Author Archives: TBR Team

The Future of Digital Assets in the EU 

Many people have long seen the market for digital assets as the Wild West of investing, filled with lucrative volatility and a significant risk of fraud. However, the European Commission’s Markets in Crypto-Assets (MiCA) is a regulatory framework that seeks to change this. MiCA is due to come into effect in 2024 with the dual objectives of harmonisation of existing EU regulations and the protection of investors.

One of the key impacts of this new framework will be to broaden the scope of existing regulation to include additional Virtual asset service providers (VASPs). Owing to the market’s rapid development, many service providers are unregulated, putting investors at risk of exploitation. Crypto-asset service providers (CASPs) is a term that exists in many other jurisdictions and has now been adopted by MiCA’s drafters to replace the Financial Action Task Force’s well-known definition for VASPs. The CASP definition is very similar to the original definition however it is much broader in scope so as to provide for as many crypto-related entities as possible. The most important thing to understand is that all VASPs will be considered CASPs but not all CASPs will be VASPs as they will fall outside the previous, narrower definition.

VASP definition:

  1. Exchange between virtual assets and fiat currencies;
  2. Exchange between one or more forms of virtual assets;
  3. Transfer of virtual assets;
  4. Safekeeping and/or administration of virtual assets or instruments enabling control over virtual assets; and
  5. Participation in and provision of financial services related to an issuer’s offer and/or sale of a virtual asset.

CASP definition: 

  1. The custody and administration of crypto-assets on behalf of third parties; 
  2. The operation of a trading platform for crypto-assets; 
  3. The exchange of crypto-assets for fiat currency that is legal tender; 
  4. The exchange of crypto-assets for other crypto-assets; 
  5. The execution of orders for crypto-assets on behalf of third parties; 
  6. Placing of crypto-assets; 
  7. The reception and transmission of orders for crypto-assets on behalf of third parties;
  8. Providing advice on crypto-assets;

MiCA will also regulate the digital assets which currently fall outside the scope of EU and Member State regulations, such as e-money tokens, asset-referenced tokens and utility tokens. Surprisingly, MiCA does not address non-fungible tokens (NFTs), although the European Commission has indicated that it will address them in the future.

When MiCA comes into effect it will be applicable across the EU, without requiring Member States to introduce implementation laws. This uniform approach will bring about greater clarity and certainty for CASPs who are currently faced with differing domestic regulations across Member States. For example, MiCA will streamline the licensing process for crypto-asset issuers and make it valid across all Member States. 

Notwithstanding the greater ease of doing business, the regime itself will impose stricter obligations on CASPs so as to protect investors from market abuse and ensure transparency. These obligations relate to the authorisation of issuers and the marketing of crypto-assets themselves, as well as the requirement to publish reports and whitepapers. However, issuers that operate on a smaller scale will be exempt, such as those that deal with less than 120 investors per Member State. 

While some CASPs may be sceptical of MiCA’s impact on their business models, the Commission anticipates that the increased protection will attract investors. For example, CASPs involved in the custody of digital assets (custodians) will be required to store their customers’ assets separately to their own data, using Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT). This will ensure the assets are more secure in the event of a malware attack. Furthermore, these custodians will also be liable for losses that result from hacking or break down in technology. These requirements will undoubtedly increase consumer confidence and thus stimulate investment. 

Finally, it is interesting to note that because the safeguards relate to EU consumers, these changes will also apply to any firms outside the EU who wish to do business in the EU. Therefore, MiCA will have far-reaching implications for both CASPs and investors in the digital assets market not just in the EU but around the world. As Dublin is one of the world’s investment fund and asset management hubs it will be interesting to see what opportunities and challenges arise as a result of MiCA.

Budget 2023: An Overview

The Budget 2023 is one of the most significant budgets in years. The significant tax surplus received
by the exchequer this year is being used to ease the cost of living crisis for those who need it most.

Welfare

Weekly Social Welfare payments will increase by €12 for all recipients, as well as
those with a State pension. There has also been an increase in the number of Lump Sum
payments, such as double child benefit being handed out in November as well as an increase
in Christmas payments for those on the Disability allowance and Living Alone allowance.

Tax

The government has increased the level for paying 40% income tax from €36,800 to
€40,000. This move will help middle income earners take home more money, to alleviate
some of the cost of living pressures. The second USC bracket (2%) has also been increased
from €21,295 to €22,920.

Energy

In a direct response to the energy crisis, the government has committed to giving
out €600 in electricity credits during the winter months. The first instalment will be handed out
before Christmas, with the other two coming in the New Year.

Housing

The government is set to introduce a tax credit worth €500 for renters; as rents
have continued to rise significantly in the country. They have also introduced a Vacant Home
Tax, to be placed on residential property that is occupied for less than 30 days in a 12
month period. This policy will hopefully encourage more efficient land use.

Education

College fees will be cut by €1000 in a once-off reduction to help alleviate
inflationary pressures, as well as the SUSI grant being increased by 10-14% in September
2023.

Health

Free contraception will be available for all women between the ages of 16-30.

Interview with Deirdre McIlvenna – Partner at the Maples Group

Introduction

Over the past five decades, the Maples Group has become a global market leader in the provision of corporate legal services. The Group has 16 offices across the globe with operations in Europe, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East, as well as the Americas and Caribbean. Launched in 2006, the Irish office has become one of the largest in the Maples network. Speaking with funds and investment management partner, Deirdre McIlvenna, the Trinity Business Review team learn about a career in corporate law, the funds industry in Ireland, and Maples’ Professional Internship Programme.

The Maples Group  

With over 440 professionals in its Irish office, the Maples Group has a wide range of practice areas, including Corporate, Data, Commercial and Technology; Employment; Finance; Financial Services Regulatory; Funds and Investment Management; as well as Litigation; Property; Projects and Infrastructure and Tax. The wide range of services enables the firm to tailor its offering to the unique requirements of its clients. However, the focus of the firm is directed at funds and investment management, as well as finance and corporate, reflecting the strength of the Irish financial market. Deirdre notes that the firm is increasingly advising on sustainable finance and renewable investment projects within each of these core practice areas.

The Maples Group also prides itself at being at the forefront of innovation in legal service delivery for its clients. Deirdre recognises that ‘delivering legal services efficiently is a critical priority’ in an ever-changing technological landscape. By leveraging a wide range of innovative legal technology tools and techniques across its practice areas, Maples can deliver its services in a cost-effective and productive manner, ensuring greater value for its clients.

Deirdre is of the view that the unique selling point of the Maples Group is that it is a ‘genuine international business’, serving numerous international clients. This global reach brings crucial perspective and comprehensive expertise to the firm. Maples strives to provide time-zone convenient legal advice and ancillary services in regions where their clients are based. The firm also takes pride in a partner-driven knowledge culture, investing significantly in keeping up to date with all Irish, EU and International market developments which impact on its clients. This requires extensive planning as well as communication with relevant government departments, regulators, and industry associations on proposed legislation. Deirdre notes that ‘commercial awareness is very important’ and, according to its clients, this sets the Maples Group apart from other law firms. The firm places a huge amount of value in knowledge sharing, which is achieved through ‘Know How’ meetings and the support of the Professional Support Lawyer (PSL) team.

The Irish Funds Industry  

Ireland’s fund industry was established over three decades ago and has continued to grow, with net assets in Irish domiciled funds rising to €3.32 trillion in 2020. Investment managers and asset managers from all over the globe have sought to develop and expand their European distribution footprint through Ireland, motivated by our globally recognised skilled workforce and our ability to provide full access to the EU. As a result, the Irish office serves as an important European hub for internal clients doing business in and from Ireland.

This growth in the Irish funds industry has contributed significantly to the growth and development of the Irish economy. Deirdre comments that it has been ‘hugely rewarding’ to be part of this success. The Maples Group maintains strong connections and representations on various working groups, including Irish Funds, AIMA, and the American Chamber of Commerce. The firm is also in direct communication with the Central Bank of Ireland, being the governing body for Irish regulated funds, as well as the Department of Finance, on projects such as the Sustainable Finance roadmap.  

Deirdre observes that ‘no day is ever the same’ working in the Irish funds industry. In Ireland, each regulated fund is required to appoint regulated service providers, such as fund administrators and investment managers. In her role of legal adviser, Deirdre is in contact with these various service providers, as well as with auditors and tax professionals. This interaction with different people from diverse areas is something which Deirdre has ‘really enjoyed’ during her career. She says that ‘there is always something new and interesting taking place’ each day.’ 

Professional Internship Programme

Maples Professional Internship Programme is the firm’s ‘primary recruitment method for future trainees’ and provides ‘an excellent platform for those interested in securing a training contract’ with the firm. Last June, the Maples Group welcomed 29 students into its Irish office and looks forward to seeing many of these interns return to the firm as trainees in future years.

The Programme has been thoughtfully structured to ensure that interns gain an invaluable insight into life as a corporate lawyer at the firm. It includes a mix of training; department, committee, and global talks; various workshops, Q&A sessions, and several social activities, ensuring interns are exposed to a range of diverse and interesting work. Interns are offered the opportunity to work alongside Partners, Associates and Trainees in one of the firm’s core practice areas, namely, Corporate, Employment, Finance, Funds & Investment Management, Litigation, Property and Tax, and are paid for the duration of the placement. Deirdre is of the view that ‘people are our greatest asset’ and as such, ‘recruitment and retention of talent is a core part of our business strategy’. A law degree is not a precursor to applying to the Maples Group and Deirdre observes that some of the firm’s best lawyers have undertaken different courses. The firm looks for applicants who are good team players with strong communication skills and ‘a curious mind’. 

Further Information

Applications for the Maples Group’s Professional Internship Programme close midnight 7 February 2022.

Website: https://maples.com/en/careers/students-and-graduates/internships

Big Tech: The Precarious Balance Between Algorithmic Governance and Democratic Accountability

by Rachel Carr

Over the past months Amazon and Alphabet have reported phenomenal earnings for the second quarter of 2021. These figures were largely driven by Google skyrocketing advertising revenues, which grew by 69%, along with Amazon’s advertising income which increased by 87% from the year ago quarter. These results reflect the central role that social media and technology have played in society over the last year, not only in offering a much-needed escape from the boredom of COVID-19 lockdowns but also in their newfound role as public forums. Last April, when the Italian Prime Minister decided to address the nation on the latest lockdown measures, he elected Facebook as his chosen medium of communication. Similarly, the British government requested Amazon’s assistance in distributing emergency medical supplies and Google leaped at the chance to assume its role as a mouthpiece for public services announcement across the globe. 

However, as the “Gordian Knot” that entangles Big Tech with its societal consequences tightens further, we should consider the motivations behind the growing presence of these tech heavyweights in our lives. What exactly are these  tech giants selling to their customers and what are the potential consequences?

To understand what triggered the phenomenal rise of Big Tech superpowers we must first cast an eye back to April 2000, when eager dot com investors watched in horror as the stock market imploded and the value of their portfolios plummeted. As the mirage of many of Silicon Valley’s superstar valuations began to evaporate, it became clear that in a text-book case of irrational exuberance, venture capitalists had been so blinded by the lure of the internet’s potential, that they had wildly overestimated the intrinsic value of their investments. 

Surviving tech firms, struggling to justify their value to furious investors, began to search desperately  for a port in the storm as the turmoil raged. Amongst them was Google, today’s search-engine giant,  which had been incorporated a mere two years prior. According to Shashona Zuboff, the Harvard Business School professor and author of ‘The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,’ the dot com bubble triggered Google’s understanding that its true value lay not in the licensing deals it had been selling, but rather in its vast stores of behaviourally rich data. Despite the company’s founders previously condemning search engine advertising as “inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of consumers”, the firm went on the capitalize on just that, with Facebook, Amazon and Twitter soon following suit.

Zuboff has coined this commoditization of the data of individuals into behavioural products that can be sold in ‘predictive futures markets’, as surveillance capitalism. In recent years the cautionary tale of “if you aren’t paying for a product you likely are the product” has been widely circulated. Of this the general public seems to be reasonably cognizant: an hour spent on Skyscanner will likely flood your feed with holiday advertisements and a trip to the ASOS homepage will litter your desktop’s ad space with outfit ideas. However, it was what the “FAANGS” discovered next, and the lucrative source of the last decade’s soaring tech valuations, that is likely to induce the most surprise. Google and its peers deduced that while it could use its data to predict the future behaviour of users with reasonable accuracy, the easiest way to guarantee the precision, and thus value of those predictions, was to influence the behaviour of users to match the algorithm’s forecasts.

An example of the application of this insight was the addition of a number of emotional reactions to Facebook’s ‘like’ button. While this modification poses as a harmless quirk designed  to allow users to further engage with the platform’s content, it also assists Facebook’s algorithms in accurately identifying and collating data on human emotions. The opportunities resulting from the utilization of this data are massive. Users can be shown posts designed to induce feelings of discomfort or sadness, followed by sponsored content intended to take advantage of this vulnerability. Along a similar vein, Google has been known to display ads for a specific restaurant and then reroute a user’s map  journey to take them past the suggested establishment: a perfect example of the use of surveillance  and behavioural modification to maximise profits at the expense of individual autonomy.

The implications of these privacy infringements extend beyond the encouragement of the occasional impulse purchase. In 2017 the autonomous hoover ‘Roomba’ came under fire when the company announced its proposal to sell floor plans of customers’ homes, scraped from the device’s mapping capabilities. Later that same year the curtain fell on the infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal, revealing the role the data analytic firm had played in manipulating the data of 87 million Facebook users to manipulate the outcomes of both Trump’s 2016 Presidential the Brexit vote. This proof of intentional cyber manipulation, designed to promote the so-called ‘splinternet’, revealed the power of Big Tech behavioural nudging to distort democratic processes. In fact, in 2019 Mark Zuckerberg’s former advisor Roger McNamee publicly criticized Facebook for its relentless pursuit of  customer data through increasingly illicit means claiming that the company’s algorithms were, ‘’honed to manipulate user engagement with practices that were eventually commandeered by bad actors to infiltrate the national (US) consciousness and disfigure political discourse.” Earlier this year Zaboff subtitled her New York Times article with the ominous statement, “We can have democracy, or we can have a surveillance society, but we can’t have both.”

Whilst the extent of the influence of Big Tech on the democratic process is yet to be determined, it is undeniable that  tech companies have amassed vast stores of behavioural data which can spell danger in the wrong hands. As a result, there is an argument for putting certain social obligations on companies with such data privileges; in other words, “With great power comes great responsibility” . Covid-19 revealed Big Tech for what it truly is: a 21st century public forum. Due to their wide-reaching social impacts, large technology companies should be answerable to the governance of regulatory bodies. If banks, electricity, water and utilities companies are regulated because of the impact of these services on a nation’s citizens, then there is reason for Big Tech to no longer be able to evade such scrutiny.

Learning Lights: A Candle-Making Start-Up With A Twist

A candle-making start-up with a twist. This plucky young start-up was founded with the aim of helping students from low-income backgrounds afford third-level education. The business model is simple. The start-up manufactures and sells a range of scented candles and then invests the majority of the business’s profits into an endowment fund. The endowment fund, which will be managed by a third-party investment manager, follows a dedication strategy, investing primarily in high-grade investment bonds. Jody, the company’s founder believes that “the benefit of investing in an endowment fund instead of distributing the profits directly to qualifying students is that it gives greater stability. If the profits were to be distributed directly, the distributable amount would fluctuate greatly with yearly sales. By investing in an endowment fund this volatility can be reduced”.

The Founder

Learning Lights was founded by Jody Murphy, a third-year business student who is heavily involved in societal life at Trinity. He believes that the private sector could do more to improve equality of opportunity particularly with regards to the financial accessibility of third-level education, and so he decided to take action.

The Candles

Learning lights not only helps students, it also helps the environment, through its sustainability agenda. All candles are made from natural soy wax and are set in recycled glass bottles. In addition to this, all the  candles are handmade and dispatched within 2 days of purchase. Currently, there are five scents (Vanilla, Rose, Sandalwood-Vanilla, Lavender, and Japanese Magnolia)  available in two sizes (13.5 oz, and 8.5 oz).

Plans for the Future

Within the first 24 hours of trading, Learning Lights had sold all of its inventory. It was anticipated that there would be a slump in sales after the initial launch, however, the revenue from the launch has brought cash into the business that has allowed Learning Lights to continue to improve its online presence as well as fund more inventory. Within the next week, Learning Lights will become available in several locations throughout Monaghan and Dublin.

“Thankfully, there haven’t been any major issues so far, just some minor start-up hiccups,’ says Jody.

In the coming months, the Learning Lights Alliance Initiative will come into action. This involves businesses that burn candles on their premises, such as salons, cafés, restaurants and hotels, becoming Learning Lights Allies by purchasing and burning Learning Lights.

Trinity Society Involvement

Jody credits the business societies at Trinity for helping him take the first steps in launching this venture. In his second year at Trinity, he became an ambassador for the TES incubator programme. By engaging in this programme, he not only learned a great deal about developing a start-up, but also gained valuable exposure to start-ups that were involved in the incubator programme.

Jody is also part of the Trinity Business Review team and is currently the Secretary and Chief Strategy Officer. In this role, Jody has gained confidence and gained significant knowledge of the Irish business environment.

Check Learning Lights out at

Etsy: LearningLights on Etsy

Shop in Ireland: Shop in Ireland | Gifts for all occasions | Irish handmade |

Instagram: Learning Lights (@learninglights_candles)

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