What is an ICO?

What is an ICO?

Abstract

An Initial Coin Offering (ICO) is a new technique for project financing. Right now it is primarily used for Blockchain related projects but it could be used for any type of projects. It is similar to IPO (Initial Public Offering) in terms of how the company distributes the “shares” to investors. However, these “shares”, also called coins or token, can be attributed any right towards the project, and their uniqueness, value and transferability is guaranteed by a Blockchain (often Ethereum). This allows investors to track the use of the money transferred to the project and to freely and rapidly sell or buy their coins.

What is the main disruptive idea here? In fact, Blockchain enables  the project owners to create tokens, that have a unique value linked with the application/product being developed. Hence, people can buy those tokens in advance, knowing that not only the value is guaranteed, but also that they could either sell them right away or sell them later- once the application is available.

 

Why ICO?

Starting a company or a project takes time and money. Entrepreneurs always try to find news ways of financing their project, from personal investment to Venture Capitals, loans and friends and family investments. But recently, thanks to the development of Blockchain technology, a new source of investment has emerged: the so-called ICO (Initial Coin Offering).

In a regular investment round, investor usually receive shares of a company which give them access to some rights regarding that company. For ICOs, investors receive so-called “Tokens” (or “coins”). Unlike shares, tokens don’t have to give any special rights, but they can provide multiple advantages; it is up to the token creators to decide what advantages they want the tokens to provide. As with shares, the creator of the token can decide how many tokens will be issued. All those characteristics are enforced through a “Smart-Contract”.

 

Smart-Contracts are autonomous programs executed by a blockchain. In this case, the Smart-Contract would state the rules of acquisition, transfer, redemption of tokens, as well as enforcing those rules.  Investors can then interact with the smart-contract directly to buy and use tokens, and the owners of the smart-contract can retrieve the funds invested to finance their company.

The rest of this article analyses the various characteristics of ICOs.

 

List of notable ICOs

List of notable ICOs

What is a Coin?

The coin (or token) represents the unit of value investors get in return of their investment. These tokens can represent anything: shares within the company, access to the application being developed, timeshare of a building, vehicle, etc.

The coin itself is regulated through a Blockchain, where the coin is either the main currency in the Blockchain or it is regulated by a Smart-contract (an autonomous program ran by the computers all around the Blockchain).

The use of Blockchain ensures that:

  1. The rules enforcing the coin are known to everyone

  2. The rules are enforced as intended

  3. Every creation, destruction and exchange of coin is traceable (this also ensures the uniqueness and value of each coin)

  4. It guarantees investors with the free and independent possibility of selling or buying coins either on specialized marketplaces or off those markets.

 

Value of a Coin

The value of the coin either comes from the usage of it in the application or by its ability to be traded and its fungibility.
There are two possible way of distributing a coin, which one is chosen will influence the value of the coin:

The tokens are in limited quantity, hence the price follows the law of supply and demand. 
Example: The case in the Gnosis ICO, where they raised $12m selling all their tokens in 15min.

There is no limit to the amount of tokens, hence they can all be bought directly through the smart-contract at a fixed price.
Example:  This was the technique used in the Tezos ICO, with great success as they raised more than $200m over the course of one month.

From a purely technical point of view, the first approach makes sense if the scarcity of the token is linked with an underlying resource. For example, imagine a token giving people access to the computing power of other people. Ideally, the token would represent a unit of available computing power on the network, hence when a user wants to use X units of computing power, he needs to buy X tokens and those tokens will be transferred to the owners of the computer computing the tasks. The owner can then sell those tokens again on a marketplace so that people can reuse them to get more tasks computed. Here the price of the token would be dictated on the marketplace, most likely ending up being sold to the highest bidder.

When a token is not backed up by a limited underlying resource, for example it provides access to a bidding platform, then it's value can only be dictated by the fixed selling price of the token. There is no reason to trade it through marketplace as it is as easy to just get a new one from the platform itself.  

 

Differences between an IPO and an ICO

Differences between an IPO and an ICO

What is the investor interest?

There has been over in H1 2017 a rise in popularity and amount of investments in ICOs, from only a dozen in 2016 to a hundred in H1 2017, and for H2 there is 87 announced and many more who have yet to announce it. The amount invested increased too, from a few millions to more than $100 millions in some cases. In H1 2017 more than $700m worth of crypto-currencies have been invested in ICOs.

Reasons for people to invest in ICOs :

It is the First “large” crypto-currency investment opportunity:  ICOs only accepts crypto-currencies. The ICO is the first financial tool that allows for the investment of a consequent amount of crypto-currencies into a number a diversified assets..

ICOs promise liquidity:  Crypto-currencies have seen a huge increase in valuation over a short amount of time; yet, they are not as liquid as they could be as people are encourage to hold on to their investments in hope of future growth, and people who already believe in crypto-currencies have already invested in it. ICOs and their underlying projects can provide some liquidity as soon as the token becomes tradeable. They also bring a number of new users wanting to join the “crypto-party” and willing to buy crypto-currencies to do so, thus increasing the liquidity of the whole market.

Trustworthiness:   There is a clear commitment as to how the money raised will be used, and this is enforced via Smart-Contracts. The Smart-Contracts limit when the money can be used, and how, and the openness of the Blockchains allows for everyone to track the coins and see how they are used. So there are both barriers to prevent the ICO owners to abuse the moneys

Small risk for a sizeable investment:  The crypto-currencies have seen a rapid increase in value over the last couple of years (Bitcoin went from $700 to $4000 over H1 2017 and Ethereum went from $12 to $400 over the same period of time). Thus people can invest huge amounts of money into ICOs but their initial investment is actually pretty small, so the real risk is limited to 1/1000th of the amount the company received.

Clear potential that will only grow from now:  The Blockchain technology allows for unique use-cases with a huge potential across a lot of industries. The market is huge and the competition is still relatively limited compared with the potential size of the market, hence those projects have a huge potential, similar to the arrival of the Internet and the 2000 dotcom Bubble (not saying there is a bubble, but the promise for investors seems similar).

 

Reinvent Trade Credit Insurance with Blockchain

Reinvent Trade Credit Insurance with Blockchain

 

Context and objectives

At EHDA we recently completed a blockchain experiment called Smart Invoice. The purpose of the experiment was to prepare the building blocks required for Trade Credit Insurance on Blockchain. The newly created Smart Invoice allows a business issuing an invoice (the seller) to upload that invoice to the Ethereum Blockchain and monitor the receipt of payments (made by the buyer) and the evolution of the payment status of the invoice.

As Blockchain technology opportunities continued to grow, the next step was to explore how Trade Credit Insurance might be deployed on Blockchain, using Smart-contracts.

The purpose of “Smart Trade Credit Insurance - credit insurance powered by Blockchain”, is to enhance Smart Invoice by adding credit insurance services. To develop our platform for this, we decided to use Ethereum Smart Contracts to host the Trade Credit Insurance services.

The “Smart TCI” POC (Proof of Concept) platform allows the seller and their counterparts to register and manage their invoices on the Ethereum Blockchain. Every time the status of an invoice changes, a notification is sent to the counterpart.  

Smart TCI allows the seller to subscribe to trade credit insurance per invoice. Blockchain provides security, efficiency and transparency to the processes between the seller and the insurer, in this case Euler Hermes.

The platform allows the seller to add TCI to one of their invoices, and the TCI then becomes a counterpart of the invoice, thus receiving all the information about its state evolution and reacting accordingly automatically.

A “Smart contract” is a computer program stored on the Blockchain that will activate specified actions triggered by specified events. When a seller uploads an invoice or subscribes to TCI services on the Smart TCI platform, a new “Smart contract” (i.e. a Smart insurance contract) is essentially created and hosted on the Blockchain. The Smart TCI contract is set up using the details of the specific invoice uploaded (amounts, dates, etc.) and its execution is defined by rules of a generic TCI “Smart Contract”.

This is the structure of all the interactions passing through Smart TCI

This is the structure of all the interactions passing through Smart TCI

 

What did we do

We started with our Smart Invoice implementation, and enhanced it further by adding dynamic management tools and dynamic generation of events. These new additions are essential to allow completely autonomous interactions between Smart Invoice and Smart TCI.

In addition, we developed an open platform web interface that allows the simple management of Smart Invoices, including creating, confirming, modifying and deleting Smart Invoices. The platform allows a business  to easily register their invoices on the Blockchain through a web interface.

We set out to develop the web interface to be simple to use and to be as fast as possible. To make our platform easy to use, we minimized user interactions and reduced the amount of data input requirements.

As a fundamental requirement, Smart TCI was built as a system that can be connected to third party online accounting platforms that manage online invoicing. We encourage and invite third party platforms to connect their services to our Blockchain.

Services can be easily linked to Invoices hosted on the Blockchain. Smart Contracts will host processes that will be triggered depending on specific counterpart actions.

For this POC we implemented three types of smart contracts that constitute the architecture of the Blockchain backend :

Capture du 2017-08-30 16-46-39.png

 

  • Central contract: this type of smart contract sets up the rights to create and manage the invoices uploaded by platform users.

  • Invoices: this type of smart contract contains all the properties of an invoice hosted on Blockchain. Once created, it manage itself in function of its states and with the control of some restrictions to ensure who have the rights to manipulate it. Besides, it has the capacity to accept any other contract linked to the invoice.

  • TCI: this type of smart contract sets up the Trade Credit Insurance provided by the insurance company, in this case Euler Hermes. The contract is connected to Euler Hermes Services, which will receive invoice events (subscription, payment, late payment notification, claim, etc.). These events are also shared to the Euler Hermes platform. All actions, from subscribing to TCI to filing a claim are contained on the Blockchain.

 

Conclusion

Blockchain technology and Smart TCI are a perfect fit. Smart TCI benefits from the key properties of the Blockchain, especially the traceability, security and the immutability of the records contained on the Blockchain. Furthermore, thanks to the Ethereum smart contracts, invoices and their services will be managed automatically, performing the key functions and actions on behalf of the different counterparts.

With Smart TCI, EHDA has now opened the experimentation to third party contributors who can host their invoices on the Blockchain.

Invoices can theoretically host many other types of additional contracts. Our Trade Credit Insurance contract which we developed for Euler Hermes is one such an example, and contributors can also develop new services linked to invoices (e.g. financing, shipment tracking, and many other potential invoice-linked services).

The source code is public and hosted on GitHub :

https://github.com/eulerhermesda/Trade-Credit-Insurance-on-Blockchain

A video demonstration of Smart TCI is available on YouTube:

We are interested in hearing your feedback about our experiment.

Please reach out to to us and arrange to meet our Blockchain experts and discuss other exciting Blockchain opportunities.

Ilias Hmani, Blockchain developer of this experimentation
Pierre Sein, Blockchain expert
Charles Ruelle, Head of Innovation

>> Have a look to the GithHub account of the Digital Agency

Smart Invoice on Blockchain

Context and Objectives

Blockchain technology is one of the most exciting technology nowadays, with the potential to change the shape of the economy in the future.

Its promises are :

  • Permanent, immutable, decentralised shared ledger of transactions
  • Instant information sharing among multiple stakeholders around the world
  • Open access to the information

In the years following the release of Bitcoin (the first Blockchain), multiple other Blockchains were created, sometimes simple copies of Bitcoin and others adding new concepts or functionalities. For example Namecoin links website Domain Name ending in .bit with their actual location on the Internet, Zcash allows for users to exchange coins totally anonymously and Ethereum adds the Smart-Contracts functionality. This functionality allows the Ethereum Blockchain to execute programs, called Smart-Contracts, in a decentralised, trustable, and autonomous way.
 
However, since the Blockchain is a new infrastructure enabling disruptive new usage, it is difficult to predict its impact on Euler Hermes and the Trade Credit industry. For this reason, EHDA is exploring how Trade Credit Insurance (TCI) would look like on a Blockchain-based platform. Before proposing Trade Credit Insurance, there need to be transactions to insure, consequently our first experiment will focus on leveraging the properties of the Blockchain to create a new type of invoices called “Smart-Invoices”.

What we did

The present experiment enables companies to upload their invoices into the Ethereum “Smart-Contract” blockchain. Once uploaded, the smart contract can access the payment due date, the amount, and the contractor. With this information, the Smart-Contract can identify the network of companies trading with a given client. Then, whenever a company is not paid by a client at the due date, the smart contract can automatically decide, according to the rules implemented at its inception, whether to send or not to send an alert to other suppliers of the same client, thereby preventing payment defaults and trading with the insolvent buyer. Similarly, when the company starts paying its invoices again the smart-contract would inform all the companies that the client is now safe to trade with.

Invoices generate events. Those events are processed by a smart-contract that decides whether to send alerts to companies about a particular buyer.

EHDA developed this solution as an experimentation of the Blockchain technology. On a more technical side, Solidity was used to code the smart contracts, the front end was developed using the web3.js and some parts of the Mist framework.

You can find more details and access the source code on :

 

Conclusion

This is the first demonstration that it is feasible to have a working invoice hosted as a Smart-Contract on a Blockchain. This experiment also shows the added value of Blockchain technologies for both Euler Hermes and its clients. If a solution like that was deployed at a large scale, Euler Hermes clients would receive up-to-date, reliable information regarding the financial health of their partners, allowing them to make better business decisions.

This solution represents a huge opportunity for companies as it would allow them to receive real-time feedback about their network of partners, thereby enabling them to take safer and sounder decisions. Similarly, it would allow companies to recover the trust of their business partners faster after a difficult period.

The exploration phase is not over yet! The next step is to test what a full-fledge Trade Credit Insurance contract would look like using Blockchain, and how it could be combined with the Smart-Invoice design. Further investigation still needs to be carried out regarding the best technology to use to provide information on Invoice value, maturity, reliability, without giving away valuable business details.


Lessons learned

This experiment demonstrated that:

  • Having an automated and standardized way of storing and interacting with Invoices across the industry would enable companies to be more efficient and take safer decision
  • Despite companies receiving real-time update on the health status of their network of partners, there is still a need for a macroscopic view of the whole sector/industry as well as providing information on new prospects. Therefore, Euler Hermes business analysis and insights will still be critical.
  • Blockchain technology makes data more secure by sharing it instantaneously with everyone on the network. However, this may appear problematic for companies that wish to protect confidential business information. Some Blockchain technologies tackle this issue by using a “hybrid” approach : the Blockchain stores only the proof that the information exists but uses more traditional data sharing technologies to communicate and protect the actual information only to those actors who need it.
  • The use of this technology can help companies share business insight without giving away valuable business information
  • When this experimentation started Euler Hermes was the first big player to try to put invoices on the Blockchain, now there are more experimentation but none of them are market ready yet.
  • But we are confident that our technical approach is going into the right solution and are excited to share more of our next experimentations soon.

 

Are you interested in learning more about the project, or testing it?

Double Financing Chain (DoFiChain)

Double Financing Chain (DoFiChain)

CONTEXT: DOUBLE FINANCING RISK

The data from each factoring company is proprietary, and sensitive.

A typical type of fraud in factoring is called double financing: financing the same receivable multiple times with several factors.

Solving this risk is thus a major stake for the industry. And this means safely mutualising data on a technologically distributed architecture.

The technology allowing such a thing is blockchain, enabling to solve it in an elegant and cost-effective manner.

With its leadership position in the market, and as a trusted partner of the most innovative factoring companies worldwide, Euler Hermes has invested in researching this field: DoFiChain is an EHDA project developing a blockchain-based service removing the risk of double financing for factors.

OUR VISION: A BLOCKCHAIN FOR TRADE RECEIVABLES REMOVING THE DOUBLE FINANCING RISK

DoFiChain is a pilot led by EHDA and the first step in the development of a blockchain for trade receivables removing the double financing risk. This collaborative service operated by Euler Hermes for all factors flags receivables at risk of double financing. Beyond the development of the solution, Euler Hermes will also develop the market awareness in the factoring world, to ensure optimal reach and representativeness.

Technically, this service relies on a distributed repository of signatures of the invoices financed by the different factoring companies. It sends real-time push notifications in case of double mobilization suspicion in order to enable prompt resolution between the relevant factoring companies.

DoFiChain is also supported by Artificial Intelligence in order to detect sophisticated double financing schemes, where the receivable signatures would slightly differ.

With its distributed architecture, the service is cost-efficient to operate, and ensures strong data privacy protection to its members (in particular, no information about cost of financing is shared).

HOW TO PARTICIPATE

The pilot is ready to start. Learnings will be shared in the second half of 2017. If you are interested in joining the project, get in touch now - we are happy to discuss various types of contributions. 

HOW ARE WE CRACKING THE PROBLEM?

We are not set in our technology stack, but here is what we know so far:

We will need a way to manage different access rights for the partners

We want to use a blockchain to make it easy for factors to access invoices information - or invoices’ unique identifiers -  and to have a common trustable source of data

The technologies we will select need to last for some time, so we have to limit ourself to open-source technologies or technologies backed-up by big corporation and/or community

We want to use technologies that are easy to use and will integrate in already existing systems

PARTICIPATING FACTORS

Costs: there will be a participation to the running costs.

Technology: DoFiChain is lightweight for factoring companies. Thanks to the underlying Blockchain technology it is really easy to install and set up. Participants just need to install a node and then can query the node as they would with any other API.

SHARED INTERESTS

Code openness: full codebase will be open for audit and penetration testing.

 

SIMILAR INITIATIVES

Innopay ran a similar pilot in 2016 in the Netherlands: link.

EHDA has built an Ethereum-based late payment alerts net in the summer 2016.

The new business factory team!

The new business factory team!

Sami Ben Hatit

Sami is our CTO and comes from Belgium. His mission is to make sure Single Invoice Cover runs on a perfect tech stack, for our most demanding partners. Sami is an engineer and a hacker, a scientist and an avid reader. He has a passion for building and developing systems, particularly software ones, and he has been programming and reverse engineering since he was a kid. His current fields of choice are: embedded development, drivers, security, network programming, robots and AI.

 

Gilles Porte

Gilles is an all-rounder in trade finance, and has been with Euler Hermes for 35 years. He is part of Euler Hermes France, and has been instrumental in the design of Single Invoice Cover when we decided to commercially launch it for URICA in France; indeed Gilles has been able to connect the dots between all the pieces we needed to assemble to deliver on the radical API-driven vision we had, and to convince the various teams at Euler Hermes that it would all be fine. When he is not discussing an innovative concept with clients or at a FinTech conference, Gilles loves long-distance running.

 

David Harrison

David is our Product Owner. He is a SAAS entrepreneur from Australia, trying to cope with the UK weather. David bridged the gap between the needs of FinTech startups like Skuchain, established factoring giants, and the complicated realities of a credit insurer’s legacy interfaces and systems. In his spare time, David enjoys video games, playing football and walks on the beach.

 

Loic Mayeur, Arnaud Gourdon, Philippe Lorieul, Yann Bilissor, Caner Candan

They are our dev team. Loic and Arnaud are part of L’Atelier, Philippe and Yann come from Cellenza, and Caner co-founded Forge'It.

Loic is a hackathon veteran, and was the first developer on Single Invoice Cover, when we tried to build something useful for startups like Argo or Skuchain. He also co-founded L’Atelier at that time, which got a lot of traction for its code craftsmanship services.

Philippe and Yann were brought in to the team in the autumn of 2016 when Single Invoice Cover started to get solid traction in France and the dev backlog was getting out of control. Philippe and Yann basically saved us.

Arnaud is one of the key techies behind Single Invoice Cover. He’s part of L’Atelier and dedicates himself full time to EHDA. Between his many hobbies, Arnaud finds time for sunbathing and coding on the Mediterranean coast during the weekend. 

Caner is a full-stack developer and technologist, and leads our front-end development efforts. He joined the Single Invoice Cover team in the summer 2016. He lives in Spain, as the true digital nomad that he is, and beyond the sunny weather, he brings another type of diversity to the team: he has been vegan for six years.

 

Louiza Hacène, Victoria Stive

They are our biz dev team. Or rather were - because Louiza left us and Victoria is leaving us soon! Louiza built our Single Invoice Cover pipeline in the US, working hand-in-hand with Christina Montes de Oca. She is now focusing on her family business in the health sector in Algeria and in France.

Victoria mainly worked in EHDA’s Innovation Lab, leading our experiments in France, and was instrumental to the design of Traffic Light, our API to monitor companies’ creditworthiness. Victoria was accepted in Alibaba’s leadership program and leaves us at the end of May.

By the way, if you know amazing business developers who would like to join us in our mission to reinvent B2B commerce, send them to us!

Louiza, Victoria, you will be missed!

 

Daniel De Bruin, Karel De Bruin

Daniel and Karel are our R&D team within Single Invoice Cover. Daniel is an actuary and an entrepreneur. He founded MDP Labs, and is a data science veteran - with over 18 years’ experience in managing and implementing data insight and software modelling projects. Daniel is also a real geek and lives in Scotland. He joined the team in the spring of 2016 to help design the data stack supporting our vision with an actuarial mindset, and his creativity has been a fantastic asset in all the seemingly impossible projects.

Karel is Daniel’s brother, a data science magician, and lives in South Africa. He connects the dots between Single Invoice Cover stack and our network of data science partners for Single Invoice Cover: Flowcast, CRiskCo, and upcoming ones.

 

Martin Seeger

Martin is our risk modelling expert and researcher. He is an ex-colleague of Louis and Christophe from Oliver Wyman, and was reborn when he learned Python. Martin is our reality-check when we dream of a world of B2B trade where any transaction can be underwritten in real-time, anywhere - and he can translate it into rock-solid models. Martin lives in Berlin and in his free time, he is a happy father, a runner and a hiker, and he has been a vegetarian for 20 years.

 

 

8 DIRECTIONS TO HAVE A GLIMPSE INTO THE FUTURE OF TRADE FINANCE

1. MARKETPLACES
 
A growing portion of B2B commerce goes through marketplaces, large and small. This forces suppliers and buyers adapt the way they interact and trade together. Prospecting, payments and credit management will never be the same again. And Trade Finance is reinventing itself for the marketplace era.
 
2. PLATFORMIZATION
 
Beyond marketplaces, platformization is radically transforming the enterprise service stack: CRM is now a platform, so is accounting, so is invoicing… And so becomes banking. Platformization concentrates data into platforms, which can then be accessed and interpreted for new use cases – in particular for Trade Finance. Step by step, this will lead to a mapping of the B2B Graph, as we call it at EHDA.
 
3. SMEs FIRST
 
The race to provide powerful Trade Finance solutions to SMEs is largely underway and this results in a lot of product and marketing creativity, which is very inspiring for the entire industry. EHDA also sees it as the emergence of a new generation of sophisticated yet accessible solutions, that are more inclusive and will make the life of SMEs a lot easier.
 
4. SUBSTITUTION PRODUCTS
 
The boundaries between century-old products (letter of credit, factoring, TCI, surety) are about to explode due to new technologies which allow new value propositions to be designed and processes to be reinvented from scratch. This is not necessarily the sign of an uberization of Trade Finance, but possibly the beginning of an era where it will be more diverse and efficient.
 
5. DATA POOLING
 
With the platformization of accounting in particular, ledger / invoice data is accessible in unprecedented ways. In web-like ecosystems, several players start pooling this proliferation of data, step by step mapping the B2B Graph, as we call it at EHDA.
 
6. MACHINE LEARNING
 
Traditional models in Trade Finance are undergoing a fundamental reboot thanks to the augmented intelligence of human experts leveraging machine learning capabilities.  We see this as one of the best illustration of the opportunity to partner between legacy players and Fintech / Insurtech innovators.
 
7. COOPETITION
 
Banks and insurers participate in several initiatives to benchmark their respective predictions, for example regarding Prediction of Defaults. Trade Finance players can also leverage a similar coopetitive approach to improve the financing of supply chains.
 
8. BLOCKCHAIN
 
Blockchain was all over the news after various letter of credit experimentations, but it may not be the most interesting application of this technology to Trade Finance. Sharing confidential data such as receivables or default predictions is sensitive, all the more when it involves complex regulated players –  a problem where blockchain is particularly promising.

One year into EH Digital Agency

Creating a platform for innovation within a B2B insurer

A townhall at EH Digital Agency

A townhall at EH Digital Agency

EH Digital Agency started in July 2015, with a simple baseline: reinventing trade finance. How long does it take to reinvent an industry and to make it innovation-friendly?

From our perspective at EH Digital Agency, it took 12 months to build the foundations of a platform for innovation. What we basically did for 12 months, was to create two-way porosity between the world of credit insurance and the ecosystems of innovation.

EH is known for being the world leader in trade credit solutions. Not many innovators wake up in the morning thinking about our industry: it is not very well-known, the few people who know it would not call it a sexy industry, and it is heavily regulated.

Reciprocally, as many other corporates, EH innovation was very in-house and lacked an opening to the outside world. To be fair, this was not uniquely a EH issue, it’s the whole B2B finance industry which has a marked tendency to operate in a vacuum.

Just to set the scenes — what is trade credit management and where does insurance come into the picture?