As part of our Who’s Who series, we talked to Bill Barhydt, the CEO of the Abra digital wallet app in an exclusive interview.
Users are able to buy, sell, and hold as many as 20 different cryptocurrencies on the Abra app. There are also 50 fiat currencies listed. The Abra digital wallet allows users to add currency from their bank accounts or American Express credit card (Americans only), or via Bitcoin purchased outside of the Abra app.
You can learn more about the Abra digital wallet here.
What was the inspiration for Abra? How did it all begin?
I started the company on the idea that cryptocurrency technology would lead to a revolution in global financial inclusion. Ultimately this would enable consumers both inside and outside of the traditional financial system to participate in a level playing field of access to; investing, payments and credit services with no traditional banks required. The current Abra app represents the first step in realizing this vision.
What do you like most about crypto?
Cryptocurrencies enable global financial services with no centralized trust authorities required in their creation, distribution, enforcement or usage. At their core, cryptocurrencies are programmable money. That makes them perfect for creating new types of software services such as those offered by Abra. You could not build Abra before the existence of cryptocurrencies.
How do you choose the cryptocurrencies you decide to list on the app? Will more be coming?
The cryptocurrencies that are available on the app were chosen based on several factors tracked in real-time by Abra, and we plan to include other cryptocurrencies in the future as they meet our requirements. In particular, we look for: market liquidity, trading spreads, trading volume, market capitalization and a few other factors in our decision.
What’s the benefit of using Abra over any other crypto exchange, like Coinbase?
Abra is not meant to be a trading platform like Binance or GDAX. Abra is meant to be a simple app for retail investors to get exposure to assets that are difficult to access. We enable this investment exposure using a synthetic CFD-like model based on P2SH multi-sig scripts on the litecoin and bitcoin blockchains. In addition to the 20 cryptocurrencies and the 50 fiat currencies we currently offer, our goal is to open this up to different asset classes over time including stocks, commodities, etc. An example of this vision that we hope to bring to market in the future is for someone in Ghana to buy exposure to Apple or someone in Indonesia to buy exposure to Alibaba and simply collect their winnings (or give up their losses) in litecoin all in one app.
What’s the fee structure of Abra? Do you charge fees?
Abra doesn’t charge transaction fees although we may pass on third-party fees where we have them, such as with credit card based wallet funding. We generate our revenue on any exchange of currencies within the Abra network.
Can you explain the concept of the stablecoin and what that means for Abra?
Abra built a first-of-its-kind platform using price-stabilized crypto tokens, called stablecoins, that facilitates holding both fiat coins as well as cryptocurrencies through a combination of litecoin- and bitcoin-based smart contracts. This unique multi-sig smart contract based investment platform uses P2SH scripts on the litecoin and bitcoin blockchains that simulate investment contracts the way a gold ETF is a contract based on USD. Abra acts as the counter-party (i.e. the other signatory) to the P2SH scripts, and the company runs a market making operation that hedges away its counterparty risk on these contracts.
Through the use of our stablecoin platform, Abra can quickly add additional cryptocurrencies to the app once they pass the platform’s rigid analysis around liquidity, contract market making and other factors. Additionally, consumers in any country will eventually be able to invest in other asset classes regardless of where the asset originated. This model can be extended to stocks, bonds, commodities and more with minimal to no changes to the existing Abra app. Finally, Abra can be used today to send money to any other Abra user or to any bitcoin wallet in addition to investing, allowing Abra to become a crypto bank.
What’s your opinion about the recent SEC crackdowns on crypto? Do you agree? Are you SEC-compliant?
This crackdown is not on crypto but rather on certain types of ICO’s. The SEC is of the opinion that some ICO’s are marketing themselves as utility tokens when in fact they are securities. Some ICO’s have also been found to be fraudulently misleading investors. This is no different than other companies fraudulently doing the same. The SEC is clearly cracking down on both issues.
How do you think your app will shape the world of crypto?
Abra is bringing cryptocurrencies and programmable money to the average consumer of the planet for the first time. Long term, most of our users will be using cryptocurrencies within the Abra network and won’t even know it. This is akin to consumers using TCP/IP for accessing the Internet via their web browser without even knowing it.
What does your ideal crypto future look like? Any predictions?
We believe cryptocurrencies will begin to gain mainstream adoption in the next few years. In many cases, consumers will use cryptocurrencies but won’t even know they’re using them. By 2020, we expect to see many large financial institutions, hedge funds and other sovereign wealth funds to have significant positions in cryptocurrencies and for Internet applications to be built on top of bitcoin and ether smart contract platforms similar to Abra. The on and off ramps for these applications are being built now and the interest is there.
Regarding the technology, cryptocurrencies will continue to scale and become more viable as development platforms for programmable money. There are a lot of exciting implementations right now, and we think they will be widely used in the next several years. Developments like the Lightning Network on Bitcoin and Litecoin, as well as Casper for Ethereum will allow for greater adoption and solidify cryptocurrencies’ emerging importance in the global economy.
The applications for programmable money via cryptocurrencies to affect financial inclusion at a global scale are hardly understood and certainly not yet realized. This is a very exciting time to be a believer in global capitalism leading to financial freedom.
Where do you plan on taking Abra in the future?
Our vision is to build a non-custodial crypto bank that democratizes access to financial services for every consumer on the planet: 1. investment access (starting with crypto/fiat contracts but eventually including other asset classes like stocks, bonds, commodities); 2. payments and money transfer (you can do some of this with Abra today) 3. credit services where my favorite example is hardware as a service using Abra’s smart contracts to facilitate payments.
You can learn more about Abra here