As China puts the finishing touches to its digital yuan, and the United States actively works to do the same for the dollar, the European Central Bank is taking its time. Its dematerialized euro should not see the light of day before 2025. Without waiting, the start-up Angle Labs stuck to it by launching last November a “stablecoin” based on the euro and the blockchain. The two founders, Pablo Veyrat and Guillaume Nerfvo, both from Polytechnique and Stanford University, immediately captured attention, raising 5 million euros from international venture capital funds.
A stablecoin, for the uninitiated, is the digital replica of an existing currency and whose value is guaranteed, regardless of changes in exchange rates. In other words, it is a stable cryptocurrency, based on underlying physical assets. This financial product illustrates the proliferation of French initiatives in what is commonly called fintech. “It’s teeming! A lot of companies are being created at the moment but are still under the radar, explains Frédéric Montagnon, one of the French pioneers of the blockchain. We have a very strong competitive advantage with our engineers, who are very good at maths and finance. Those who left yesterday for New York, London or Hong Kong are now setting up their own projects.”
A revolution is underway which we are still struggling to take full measure of. Because behind the concepts of blockchain, cryptocurrency, NFT (non-fungible token) or Web3, a new Internet philosophy is being born. A decentralized and open source network (platforms and technologies are free to access) where users, individuals and companies regain control of their data.
“The philosophy is to transform into common good what was captured by the Gafam”, continues Frédéric Mongagnon. An example: today, the holder of a Facebook account cannot recover the data of his followers to transpose them to another platform. It is Facebook that guards this treasure. In Web3, on the contrary, everyone owns their data. Potentially, this revolution announces the collapse of the first social network which, by changing its name (Meta now), also wanted to send a reassuring message to the markets.
The world of banking and insurance also has serious concerns. The blockchain makes it possible to carry out many banking services without intermediaries (Visa card, banks), in an immediate and secure way. In the United States, the Coinbase cryptocurrency exchange, created ten years ago, already has a market capitalization of 33 billion euros. BNP Paribas the bicentenary, the first bank in the euro zone, worth 58.
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In France, it is the unicorn Ledger, valued at 1.5 billion, which is the leader of this new finance. Created in 2014, it designs and manages crypto-asset portfolios for individuals and around a hundred companies… 85% abroad. Its flagship product, the Ledger Nano, sold several million units each year, allows you to store your assets in a kind of ultra-secure USB key. The capitalization of cryptoassets is estimated at nearly 2 trillion dollars, which suggests significant potential for Ledger which secures 15% of all cryptocurrencies in the world. “The well of growth in front of us is phenomenal, confides its CEO Pascal Gauthier. We are at a time similar to 1998, when the number of Internet users was only 300 million.”
Among the rising stocks is Coinhouse, which spun off from Ledger in 2017. Initially a cryptocurrency broker, she has since created a crypto savings account and is tackling payment. The ambition of its boss Nicolas Louvet: to become the first European cryptobank. Another nugget, the Parisian start-up Kaiko, described as the “Bloomberg of crypto”, does 50% of its business in the United States. It provides real-time crypto price and exchange rate indices from the billions of transactions made every day. “The blockchain will serve the industrial applications of tomorrow’s finance, I am very confident”, explains the founder Ambre Soubiran, former specialist in derivatives at HSBC.
It is not Bpifrance who will deny it. “We have financed almost 150 start-ups in the field of blockchain and cryptocurrencies with our traditional loan, grant or innovation competition mechanisms, and we plan to strengthen this support”, affirms Ivan de Lastours, in charge of the blockchain to public bank.
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Finance is not the only sector concerned. With NFTs, this authentication tool also based on the blockchain, all brands are destined to use these tools. This is the conviction, for example, of Pierre Nicolas Hurstel, co-founder of Arianee, a start-up which has created a platform for the luxury and fashion industry, in partnership with Richemont, Ba&sh and Thierry Mugler.
The idea? Enable brands, through proof of authenticity and ownership of their products, to regain control of counterfeiting or the second-hand market. Impossible to resell a Breitling watch without the NFT certifying that you are indeed the owner. This digital passport is also intended to certify purely virtual creations. Finally, through this NFT, brands can establish a direct dialogue with their holders, freeing themselves from Google and others. It remains to be hoped that regulators and politicians will understand the issues. “The environment is not reassuring”, regrets Frédéric Montagnon.