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Alpaca nabs $6M for stocks API so anyone can build a Robinhood

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Stock trading app Robinhood is valued at $7.6 billion, but it only operates in the U.S. Freshly funded fintech startup Alpaca does the dirty work so developers worldwide can launch their own competitors to that investing unicorn. Like the Stripe of stocks, Alpaca’s API handles the banking, security and regulatory complexity, allowing other startups to quickly build brokerage apps on top for free. It has already crossed $1 billion in transactions within a year of launch.

The potential to power the backend of a new generation of fintech apps has attracted a $6 million Series A round for Alpaca led by Spark Capital . Instead of charging developers, Alpaca earns its money through payment for order flow, interest on cash deposits and margin lending, much like Robinhood.

“I want to make sure that people even outside the U.S. have access” to a way of building wealth that’s historically only “available to rich people” Alpaca co-founder and CEO Yoshi Yokokawa tells me.

Alpaca co-founder and CEO Yoshi Yokokawa

Hailing from Japan, Yokokawa followed his friends into the investment banking industry, where he worked at Lehman Brothers until its collapse. After his grandmother got sick, he moved into day-trading for three years and realized “all the broker dealer business tools were pretty bad.” But when he heard of Robinhood in 2013 and saw it actually catering to users’ needs, he thought, “I need to be involved in this new transformation” of fintech.

Yokokawa ended up first building a business selling deep learning AI to banks and trading firms in the foreign exchange market. Watching clients struggle to quickly integrate new technology revealed the lack of available developer tools. By 2017, he was pivoting the business and applying for FINRA approval. Alpaca launched in late 2018, letting developers paste in code to let their users buy and sell securities.

Now international developers and small hedge funds are building atop the Alpaca API so they don’t have to reinvent the underlying infrastructure themselves right away. Alpaca works with clearing broker NTC, and then marks up margin trading while earning interest and payment for order flow. It also offers products like AlpacaForecast, with short-term predictions of stock prices, AlpacaRadar for detecting price swings and its MarketStore financial database server.

AlpacaForecast

The $6 million from Spark Capital, Social Leverage, Portag3, Fathom Capital and Zillionize adds to $5.8 million in previous funding from investors, including Y Combinator. The startup plans to spend the cash on hiring to handle partnerships with bigger businesses, supporting its developer community and ensuring compliance.

One major question is whether fintech businesses that start to grow atop Alpaca and drive its revenues will try to declare independence and later invest in their own technology stack. There’s the additional risk of a security breach that might scare away clients.

Alpaca’s top competitor, Interactive Brokers, offers trading APIs, but other services as well that distract it from fostering a robust developer community, Yokokawa tells me. Alpaca focuses on providing great documentation, open-source contribution and SDKs in different languages that make it more developer-friendly. It will also have to watch out for other fintech services startups like DriveWealth and well-funded Galileo.

There’s a big opportunity to capitalize on the race to integrate stock trading into other finance apps to drive stickiness because it’s a consistent, voluntary behavior rather than a chore or something only done a few times a year. Lender SoFi and point-of-sale system Square both recently became broker dealers as well, and Yokokawa predicts more and more apps will push into the space.

Why would we need so many stock trading apps? “Every single person is involved with money, so the market is huge. Instead of one-player takes all, there will be different players that can all do well,” Yokokawa tells me. “Like banks and investment banks co-exist, it will never be that Bank of America takes 80% of the pie. I think differentiation will be on customer acquisition, and operations management efficiency.”

The co-founder’s biggest concern is keeping up with all the new opportunities in financial services, from cash management and cryptocurrency that Robinhood already deals in, to security token offerings and fractional investing. Yokokawa says, “I need to make sure I’m on top of everything and that we’re executing with the right timing so we don’t lose.”

The CEO hopes that Alpaca will one day power broader access to the U.S. stock market back in Japan, noting that if a modern nation still lags behind in fintech, the rest of the world surely fares even worse. “I want to connect this asset class to as many people as possible on the earth.”

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2019/11/08/alpaca-stock-trading-api/

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A US citizen is accused of trying to help North Korea evade sanctions

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Atlanta (CNN Business)A US computer researcher appeared in federal court in Los Angeles on Monday, accused of advising North Korea how to use cryptocurrency to avoid sanctions, according to the United States Attorney’s Office.

Griffith is a research scientist for the Ethereum Foundation, a Swiss-based cryptocurrency platform. In a statement, Ethereum told CNN Business it did not approve or support Griffith’s travel to North Korea.
Griffith is accused of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) by traveling to North Korea “in order deliver a presentation and technical advice on using cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to evade sanctions,” according to a news release from the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
    In a statement to CNN Business after the Monday hearing, Griffith’s attorney said his client has been released from jail pending trial.
    “We dispute the untested allegations in the criminal complaint,” attorney Brian Klein told CNN Business. “Virgil looks forward to his day in court, when the full story can come out.”
    The technology behind cryptocurrencies, known as blockchain, is a digital ledger and record made up of a list of transactions. The blockchain is powered by a decentralized network of computers that work on the same task.
    Data cannot be easily changed or deleted, helping to avoid fraud. Since it’s a permanent record, and because the ledger is held by many entities, it’s nearly impossible to hack.
    The IEEPA prohibits US citizens from exporting goods, services or technology to other countries without a license from the Department of Treasury. North Korea is specifically mentioned as a threat in executive orders.
    The US Attorney’s Office alleges that Griffith traveled to North Korea through China in April to attend the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference without approval of Treasury and despite being denied permission by the US State Department to travel to the country.
    “We cannot allow anyone to evade sanctions, because the consequences of North Korea obtaining funding, technology and information to further its desire to build nuclear weapons put the world at risk,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. said in the news release.
    “It’s even more egregious that a US citizen allegedly chose to aid our adversary.”
    During Griffith’s presentation, called “Blockchain and Peace,” at the cryptocurrency conference, he discussed how blockchain technology could benefit North Korea, according to the criminal complaint.
    After the conference, he “began formulating plans to facilitate the exchange of cryptocurrency” between North and South Korea knowing that his assistance would violate sanctions against North Korea, the complaint said.
    He also announced his intention to renounce his US citizenship and encouraged other US citizens to travel to North Korea, the complaint states.
      If convicted of violating the IEEPA, Griffith faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, the US Attorney’s office said.
      — CNN’s Laura Ly, Gianluca Mezzofiore and Mirna Alsharif contributed to this report.

      Read more: https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/03/tech/crypto-expert-north-korea-sanctions-trnd/index.html

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      Investment platform eToro acquires crypto portfolio tracker app Delta

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      The multi-asset investment platform eToro, which spans “social” stock trading to cryptocurrency, has acquired Delta, the crypto portfolio tracker app.

      Terms of the deal remain undisclosed, although one source tells me the deal was worth $5 million. It is not clear if it is stock only or cash (or a mixture of both) and if it is contingent on any future targets being met.

      The Delta app helps investors make better decisions regarding their crypto investments by providing tools such as portfolio tracking and pricing data. It very much fits with the evolution of eToro, which not only wants to “own” the commission-free stocks (and ETF) space, but has also ventured ambitiously into crypto — most recently bringing crypto asset trading to the U.S.

      Delta’s crypto portfolio tracker app has support for more than 6,000 crypto assets from more than 180 exchanges. It provides investors with a range of tools to track and analyse their crypto portfolios. To date, Delta says it has seen 1.5 million downloads and has “hundreds of thousands” of active monthly users.

      The acquisition sees Delta become part of the eToro Group, while the Delta team led by Nicolas Van Hoorde will become part of eToroX, reporting to Doron Rosenblum. “The team will continue to be based in Belgium, working in close collaboration with eToro and eToroX employees across the globe,” says eToro.

      Meanwhile, eToro is talking up the fact that it is a regulated platform where you can hold crypto and traditional assets in the same portfolio. The idea with the Delta acquisition is to extend that so you’ll be able to track all your investments in once place, starting with crypto and eventually multi-asset. In addition, you’ll be able to trade from the app via eToroX, eToro’s own crypto exchange.

      “At a time when other fintechs state that they are not even targeting profitability, we are proud to be a well funded, profitable business that is growing both in terms of geographical coverage but also product range,” says Yoni Assia, co-founder and CEO of eToro, in a statement.

      “We are a trading and investing platform that not only provides clients with access to the assets they want, from commission free stocks and ETFs through to FX, commodities and cryptoassets, but also lets customers choose how they invest. They can trade directly, copy another trader or invest in a portfolio. We believe in empowering our clients and the acquisition of Delta will allow us to add an important new element to our offering.”

      Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2019/11/06/investment-platform-etoro-acquires-crypto-portfolio-tracker-app-delta/

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      Brave launches version 1.0 of its privacy-focused browser

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      Brave, the company co-founded by ex-Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich after his ouster from the organization in 2014, today launched version 1.0 of its browser for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android and iOS. In a browser market where users are spoiled for choice, Brave is positioning itself as a fast option that preserves users’ privacy with strong default settings, as well as a crypto currency-centric private ads and payment platform that allows users to reward content creators.

      As the company announced last month, it now has about 8 million monthly active users. Its Brave Rewards program, which requires opt-in from users and publishers, currently has about 300,000 publishers on board. Most of these are users with small followings on YouTube and Twitter, but large publishers like Wikipedia, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Slate and the LA Times are also part of the ecosystem. Using this system, which not every publisher is going to like, the browser will show a small number of ads as a notification in a separate private ad tab, based on the user’s browsing habits. Users then receive 70% of what the advertisers spend on ads, while Brave keeps 30%.

      As users view these ads, they start earning Basic Attention Tokens (BAT), Brave’s cryptocurrency, which they can keep or give to publishers. In its early days, Brave actually started with Bitcoin as the currency for this, but as Eich noted, that quickly became too expensive (and because the price was going up, users wanted to hold on to the Bitcoin instead of donating it).

      Brave also comes with a built-in ad blocker that is probably among the most effective in the industry, as well as extensive anti-tracking features. “Everybody’s bothered by the sense of being tracked and bothered by bad ads,” Eich told me. “But I think ad aesthetics are not the problem. It’s the tracking and the cost of tracking which is multifarious. There’s page load time, running the radio to load the tracking scripts that load the other scripts that load the scripts that load the ads, that drains your battery, too.” Eich argues that with Brave, the team found a way to tie this all together with anti-tracking technology and an approach to ad blocking that goes beyond the industry-standard blocklists and also uses machine learning to identify additional rules for blocking.

      For those users that really want to be anonymous on the web, Brave also features a private browsing mode, just like every other browser, but with the added twist that you can also open a private session through the Tor network, which will make it very hard for most companies to identify you.

      At its core, Brave is simply a fast, extensible Chromium-based browser. That’s also what the company believes will sell it to users. “The way you get users, […] I think speed is the first one that works across the largest number of users. But you can’t just leave it at speed. You want to have all your benefits tied up in a pretty knot and that’s what we have done,” he said. For Brave, speed and ad/tracking protection are obviously interconnected, and all the other benefits accrue from that.

      Looking beyond version 1.0, the Brave team plans to implement better sync, with support for tab and history syncing, for example. Brave also aims to make participating in Brave Rewards an experience with much lower friction for the user. In the early days, before it was on Android, the opt-in rate was around 40%, Eich told me, and the team wants to get it back to that.

      If you want to give Brave a try, you can download it here.

      Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2019/11/13/brave-launches-version-1-0-of-its-privacy-focused-browser/

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