To Russia With Love… Viber Plans New Cryptocurrency
Cross-platform messaging app Viber is studying Russian cryptocurrency laws in preparation for releasing its own digital coin within the nation sometime next year. To be known as Rakuten Coin, it is the currency of Viber’s parent company Rakuten, a multinational electronic commerce and internet firm based in Japan.
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A Long Time Coming for Viber
Rakuten is the fourth-largest e-commerce platform in the world, behind only Alibaba, eBay, and Amazon. The venture first announced plans to develop its new currency back in February. Per CEO Djamel Agaoua:
“Our mother company is creating Rakuten Coin: cryptocurrency, which is supported by the entire Rakuten ecosystem.”
The company already boasts a large streaming network in Russia for video, e-commerce, and communication. The new cryptocurrency will allow users to pay for these services using the Viber messaging platform. Agaoua explained:
“This Rakuten Coin will be tradeable in Viber. Very soon, you’ll be able to send some Rakuten Coins and to trade Rakuten Coins against rubles, dollars and euros. The cryptocurrency exchange for rubles and transfers to bank accounts will depend on Russian laws.”
800-pound Gorillas and an Elephant in the Room
Viber has over one billion registered users, of which 45 million are in Russia. The Viber messenger app was acquired by Rakuten approximately four years ago for about $900 million USD, making it one of the most expensive acquisitions in e-commerce history.
Viber is also one of the world’s most popular chat platforms, ranking sixth after well-known apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, WeChat, and QQ Mobile. The marketplace is crowded with powerful companies and Rakuten remains at the mercy of the Russian government. It appears to be a risk the Japanese corporation is prepared to take.
We’ve Seen This Before
Viber’s moves appear to mirror those of domestic rival, Line Corp., Japan’s largest messaging service. The latter company recently announced plans to launch a new cryptocurrency exchange in Singapore called Bitbox, as well as its own unique token and a standalone app for the exchange.
Line CEO Takeshi Idezawa commented that Singapore was the perfect place to launch an exchange given its relatively loose regulations surrounding digital money. The new currency and app combo is designed to attract customers in countries not dominated by Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. Per Idezawa:
“Line strives to create and provide innovative financial services unique to Line to close the distance between people and money.”
What’s Russia Saying?
Russia has not always been clear about its cryptocurrency laws. Newly drafted proposed crypto regulations were submitted in May, labeling cryptocurrencies as property instead of money. Viber has been careful to stress that there are no guarantees its digital asset can be transferred into domestic ruble-based bank accounts.
Russia’s potentially hostile — and certainly awkward — stance toward cryptocurrencies hasn’t stopped new crypto businesses from entering the country’s financial forum, the latest being Russia-based payment services provider Qiwi. The company recently announced the launch of a cryptocurrency investment bank.
Have your say. Does Viber’s cryptocurrency sound like a solid plan? Post your comments below.
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