Beyond Blocks Summit Seoul Examines Korea’s Unique Opportunity
The Beyond Blocks Summit Seoul kicked off today, drawing a huge crowd that signaled the emergence of Korea as a critical hub for the blockchain and cryptocurrency industry. Opening presenters highlighted the country’s unique position as a place well-used to disruption and technology adoption — which may all be key factors.
Subscribe to the Bitsonline YouTube channel for great videos featuring industry insiders & experts
At the World Economic Forum event held in Seoul back in 2014 at the same venue (the Shilla Hotel), bitcoin took a side room as a new curiosity. For the record, it still packed that room. This time, though, blockchain was on the main stage — and the hall was full.
Beyond Blocks: Big in Korea, Doubling Down on Tokyo
In opening remarks, Beyond Blocks’ founder Gabriel Yang said the event had drawn double the crowd of his organization’s event in Tokyo earlier in 2018. That’s already an achievement, given the attention Japan was receiving at the time as one of the world’s (supposedly) most crypto-friendly countries.
Beyond Blocks is aimed more at the investor market than the developer market, though keynote speaker Simon Kim, CEO of Hashed, claimed the Korean scene is “maturing” into one focused more on the technology.
Kim, delivering the keynote in Korean “for my Korean friends” said his country is currently known for three things: kimchi, K-pop, and cryptocurrency. The third one is claiming a greater share of the attention every day.
He pointed out that Koreans have plenty of experience with turmoil and disruption, having lived through both the late-90s Asian Financial Crisis, the Global Financial Crisis a decade later, and impeaching their own president in 2017.
That created a market less reluctant to replace old systems with new ones. Korea also claims a series of technological world firsts, he said.
“When new digital trends emerge, Korea is one of the first countries for adoption.”
There’s a high penetration rate for new tech like personal computers, smartphones, wired and wireless internet infrastructure. 40 percent of South Korea’s population lives in the Seoul metropolitan area, and the country has some of the fastest internet speeds on the planet.
Korea’s Rush to Digitize the Economy
Those factors, and a culture receptive to online activity and gaming has led to other digital economy leadership claims. They include:
- NEXUS — Kingdom of the Winds (longest running MMORPG in the world, since 1996);
- SayClub — world’s first paid avatar service (1999);
- Cyworld — world’s first SNS to profit from sale of virtual goods;
- Hangame — largest game portal able ot play games using its own virtual currency, Hancoin (1999);
- ItemBay — world’s first game item trading platform (2001);
- Starcraft League — world’s first e-sports league that attracted national popularity, in 2000.
Ergo, Koreans aren’t just early tech adopters like their neighbors in Japan — they’re actively pursuing new ways to engage in economic activity there.
That all said, there still isn’t much visible use of cryptocurrency in Seoul’s daily life. As visitors to Tokyo have previously noted, you don’t see “Bitcoin accepted here” signs everywhere just yet and many basic services still involve a lot of paperwork.
But blockchain and crypto conferences, despite their growing size, still represent the bleeding edge. It hasn’t hurt at all that blockchain developers also discovered a new investment class at a time global wealth is looking for new avenues: ICOs and token sales.
Rumors of an ICO ban in Korea remain unfounded, Kim said, pointing out there is still no effective law in place to regulate these projects.
Blockchain Created an Incentive for Scammers, but Their Days Are Numbered
His follow-up speaker, Sang Lee of alternative investments platform DarcMatter, noted some of the problems that have arisen due to technology progressing faster than regulation. Blockchain created a perverse incentive for Ponzi operators and other scammers, who realized they could profit more from creating and selling tokens as quickly as possible, rather than developing secure and transparent platforms.
His company aims to eliminate fraud and mistakes by providing a more mature online asset management platform.
Blockchain “isn’t about making a back office upgrade for JPMorgan. It needed to be built again from the bottom up”.
DarcMatter had to research not only the various jurisdictions around the world, but also cultural norms to discover what investors in the different markets actually wanted.
While Korea may well be a hub (regulatory ambiguity notwithstanding) for blockchain investment and development, the local market is relatively small. Its popularity will depend on the ability to raise funds from around the world, and for those investors to feel secure.
Beyond Blocks continues until July 19th in Seoul. Bitsonline is at the event to watch for new trends and any potential pattern-breakers.
Can Korea maintain its crypto hype, or will the world move to the next destination? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
Images via Jon Southurst, Bitsonline