Bitget, cryptocurrency exchange and Web3 company, has announced that it has recorded an all-time high in trading volumes in the MENA region while witnessing a growth of 500% in trading volumes since it started serving the MENA region in November 2023.

Bitget now boasts of 2.5 million users from the MENA region, making up 10% of its total global user base which is 25 million.

Last year, Bitget announced its expansion into the Middle East region with plans to establish its regional hub in the UAE and hire 60 employees as part of its global scaling strategy. The growth in MENA users and trading volumes is a reflection of Bitget’s aim to bring in more localized solutions to its users.

Sam A Spiers, Regional Director for Bitget MENA, states: “Bitget will strengthen its operations in the MENA region, leveraging the region’s high adoption rates and crypto-friendly landscape. We are exploring blockchain and crypto projects to support home-ground projects for listing and provide more exposure to middle-eastern founders and products.”

As part of its focus on the MENA region, Bitget has Arabic lingual support for its website and mobile application. Bitget users in the Middle East also benefit from zero fees for buying and selling cryptocurrencies through Bitget P2P, ensuring a seamless and user-friendly experience for traders.

Bitget has also partnered up with OnRamp, the leading crypto payment solution provider allowing its users to buy and sell crypto using various local currencies, including AED and other fiat currencies.

Gracy Chen, Managing Director of Bitget added, “With the MENA region representing a significant share of the global crypto transaction volume in 2023, it is poised to grow exponentially in the years to come. Bitget has already begun exploring license applications to operate in target Middle East markets. It’s our priority to obtain operating licenses and support our users with a secure WEB3 platform.”

Bitget has been expanding its operational reach globally in recent months, including registering as a VASP (Virtual Asset Service Provider) in Poland and obtaining similar crypto registration in Lithuania. The new expansion plan in the Middle East complements its launch in Turkey, which now features full localization, including its Turkish website Bitgettr.com featuring tailored services for users in Turkey.

Bitget’s growth plans go hand-in-hand with creating a seamless ecosystem of crypto products for users locally. By personalizing the platform offerings, Bitget recently launched a Ramadan campaign to celebrate the holy month with its users.

Earlier this month Bitget announced its partnership with Onramp, allowing users to buy crypto using AED, UAE’s national currency.

Phoenix Group UAE a multi-billion-dollar tech powerhouse headquartered in the UAE focusing on blockchain, crypto, and tech revolution and boasting a 725MW mining operation, announced exceptional financial performance for 2023. Fueled by a robust vision for the future, the Group saw remarkable achievements across core business verticals, making significant strides in 2023 capped off with a landmark IPO on the Abu Dhabi Stock Exchange.

As per a press release, the company’s core hosting and crypto self-mining businesses witnessed substantial growth year on year growth of 119% and 480%, respectively. This success stemmed from strategic partnerships with high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs), power supply companies, and mining equipment manufacturers, solidifying a foundation for continued growth in the coming years.

In addtion the company witnessed 50% growth in net income year on year reflecting the overall financial strength of Phoenix. Impressive revenue growth in hosting and crypto self-mining, coupled with strong performance from digital asset investments and associate investee companies, fueled this remarkable result.

“Our success has been impressive, but 2024 promises to be truly transformative. With ambitious plans and an unwavering commitment to excellence, the group is poised to redefine success, not just in the UAE, but on a global scale”, said Seyed Mohammad Alizadehfard (Bijan), Co Founder and Group CEO.

Phoenix recently announced the acquisition valued at more than half a million dollars ($577,074) in one of its related parties, Phoenix Technology Solutions B.V. based out of the Netherlands.

Despite the uphill battle that has faced Binance in 2023, in their recent 2023 yearend report, the company stated that they had increased their customer base by 30 percent, with 40 million new users. Binance now has a total of 170 million users.

As per the report, the company is focused on its user base and on strengthening their compliance program. The report states, “We are making important steps toward becoming a truly compliance-led organization. Above all else, we were able to maintain the trust of our growing community, which is fundamental to our mission of advancing the freedom of money globally.”

Binance added, “In 2023, we invested some $213M in our compliance program, up 35% from last year’s $158M\ But money alone does not capture the entirety of our commitment. Binance dedicates significant product and engineering resources to compliance. For example, we have built our own case management system in a matter of months, as well as an internal transaction monitoring engine and built in-house tools to help semi-automate the investigations process.  We have applied improved market surveillance controls, especially around wash or circular trading, to our trading platforms, including NFT marketplace, to ensure that the markets that we offer are fair and equitable for all participants.”

In the USA as per the terms of their settlement, Binance will hire an independent anti money-laundering consultant and will be subject to a multi-year financial monitorship, ensuring we receive strong compliance guidance. Binance’s corporate governance structure will evolve as well. A board of at least three independent directors, accountable to all stakeholders, will be the steward and governing body of the organization.

Binance hold licenses, registrations, and authorizations in 18 jurisdictions around the world.

But the crux of their efforts has been once again towards compliance. It invested in localized KYC vendor and product solutions to enhance the user experience and make the onboarding process seamless. They also embedded 10+ electronic ID (eID) solutions globally. Striving to deliver the best user experience, they added  support for 298 new ID and proof-of-address documents across 64 countries this year.  

The crypto exchange also processed over 58,000 law enforcement requests, serving some 13,000 registered officials worldwide through their Government Law Enforcement Request System. This is an improvement over 50,000+ requests that Binance handled in 2022.

Binance still awaits to receive a license in the UAE, and formally make the UAE one of its regional headquarters as a licensed entity.

Recently HSBC announced that it would be tokenizing physical gold using Blockchain technology. The tokenized gold stored in HSBC London Bank vaults, will offer tokens that represent 0.001 troy ounce traded on HSBC Evolve platform to institutional investors, with UAE Gold tokenization pioneers applauding this effort and believe this will grow the precious metal tokenization sector further.

Mark Williamson, global head of FX and commodities partnerships and propositions, confirmed the launch of the platform in a Bloomberg interview.

Gold has become a safe haven for many investors and this has also been pushed by the demand for real world tokenization solutions.

The advanced platform creates a ‘digital twin’ representing loco London gold, which facilitates trade through the HSBC Evolve platform or an API. This innovation generates a permissioned digital representation of clients’ physical gold holdings, which is integrated into HSBC’s operational infrastructure. The system enables efficient tracking of allocated and unallocated gold positions corresponding with physical holdings.

Richard Bibbey, HSBC’s Global Head of FX, EM rates and Commodities, said: “As one of the earliest adopters of DLT, we are pleased to reinforce our leadership position in the gold market by tokenizing physical gold. We continue to pave the way for improving the post-trade market infrastructure of capital markets.”

Apart from facilitating potential fractionalization of loco London gold bars and direct retail investor participation, the platform also allows clients to view their tokenized gold trades.

John O’Neill, Global Head of Digital Assets Strategy, Markets and Securities Services, HSBC, said: “Tokenising physical gold represents a further advance in HSBC’s overall digital assets strategy. In addition to demand for native digital assets, we are seeing appetite for tokenisation solutions that can maintain a link to specific real-world use cases, such as gold. Our approach to gold tokenisation complements HSBC Orion, and is part of our commitment to creating a world-leading set of digital asset capabilities to best serve the needs of our clients.”

While the tokenized gold market is primarily dominated by Tether Gold (AUT) and PAX Gold (PAXG), both having market capitalizations around $490 million and $480 million, respectively, there are several companies based out of UAE who are also offering gold tokenization solutions.

LaraontheBlock spoke with tokenized gold experts in UAE to view how this will help tokenization of precious metals and their thoughts on this.

Navin Dsouza Co-Founder & CEO at UAE based Comtech Gold told LaraontheBlock, “This is really good news for the Gold Tokenization industry. With Global Banks like HSBC offering Tokenized Gold it reemphasizes the importance of blockchain and digitalization in Gold along with the need for De-Dollarization in the current era of high inflation.”

He adds,” Comtech has the complete infrastructure along with the Governance framework with DMCC (Dubai Multi Commodities Center) to offer Gold Tokenization product to any financial institutions who want to offer Tokenized Gold to its customers in a form of Comtech white labeled solution. We will see many players and banks joining the Tokenization race because of the strong use case benefit to the Industry.”

Ahmed Bin Sulayem Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of DMCC explained, “As a long-standing advocate for gold tokenization, HSBC’s entry to blockchain will not only support much-needed transparency, but provide greater accessibility and security for investors. Having launched our own tokenization mechanism in November 2022 in partnership with Comtech Gold Bullion, backed by our internal DMCC Tradeflow platform, we’ve already tokenized 144kgs of gold for investors, while providing a value-added service that has the capacity to expand into other precious metals in the near term.”

Mark Gesterkamp, Business Development Director at Aurus Gold headquartered in UAE commented, “We applaud the step HSBC is taking by joining gold tokenization as gold has an important role in the transition to on-chain finance. It is no surprise they have done so, as it will surely open up the market through smaller traded denominations and improve liquidity and tradability.

He explained how already Aurus’ Tokenization-as-a-Service allows for any financial institution to use its technology by minting a digital representation of its bullion from gold, silver to platinum. This entails banks and family offices looking to join the digital space and finding new distribution channels.  He adds, “The decentralized nature of gold tokenization is key here, whilst being a supplying partner of the Aurus ecosystem it allows clients to benefit from trading transactions.”

UAE was one of the first countries globally to begin tokenization of gold and other precious metals. Startups from the region and globally are setting up in the country as gold-backed tokens witness a growth surpassing that of cryptocurrencies. The market cap of gold-backed tokens has exceeded $1 billion — a far cry from $100 million in 2020.

Most of the entities developing gold tokens have chosen the UAE because of its positive crypto stance, its regulations, its gold hub, and the region’s affinity to Shariah compliant commodities. With this new announcement by HSBC, the UAE is poised to become a more formidable hub for tokenization of precious metals.

UAE licensed and regulated Venom Foundation has announced that it has registered one million Venom Wallets as of July 25th 2023.

Since April 2023, Venom was able to onboard 1 million registered wallets, reflecting the popularity of its blockchain network. Venome had launched its testnet in April 2023. 

According to the annouceent, “Venom’s success is driven by its groundbreaking technology, strict regulatory compliance, and secure, user-friendly platform that serves a wide range of users. Smooth operations and frequent updates on the Venom testnet also enhance its attractiveness, helping to draw and keep users.”

In June 2023  Venom processed a staggering 277 million transactions, a significant rise of 46% from the previous month.  The platform also witnessed a 65% increase in the number of accounts with smart contracts, which now amount to 28 million, and finally the platform also encompasses a remarkable 93% jump in minted NFTs as part of on-chain/social tasks, reaching 5.8 million.

Venom’s vision to bring blockchain technology to the masses while following regulatory compliance remains the driving force behind its exponential growth. The organization’s steadfast commitment to research and development, transparency, and strategic partnerships has placed it at the leading edge of the industry.

Venom Foundation was the first to receive a license to operate a blockchain, licensed by the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), demonstrating its compliance with international laws and rigorous governance standards.

Christopher Louis Tsu, acting CTO and CEO Venom Foundation commented, “Frankly speaking, it took me completely by surprise. We had 250,000 users in the first six days. Can you imagine opening a new shop in town, drawing the curtains back and seeing quarter of a million people lined up outside your door.”

UAE’s RAK Digital Assets Oasis (Ras Al Khaimah DAO), the world’s first and only free zone dedicated to global digital and virtual assets companies, and The HBAR Foundation have signed of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The HBAR Foundation will support RAK DAO ecosystem members to leverage the power of blockchain and build economies and applications on Hedera, the most used enterprise-grade public network.

This marks RAK DAO’s first operational relationship, bringing together the expertise and resources of both companies to provide direct and streamlined access to benefits within the Hedera ecosystem. These include a comprehensive grant program, financial backing processes, specialized expert support across technology, marketing and business development, and support to scale adoption and innovation of new ideas in the Web3 space.

“By creating and enabling the world’s first licensed Web3 ecosystem, we are facilitating the seamless exchange of information, connecting businesses across sectors, and paving the way for synergistic relationships to flourish. Together, we are unlocking a world of new possibilities, empowering entrepreneurs, and propelling innovation forward,” says His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Humaid bin Abdullah Al Qasimi, Chairman of RAK DAO. “This collaboration is a testament to our shared commitment to driving sustainable growth and shaping a future where Ras Al Khaimah emerges as a global leader in the digital economy.”

Together, RAK DAO and The HBAR Foundation will spearhead various initiatives in the Digital Assets Oasis ecosystem, including regular startup and scale-up pitching sessions, opportunities to connect with partners and investors, and explore avenues to launch joint projects such as venture studios or accelerators.

The HBAR Foundation grantees will also benefit from discounted set-up and licensing packages to establish themselves in RAK DAO, as well as access to effective banking solutions available to all members of the ecosystem. Both companies will work together dynamically to foster collaboration, fuel innovation, overcome barriers, and empower entrepreneurs in their journey to build the future of Web3 and blockchain technology.

“The United Arab Emirates has established itself as a dynamic hub for Web3 innovation, magnetizing global enterprises and top-tier talent. We eagerly anticipate joining forces to pioneer the future of the emerging technologies landscape,” says Shayne Higdon, CEO of the HBAR Foundation. “Through this exclusive relationship between The HBAR Foundation grantees and RAK DAO, we’re honored to provide grantees with greater access to the UAE whilst working together to establish RAK DAO as a major hub for the Web3 and digital assets sector.”

As per Bloomberg Kraken, crypto exchange based out of Abu Dhabi UAE has closed its office  while Chainalysis lays off 4.8 percent of its global workforce, but continues to hire in the MENA region.

Kraken has closed its  third office in less than a year. The first one was its headquarters in San Francisco, then Japan and now UAE.

Kraken had received a full license to operate in the UAE in April 2022.  With these closures have come layoffs. Kraken announced back in November 2022 that it would be laying off 30 percent of its workforce, equivalent to 1,100 employees.

As per Bloomberg, Kraken laid off the majority of its team in the MENA region, a total of 8 people. Benjamin Ampen, managing director for the region, will stay with the firm. On the Abu Dhabi market registry, Kraken is no longer listed as an active exchange.

In addition the exchange has suspended support for transactions in the AED, but clients in the region will still be able to use other products and services. That doesn’t require a local license, the spokesperson said.

In parallel, Chainalysis which last year had hinted to opening an office in the UAE hiring many employees as a prelude, also lays off part of its workforce globally but not in the UAE nor in the MENA region.  Actually while Chainalysis is laying off about 44 of its 900 employees, 4.8% of its workforce, it is continuing to hire for its operational expansion in the MENA region.

Sources close to Chainalysis within the UAE told LaraontheBlock that Chainalysis are actually hiring in the MENA region given the growth of crypto in countries such as Morocco with the potential to see KSA and Qatar on boarded into the crypto ecosystem in the future.

In an official statement, Chainalysis confirmed that it did not open its office in the UAE yet. It also stated with regards to the layoffs, “Chainalysis announced reorganization primarily impacting our go-to-market team – in order to meet new challenges and opportunities in the market. As a part of this reorg, some folks will have new roles, responsibilities, and reporting lines. Unfortunately we will also part ways with some incredibly talented people within our team. Chainalysis is well capitalized and will continue to hire and build out teams aligned with our refocused strategy in 2023.”

In July 2022, The UAE’s Ministry of Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications signed a preliminary agreement with blockchain data platform Chainalysis to provide virtual training programs for the country’s government entities.

So while some crypto entities close their offices and lay off employees in the MENA region, others continue to hire because the MENA region is a crypto growth market! So is it really the fault of the crypto winter or is it the fault of internal organizational issues and maybe even slow crypto regulation? 

Whatever the case while we say goodbye to Kraken, we welcome Chainalysis and many others to come!

UAE startup Educatly, a platform connecting students to global higher education opportunities based out of in5 Tech, a business incubator by TECOM Group PJSC, is implementing a blockchain solution for student data verification, which is essential for them to provide legitimate students records to relevant universities.

As per the announcement, the Blockchain data verification solution is also crucial for foreign students who want to further their education overseas because it might be challenging to obtain original copies of their degrees elsewhere.

In the third quarter of 2022 Educatly’s community of students increased by five times, from 100,000 to 500,000 in the past nine months and represents more than 150 countries and territories.

2022 has been marked by several milestones for the tech start-up, which was founded by former LinkedIn employees in 2020. Educatly has cast a wider net across the higher education industry to feature more than 3,000 universities on its platform and secured active recruitment agreements with 500. It also welcomed Head of LinkedIn’s MENA and EMEA growth markets, Ali Matar, to its Board of Advisors just last month.

Educatly Founder & CEO Mohmmed El Sonbaty stated,  “We are thrilled that the global appetite for transnational student education has bounced back since the pandemic. Our unique platform is providing students with the opportunities to study abroad and enroll at leading international universities around the world. We have seen a spike in interest in students joining our platform from the UAE and we are witnessing further growth in Dubai emerging as the next international higher education destination.”

On behalf of in5, Majed Al Suwaidi, Senior Vice President of Dubai Media City, added: “At in5, we seek to foster a thriving community for smart individuals; a space where they can obtain valuable advice from mentors and advisors and transform their aspirations into businesses with sustainable growth. Expanding the reach and influence of start-ups is a top priority – that’s why one of our key goals is to facilitate access to potential investment. We are proud to have Educatly as one of in5 tech’s start-ups as they have demonstrated impressive growth despite launching their business amid a global pandemic. Educatly’s new software-as-a-service (SaaS) demonstrates their strategic alignment with UAE’s Digital Transformation, Sustainability, and other initiatives. Their presence at in5 gives us the opportunity to showcase the diversity of promising start-ups in our city and region, while providing the most extraordinary with a global platform for their unique ideas.”

Educatly’s new software-as-a-service (SAAS) had a helping hand in its growth by increasing the monthly recurring revenue for more than 28% month over month. Its built-in coding and design implements a smart recommendation feature using a special matchmaking algorithm that links students to relevant degrees, universities, and countries according to their requirements.

The system automatically informs the university partners of new leads and profiles to facilitate student recruitment. This unique feature is vital to the networking effect of building Educatly’s social media platform.

Binance crypto exchange saw a 49 percent growth in the number of users from MENA region in 2022. As per the news this reflects the growing appetite for virtual assets.

In addition Binance has grown its employee base in Dubai alone to over 400 employees.  This comes as Binance recently obtained its Minimal Viable Product (MVP) license from Dubai’s Virtual Asset Regulatory Authority (VARA) which allows the company to offer a range of approved virtual asset related services to suitably qualified retail and institutional investors in Dubai.

Richard Teng, Regional Head of MENA at Binance, comments, “It is extremely encouraging to see this level of growth in the MENA region, not just in terms of user adoption but also in terms of headcount and new employees in our own teams, particularly in the UAE. We are witnessing rapid adoption of blockchain technology in the region and we believe there is huge potential for the UAE to soon become a leading virtual asset hub.”

He adds, “We’ve got exciting plans for Binance in the MENA region and are putting together a highly skilled team to lead our expansion, setting a firm foundation for our future growth. Aligned with our growth objectives, we remain committed to working closely with local regulators to establish a safe and secure ecosystem, and we will continue our cooperation in Dubai and the wider UAE to develop a robust virtual asset infrastructure that protects the market and the investors.”

Since June 2021, exactly one year ago, the UAE DMCC (Dubai Multi Commodities Center) has been able to attract 373 crypto and blockchain companies into its ecosystem of 21,000 companies. Looking deeper this means the crypto and Blockchain companies already make up 1.6 percent of the total number of registered companies at DMCC. These crypto entities reside in DMCC’s crypto center. (figures provided to laraonetheblock by DMCC)

This information came to light when DMCC recently announced its half year 2022 results, which witnessed 1,469 new companies registering at DMCC of which 205 were in the crypto and Blockchain space. As such 14 percent of new companies registering at DMCC in 2022 so far have been from the crypto ecosystem.

While the total percentage of Blockchain and crypto companies registered in DMCC might look insignificant, it is a powerful testament to DMCC and the UAE. The UAE has become a home to major global crypto and Blockchain players especially after the activation of the Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority in Dubai as well as the work being done by ADGM (Abu Dhabi Global Markets) in Abu Dhabi.

Notably UAE now is home to 1000 blockchain and crypto entities as per the stats provided by Crypto Oasis ecosystem. In response, UAE based Crypto Oasis recently updated its target for 2022 to 1500 crypto and Blockchain companies from its previous target of 1000. Given that UAE is home to 1000 blockchain and crypto companies, and DMCC houses a total of 373, this means DMCC is currently home to 37 percent of all the blockchain and crypto entities present in the UAE.

In DMCC press release they noted that part of the growth in the number of companies was due to the continued interest in the DMCC Crypto CENTER. The Crypto Centre offers a home to all types and sizes of crypto businesses, from companies developing blockchain-enabled platforms, NFTs and Metaverse environments, through to firms trading crypto assets.

In addition the UAE has attracted top crypto and blockchain companies, such as Binance, Crypto.com, FTX and others. For example Forbes recently published its top 50 Blockchain companies for 2022, noticeably companies such as FTX crypto exchange on this year’s list now has a presence in the UAE as a regulated entity.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see a larger number of crypto and Blockchain entities enter the UAE by the end of 2022.