The Winklevii move out of Zuckerberg's shadow, and into Bitcoin

Is it just media hype?

The Winklevii have announced they are going to venture out from under Zuckerberg’s lengthy shadow in an attempt to re-establish themselves as dotcom entrepreneurs.

In a headline grabbing announcement, which is as devoid of substance as it is full of Hollywood hype, the two brothers intend to set up Math-Based Asset Services LLC to sponsor a Bitcoin Trust.

This trust will float on the stock exchange, initially selling $20m worth of shares. There has yet to be an answer on whether an exchange will accept the offering and the trust that will hold the portfolio is yet to be set up.

Despite most news sites picking up on the story, there are no real financial details. If media attention was the goal here, that certainly seems to have been achieved.

The SEC filing comes with a raft of risks, many of which would be enough to deter any serious investor. This one I find especially chilling: "A decline in the popularity or acceptance of the Bitcoin Network would harm the price of the Shares."

In April the twins claimed in an interview with the New York Times that they owned 1 per cent of all Bitcoins in existence. That amounts to what was worth $11m when Bitcoin was at its peak in March but is now worth $8m.

As the SEC filling reminds us, that fall of $3m over just a period of a few months is a result of nothing more than a decline in popularity. Nothing else is keeping the Bitcoin boat afloat.

The risks don’t end there. The SEC filing warns that as "the sponsor and its management have no history of operating an investment vehicle like the Trust, their experience may be inadequate or unsuitable to manage the Trust".

The twins said in the New York Times interview their faith in Bitcoin was down to it being a finite currency, that when 2040 rolled around and the Bitcoin tap was turned off it would result in the price of Bitcoin rising ever higher.

Bitcoin, though is not as finite as people seem to think. The reason being, I can divide my Bitcoin as many times as I want. Unlike tradition currencies, which are tied to physical tender, I can very simply pay someone 00000000.1 Bitcoin.

Judging by the amount of interest Bitcoin received from amateur speculators, many of which have had little or no dealings with stocks, share or currency exchange, the Bitcoin Trust could engender a similar interest.

People should be very wary of investing in something that is buoyed along by media hype, popularity and remains an unknown quantity, beset by problems.

Winklebros. Photograph: Getty Images

Billy Bambrough writes for Retail Banker International at VRL financial news.
 

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.