September 26th, 2018
Ep20-Jan 11: Bitcoin Backed Loans and 2x Credit – Putting Your Crypto to Work
NCFA Canada | Jan 11, 2019
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Ep20-Jan 11: Bitcoin Backed Loans and 2x Credit - Putting Your Crypto to Work
About this episode: To kick off Season 2, NCFA Fintech Fridays show host Manseeb Khan sits down with the CSO of Ledn Inc.. Mauricio Di Bartolomeo. They chatted about what crypto backed loans are, going global and saving the world. Enjoy!
- Experiencing the dismantling of the Venezuelan economy; a broken financial system
- The use case and value of collateralizing digital assets
- Libertarian aspects of bitcoin and how it is benefiting the people outside of North America or in tyrannical regimes
Bio: Mauricio Di Bartolomeo is the Co-Founder & Chief Strategy Officer of Ledn Inc., a financial services company built for Bitcoin & digital assets. The company underwrote Canada's first-ever Bitcoin-backed loan in 2018 and has since been lending to Bitcoin holders across Canada. Mauricio has been involved in Bitcoin since 2014 - when in Venezuela he learned that friends were using it earn an income by mining it & protecting their wealth by converting it into a censorship-resistance currency. Now residing in Canada, he has been working on Bitcoin full-time since then, developing technology to make it easier to hold and use.
Mauricio understands the use-case for crypto-currencies in authoritarian regimes and the life-changing liberating effect that it can provide to its users. He is also well-versed in the limitations of the current solutions and what can be done to improve usage/adoption. Ledn, which has grown to a team of 10+ professionals, is tackling these issues by making Bitcoin easier to hold with products such as fiat-loans, cryptocurrency savings accounts and credit cards.
Mauricio is also an active member of the Canadian Blockchain developer community with strong ties to professional working groups, contributing research and opinion pieces to active University PhD teams. He holds MBA and HBA degrees from the Richard Ivey School of Business.
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Transcription of Interview
Intro: Welcome fintech Friday's a weekly podcast brought to you by the National Crowdfunding and Fintech Association of Canada and partners.Covering all things fintech block chain be AI and alternative finance.
Manseeb Khan: Hey everybody Manseeb Khan here and you are tuning into Fintech Fridays brought to you by the NCFA Canada's leading fintech and crowdfunding association. Hey you know what. Welcome back. You're turning the season two of the podcast. I highly recommend listening to last year's season one. We got 19 amazing episodes, so I hope you're having a really great New Year. Hope your resolutions are doing good. I'm killing mine so far. I don't mean to humble brag, but you know I'm just saying I'm just saying it's all OK. So today to kick off season 2 of the podcast I've got the CEO of Ledn Mauricio.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo: Yes.
Manseeb Khan: Thanks so much for sitting down with me today. This has been a pleasure. You actually were kind enough to actually lets us record out of your office in beautiful downtown Toronto. So, this means this means the world. Thanks so much.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo: No problem. Thank you, guys, so much for having us. Just a small correction. The CEO officially is my co-founder Adam. So, I call myself president and CSO, but it works because you know we're basically equally involved. So, it's been it's been a real great.
Manseeb Khan: Okay. Hey no, problem so the CSO.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo: Okay actually. But no, I really appreciate you guys having us on love the work that you guys are doing on the podcast. And you know shining the light on the Toronto startups and getting the word out. So, I look forward to this episode. We've been excited to record it.
Manseeb Khan: Yeah. Hey, I'm super excited to just jump right in. So, for a brief second as the CSO of Ledn. Could you just give us a little bit more of essentially who you are and a little bit more of what the company is and does?
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo: Yeah. So, I'll tell you a little bit about myself first because it does tie up to a tie into how or why we started Ledn. So, I am originally from a small town called Barquisimeto. It's about four hours southeast of Caracas in Venezuela and that's where I grew up. You know it's a really great experience. You have an upbringing in Venezuela and right around high school time when I was approaching high school, a new president entered called Hugo Chavez. And at the time people that kind of you know had a suspicion of what this could lead to were already thinking or setting their sights outside of the country and thinking of potentially moving out. So, I was encouraged by my family and I really wanted to go out and study abroad myself, so I came to Canada in my university here. I went to the Richard Ivey Business School at Weston which is where I met Adam and we stayed in touch back and forth after a university I worked in Canada for a few years.
Then I went back to Venezuela for a few years to work on my father and a couple of projects. And during that time, you know with Chavez in power. I could basically witness this entire dismantling of the economy. And it wasn't until Chavez passed away when oil started dropping in price where the entire system just started collapsing on its own. And so, you know banking basically became useless. It was very difficult to transact or do anything. People were not wanting to hold bolivar converting out of them any way they could for flour, sugar, dollars. And so, once the system the financial system breaks, people started getting trapped in Venezuela holding dollars is illegal. So even if you wanted to emigrate and you couldn't afford a ticket you could be riding your bus down to Colombia and you get pulled over National Guard takes away all your dollars and you get to Colombia and you have nothing.
And so around 2015 as this was happening kind of simultaneously, I discovered Bitcoin through my younger brother actually who was using it to mine. And the second I basically started peeling the layers and I'm like OK well this isn't just a computer game. This is actually a censorship resistant currency.
And there's a tremendous potential to build an entire financial system around this new asset and that's when I started getting really excited about what we could build on it. And then you know talking to Adam because obviously we couldn't really fund a company there or grow something out of Venezuela. We knew the problem. We knew the use case, but we needed to basically have it have a world class platform to emerge this company out of. And so, we both have really strong networks in Toronto and we knew you know the workings of the financial system well. And so, we said OK let's try to start this with the basic most useful product which is Bitcoin backed loans essentially.
Nobody at the time was treating bitcoin as an asset worthy of being posted as collateral. And so, we saw it as a mistake because there was a sufficiently liquid market for bitcoin despite the volatility really the bigger risk is really just realizing your counterparty in the trade. So, we created a call it a setup or a system whereby we could ensure investors that they weren't going to lose money. And that's when we raise the seed round on the on the premise that we were going to start with the first product.
Bitcoin backed loans and so Ledn is a play on Hodl which is that the first idea is to make Holding bitcoin easier right. We know my investors, businesses, everybody inevitably faces the point in time where they might get into a liquidity need and they have to face that decision. Do I sell my bitcoin, or do I hold it? And you know over the long run that has proven to be a bad decision to sell it and rebuy depending rightly. you can try to time the market but all that to be said for all that being said you know we want to help people not be put in their corner. if you need liquidity you can post your bitcoin as collateral use the liquidity you need pay back and get your bitcoin back. No transaction fees.
Manseeb Khan: That's incredible. I'm glad a service out there is actually there and that's going to be helping. Just give crypto if not bitcoin but any other like alternative coins later in the future just a little bit more credibility and viability in the actual market. Hopefully right. So just before the audience could you just explain a little bit more on bitcoin back and crypto back loans just like. Like could I pay my mortgage off this thing? Could I pay my car? could you give us like a more of a real-life example of somebody using bitcoin backed or a crypto backed loan.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo: Well yeah sure. So, I'll give you a few use cases and some of the newer. Or call it more creative use cases we're very excited about the first use case that I would say is you know you're a Bitcoin investor. You've held Bitcoin from you know call it earlier on. So, you're sitting on a potential capital tax gain. So, let's say you bought bitcoin when it was a thousand dollars right. And it's sitting today. I'd call it five and change. And you know you rode it all the way up and rode it all the way down. You didn't sell it but you're still sitting on a couple of gain right. You have a credit card bill that you need to pay, or you have rent that you need to pay, or you have X expenses you need to pay. And you know you've held bitcoin for so long. You have a very positive long-term view on it. Do you really want to sell it five thousand dollars? So, use case one is essential. OK. I'll put my two bitcoins for collateral. I'd take a fine doesn't all alone that I need because I can borrow 50 percent of the value of the bitcoin and you pay down the card or whatever it is, and you need to pay down. And if your expectation is a bitcoin was going to have a good year and potentially have a call its 20 percent rally. Well then when that rally does happen you can choose to pay down your loan and you can also choose to put on your loan with the collateral itself that you can choose. We can convert the collateral for you to pay it down. So essentially the idea is here that you could be paying down the loan with potentially your profits right. If you have if you have a long enough view its things play out the way you think. So, we have a long-term positive view on the price of bitcoin. So, we believe that we are helping our clients by not making them sell it.
Manseeb Khan: So, this is a great way for crypto to work for you. This is like investing 101 make your money work for you. But in this case making crypto work for you is right.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo: Yeah. In essence I mean you have to be responsible with leverage. You don't want to be you know entering into things that perhaps you're going to throw away your financial plan. But that being said I think leverage is an amazing tool in that it allows you when you see a good enough opportunity to take advantage of it without selling, sacrificing the asset itself. Right. Just the same reason people get into a cash need they don't run and sell their home. Right they'll try to get a home equity line of credit. So, it's a similar idea You know you're holding this great long-term asset and you don't want to sacrifice it to meet a short-term need. Mm hmm.
Manseeb Khan: So, what some of the challenges are facing getting into an Ethereum and I guess like dogecoin for I guess for lack of a better example.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo: The thought process that we go that we take an asset through to decide whether or not we're going to work with it. As far as collateral it really comes down to risk management right. There are people had concerns at the very early days. People would say Oh what about the price of bitcoin is so volatile. Oh, what about you know how you handle that really fast drops in price right. And so, we can mitigate those by a setting up partnerships with the exchanges that work in our jurisdiction. whose liquidity is having actually been improving, the Canadian exchange liquidity has actually been getting deeper.
As far as far as a daily trading volume so that's one way. Like we have partnerships and we monitor the order books of all our exchanges just to make sure that we can realize the trades and what that would look like as far as slippage. So, the real crux of what we're trying to solve is just to ensure that a we're going to be able to sell the bitcoin if we need to when we need to and that the counterparty that is buying that bitcoin is you know has a low risk of default.
And so, with bitcoin we feel very, very confident that we can process those two things because it is the deepest liquidity pool it is the call it you know safe haven asset within the digital assets space. Bitcoin was the only one that we were comfortable working with at the beginning. Now obviously things have changed in the past you know call it seven months in crypto markets. There's been quite a bit of a journey, but I think as the dust is beginning to settle there are risks to us as a company to start considering an asset like an Ethereum in its risk profile has improved.
In our view just because it held through a really substantial drop, and it is still very liquid. It's just trades really well. Toronto in particular in Canada has call it an above average participation rate. And I guess fanbase as far as in Ethereum because it is a Toronto based project. So, I do think that is something important and something that made a big difference. So, the challenge really is to ensure that we would be able to process the trade and to that we are confident and I guess sufficiently confident with the capacity of the counterparty realizing to trade. So that's something that we are actively working into and do and know we should expect hopefully something out of us for Ethereum soon.
Manseeb Khan: I can't wait for you guys to start issuing out Ethereum back loans and just a slowly getting into like more like alternative market because it's just again proof of concept of like hey like this is this works you can pay off your credit card, mortgage, house or what have you. With these kinds of loans if you're just sitting on it right making it up to work for you more or. What are the challenges going internationally? Because you definitely have an interest of getting to Venezuela as soon as possible and then slowly start branching out to other countries.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo: Yeah that's a great question really. Most jurisdictions are welcoming of liquidity right. If you are a company and you are bringing in funds that are going to be lent out to a community and that community is going to put that money to work. To create and expand their business, to build a bigger home, to do something else that actually spurs economic activity. So, the concern most jurisdictions have when you're a company that's coming in to provide liquidity is around consumer protection right. They just want to make sure that you're not coming in and hosing there their clients are exploiting the rules or the niceness of the receiving jurisdiction.
So, one of the biggest reasons and one of the things we love very much about being a Canadian company is that as a Canadian company we are held to some of the highest standards in the world as far as banking regulations go. That was by design. So, we knew that it was going to be a long process and we know that was really what we drove headfirst into because we knew that once we could get things done and been fully compliant and everything on the exact right side of the law in Canada.
Then that A we would have an easier time doing this in a different jurisdiction and B we would be better received by these jurisdictions because we are coming from a much more credible country. Exactly. It's a place that acts I guess rightfully or correctly and so that that is a lot. That you know that helps when people are getting the story. Where is this company? Who are these people? where are they? What's the story?
So really the main concern when you're entering a new country is the consumer protection in their jurisdictions and again those are more geared towards protecting them from you know very aggressive lenders. There's been some news around about payday lending and what that can do to a community. So that's really the intent of those rules. We actually have the entirely opposite. Call it goal than payday lenders. Our goal is to bring institutional price that North American rates to places that never had access to this debt to begin with. And the reason was they never had an asset to collateralized yeah that nobody up here felt comfortable enough lending against.
But now there's this internationally liquid asset and it's this you might Venezuelan bitcoin is the same as your Canadian Bitcoin. So why do I get a different interest rate? So, there's this big opportunity right now to standardize. Call it the collateral that's getting posted. Right. And benefit from rates that other countries can issue. You couldn't get in your broken jurisdiction.
Manseeb Khan: That's incredible that's you. You don't make a really good point. Why. Like my Canadian Bitcoin or Venezuela Bitcoin is the exact same thing. So, kind of makes sense that like you're taking loans out against that. So, you did briefly touch on credit. Right. So, when you think of loans, I guess to stick with the banking terms that we've kept for continuity sake. How does the digitization of savings and credit look like to you guys?
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo: But that is there is a really great question. So, you know the natural thought process when you're creating a financial services company is you know how we help people reach the financial goals better. What is in our what is kind of like the suite of products that we could offer that you know holders or people or investors that make their lives easier. So, if you look, I'd call it a traditional banking suite you know.
Yes, you have credit, you have loans that you can take out to build a home you know you could take out a loan to buy a house you have credit cards. So, like more flexible credit products savings accounts which is somewhere you can put your money to just park it when you were having direct use for it and yield on it. So those would be you know obviously there's other things there's an investment and more. Call it sophisticated tools but the call it plain vanilla tools would be your long-term credit, your asset backed credit, your recurring short-term credit like your credit card unsecured and then you have your savings products.
Right. So, would Ledn our first product was Bitcoin back loans. So, we want to be able to let people that hold bitcoin and need dollars get them without having to sell it. So that was a natural first product for us to offer then also we had been in a situation many times that I had run mining businesses in the past and other bitcoin businesses where we constantly face this whole you have to sell it immediately and then you want to buy it again. And that just created a bad type of terrible experience customer buying and again at a higher price. And so, as this was happening you became very real that this was needed.
So, our first product was hey let's get people liquidity without making them sacrifice for bitcoin. That was a very we got a great reception and people you know loved the product today that their very next product is we said OK well same way you go to a mortgage to get a bank to get pre-approved for a mortgage. Yeah before you go buy a home. Right. You know if you are looking to buy a home cash then you're looking at you know and you're sitting on a hundred thousand dollars and then you say OK well I can only afford a home that's a hundred thousand dollars right. If you or someone else has the expectation that the house value is stable enough and is going to go up in price they may come in and say hey why don't I get you 50.
So that way you can, or I get you another hundred, so you can get a two hundred thousand home right. And that's what the bank does and they pre-approved for a mortgage. So, you don't go buy a home with your cash balance. You go to the bank you say here's what I can get for down deposit. What is the most you can get me. And then you use that total amount to go buy the home of your dreams. Right.
So, the next product that we're working on is we want to basically instead of giving you the loan right after you own the bitcoin, we want to basically provide credit for you to buy the bitcoin. So, if you are a person that has one hundred dollars and you want to make a bitcoin investment, but you feel very bullish and where the prices today run you wish you could invest more. You can come to Ledn and then will say hey guess what. You will have you had a hundred dollars will approve you an additional hundred so that you can buy a two-hundred-dollar position and you take a loan with us for that additional hundred. So, you lock up your two hundred dollars’ worth of bitcoin in our vault and when it goes up or down and when you want to unwind your position you can basically close it down and get your Bitcoin back.
So, this idea of buy 2X credit is something that we're very excited to do basically and we're actively exploring and working on and so it is something that we feel is going to add value to Bitcoin investors and then the additional piece on that is the last piece of that is OK. Well now you have your bitcoin back loans. Now you have your buy 2x credit. I have my bitcoin. I want to put it somewhere where it can generate a return for me. Where do I go? Right.
So, we do realize there is a big need in the market for that right. It takes infrastructure to realize a return on the deposit at a reasonable level of risk because you have to put that underlying asset to work. So that's the mechanics. And that's another process that we're working through right now. But we will get there because we understand that this is very needed product. And so that is really the call it three-pronged approach of how you digitize. If you would. Traditional banking services today. And then you bring them to you know the digital asset realm that we're working on now.
Manseeb Khan: So, speaking of savings and your three-pronged approach of digitizing assets and credit and what have you. I can definitely see you guys partnering up with either a challenger bank or even maybe even morphing into a challenger bank. Is that being that something that we can expect from Ledn that you guys would be possibly either going with the challenger bank or considering becoming one?
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo: That's a very good question. Banking relationships are very important for our business. Being a financial services company, we have very good relationships with banks in Canada. That's largely a part of our AML and KYC processes. We are fully compliant. We have a person in charge of it and the team has been from its genesis built on the idea that we had to be fully compliant from the beginning.
So as far as our banking relationships today they have been really great. You know we've been very pleased with how everybody's treated us so far is it in our roadmap right now to become or morph into a challenger bank. I don't think it's in the immediate goals, but I won't discard that as potentially something that we will look into in the future as we grow into more of a bigger financial services company and more and more clients start demanding different types of products and services.
So, to the extent that there will be a benefit or value to the client in merging the two experiences then yes that would definitely something that we can consider. Right now our real focus is to create a full suite of services around these digital assets because I think the really big impact that crypto and Bitcoin are having is just a liberating impact around the tyrannical and authoritarian regimes around the world that are essentially you know their banking system is hijacked from them and they can't save, they can't borrow. They can't even buy a censorship resistant or they can't buy dollars.
Bitcoin is becoming more and more an option that all of these people. There's over four billion people living and authoritarian regimes in the world today. And so, the you know more so than the dollar signs. I think the most what excites me the most about these services and this technology is that it materially changes the life of people, of smart people in these countries to be able to earn a bounty reward in bitcoin and have no one come and take it from you and save so you can buy a ticket to go to New York one day or do something else. Like it actually you become a member of the world economy right where before you were sequestered from it by your local currency.
So, I do think that this has the potential to snowball into this massive opportunity for four billion people to now have access to banking service traditional bank services. It's a long road to get there. And education is a very, very big piece of that because from Venezuela I can say that although we have a large number of people that are in this situation and sometimes a lot some of them have a phone but sometimes having a phone and being in the situation is not enough right. Yeah. It takes a lot. It takes education it takes time to let people know that this is the right way.
The volatility in pricing hasn't helped. I'll say that you know very upfront because you talk to people in Venezuela about bitcoin and yes sure it's better of then bolivar. A lot of them are still happy that they have it. Other believers would they prefer that it had stayed steady and maybe not going up to 20 and coming down everyone. Absolutely. So, there is a bit of a you know learning curve that people have to go through. They have to understand that you know it's also in its early stages so it's not going to be everything we want it to be. Course at once. Yeah. But yeah. Just to tie back to you know I think the biggest impact is. I think where this can have the biggest impact is including or incorporating new members that are perhaps not in Canada rather than creating a bigger bank or a better experience for Canadian clients which is something that's definitely, we want to do. But I think our big focus right now is to build this product suite around digital assets and make them available to people that are not available to it today.
Manseeb Khan: Of course. So, to help later better I'd like the world economy like you've mentioned before. Right. So, I'm going to throw this to you. OK. Aside from saving the world. what else are you very much excited about in the crypto, FinTech space in 2019.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo: Crypto fintech in 2019. Let's see. I think there's some really good work being done by the Human Rights Foundation and they're really shining the light on the libertarian aspects of bitcoin and how this is benefiting the people outside of North America or in tyrannical regimes. I. Am excited for some of the noise to get out of the industry. I'm excited to see the good projects find their footing and start making what they've all been making great progress. But the price has been a temper that hasn't really.
People haven't really seen past the price moves and the kind of peel layers and see what companies like us are doing behind the scenes getting ready for this cycle to turn again. Mm hmm. So, I'm just excited to see the cycle turn right. I do feel you know again it's not financial advice and by no means is this what I what I think is going to happen whatever. I have a feeling that 2019 is going to be a year where we finish this bottoming process and we start you know when we turn the corner to do it. Call it a new lead wave. We focus a wave of price moves and I think I don't I don't expect them to be astronomical in fact I almost don't want them to be. I would like them to be slow and steady but so long as the corner has been turned and we stop dropping people's mindset start turning with it. And so that's going to be exciting just to see people wake up. Yeah. Let's see what happens. Well it wasn't a fad it was a hype Yeah.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo: Yeah. So that got them excited about that idea about the resurgence. Call it.
Manseeb Khan: I'm excited to see that on 2019 that's bitcoin and just crypto in general. I'm going to just start to I guess osmosis out of the actual like bubble and then start going it's a little bit more of having a real-life scenario instead of just to the niche thousand that really know about it. Right. Right. And having like I mean again like being able to take out a loan against the crypto that I currently have in my wallet that I'm not using. Right. That could pay off my credit card is fantastic. I can write off my house. That's amazing. Right. Right. And then sooner or later like some way down the line I can actually buy a house with the assets I bought 15 20 years ago. Right. I'm super excited for what you guys are going to do and I'm just excited. So just the journey ahead for you guys. So, Mauricio the best way to contact you. Do we email you do we Snapchat you do I tweet you like we'll be the best way to you to get contact with you and the CEO Adam?
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo: Yeah. I mean you can reach us and we're very active on Twitter. My Twitter handle is cryptonomista. Oh, so you can you can Google that or not you can search it. You can search my name on Google. Mauricio Ledn in you probably hit what I won't bother taking you through my spelling of my last name. So, if you can if you just want to google Ledn Inc or Mauricio Ledn Inc. Ledn.io is our official Web site so you can always contact us through there. I'm actually on the chat on the Web site so you can go in and just literally write me right there . That's awesome. So yeah. The Web site is a great way Twitter @hodlwithLedn is our Twitter handle and you can always e-mail us at email@example.com. So yeah that's you know I'd love to talk to anybody that has any questions or even the insights or comments. I'm very open to that.
Manseeb Khan: Yeah. Hey, I can't I can't wait with the feedback from this episode. so, on behalf of the NCFA Canada's leading fintech and crowdfunding association. I wish you an amazing Fintech Friday and weekend.
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