Doubts over Ripple Labs’ Southeast Asia strategy amid reports from Singapore

Rhys Muter 11 January 2018

Ripple MAS - ITI

The Monetary Authority of Singapore reveals preliminary talks with Ripple as part of its blockchain experiment, harming sentiment for Ripple in lucrative Southeast Asia.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has revealed that it has held preliminary talks with representatives of Ripple Labs as part of the MAS’s “blockchain experiment.” This comes as part of Ripple’s focus on securing market share within the highly lucrative Southeast Asia financial services sector.

Singapore, which is an international hub of cross-border movements, not only in financial capital but also human, technical and a barrage of other forms of capital, makes the city-state one of the most fluid economies on Earth. With the scale of cross-border movements originating from Singapore, there is a high demand for financial institutions operating in Singapore to process the heavy volumes of cross-border financial remittances.

An example of a remittance is where a worker from the United States (US) residing and working in Singapore seeks to send wages back to a bank account in the US. That transaction is a remittance. Considering the fluid economy of Singapore, the remittances the city-state produces are among the highest in the world.

What this means for Ripple is that by encouraging adoption of their blockchain technologies, the remittance processes of most Singaporean banks can be made more efficient. Brad Garlinghouse, CEO of San Francisco based Ripple Labs, has stated that Ripple’s technology could save the industry trillions of US dollars.

Competition for Ripple

The difficulty for Ripple Labs is competition. Up until recent years, the Society for Worldwide International Financial Telecommunications, more commonly known as SWIFT, was the sole competitor in the cross-border payment space. During 2015, Ripple’s blockchain technology was being developed and at that time it was a sole competitor in this space. Now there are other technological companies moving into the marketplace.

Among those competitors are Hyperledger and IBM’s Stellar. Alongside these potential competitors, it is unclear whether Singapore is conducting in-house blockchain technology development. What is clear from recent reports published in Singapore is that the Southeast Asian marketplace for Ripple’s technology is becoming crowded quickly. The US Federal Reserve and the English Central Bank have conducted “proof of concept” testing with Ripple Technologies implying a greater readiness to implement Ripple’s technologies in a Western framework of cross-border remittances.

The "utility" of XRP

The small but growing body of evidence shows a different approach to the issue being taken in Singapore. This is important because Singapore is the “key financial centre” of Southeast Asia. This leads to the idea that there seems to be more resistance to Ripple’s technology in Southeast Asia which is the “priority market” of Ripple Labs. Brad Garlinghouse has previously stated that the defining value of cryptocurrencies in 2018 will be their “utility.” Aside from coining one of the great cryptocurrency cliches of 2018, Mr Garlinghouse’s analysis concerning utility is correct. The trouble for Ripple, and by extension XRP, is that while there is great value in reducing costs and increasing the efficiency of cross-border payments, Ripple does not extend its utility far beyond that.

Ripple markets its technology on the basis that if a bank in Singapore does not hold the currency of the country it is remitting to, XRP fills that void by easily exchanging into a currency such as US dollars. As a result, Southeast Asian banks are watching the price fluctuations of XRP with hawk eyes. This is happening at the same time as CoinMarketCap’s readjustment of price calculations has had a dramatic effect on the price of XRP.

Since the readjustment, XRP’s price has dropped from an all-time high of US$3.84 plunging dramatically to US$1.93 at the time of writing on 11 January 2018. The CoinMarketCap readjustment changed its data to exclude South Korean cryptocurrency exchange data from its price calculations. The effect this has had on the price of XRP has been just as impacting as the volume of daily trade in XRP emerging from the South Korean exchanges.

Some estimates put the value of Korean trade in XRP at above 30% of total global trade in XRP. Although they are unrelated events, CoinMarketCap’s decision to alter their price calculations seems oddly timed. This serves to make accurate calculations of XRP a little more difficult but does not separate XRP from the suspicion that its price could be dependent or at least affected by market speculation.

The limits of "utility"

This takes the shine off XRP’s and Ripple’s most tangible selling point. If the price of XRP cannot be stabilised, its function as a measure of cross-border payments becomes highly doubtful. What seems just as likely is that homegrown currencies issued by the MAS could be created around the technology of Ripple or one of its competitors. The Singaporean dollar generally trades at a fixed exchange rate of about one Singaporean dollar to one US dollar.

What that fixed exchange rate implies is that the use of US dollars in cross-border payments of Singaporean financial institutions is very high, which is the result of the Singaporean economy being structured around the petroleum processing industry. Essentially, the MAS will be faced with a decision as it transitions its existing cross-border payments system away from SWIFT to blockchain technologies. That decision will be whether to continue that fixed exchange rate with the currency being entered on that new blockchain.

The reason why this is so important as it relates to Ripple is that there would be US financial interests keen on XRP or at least Ripple technologies playing a large role in the continuation of Singapore’s fixed exchange rate against the US dollar. The space is so uncertain that it is impossible to know at this early stage exactly what the outcome of blockchain technology adoption in global financial markets and institutions will be. But Singapore would be a very significant market to lose if the Ripple technologies were not to be adopted by the MAS.

What this means for the price of XRP is uncertain. What is clear is that just as easily as Ripple’s blockchain innovations could be adopted, XRP could just as easily be considered unnecessary. If their Southeast Asian strategy of Ripple Labs and CEO Brad Garlinghouse is successful, that would be a boon for the price of XRP. If not, that may mean that XRP could be confined to a “Western hemisphere” of cross-border payments which would signal a watershed moment for XRP and perhaps also the US dollar.

This information should not be interpreted as an endorsement of cryptocurrency or any specific provider, service or offering. It is not a recommendation to trade. Cryptocurrencies are speculative, complex and involve significant risks – they are highly volatile and sensitive to secondary activity. Performance is unpredictable and past performance is no guarantee of future performance. Consider your own circumstances, and obtain your own advice, before relying on this information. You should also verify the nature of any product or service (including its legal status and relevant regulatory requirements) and consult the relevant Regulators' websites before making any decision. Finder, or the author, may have holdings in the cryptocurrencies discussed.

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