Rakuten adds cryptocurrency to Viber and more services in future

Japanese ecommerce giant Rakuten will launch its new Rakuten Coin cryptocurrency in Russia. They plan to launch the coin within the next six months in its messaging app Viber. If things go well, the company will launch the cryptocurrency in more Rakuten services.

Interfax and Tass, two major Russian news outlets, reported last summer that Rakuten officials are now studying the Russian language and cryptocurrency-related laws with a view of launching in the country before mid-2019.

“Rakuten Coin will be tradeable on Viber. It will be available as part of the Viber Wallet service, and Russians will be able to exchange [it] for rubles, United States dollars, or euros,” said Viber CEO Djamel Agaoua in a recent interview.

Rakuten’s CEO also said Viber users would soon be able to send Rakuten Coins using the app and to trade them against rubles, dollars and euros. However, users will not be able to transfer Rakuten Coin to Russian banks nor cash out through Russian financial institutions, said Mr. Agaoua to Interfax.

With Rakuten Coin, the admins of Viber’s ”supergroups” will be able to monetize the streams. This will allow Viber to tap into Rakuten’s partner network, media business, and e-commerce firms.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has previously openly vilified cryptocurrency and scorned the idea of a state-issued cryptocurrency. Nevertheless, such a move from Rakuten is well-measured. Viber is hugely popular in Russia and the CIS. As of June 2018, Viber’s monthly active audience in Russia stands at 45 mln users.

Rakuten obviously hopes that its own cryptocurrency will give Viber an edge over its biggest rival, WhatsApp. Viber will not be the first messaging app to enter the cryptocurrency world: Telegram, Line, and Kik have already done so.

The situation in Russia is likely to change, as the government is in the process of forming a set of cryptocurrency-related laws. President Putin has held talks with Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin, and seemed willing to support cryptocurrency-related business on the condition that the government can fully regulate it.

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