ICO Analysis: Bancor
We have previously done a precursory article covering Bancor, but now, with the impending launch of its Initial Coin Offering, it’s time to analyze the thing in-depth.
In our previous article, we discussed the primary novelty of Bancor, its “smart token” asset contracts. A reader wrote in with concern over this aspect, and wants more in-depth information into how this can work or is safe. Clearly new concepts like this do need more explanation, so let’s see what we can understand here.
Perhaps the top-tier objection to the Bancor protocol are its roots, of course:
The Bancor protocol is named in honor of the Keynesian proposal to introduce a supranational reserve currency called Bancor to systematize international currency conversion after WWII.
The name is, of course, quite apt for the purpose of the token. Is Bancor itself Keynesian? Not exactly, but we must dutifully check over the offering here to ensure that there are not value-murdering features like centralized institutions being able to introduce inflation, or supposedly immutable smart contracts being thwarted through appeals to authority. These are the real risks that many Bitcoiners, and others, take with Keynesian economics, and so this platform requires thorough review to ensure that it is not going to introduce such risks by design.
The Bancor protocol enables built-in price discovery and a liquidity mechanism for tokens on smart contract blockchains. These “smart tokens” hold one or more other tokens in reserve, and enable any party to instantly purchase or liquidate the smart token in exchange for one of its reserve tokens, directly through the smart token’s contract, at a continuously calculated price, according to a formula which balances buy and sell volumes.
Especially in recent offerings, a number of tokens have come to the game which could find themselves without any value at all. The Bancor notion of “continuous liquidity” seems to be based on the idea of previously proven value from other assets the token offering might have access to. Thus a “smart token” can always be liquid because it always retains value from another economic source.
This is higher-level thinking, from the get-go, in terms of tokens and crypto-economics. While Ethereum and Counterparty, and others, serve a similar purpose by allowing anyone to issue their own tokens, those tokens are overwhelmingly defined by their utility, and so they can be difficult to assess. But if one can point to a metric such as “each token contains X bitcoins, X ether, X ___, and so its intrinsic value is at least equal to the value of one or all of those,” then there is a new metric that is useful in determining the likely trajectory of projects. In short, one function that smart tokens can perform is that of token issuers providing collateral.
The current exchange model for currencies/assets has a critical barrier, requiring a certain volume of trading activity to achieve market-liquidity. This inherent barrier makes it nearly impossible for small-scale currencies (such as community currencies, loyalty points or other custom tokens) to be linked (exchangeable) to other popular currencies using a market-determined exchange rate.
So, in the current world, where BTC, ETH, DASH, and LTC make up a large portion of the cryptocurrency wealth, a token creator might decide to issue a token that is contains assets around 50% Bitcoin, 25% ETH, 12.5% DASH, and 12.5% LTC.
This is sort of the same principal that mutual funds operate on: mixing various similar instruments so that when one or more of them have poor performance, the others can pick up the slack. But the token holder, through the Bancor protocol, is able to extract that given value at any time and destroy their tokens issued on the Bancor protocol. An FX mutual fund, made up of the world’s currencies, would be the closest thing to this, but instead there is no firm managing and the individual currencies can be obtained by the investor at any time, via the protocol.
This aspect could give rise to other cryptocurrencies being used in actual settlements, regardless if exchanges are offering such pairs at that time or not. The speed of value proposition would become more important than the speed of human change – ie, new currencies which come after Bancor but have exceeding merit will not need for recognition from the wider community before being used as the base currency with which others are denominated and traded. The control that exchanges as a whole have over the way we think about our coins would be lessened in such a world where this became commonplace.
The term “instant liquidity” is used a lot in the documentation and promotional materials surrounding the Bancor protocol, and they make the case in their whitepaper that liquidity for newer cryptocurrencies is a problem. However, the words “instant liquidity” are perhaps misleading. The term liquid means different things for different users. Some would consider getting to Bitcoin itself to be liquid, while others wouldn’t consider the assets liquid until they were in an account they can spend anywhere else in the world – ie, fiat. So let’s leave aside the “instant liquidity” as either a plus or a minus, and instead focus on the structure of a smart token and how it can actually be used, in practice, in concrete terms.
A smart token holds a balance of least one other reserve token, which (currently) can be a different smart token, any ERC20 standard token or Ether. Smart tokens are issued when purchased and destroyed when liquidated, therefore it is always possible to purchase a smart token with its reserve token, as well as to liquidate a smart token to its reserve token, at the current price.
Okay. How does this work?
A given “smart token” will base its operations on what Bancor refers to as a “constant reserve ratio.” All figures within the smart token will be in relation to the smart token’s market capitalization as a whole, which is its supply multiplied by its price. Instead of Bancor token authors creating tokens at the beginning of an ICO offering or what have you, they are issued as they are purchased, and destroyed as they are liquidated.
A Bancor token must be funded by one of its reserve currencies. If the CRR of a given token is 100% of a given other currency, then a traditional increase in the price of the token will take place. However, if a token’s CRR has a variety of reserve tokens, then the price increase due to the purchase will be mitigated. This is what they mean when they say they are creating a new method of price discovery: a variety of markets are held within each token, potentially, creating more interesting and even accurate price definitions at market. And while a token may be issued on the Bancor protocol and consist of multiple traded cryptocurrencies making up its Constant Reserve Ratio, it, itself, can be traded elsewhere. People purchasing these tokens on other markets would not be able to simply say something had lost all value because its Bitcoin value had significantly dropped, for example, if its corresponding values in other pairs also represented in the token have not dropped likewise. Similarly, traders would have to watch themselves when pricing sales of such tokens, because saying “this token is worth .01BTC” does not mean much if any of its other reserve currencies are not trading at a similar level. (This is why Bancor can make the claim that there is “no spread” for individual Bancor tokens, because while there actually is a spread, the settlement of any token issued by the Bancor protocol will wind up with its holder gaining the reserve currencies within it.)
From a traditional financial perspective, this all sounds an awful like the type of instruments which got us into the bubbles and crashes of the early 2000s. Traders were packaging millions of low-value, low-performance loans and other financial instruments together and selling them as packages of “diversified assets” and then speculating on their performance from there, in some cases even managing to bet against them and profit being the only ones with the real information as regards their likely performance. The complexity of these instruments was part of the reason the whole musical chairs act went on so long.
Yet, while there is potential that bad actors will use the technology to scam others into investing into nothing at all, there is still a lot to be said for innovating in the market strategies of a tokenized future.
How People Will Use It
The Bancor team themselves list a number of use-cases that will be immediately obvious. Rewards programs, decentralized asset baskets similar to those being developed by ShapeShift’s Prism platform, and federations of similar tokens. Lower-volatility tokens can be created in-house by trading groups, and such products can be offered for sale on the market. Cryptocurrency mutual funds become much easier to envision, despite the volatility of the various markets. This part of finance will eventually become much more important in the Cryptocurrency space as things mature and more and more legacy institutions integrate with cryptocurrency payment, receipt, and trading rails.
The Bancor token itself will be the most prominent for the Bancor Protocol, as it will be the one that funds all future advancement and development. Its actual cap is not published until 80% of that cap has been reached, but 100 tokens will be issued per 1 ETH spent. BNT tokens will have a 20% Constant Reserve Ration of ETH. BNT itself will be based on the value of the Bancor Network and its reserve currency, ETH, although the Bancor Foundation can issue more tokens later.
Bancor tokens themselves will hold value for as long as the Bancor Foundation and Ethereum do, and users will have the option to liquidate them at any time. This would mean, essentially, a 20% Ethereum redemption is possible. In assessing this ICO, you must be aware that some people are going to do exactly that.
The Bancor foundation itself is not going to be doing the creation of the Bancor Protocol, but instead directing it. It is composed of financially-focused executives including Eyal Hertzog, who is the primary spearhead behind all of it. Hertzog’s success has been in IPO technology companies, such as the first major Israeli video sharing site, MetaCafe.
Chief Monetary Architect Dr. Bernard Lietaer was involved in the creation of the Euro, and so it is no surprise that much of the thrust of Bancor is in trying to unite and stabilize disparate cryptocurrency assets.
As far as development goes, they are currently contracting LocalCoin, Ltd, which, like many similar ICOs we have seen, seems to have been created specifically for the purpose of Bancor. The model seems to work like this:
- Have a new idea related to cryptocurrency.
- Flesh out that idea.
- Create a firm to develop the idea, to be funded by sales of the new token.
- In some cases, profit on both sides of this.
This is why we we will review the token distribution before getting to the verdict on Bancor, but let’s see who is working for LocalCoin.
At the helm they have Yehuda Levi, who formerly worked on AppCoin, one of the earlier cryptocurrency plays to get traditional VC backing. They list a litany of other competent, established developers, all based in Israel, working on the development of Bancor Protocol smart contracts.
Distribution of the Token
As we can see here, the token distribution is confusing on first glance. Let’s think about this. We know that 10% are going to the “team,” in the form of BNT tokens. Then we know that 40% of the 50% of tokens (20% of the total supply) are also going to fund development. That means somewhere in the neighborhood of just over 20% are going to be awarded to LocalCoin in the form of paid software development and initial awards. 20% are also held back by the foundation for later conversion and usage. The foundation is free to offer later crowdsales to continue work on the platform.
But, this ICO is also different than most. The tokens’ only enduring value is in the enduring value of the Bancor Protocol, which means there is little or no incentive for the coins withheld to be liquidated right away, but instead to create value for the protocol and liquidate them at a later time.
The proceeds of the crowdsale and future tokens issued by the Bancor Foundation will continue to develop the distributed marketplace that is Bancor’s primary function. BNT themselves will have speculative values related to the value of the protocol itself, it seems. The problem of team coins is mitigated by their vesting structure, which only allows them mature up to a sixth of withheld coins every six months.
There’s a lot to like about the Bancor Protocol, but one can totally forego this crowdsale and still benefit from it. So let’s talk about the value of the BNT token, and whether or not you’re going to be able to profit by purchasing it. The odds are definitely on you profiting in the short term, although long-term it’s easy to see bigger entities, like the Ethereum DAO themselves, offering alternative ways of conducting the same type of business.
BNT gets an immediate boost in safety rating since you are able to liquidate it for 20% of the Eth that was put into it in the first place at any time. That is to say, it’s impossible to lose your entire investment, in terms of actual Ethereum, so that must be accounted for.
The level of confusion Bancor-created instruments have the potential to create must also be accounted. We have to deduct a full two points for that, as there will probably be some hiccups in the beginning, and these could even be catastrophic and unrecoverable. The nature of mixing assets may be looked down upon parts of the community it looks to serve, so another .25 points should be taken for that. Because this entire concept is nascent in an excessively nascent industry, another full point must be deducted to account for the potential that overshadowing plays are going to be made in the near future.
This leaves a score of 6.75 on a scale of 0 to 10 in terms of safety, and that feels about right. This means the author is betting in favor of the idea that within 7 days after the purchase of tokens, you will be able to divest them at a rate of about .01 Eth each or more. It does not mean the author is not betting. It simply takes into account all of the factors, most of which are based on his past experience watching similar things launch. While every project is different, the tendencies of this market are analytically-assessable.
You’re able to make an investment into the Bancor Protocol at a rate of .01 ETH per Bancor Network Token in less than 7 hours. The minimum time this sale will run is one hour, and they had to develop a special method to ensure this would be the case. There is a hidden cap on how much ETH will be raised, but no one will know that figure until 80% have been raised – this is to prevent early investors from being able to accurately dominate the token pool.
Investments are subject to terms and conditions. The address which will be handling the investments is 0xBbc79794599b19274850492394004087cBf89710. Transactions already sent to this address at launch time fall under their one-hour-minimum policy, which dictates that if more than 100 million Ether are raised in the first hour, additional funds will be allocated specially. This post goes into a lot more detail about the funds and the minimum time period. No funds should be sent from a wallet which you do not have direct control over.
The longest the crowdsale will run is until June 26th at 14:00GMT.
Do your own due diligence, investments are at your own risk. Do not invest more than you can lose.