BitFlyer Inc., a Japanese bitcoin exchange, raised 25 million yen ($236,000) from New York-based Bitcoin Opportunity Corp. to fund its overseas expansion.
The Tokyo-based exchange, which opened in April, plans to begin offerings abroad by the end of the year, according to its founder and chief executive officer Yuzo Kano. BitFlyer allows anyone with a Japanese bank account to buy and sell the coins, Japan’s first such service since Mt. Gox collapsed in February.
“Singapore is a likely target, although nothing has been decided yet,” Kano, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. trader, said in Oct. 9 telephone interview from Tokyo. “It will have to be somewhere favorable to bitcoin, so probably not the U.S.”
Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party has taken a hands-off approach to the virtual currency which it sees aiding Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to spur venture funding for innovation, a June report by the LDP’s special committee on IT strategy shows. That contrasts with restrictions in China, Thailand and Iceland, while U.S. Department of the Treasury guidance makes it difficult for exchanges to get custodial bank accounts to hold customer funds.
Kano, who heads the Japan Authority of Digital Asset industry group, last month accompanied the head of the LDP committee charged with regulation of the currency on a trip to San Francisco and Washington, D.C., where they met with legislators and bitcoin entrepreneurs. JADA is seeking to set security standards and personal identification guidelines for bitcoin trading in the Asian nation.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore said in March it plans to issue regulations requiring facilitators of virtual currency exchanges to verify the identities of customers and report suspicious transactions to the police. The rules won’t cover the “safety and soundness” of the intermediaries or the transactions, it said.
Mt. Gox, once the world’s largest exchange for digital-currency transactions, went offline in Tokyo on Feb. 25 after losing 850,000 bitcoins, then valued at about $473 million. The company later found 200,000 in an old-format digital wallet.
Bitcoin traded at $398.00 as of 10:21 a.m. in Tokyo today, according to Bitstamp data compiled by Bloomberg. While that’s up 43 percent from this year’s low of $278 on Oct. 5, it traded as high as $1,132 in December.
“Japan is way ahead of other countries when it comes to cooperation between bitcoin operators and regulators, which you don’t see in the U.S., Europe or Singapore,” Kano said.
Bitcoin Opportunity is a personal investment vehicle of Barry Silbert, who also heads New York-based brokerage SecondMarket Inc. The investments span more than 40 bitcoin companies including Coinbase, BitPay, Circle and Ripple Labs, Silbert said in an e-mailed answer to questions.
“While bitcoin awareness and adoption is probably a couple years behind the United States, I’m highly confident that Japan will be a large market for bitcoin given the tech savvy, financially sophisticated population,” Silbert said. “We are in the early days of bitcoin and it will likely take at least five years for mass global consumer adoption.”