A Bitcoin revolution has started sweeping over Malta, with a growing number of companies starting to test the waters of the popular cryptocurrency and the blockchain technology underpinning it.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat revealed a few months ago he intends to see Malta become a pioneer in embracing Bitcoin, and companies have wasted no time in jumping on board.
For example, leading job vacancy website Keepmeposted has started accepting payments in Bitcoin.
“We thought it would be a natural step for us to start accepting payment by Bitcoin and be early adopters of this new and exciting currency phenomenon,” a spokesperson told Lovin Malta.
Advertising agency Blonde and Giant is taking it a step further, and has recently started offering its staff a portion of its salary in Bitcoin.
“We think there is a very high chance blockchain and cryptocurrencies will become a feature of how we and our clients do business, both locally and internationally,” the agency’s head of digital Mike Stivala told Lovin Malta. “The decision to offer Bitcoin as a salary was motivated by the idea that if you really want to learn about something, it helps to have a stake in it, and a means by which to experiment, observe and play.”
“By giving each of our staff a reason to observe and interact with the Bitcoin market, we believe we can quickly become conversant in the technology and be among the first to see its potential applications in our industry.”
Malta’s first Bitcoin ATM was launched in July, but soon proved to be a dud as it kept eating clients’ money and the machine’s owner was revealed to have had no prior experience in dealing with the cryptocurrency.
However, the flop hasn’t deterred other companies from ordering their own ATMs. Ivaja, a new start-up owned by two Swedish and German entrepreneurs plans to launch its own Bitcoin ATM in Valletta later this month. Real estate company Quicklets last week installed a Bitcoin ATM at its headquarters and its founder Steve Mercieca says he plans to install such ATMs in every Quicklets branch.
Fellow real estate company Engel & Volkers Sara Grech also looks set to get in on the act sooner than later, with managing director Benjamin Grech recently revealing plans to use blockchain to create a transparent property database.
The Bitcoin revolution also looks set to spill into Malta’s igaming industry, with cryptocurrency gambling set to be legalised in early 2018, according to a Malta Gaming Authority White Paper.
Meanwhile, blockchain consultant Steve Tendon has set up a ‘Blockchain Malta’ LinkedIn group which is organising seminars on blockchain, one of which was recently addressed by Max Ganado – senior partner of the major law firm Ganado Advocates.
Also, Bitcoin clubs have popped up in Malta and Gozo and are organising regular and well-attended information sessions on the cryptocurrency.
Malta – ‘The Silicon Valley of Europe’
It was back in April when Prime Minister Joseph Muscat first revealed he wanted Malta to become the ‘Silicon Valley of Europe’ with regards to blockchain technology and Bitcoin cryptocurrency.
“I understand regulators are wary of this technology but the fact is, it’s coming,” he said. “We must be on the frontline in embracing this crucial innovation, and we cannot just wait for others to take action and copy them. We must be the ones others copy.”
Essentially, blockchain – known as an “electronic ledger” – allows data to be distributed across a network of computers and to be constantly updated but not copied. There is no central point of the chain hackers can exploit, meaning the information is truly public.
Blockchain was originally created to record Bitcoin transactions, but governments are now starting to see the technology as a way to improve transparency and security when carrying out other types of transactions. And this is where Malta comes in. Indeed, the government’s approach so far has been less on embracing Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies per se, but rather on the blockchain technology which allows for its existence.
Plans will include implementing blockchain in the Lands Registry, a move which will make public the value of lands, and in the health registries, which will give patients full control over their own health data.
Malta is also licking its lips at the prospect of attracting business which operate on blockchain to the island, wooing them with tax incentives reminiscent to those used to attract iGaming companies. A new Blockchain Authority will be set up to regulate the new sector and issue licenses for these companies.
Silvio Schembri, parliamentary secretary for the digital economy, told MaltaToday in July the Labour government’s business-friendly approach will give Malta an edge over other countries interested in tapping into this niche.
“Ministers and even the Prime Minister often agree to meet up with businesspeople only a few days after receiving an e-mail request,” he said.