An interview of George Agathangelou, the CMO of Block.co for the Game Changers magazine (Issue 24).
- Hello George, welcome back to Game Changers. It has been a long time since your last appearance. George, you must be one of the most controversial personas in the financial industry. With a background in Economics, you’ve dealt with FX for quite a lot of years! You were in, you were out and have decided you can do without! But first things first. What got you in the FX in the first place?
Having studied Economics and Business Administration, I was trained to believe that investment and trading could provide an additional revenue stream to individuals and had the desire to enter the investment services industry and actually help people improve their quality of life. I guess that the timing was right back then because it was at a time when the Forex industry was booming in Cyprus and retail forex brokerages just started to spread like mushrooms on the island.
- And how has this evolved?
Looking back today, we have witnessed a rapid development of the industry, with many bumps and challenges along the way, mostly deriving from excessive regulations, as a result of the behaviour of dishonest players in the market.
- What were your feelings around this industry over the years?
I feel that this industry has transformed a lot over the years. Many lessons have been learned both by market participants and regulators and still many problems are left to be solved, especially when it comes to fair market practices, corporate social responsibility, and the trends in the years to come.
- What changed during the past 10 years?
Following the first Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MIFID) that came into force on 1 November 2007, that replaced and expanded upon the Investment Services Directive, the European Commission decided to review the MiFID framework and on 20 October 2011, published proposals for (i) a revised Directive (MiFID II) and (ii) a new Regulation (MiFIR). On 15 April 2014, the Council of the European Union adopted the final texts of MiFID II and MiFIR (Level 1 texts). These texts intended to address a number of shortcomings of the initial MiFID framework as well as some sources of systemic risk which became apparent during the financial crisis. Since entry into force of MIFID II the 2nd July of 2014, ESMA published more than 100 papers (delegated directives, delegated regulations, RTS, ITS, guidelines…) on MiFID II/MiFIR topics to ensure a proper implementation across Europe. As from the compliance deadline (1st of January 2018), ESMA issued more than 10 guidelines and other related MiFID II documents, which compel MiFID entities to perform ongoing monitoring on new requirements. These guidelines addressed marketing materials used, KYC on boarding procedures, remuneration policies, and other elements, in an attempt to strengthen the protection of investors by introducing new requirements and reinforcing existing ones.
- Can you tell the readers what made you switch industries from Finance to Tech?
Let’s just say that I felt that my time in the Finance Industry had come to an end, that I had not much to learn from the industry and that I had much more to offer by being in the technological innovation forefront, with the noble mission of combating fraud and corruption.
- How big is the problem with fraud?
Massive funds and resources are spent every year to track down forged documentation. In the 2016 Higher Education Degree Data check (HEDD) report, an investigation found that 44% of 5,500 considered CVs had discrepancies in education with 10% of those having false grades. Moreover, a report by the WENR (World Education News and Reviews) reveals that in 2010 an alarming situation was reported in China, with “90 percent of recommendation letters from Chinese students were fake, 70 percent of college application essays were not written by the students, and half of all high school transcripts were falsified.” Lastly, we notice a recurring trend when it comes to credentials fraud. Falsifying credentials in order to land a job is no small offense, anymore. In Hong Kong, where fake credentials are increasingly common, a woman presented fake qualifications to land an executive-level marketing job. When her scam was uncovered, the woman was arrested and charged with fraud.
- What makes Block.co different? What is Block.co Unique Selling Point?
The University of Nicosia acknowledged the problem when it comes to forged credentials and the vulnerability of certification documents. We are a company powered by the University of Nicosia in Cyprus, the global leader in Blockchain education and research and the first globally to issue academic diplomas on the Blockchain as early as 2014. At Block.co we have developed a platform that enables organizations to securely issue certificates by leveraging Blockchain technology, thus making them tamper-proof and instantly and independently verifiable. A simple to use by anyone product, with no smart contracts, private keys or tokens involved in the process. Our solution has already been battle tested over the last 5 years. We abide by the principles of Resiliency, Open Access, and Simplicity – Ease of Use. Block.co unique selling point is that there is no dependency on a single vendor. Publishing and validating protocol are open-source and can be easily viewed on GitHub. We are securing all our certificates on the most secure blockchain to date, the Bitcoin Blockchain. There are no apps required, no wallets, no downloads or updates. Our whole solution is embedded within a PDF file. Recipients of academic certificates can manage, share or even duplicate the PDF at will. We chose the PDF format as it is both human and machine readable. These PDFs can be validated by anyone on the Bitcoin Blockchain very easily, by uploading the file on one of our online validators. The issuer or publisher of the certificate can easily revoke or edit these certificates, while there is also an option for certificates expiration. As blockchain allows the addition of new entries only, any re-issues, the revocation will leave behind a complete audit trail of actions. We designed our solution with ease of use in mind. Anyone capable of using a PC can use our solution, without specific knowledge on blockchain technology, private keys and so on.
- How big is the market that Block.co is targeting? Is your product international? Does it apply to all markets?
Block.co is currently tapping into a global, billion dollar market. It is estimated that there are more than 10,000 universities around the world, and all of them can be a possible client for us. Moreover, since we serve many industries besides academia, we aspire to make block.co technology the standard for when it comes to issuing self-verifiable certificates using Open Source Code, Open Standards, and the world’s most secure computer network, the Bitcoin Blockchain.
- Can your product be used in the financial sector?
Indeed, our product may find possible use cases in the financial sector and especially when it comes to certificates provided by regulators, time-stamped reports provided by regulated entities, as well as post-trade reporting mechanisms that can be made immutable and secure by anchoring them on an Open, Public Blockchain such as Bitcoin. We have already provided our application form to the Cyprus Innovation Hub and look forward to helping the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission adopt innovative technologies such as blockchain technology when it comes to combating fraud and corruption in the industry.
- Cyprus is not renowned for being a fast adopter of new technologies. How are you planning to change that?
Block.co’s technology was developed at the Institute For the Future (IFF). The IFF is a cross-disciplinary research institute at the University of Nicosia (UNIC) founded to explore the hypothesis that exponential technologies will cause rapidly accelerating societal change over the coming decades. The goal of the IFF is to push students, faculty (at our University and others), policy-makers and business leaders to prepare for these changes and aim for societally beneficial outcomes. Our faculty shared their expertise and have joined forces with the Cyprus government’s own teams in order to draft the Cyprus Blockchain National Strategy. The main pillars of the National Strategy are the preparation of a legislative framework and the implementation of pilot use cases for both the public sector and the financial sector. This legislative framework will take into account the European Parliament resolution of October 2018 and will be based on European principles, technology neutrality, promoting innovation so that the private and public sectors can work together effectively and develop successful applications. The strategy has a goal to bring Cyprus among the first countries to regulate aspects of Decentralized Ledger Technologies in order to create a truly attractive environment, in parallel with all the other factors that make Cyprus an attractive destination for investment and business.
- What are the main obstacles that Block.co is facing?
I believe the main challenges, besides the changes required in the regulatory framework and the coordination and adoption of international technical standards, is the people’s understanding of blockchain technology and its applications. Very often, people have the wrong idea and are prejudiced when they hear the word Bitcoin, relating it to illegal activities based on mainstream media rhetoric. I believe that the main challenge will be to educate people about the potential of these technologies besides remittances and storing value, as people are afraid of change, whatever that change may be. It’s like history is repeating itself, like in the early days of the Internet, when everyone associated the Internet with gambling, hackers and adult content. In today’s world, tech giants that have taken over the internet like Facebook and Google didn’t even exist when I was younger, and I believe the same will occur in the future. Early adopters and innovators in this space will reap the most benefits out of these emerging technologies.
- What’s next on the agenda for George Agathangelou?
Well, I can’t really say what the future will bring. What I know is that the present is indeed a gift. I feel that I have found my purpose in life, doing something that I love, something that the world really needs, that I can be paid for and something that I am very passionate about and that I can add value to, the Bitcoin Blockchain.
- How do you see the future of the FX industry?
It is expected that a large percentage of the smaller brokerages in Cyprus, will have to close shop, as they cannot compete with giants in the industry that have both the capital and human resources to deal with the new regulatory burden.
- Any advice for the newcomers?
Study, research, learn as much as you can and get to meet as many people from your industry as possible. Cultivate skills, seek mentors and always stay abreast of your industry. If you have not found what you love to do, this will equip you with the necessary insights, so when it does come by you, you will definitely know what it is so that you can chase your dreams.
- How can the readers contact you for more information?
Readers can learn more about us through our website https://block.co/ or through our various social media channels on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Youtube and Medium. If you would like to get in touch with me directly, then please send an email to [email protected] .