strong traditional banking system, and is usually considered as a tax haven —althought it is not— because of its bank secrecy and a quite flexible fiscal system. Historically it has been a major financial center and a reliable place to deposit money in.

Alex Puig, the event organizer, thought of Andorra as the idoneous place for this event to happen. As a software programmer, Bitcoin fanatic and expert in Andorra’s startup and banking environment, it was for him a great opportunity to bring together a revolutionary technology with bankers, politicians, startups, and investors. And it worked out! Networking thrived amazingly well between persons from different fields during the breaks, even though we all missed the attendance of Andorran political representatives, who didn’t appear.

The talks and debates were exceptional, fueled by speakers as important as Jon Matonis, Constance Choi, Marco Santori and Flavio Pripas, who talked about a wide range of topics from cryptocurrencies to DAOs, the financial potential of Bitcoin or the way banks and startups can implement Bitcoin to their business models.

These last talks were particularly interesting to the banking sector, well-represented by top Banks as “Banca Privada d’Andorra (BPA)” and “MoraBanc”, that are realizing that the world is changing around them while the banking sector is being left behind. There are currently many voices in the Bitcoin community that think that Bitcoin doesn’t add significant improvements as a currency compared to traditional currencies, and that see the true revolution of Blockchain and Bitcoin in their use as financial and services tools; that perspective might be more interesting to the banking system.

That is the view of MoraBanc’s delegate Juan Carlos Salinas, who thanks to the conferences has started to realize the huge potential about Bitcoin, even thought it is still too early for them to get involved in it as a business opportunity. Joan Manel Fernández, from BPA, admits that they can hardly imagine Bitcoin as being really important in the future since that would mean to place confidence in a new decentralized structure with no financial intermediaries, and that will not be easy, but nevertheless they are resolved to keep abreast of cryptocurrency’s development and to keep in touch with Bitcoin sector. On the other hand, both find regrettable the lack of institutional support to the Summit, given the suitability of Andorra for this kind of technological initiatives, in the same way that has been happening in other small scale and flexible States as Malta, Gibraltar and the Isle of Man. Jon Matonis, in his interview for El Diari Ara, said in similar terms that Andorran politicians should support banking efforts in implementing the new technologies providing security and predictability or, at least, not raise barriers against innovation. In his view, the banking sector should be less conservative if it wants to attract investment.

We talked about all these topics with event organizer Alex Puig.

Ferdinand Reyes:Good morning Alex, could you explain to us what is the approach of the meeting and what makes it different from other meetings?

Alex Puig: Our approach was formative: we didn’t want a conference focused on people who already knew about cryptocurrencies; we were rather interested in educating decision-makers and managers in the financial sector. We want to be the meeting point between the most disruptive entrepreneurs and the financial sector, maybe a bit more classic but yet willing to go forward to the XXIst century.

FR:What is your assessment of the Summit? Did it fill your expectations?
AP: Yes and no. It did in the qualitative side, the talks were high level and networking during the event has satisfied everyone beyond all the forecasts. In the two days of conferences I have seen the creation of many professional relationships and alliances that might end up in profitable businesses. On the other side, I expected this new technology to arouse peope’s curiosity, and that Andorra could have attracted much more attendance. In this aspect I would have liked to pack the conference center.

FR:What is the state of Bitcoin in Andorra? What does its future hold?
AP: Bitcoin is currently alegal: there is no official position on the issue. If the government reacts and sets out a stable regulatory framework, Andorra might have the potential to attract Bitcoin startaps since it is not a fiscal haven and has got a deeply entrenched strong banking sector.

FR:Andorra is a flexible country for business and investments. Has the summit had the impact you expected on financial and governmental circles?
AP: In the private sector, definitely. Local big business and specially some Banks have changed their minds about cryptocurrencies and have started talking about studying deeply how it works and how to use it. We will see what happens with the government; one of their first priorities is to find for a new, less dependent on tourism and sustainable economic model for the country. However, they didn’t show any interest in the Summit.

FR:Are you looking forward to the next step or planning another project?
AP: Yes, we are working to bring the Digital Currency Summit to Barcelona and Madrid in May 2015.

FR: Thank you very much for the interview and for this fantastic Summit, Alex.

The Summit left on me a very good impression due to its professional organization, the closeness of its organizers and the easiness with which I could talk with loads of people. I hope that the next events in Barcelona and Madrid will see a larger attendance; the high quality talks and the networking opportunities it brings are well worth taking a chance.