Since Abra runs on bitcoin, it automates all of its processes like asset holding, hedging, and user transactions with smart contracts. It supports 30 cryptocurrencies, 50 fiat currencies, and is led by crypto/finance leaders like Bill Barhydt/CEO (formerly a VP at Goldman Sachs and Technical Director at Netscape) and Daryl Puryear/CTO (formerly Director of Software at Mint.com
and VPE at Motif.)
How does their new product work?
Essentially, Abra has taken its existing platform and extended it to support assets available on the NASDAQ, starting with the top 100 stocks and ETF’s.
Once users invest capital into the platform, they can choose to “invest” in one of Abra’s 100 stock/ETF offerings, which represents stock investment exposure in corporations like Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Alphabet/Google. As soon as a user adds money to the Abra app, the capital is immediately transformed to bitcoin. Then, using Abra’s crypto-collateralized contract, Abra keeps the notional value of that bitcoin investment tied to the current value of the stock. This is done with what’s called a multisig bitcoin address, where Abra and the user sign a contract to peg the amount of cryptocurrency to the value of the asset. Abra users then hold an asset that track the exact price and volatility of the given stock.
While users don’t actually hold any shares in the company they still receive dividend payments because of the means by which Abra hedges itself on the contracts — super cool. The platform can also support short selling which Abra hopes to offer in the future.
Why does this make electronic stock investing any different?
The mechanism by which Abra enters into these smart contracts means that Abra can offer this investing service legally in 155 countries. That is a first for investing in US stocks, commodities, cryptocurrencies and fiat currencies via a single service.
The SEC and CFTC have clarified that the definitions of the terms “swap” and “security-based swap” do not include forward contracts. These definitions exclude “any sale of a nonfinancial commodity or security for deferred shipment or delivery, so long as the transaction is intended to be physically settled.” These organizations later provided guidance on how this physical settlement exemption applies to Bitcoin. Abra operates under this exemption.
This means that Abra’s investing tools are much less regulated than other trading mechanisms. Since other online stock trading platforms like Robinhood, TDAmeritrade, or Charles Schwab actually invest user assets in real stocks and act as a full broker and custodian, they do have to follow rules set by the CFTC, SEC, and other securities commissions. But Abra’s model means they can expand the market of pseudo-stock-investing globally, beyond these specific geographic boundaries.
What are the greater implications?
Abra’s company ethos is democratizing finance. Their entire value is built off of being a platform where a first-time investor from the developing world can make the same returns as the hot-shot finance guys from New York. Abra’s new offering helps accomplish that by introducing pseudo-stock-trading to hundreds of new markets, making it a feasible investment mechanism for people in 155 countries globally.
Abra’s new tool might also affect the price of bitcoin. On Abra, all users become “hodlers,” crypto-speak for someone who holds onto bitcoin without regularly trading it for other currencies and assets. Past financial studies have found that hodling is one of the key driving factors behind bitcoin’s price fluctuations. Since Abra’s platform automatically converts user capital to bitcoin, all users become hodlers and thus could, at large scale, drive changes in the price of bitcoin. Depending on how many people hop onto Abra’s new platform, we might see a short- or long-term spike in the price of bitcoin as more people use bitcoin as the underlying means for their every day stock and ETF investing.