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Unicorn: Financial Institutions Tech Amount Secures Nearly $100 Million Through Series D Funding Round; Bringing Post-Money Valuation to $1 Billion



Amounta U.S.-based financial institutions tech company, announced on Tuesday it raised nearly $100 million through its Series D funding round and has achieved unicorn status by having a post-money valuation of $1 billion.

Amount reported it delivers the technology financial institutions need to create and enhance the digital consumer experience.

“Built by lending industry veterans, Amount helps partners go digital in months—not years—with omnichannel retail banking experiences and a robust point-of-sale financing product suite underpinned by platform features including fraud prevention, verification, decisioning engines and account management.”

The company’s partners may also optimize performance across product categories by tapping into various service offerings including customer acquisition, funnel and performance assessments, and risk analytics.

Amount further revealed that the Series D round represents over a 50% increase in valuation from the Goldman Sachs-led $86 million Series C announced in late 2020, bringing Amount’s total capital raised to $243 million since becoming an independent company in January 2020. Speaking about the investment round, Adam Hughes, CEO of Amount, stated;

“The additional capital clearly demonstrates the value our investors see in Amount’s ability to accelerate digital transformation in the banking and ecommerce industries through our robust retail banking suite and buy now, pay later platforms. We’re thrilled with the confidence that blue chip investors continue to have in our momentum and are excited to join the other Chicago tech unicorns who are helping make our city a hub for technological innovation and progress.”

Amount added that the Series D funds will be used to accelerate hiring in the company’s product, technology, and sales groups while pursuing accretive merger and acquisition opportunities to add new products and features to its platform.

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SEC v. Ripple: Implications of Ripple’s Fair Notice Defense



In December 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a complaint in a New York federal court against Ripple Labs, Inc. and two of its executives alleging that Ripple had sold $1.3 billion in XRP cryptocurrency tokens in a series of unregistered securities offerings. Because of the potentially monumental impact of this case, almost anyone with an interest in cryptocurrency or blockchain has been following this case closely. A key issue in the case, which recently came to light in a filing by Ripple, is Ripple’s assertion of a defense known as “fair notice.”  The court’s ruling on Ripple’s fair notice defense could have far-reaching implications.

Why XRP and not Bitcoin?

XRP (and other similar cryptocurrencies) differ from Bitcoin, Ether, and other such cryptocurrencies in ways that are critical from a securities law standpoint. The SEC has publicly acknowledged that Bitcoin and Ether are not securities because of the fact that those networks are entirely decentralized and not controlled or regulated by any one party whose efforts are critical to the value of the tokens.

XRP’s, on the other hand, are tightly controlled by Ripple and not decentralized to the same degree as Bitcoin and Ether. One of the factors in determining whether something is a security is whether its value is directly derived from the efforts of others; for XRP, the SEC argues, Ripple’s control over the network is a key element of XRP’s value, as opposed to Bitcoin and Ether, which are entirely decentralized.

What is the Fair Notice Defense?

The Supreme Court has held the constitutional requirement of “fair notice” in due process means that no person should be forced ‘to speculate as to the meaning of statutes. All are entitled to be informed as to what the state commands or forbids.’ The statute must be sufficiently well-defined that a person can understand what is required or prohibited and that does not encourage arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement.

Put another way, people have a right to clearly understand what conduct is punishable.

Ripple’s Fair Notice Defense

Ripple has asserted (among several other defenses, chief among them its assertion that XRP is not a security) that it did not have fair notice as to whether its sales of XRP cryptocurrency were securities offerings. The SEC has moved to strike that defense; essentially, the SEC is asserting that it is so clear that they will win on this issue, the court should throw it out as a matter of law. It is very difficult to win a motion to strike; more than likely, Ripple will have the opportunity to present evidence and argue the fair notice defense throughout most or all of the case.

Ripple’s argument stems from the case of Upton v SEC, which applied the fair notice defense to SEC regulations under the statutes governing securities broker-dealers. In that case, the court determined that the SEC’s interpretation of the statute was entitled to deference, but not in a situation where an individual could be penalized without fair notice that their conduct violated the law. The SEC, in response, has asserted that (1) Ripple had ample notice based on the numerous other cases that the SEC has pursued against companies for issuance of cryptocurrencies, and (2) the Upton case has never been applied to a purely statutory enforcement action (Upton was based on regulations interpreting the statute, not on the statute itself).

What’s at Stake?

Although many commentators believe Ripple’s defense that XRP is not a security is the stronger argument, the potential implications of a court ruling on Ripple’s Fair Notice defense are more far-reaching.  If Ripple wins on that issue, that ruling will create a precedent that will make it extremely difficult – perhaps impossible – for the SEC to pursue similar actions against other cryptocurrencies and similar blockchain-based tokens, at least without a change in the law. If Ripple’s win comes from an appellate court, the precedential value would be even stronger.

A decisive victory by the SEC, on the other hand, would raise significant securities law compliance questions about other cryptocurrencies and similar tokens that are not entirely decentralized; likely, many of those would lose significant value, shut down, or face similar enforcement actions from the SEC.

What Will Happen?

It is difficult to predict what might happen at this point since this case is still very much in its infancy.  That said, it does seem likely that the fair notice defense will at least survive the SEC’s motion to strike for the simple reason that the threshold for granting that motion is so high.

More than likely, the fair notice defense will continue to be hotly contested until either the court is able to rule on summary judgment (a ruling that happens only after the parties have presented evidence and made further arguments on the issue), or until the parties reach a settlement.

Given the stakes for both parties, a settlement seems to be a realistic possibility; both sides likely are feeling significant pressure to avoid an adverse outcome.

In conclusion, though perhaps not the most critical issue in the overall case, Ripple’s assertion of the Fair Notice defense is likely the most consequential issue in the SEC v. Ripple case, due to its potentially lasting precedent with respect to other cryptocurrency enforcement efforts. Anyone with an interest in cryptocurrencies should continue to watch this case closely for future developments.

Chris Sloan is an attorney at law firm Baker Donelson and chair of the firm’s Emerging Companies Team. He focuses his practice on startups and other emerging businesses. Sloan can be reached at [email protected].

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UK Financial Conduct Authority: More People Hold Crypto Now



The UK Financial Conduct Authority has been tracking crypto holdings in the UK for some time now. Earlier today, the top securities regulator provided an update indicating the more people in the UK are now holding crypto in contrast to prior data. This is the 4th consumer crypto report shared by the FCA and data was gathered during January of 2021.

It is good to note that in January 2021 Bitcoin was around $41,000 soon moving to around $60,000. The rapid gain of the most popular crypto may have influenced some of the responses. Since the survey, Bitcoin, as well as other crypto-assets, have declined in value.

The FCA states that research indicates 2.3 million adults own crypto – up from 1.9 million adults a year ago. Additionally, awareness of digital assets is on the rise  as now 78% have heard of crypto-assets in contrast to 73% year prior. This is in a country with a population of around 68 million including around 54 million adults. This means that about 42 million adults in the UK have some sort of awareness of crypto be it Bitcoin or other.

The FCA adds that while awareness is on the rise comprehension is waning with 71% of adults surveyed correctly identifying a definition of cryptocurrency from a list of options.

“Enthusiasm” for crypto is increasing as over half of crypto users saying they have had a positive experience and are likely to buy more (rising from 41% to 53%).

47% of crypto users are planning to buy cryptocurrency in the future with 30% indicating they will use previous gains from crypto to fund purchases. 17% said they have already done so and 26% said they will use other long-term savings or investments thus consumers appear to be optimistic regarding the path for cryptocurrency investment returns.

Fewer people also regret having purchased crypto, down from 15% to 11%.

Most consumers understand that purchasing crypto is a risky endeavor with 10% aware of the warnings being provided by the FCA.

Sheldon Mills, FCA’s Executive Director, Consumers and Competition, shared the following comment:

“The research highlights increased interest in cryptoassets among UK customers. The market has continued to grow, and some investors have benefitted as prices have risen. However it is important for customers to understand that because these products are largely unregulated that if something goes wrong they are unlikely to have access to the FSCS or the Financial Ombudsman Service. If consumers invest in these types of products, they should be prepared to lose all their money.”

The FCA crypto survey may be viewed here or below.

FCA Cryptoasset consumer research 2021
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UK’s Investment Platform easyMoney Explains Differences between IFISA and P2P Lending Options



UK’s easyMoney, the investment platform from Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou’s easy family of brands that claims that it has “never lost a penny on its loans,” notes that sometimes, the world of finance can appear to be quite complicated. In their opinion, this can also be “equally off-putting.”

Because of these potential issues, the easyMoney team has put together an easy-to-follow guide to the key differences between an IFISA and “regular” peer-to-peer (P2P) lending options. There are some significant “distinctions” which they believe are “worth knowing” about.

easyMoney is a P2P lending platform, allowing people to invest in an Innovative Finance Individual Savings Account (IFISA). These have been around since 2016/17, and the money that you lend (in easyMoney’s case to borrowers in the property sector) accrues interest, which gets paid to you on a “monthly basis tax-free,” the company explains. So, this would be peer-to-peer lending, easyMoney clarifies.

According to easyMoney:

“Never the most innovative or popular of institutions, [banks are] not always easy to qualify for a loan, especially in the last year or so due to the difficulties caused by Covid.”

Step forward peer-to-peer lending, easyMoney adds, while claiming it has become a “popular way to get funding without applying to the bank.” As noted by the company, peer to peer sites essentially operate as online marketplaces, serving as financial “matchmakers” in order to bring together businesses and individuals (or even groups of individuals).

Then there are those who wish to lend, and those who want to borrow funds, so it’s an “advance win-win situation – or it could be,” easyMoney adds. The company confirms that the very first website P2P platform was introduced back in 2005 and it was a “game-changing idea and pretty niche at the time.”

But here’s a quick fact: people have been lending to and borrowing from each other “well before that.” Here’s one account of P2P lending in 18th Century France that easyMoney shared.

These markets would function typically in “small circles, where people living in neighboring areas exchanged goods and cash for deferred payments, often being connected to more than individual at any one time.”

With easyMoney, the funds you lend are “divided automatically between several borrowers, enabling you to diversify your portfolio and mitigate risk,” the company explains.

To get started, you just have to open an account, select a product according to the amount you want to invest, and simply start earning interest. At easyMoney, they pay the interest every month and also give their clients the chance to “take advantage of [their] compound interest.”

As noted by easyMoney:

“Any interest that you earn through P2P lending will be seen as income. HMRC will want to know about it. That is, it will be taxable. Your personal savings allowance is however considered here, but if you’re a higher rate taxpayer, this amount is only £500. …Especially those from easyMoney, as our rates can be as high as 8% – TAX-FREE.”

easyMoney also noted that risk-free investments do not exist, even though many of us “would like them to.” In real-life scenarios, your borrowers can default. Likewise, if your loan is repaid late, or early, “you could make less of a profit than you’d hoped.”

The company also mentioned:

“To mitigate risk, easyMoney takes a conservative approach. Each loan is assessed individually, with a weighted risk matrix based on long experience and expertise in property and lending. We allocate a score to each loan from A to J; A being the lowest and J the highest. Generally, we lend only against those that score A, B or C. Additionally, we secure every loan on our platform with a legal charge – meaning that should a borrower default, we will try to sell their property, although recovering funds could be affected by any downturns in the property market.”

easyMoney’s conservative methodology “reflects the sums” they lend out to borrowers:

  • On bridge loans “up to 75% of a property’s value”
  • On development loans, “a maximum of 75% of the initial value of the property, plus up to 100% of development costs.” Taken together, “our total lending is capped at 70% of the anticipated Gross Development Value (that is, the price that the value considers that the developed property will sell for).”

Peer to peer lending isn’t covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, even though they have to be regulated by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in order to trade, easyMoney clarified.

As noted by easyMoney, when you choose an Innovative Finance ISA with the company, then the P2P lending concept is “essentially the same,” but with a few key differences:

At easyMoney, they offer a “diversified” portfolio (as with other P2P lending platforms) but your selected borrower or borrowers “will be businesses within the property sector and your loan backed by UK property.”

They covered interest rates, however, with easyMoney, you could, “depending on how much you invest, reap great rewards, with interest returns of up to 8%,” the company notes while emphasizing that with your allowance of £20,000 per annum “the taxman is left out of the picture.”

The easyMoney team further noted that the interest that you get on a monthly basis from them “will be completely tax-free.”

The company added:

“easyMoney’s IFISa is flexible. As an investor, you have the opportunity and freedom to withdraw your money, and importantly – to put it back again without affecting your £20,000 annual allowance.”

In order to open an easyMoney IFISA you’ll “need to be a UK resident with a UK National Insurance number.” As part of easyMoney’s “transparent” approach, users must know that the IFISA is “not covered by the FSCS, but that we are fully regulated by the FCA.”

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Digital Pound: Bank of England Updates on CBDC Progress



In a speech delivered at the Future of Fintech Conference, Tom Mutton – Director responsible for Central Bank Digital Currency at the Bank of England, provided an update on the progress of central bank-issued digital currency.

According to Mutton, CBDCs are viewed by the bank as “supporting future payment needs in a more digital economy, through to acting a possible building block for better cross border payments.”

So what is “unique” about a digital pound or Britcoin? Beyond being issued by the central bank, confidence in the digital coin that is stable and quickly convertible to physical cash is key. Additionally, by providing a digital pound public officials may be able to support wider public policy objectives – including financial inclusion.

Mutton states:

“Clearly, central bank money plays an important role; and even as transactional use of cash has declined, the public report that they still value their access to it. Therefore it is only right that we consider the case for providing central bank money, to the general public in digital, as well as physical form.”

Referencing a recent discussion paper that received responses from the public, Mutton notes that what is clear is that the pros and cons must be studied to a profound degree. Some themes highlighted include:

  • The ‘use case’ for CBDC needs to be further developed and better articulated.
  • The need for CBDC to support financial inclusion and protect privacy was called out.
  • Our design principles were seen as comprehensive; but challenging to deliver.
  • Some functional capabilities were considered to be very important (including the ability to make ‘offline’ payments).

As was previously reported, the Bank of England and HM Treasury are part of a task force created to explore the concept of a CBDC.

While some have worried that the UK is falling behind in this aspect of  Fintech innovation, Mutton said that the UK is the clear thought leader on the concept of a CBDC.

China is already testing a digital yuan but concerns have regularly been mentioned that a Chinese CBDC may not adhere to strict privacy demands.

The principles outlined by Mutton regarding a digital pound, include:

  • Financial inclusion should be a prominent consideration in CBDC design.
  • A competitive CBDC ecosystem with diverse participants will support innovation.
  • Due recognition should be given to other payments innovations and their ability to support the outcomes the Bank seeks.
  • CBDC should seek to protect users’ privacy.
  • While CBDC should ‘do no harm’ to the Bank of England’s ability to deliver monetary and financial stability, opportunities to better meet our policy objectives should also be considered in CBDC exploration.

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