We spoke with Marco Lavanna who will be attending and sponsoring the cocktail event at the  Monaco Blockchain Conference, May 31st. Book tickets here  and see more about the event here.

1 min pitch for what you are doing now?

We have two companies in Malta which are providing payments processing to under-served businesses. Paytah.com is a EU licensed Payments Institution which offers peer to peer payments; and Monetum.io is a fiat-to-crypto exchange operating under a provisional Class IV license under Malta’s “Virtual Financial Asset Act”.

Paytah is able to offer IBAN bank accounts to companies and individuals in high risk sectors such as remittances, gaming, and cryptocurrency. These types of businesses have difficulty getting bank accounts due to “derisking”. By specializing in managing the risks, and charging appropriate fees, we have been able to serve these companies and cover our operation costs in our first six months of operation.

Monetum will serve the demand for a fully-regulated fiat-to-crypto exchange in Europe. Presently, there are only nine regulated crypto-exchanges in the world, and the European exchanges are concentrated in London and Estonia. If Brexit happens, EU residents may find their choice of exchanges to be very limited. Monetum will serve that need.

How was the last year, what worked well, what didn’t move as quickly as you would have liked?

Paytah began the process of applying for a PSP license four years ago. It was finally granted, and we opened for business in November of 2018. It caught us a little by surprise how simple banking services are keenly sought after by companies that are presently locked out of the banking system by derisking. These are legitimate businesses, but their risk profile is not attractive to banks, because they do not typically need to borrow. This problem is keenly felt in Malta, which has over 500 licensed gaming companies, and is now promoting the island as a hub for crypto. But Maltese banks will not give accounts to companies or individuals with any connection to the crypto sector. The demand for this service is so high that we have been able to cover our operating expenses from fees, which is unusual for startups in their first year.

We had hoped to launch Monetum as a fully regulated market-traded crypto exchange around the same time as Paytah. However, crypto exchanges are an order of magnitude more complex than payments services. The majority of the value stolen in the cryptocurrency sector over the past decade has been from exchanges. We are taking the cautious approach and making sure that when we open we will offer a well-designed, thoroughly tested platform whose security and governance are appropriate for the assets that clients will be placing in our trust.

What are your plans for the future?

Paytah intends to continue developing connections, clients and services for under-served groups and businesses. We have identified the unbanked in Europe as a large under-served population that needs mobile payment services. To put some perspective on this, the volume of mobile payments in Kenya alone, which is one of the poorest countries, is about half the entire transaction volume of BTC. The total immigrant population of Europe is about 80 million, which is double the population of Kenya, and with much higher per capita income. This is a major underserved market right under our noses.

In order to reach this market we are developing mobile versions of our wallet. Later this year we intend to contract with one or more agent networks in order to provide local cash top-up and withdrawals all over Europe.

Starting in the third quarter, Monetum will provide OTC trading between Euros and the three primary Bitcoin variants, BTC, BCH, BSV, as well as Ethereum (ETH). We get several phone calls a day from clients asking for this service. We will be able to provide this service reliably by using Paytah as the escrow for the Euro transactions. This ensures both parties have been fully identified with KYC and AML screening, and that the fiat has cleared and aged in the account and cannot be reversed.

Monetum intends to open our market-exchange to trading in the fourth quarter. Our primary focus is on serving our existing clients. Rather than an exchange that lists hundreds of tokens, we will limit the selection to the few that are used for token auctions such as ICO and ITOs, and therefore require high liquidity. If EOS or another blockchain becomes a currency required for ICOs, we may add that as well. However, we expect that the industry will eventually move away from ICOs. As a regulated exchange we will simply move with industry and provide liquidity where it is needed.

We are not interested in Bitcoin politics, and don’t care who Satoshi is or isn’t, or which Bitcoin is the “real” one. Our primary concern is meeting the needs of our customers reliably. If a payment rail works and has market traction, we will list it and integrate with it. We will not arbitrarily de-list tokens because of personalities or politics. That’s bad for business.

What will you be doing about at this event? 

We are one of the twelve projects that was selected by Allastair Lidel to present at Black Phoenix Capital’s Monaco blockchain event. Ken Griffith will give our presentation, I (Marco Lavanna), will be available to answer questions individually at dinner and at the cocktail party, which we are sponsoring.

What inspired you to attend it?

Alastair reached out to us. Our team has participated in several other blockchain conferences in the past. Most of them have had startups pitching to a room full of other startups, but few investors.

This event is different because it was organized by Black Phoenix Capital as a way to present their favorite projects to their larger network of investors. By curating the startups that will be presenting, they have created an event that does not waste the time of the investors or the startups. It looks to be a good mix of quality projects and real investors in a great location!

Which influencers and websites do you follow to keep up to date with the latest developments?

My favorite book is The Power of Gold by Peter Bernstein. https://www.amazon.com/Power-Gold-History-Obsession/dp/0470091002

Nassim Taleb – https://twitter.com/nntaleb – Taleb’s perspective on “skin in the game” for managing risk and avoiding black swans events is critically important for understanding the risks in the payments and banking sector.

Ian Grigg: http://financialcryptography.com – Ian has long been an authority in the field of financial cryptography whose ideas have influenced our technical choices.

Bruce Schneier: https://www.schneier.com/ – Bruce has a practical grounded perspective on the issues of cybersecurity and cryptography.

Tim Swanson: https://www.ofnumbers.com/ – offers a practical contrarian perspective on payments and blockchain.

Zero Hedge: https://zerohedge.com – Their perspective is useful because they do not drink the koolade of blockchain hype, but they do see the practical implications.

Graham Wright: https://www.linkedin.com/in/grahamanwright/ Wright works in the MFI sector in the developing world and offers a practical contrarian perspective, compared to a lot of the nonsense that goes on in that industry.

How can people find out more about what you are working on?

Our websites: paytah.com and monetum.io

What is your personal background, and how does that affect your current projects?

I am originally from northern Italy. I was the first person from my family to attend university, where I majored in history. However, I had the entrepreneurial gene, and decided to do business instead of becoming an academic. After I graduated in the 1980s, when phones were landlines, I started a business that had kiosks in Italy that allowed immigrants to make calls. I sold it after a few years.

In the 1990’s I was an early user of e-gold, which was the first Internet money; and I started a very successful e-gold exchange, which was quite profitable. When e-gold was shut down by the US government in 2008, I was one of the few exchangers who was able to get all of their money back from the US government (which had seized all of e-gold’s asset reserves), because we kept good records and could provide a full audit trail for every cent that was processed through the system.

I have run a successful exchange business before, and I have a good understanding of the risks, as well as what the customers want, and that is why I have been able to start on the right foot with this project.

What is your philosophy about blockchain and what it can do for the world?

While most companies in the blockchain space seem to be a solution looking for a problem, we are primarily focused on serving customers who need to access to payments. We choose our technology to meet the needs of our customers, rather than inventing a fancy new technology and then trying to build a business around it. So, I think it is important to focus on the fundamentals of the payments industry and the needs and demographics of our user-base, rather than the latest craze in the world of blockchains and cryptocurrencies.

More about Marco Lavanna

Founder Chairman of the board

Marco has been active in the digital currencies universe before Bitcoin. He has operated two of the largest exchanges for E-Gold, a gold backed digital currency that was extremely popular at the end of the ‘90s, and other Digital Gold Currencies.
Then moved to work in the traditional payments solutions for a few years where he built a very successful Payment Services Provider which recently has been granted a Payment Institution License under the EU Payment Services Directive.
However never really forgetting his passion for digital currency he has been studying and participating in the Crypto phenomenon and now
ready to replicate the success of his previous ventures with the Monetum, Better Money project.

If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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