UAE RAK DAO, Ras Al Khaimah Digital Assets Oasis, has attracted Indian and Chinese Web3 Blockchain entities as it licensed 100 digital asset and Blockchain licenses. According to the press release, RAK DAO has issued the most licenses to Indian companies, 15% to be exact. Following closely is China.

These global entrepreneurs not only leverage RAK DAO’s strategic location in the UAE but also tap into its comprehensive ecosystem of services meticulously crafted to meet their evolving needs. From blockchain, digital assets, and AI services to consulting, RAK DAO equips its licensees with the essential tools and support required for success in the digital asset era. With the majority of companies registering with RAK DAO being global web3 and blockchain entities, the ecosystem fosters a thriving environment for cutting-edge innovation and technological advancement.

DAO Hive, the innovative business center unveiled by RAK DAO, is offering flexible membership packages for entrepreneurs to flourish in a collaborative environment with state-of-the-art amenities and networking opportunities.

“As we celebrate this remarkable milestone of issuing over 100 licences in well under a year, we reaffirm our commitment to driving innovation and fostering growth within the global web3 and blockchain sector,” says Dr. Sameer Al Ansari, CEO of RAK DAO.

He adds, “DAO Hive stands as a testament to our vision of creating a dynamic ecosystem where pioneering ideas converge and businesses thrive. This achievement not only underscores the success of RAK DAO but also reflects the resilience and dynamism of Ras Al Khaimah’s business landscape. We are proud to be at the forefront of shaping the future of the web3 industry, offering global entrepreneurs unparalleled opportunities to flourish within DAO Hive and beyond.”

RAK DAO has signed many partnerships with blockchain and digital asset entities since its launch, the latest being with BlockLogica.

LaraontheBlock interviewed the CEO of recently UAE licensed crypto exchange M2, Stefan Kimmel who had a lot to say on the future plans of M2, their product growth, partnerships, acquisition appetite, Bitcoin ETFs and license plans.

Why Abu Dhabi

According to Kimmel, launching a fully regulated, transparent clean startup from Abu Dhabi ADGM ( Abu Dhabi Global Market) was because the FSRA ( Financial Services and Regulatory Authority) in ADGM is one of the oldest most respected and esteemed regulatory authorities when it comes to virtual assets and crypto. FSRA as Kimmel explains has been around for five years and has a comprehensive solid framework. He stated, “ After all that has happened in crypto over the past few years, everyone is looking for a safe protected transparent exchange, and this is what we are offering from ADGM.”

M2 Strong liquidity

Another strong feature that M2 has is its strong liquidity which is essential for the success of any crypto exchange. As Kimmel explains, “ Liquidity is super important for successful crypto exchanges, and this is why we have partnered with global leading market makers, have tight spreads, and in terms of depth of key markets we are right up there with all the top players. Liquidity is key for good trading experience for investors and that is why we are connected with the largest global market makers and have deep liquidity especially on large crypto asset pairs.”

M2 investors

Speaking on M2 investors and whether the company will be seeking further investment, Kimmel replies that M2 is not seeking to raise capital any time soon. According to Kimmel, M2 is lucky to have an equity investment of $300 million which will give them a long run rate. According to Kimmel, “Our strategic key investor is Phoenix Group but we also have investment from several Abu Dhabi family offices.”

However for those who have asked or been interested in investing in M2, Kimmel states they have the option of investing in Phoenix Group which is now trading publicly on the ADX exchange in Abu Dhabi or they can buy the M2 MMX token on the M2 exchange and Uniswap.”

Noteworthy is that while Phoenix Group is a strategic investor in M2 it also partners with M2 on Bitcoin mining and Hashrate mining.

Acquisition appetite

As for M2’s acquisition appetite, Kimmel admits that if they find well regulated transparent crypto exchanges in countries of interest they would seek to acquire them. On whether M2 would be interested in Binance, he replies, “First Binance is not up for sale, and secondly we are on the lookout for fully regulated exchanges, as we want to be regulated, transparent and clean in everything we do. So we would have to choose an exchange that is in the same direction.”

The U.S. market

At the moment M2 is not interested in the U.S. market given the unclear regulatory situation. Kimmel states, “We will be staying outside of the USA unfortunately, given its current regulatory state. There are no rules we can apply or abide by currently in the USA only enforcement.”

However M2 is very keen on Europe given that Europe has come out with its MICA regulations for crypto service providers. He states, “Our next intention after receiving several regulatory licenses from ADGM and a license from the Bahamas is to acquire a license in Europe and we have filed for one in Spain.”

After Spain, M2 plans to apply for a license in the United Kingdom.

Bitcoin Earn Yield Product

The first product launched by M2 was Bitcoin Earn product. The product was launched in partnership with Phoenix crypto mining group and offers yields that reach up to 10.5%.

The pair designed a product that utilizes Bitcoin mining to offer genuine returns for investors. Most investment platforms that offer yield returns on crypto provide it through one of two routes. M2 are generating returns predominantly with Bitcoin mining, which underpins the M2 Earn product

Kimmel admits that the appetite for the M2 Bitcoin Earn product has been fantastic. He states, “This has been one of the most debated topics inside the M2 because a large share of deposits goes to the Bitcoin Earn product. 10.5% is amazing given that it is hard to earn decent returns on Bitcoin.”

According to Kimmel it is not that difficult to offer 10.5% returns because as he notes, “Given that we are partially owned by Phoenix Group, we reinvest in Bitcoin mining which offers higher returns than 10%, the other two angles is on platform lending which is over collateralized and fully on platform, and a small percentage goes into Proprietary Trading (Prop Trading) market making and basic arbitrage, but no big exposures, as we are not trying to take on risks.”

According to Kimmel even if the crypto markets are not doing well since the investment is in Bitcoin and the interest return is in Bitcoin, then there is no FX market exposure.

Future product offerings partnerships

Kimmel is excited about the future of M2 after going live and ensuring that the processes in place are scalable and robust. Next up are more product offerings, partnerships, and maybe an ETF.

Kimmel explained, “In Q1 of 2024 we will be coming out with a crypto payment card. We will also be offering fiat on and off ramp with one of the banks in the UAE. In addition we have partnerships coming up with big retail names in the country to reach a bigger customer base.”

When asked about the potential of a Bitcoin ETF product, Kimmel confesses that this is absolutely on the radar. He says, “We are already having initial exploratory discussions on it.”

Outlook on crypto exchanges and DeFi

In terms of the bigger global situation when it comes to crypto exchanges, competition and DeFi, Kimmel believes that given that today there are around 600 crypto exchanges globally, we will definitely see some closing down because of the regulatory requirements, others being bought because the market cannot accommodate so many crypto exchanges. He explains, “ We will not only see consolidations in the UAE as crypto exchanges struggle to meet tighter regulatory environment, but there will also be eliminations as market gravitate towards the stronger players.”

In terms of centralized crypto exchanges versus decentralized using DeFi, Kimmel believes that for mass adoption to take place, centralized exchanges are a must. Kimmel, “As we drive for mass adoption the vast majority will struggle with decentralized user experiences, such as managing wallets, on and off ramp, which is hard, in addition we also have governments and regulators who struggle in DeFi, where it is anonymous and users as well may not subscribe to that ethos. For institutional adoption this can only happen in centralized platforms.”

The Dubai AI and Web 3.0 Campus, situated in Dubai International Financia Centre, announced that it will be issuing artificial intelligence (AI) and Web3 licenses supporting activities ranging from Distributed Ledger Technology Services (DLT), specialised Artificial Intelligence Research & consultancies, IT infrastructure builders, Technology Research and Development and Public Networking Services.

Licenses will be issued by Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), the leading global financial centre in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region, which is currently home to an established ecosystem of tech enablers and start-ups at the DIFC Innovation Hub.

The Dubai AI and Web 3.0 Campus is a dedicated campus for AI and Web3 innovation and will provide state-of-the-art physical and digital infrastructure within the DIFC Innovation One new premises, including R&D facilities, accelerator programmes and collaborative workspaces, to attract, build and scale firms in the region. 

The campus was launched earlier this year and is supported by Dubai’s industry-leading regulatory regime aligned with the emirate’s vision of becoming a global leader in AI and Web3. This initiative is designed to bring in $300 million in funds and create more than 3,000 jobs in the next five years.

The campus will also increase accessibility and participation in Web3 development, backed by a collection of underlying technologies such as blockchain, AI, internet of things and the metaverse. Virtual assets owned in Web3 decentralised infrastructures represented about 40 per cent of the virtual-asset global economy in 2021, according to a report by BCG, and the transaction value of virtual assets is said to range between USD150 billion and USD300 billion by 2025. 

Mohammad Alblooshi, Chief Executive Officer of the DIFC Innovation Hub, said: “We are thrilled to announce that we are now granting innovative AI and Web3 companies licenses out of DIFC. The campus will foster a world-class nurturing environment that enables business growth and development. We are confident that by granting these licenses, we will attract more global talent and investment to the region and create a culture of collaboration and innovation. This is a notable milestone for the Dubai AI and Web3 Campus and will strengthen Dubai’s position as the business destination of choice for technology-focused companies and attract more world class talent and diversified investors to the region.”

According to a recent news release, The UAE’s Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA) has received licensing requests and inquiries from companies intending to provide Virtual Asset services following the issuance of the necessary regulations. The UAE SCA also announced that those who do not apply for a license either to VARA or SCA will be fined $2.7 million.

The move aims to ensure that all companies that provide products and services related to the Virtual Assets sector in the country are fully regulated, as the SCA’s Board of Directors, chaired by Muhammad Ali Al-Shorafa seeks to strengthen the country’s position by ensuring that the local financial markets are among the best globally.

Dr. Maryam Al Suwaidi, CEO of the SCA, stated that pursuant to Cabinet Resolution No. (111) of 2022 regarding the regulation of Virtual Assets and their service providers, which gave the SCA the mandate to issue regulatory decisions for Virtual Asset transactions and license its service providers; the SCA’s Board of Directors issued the necessary decisions, which requires all companies providing Virtual Asset services based in the country (except for companies licensed in Financial Free Zones) to obtain a license from the SCA.

All companies operating in Dubai must only obtain a license from the Dubai Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (VARA), which will inform the SCA to have a unified register of all licensed Virtual Asset service providers in the UAE.

She added that the Virtual Assets sector is among the modern technological industries included in the SCA’s strategy as one of the pillars for sustainable growth of the UAE’s financial markets.

The SCA called upon all companies that practice any of the Virtual Assets services to submit a request immediately to obtain the necessary approval to avoid being subjected to appropriate legal measures, which the Authority will initiate during the next stage, which may include one or more of the following: a warning, a fine not exceeding (AED10 million) equivalent to $2.7 million, or referring the violator to the Public Prosecution.

The SCA also urged all investors to refrain from dealing with any company that provides Virtual Assets services before ensuring that it has the necessary licenses and approvals to protect their investments and not expose them to any risks.

UAE’s latest digital asset and Web3 free zone in Ras Al Khaimah, RAK DAO, has appointed James Bernard at its Chief Commercial Officer. Bernard has been working in the digital asset blockchain sector since 2015. In the UAE he worked within Dubai’s DMCC and later on as an advisor to several Web3 blockchain entities within the UAE.

James will be responsible for all commercial activities, the implementation of business strategies and the development of partnerships, supporting entrepreneurs, innovators, and businesses across new and emerging tech sectors, digital assets, and web3, metaverse, AI, NFT, DApp, AI, blockchain, tokenization as well as many others. 

He was a founding member in 2015 of the Global Blockchain Council in Dubai, and leading DMCC’s Crypto strategy, developing early proof of concepts for various Web 3.0-powered ventures including Diamond Track and Trace, and property leasing applications, while also launching crypto asset licenses and making significant contributions to regional regulatory environment.

Commenting on James’ appointment, Dr. Sameer Al Ansari, CEO of RAK Digital Assets Oasis, said: “James brings with him a wealth of experience across the web3, digital assets and future tech landscape, enabling us to develop truly ground-breaking, strategically positioned models to support these sectors and tap into the growing global tech-enabled markets. We aim to open our doors to the companies of the future in the second quarter of 2023 and at such a crucial point in our emergence as innovation-enablers, we have no doubt that James’ formidable knowledge and experience will help us reach our ambitious targets.”

James Bernard, CCO of RAK Digital Assets Oasis, said: “I am thrilled to be part of RAK Digital Assets Oasis. With our forward-leaning approach to maximizing opportunities in disruptive technologies, the free zone is committed to supporting, empowering, and partnering with global leaders, entrepreneurial talent and innovators, building transformative solutions and creating impact.”

The virtual regulatory environment is heating up in Dubai and across the UAE as both UAE’s Securities and Commodities Authority and VARA race towards regulating virtual asset entities both across UAE as well as in Dubai. The UAE Securities and Commodities Authority in a recent press release announced that it has opened up registration for those seeking licenses as virtual asset providers across UAE and has added new licensing virtual asset sectors, while Dubai’s VARA is working with both the Dubai’s Department of Economy and Dubai’s free zones to ensure the set deadline of 30th April for all initial disclosure questionnaires (IDQs).

As stated in the release all virtual asset providers who have a presence in the UAE with exception to those who are licensed in financial free zones are required to apply for a license from UAE SCA authority while entities in Dubai should apply through the unified requirement of both Dubai’s Virtual Asset Authority and SCA enabling them to quickly and easily received their virtual asset service provider licenses.

As per the recent regulations set forth by UAE SCA regarding the operation of virtual asset platforms under Article 3, virtual asset providers in the UAE are not allowed to trade virtual assets until after they have been listed as official licensed virtual asset service providers by the regulatory bodies.

As per article 6 SCA can request documents from virtual asset providers and has the right to oversee, regulate and review the activities of virtual asset platforms. UAE SCA will also have the right to approve virtual assets traded on these platforms as part of the officially accepted virtual asset list.

UAE SCA added that as per recent amendments, SCA has also added other regulated activities to its list of licenses, including virtual asset brokerage services, virtual asset custodians, virtual asset operators, and virtual asset service providers as well as virtual asset wallets.

But this is not all, Dubai’s Virtual Asset Regulatory Authority also announced it is working with Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism (DET) and Free Zone Authorities (FZAs), towards meeting the set deadline of 30th April for all initial disclosure questionnaires (IDQs) across the sector to be received as the first step towards the migration of the market to a regulated regime.

Under Cabinet resolution No. 111 of 2022 concerning the regulation of virtual assets and their service providers, which came into effect on 15th January 2023, all companies operating in or seeking to operate in this sector in or from the emirate of Dubai must be licensed by VARA. VARA has been actively engaged, with DET and Dubai’s numerous FZAs to facilitate the seamless transition of existing Virtual Asset Service Providers (VASPs) into the VARA regulatory regime as well as formalize the application process for new regulated licenses.

Helal Saeed Almarri, Director-General of DET, said, “Under the directive of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, we are making progress with Dubai’s D33 Agenda which outlines our mission to establish the Emirate as the capital of the Future Economy anchored by Metaverse, AI, Web3.0 and Blockchain. The virtual assets sector that spans all these pillars is integral to the strategy presenting a dynamically evolving ecosystem that fuels all aspects of sustainable economic growth. Ensuring that our marketplace is secure, participants are responsible, and investors and consumers are effectively protected is our top priority. With key stakeholders responsible for commercial licensing across the Emirate working closely to deploy VARA’s full market regulatory construct, we aim to set a benchmark that positions the Emirate of Dubai as a global role model for VA sector development”.

Legacy market operators carrying out VA activities in Dubai (excluding DIFC) are required to declare their desire to undertake regulated activities by submitting an IDQ to their current licensing authority – DET or any of FZAs, by the final deadline of 30th April 2023. Upon subsequent receipt of an Application Acknowledgement Notice (AAN), operating VASPs will commence the appropriate course of action for those requiring regulation or registration under VARA by 31st August 2023.

Dr. Mohammed Al Zarooni, Secretary-General of the Dubai Free Zones Council, added, “Dubai’s Free Zones have been an integral part of the business landscape for decades, providing start-ups, entrepreneurs and overseas companies looking to establish regional headquarters with access to a geographically strategic, multicultural, dynamic and bureaucracy-free environment. We have witnessed growing interest from virtual assets-focused entities who are keen to adhere to the VARA licensing regime. Adopting the new regulations, provides a safe and sustainable operating environment for VA companies and further establishes Dubai as a credible destination for this sector”.

A total of seven distinct types of regulated VA activity licenses can be applied for: Advisory Services, Broker-Dealer Services, Custody Services, Exchange Services, Lending and Borrowing Services, Transfer and Settlement Services and Management and Investment Services.

Commenting on the imminent April deadline to receive all legacy operator IDQs as the first phase of the migration plans, Henson Orser, Chief Executive Officer, VARA, said, “VARA has been working closely with both DET and the emirate’s Free Zone Authorities in order to ensure a smooth transition for legacy VASPs in Dubai, many of whom were at the forefront of innovation in this space. This transition was further supported by VARA’s Minimum Viable Product (MVP) program, a time bound initiative that enabled new applicants to set up operations and become market ready until official release of our full suite of regulations on 7th February 2023. The introduction of the Virtual Assets and Related Activities Regulations gives the existing companies, a clear timeline to ensure that they submit their initial disclosures by the end of April.”