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Cryptocurrency Regulations: Hong Kong Considers Stricter Laws for the Industry

The Hong Kong regulatory body is planning to tighten its regulatory grip on the cryptocurrency sector to combat money laundering and fraudulent activities.

Money Laundering Fears Prompt Stricter Cryptocurrency Regulations

The Hong Kong regulatory body, the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) plans to introduce stricter regulatory policies for virtual currency exchanges and startups, according to a report by the Nikkei Asian Review.

Hong Kong which offers a relaxed atmosphere for virtual currency exchanges to thrive as against mainland China is considering stricter regulatory policies. This change comes as a result of concerns bordering on money laundering and fraudulent activities associated with initial coin offerings (ICO).

Some professionals in various fields commented on the new stance by Hong Kong’s regulatory body. Daisuke Yasaku from the Daiwa Institute of Research stated that the region’s proposed regulation on cryptocurrency is a good move. However, Yasaku warned that regulations came at a high price.

Yasaku also noted that the SFC’s new regulatory framework could subject virtual currency exchanges to stringent monitoring and inspections.

Timothy Loh, an attorney who owns a law firm in Hong Kong, also said:

The requirements of the SFC initiative may prove too burdensome for some operators. Some will decide not to join the new framework in order to maintain their current shares in the market.

The proposed SFC’s regulatory guidelines stipulate that investment funds which have more than ten percent assets in digital currency would need a license. Also, cryptocurrency companies would only deal with seasoned investors.

The new regulatory framework allows companies to issue ICO for tokens that have lasted at least one year.

Also, the SFC is set to introduce a voluntary scheme where cryptocurrency exchanges would test digital assets in a regulatory sandbox. This “testing” would determine if virtual currency exchanges would receive a license or not.

Increasing Cryptocurrency Regulations in Asia

The Asian continent has strived to put in place regulatory frameworks guiding cryptocurrency compared to its Western counterpart. The continent is home to the biggest hacks in virtual currency history. These massive attacks on local cryptocurrency exchanges have led most Asian countries to introduce regulatory rules that ensure security and protect investors.

Following the hacks on Japanese cryptocurrency exchanges like Coincheck, Japan introduced stricter measures for exchanges willing to operate in the country. The FSA also granted self-regulatory status to the Japan Virtual Currency Exchange Association (JVCEA).

South Korea, on the other hand, banned Initial Coin Offerings and anonymous cryptocurrency trading in the country. However, South Korea announced it was going to give its official stance on ICO in November 2018. Recently, seven digital currency exchange met in South Korea to create a crypto ecosystem in the country.

The Thailand SEC which previously approved the operation of seven cryptocurrency exchanges recently warned investors about some unregulated ICOs.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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Cryptocurrency Firms Now Licensed Under Updated Banking Regulations in Switzerland

Swiss FINMA recently introduced new guidelines for companies, including blockchain and cryptocurrency-based firms interested in the new FinTech license.

Details of the Guidelines

Switzerland’s financial regulatory body, the Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA), recently published a set of guidelines for the procurement of the new FinTech License. Cryptocurrency and blockchain-based firms are among companies who are eligible to apply for the new license.

According to FINMA, the license comes with “relaxed requirements,” and it enables companies to accept public deposits as high as CHF 100 million. The move by the regulatory body comes after an amendment to the Banking Act back in November.

The Switzerland financial regulatory body, however, gave specific conditions to companies interested in the new license. FINMA said:

The FinTech license allows institutions to accept public deposits of up to CHF 100 million, provided that these are not invested and no interest is paid on them. A further requirement is that an institution with a FinTech license must have its registered office and conduct its business activities in Switzerland.

Beginning from January 1, 2019, blockchain and virtual currency firms would meet specific criteria to qualify for the new license. FINMA stated that applicants are to submit their applications in one of Switzerland’s official languages. Part of the requirements includes reasons for applying, description of the proposed organization and target audience.

FINMA also requests full accountability from the board members of the firm, including names, date of births, nationality, and a curriculum vitae. Others include Swiss criminal records six months old and a debt enforcement register extract.

Swiss FINMA and the Cryptocurrency Industry

Switzerland is home to hundreds of cryptocurrency startups. The country’s various policies show its strong support for the growing market, while it solidifies its position as the world’s leading virtual currency hub.

The Swiss financial regulatory body, FINMA, granted a license to the Zug-based company, Crypto Fund AG, a subsidiary of Crypto Finance. The asset management license enables the firm to give a variety of collective investment products that monitor cryptocurrencies. The company received a distribution license back in June.

Also, a blockchain startup operating in Switzerland, Smart Valor, received a license from FINMA to launch an online investment platform. The firm further expressed its desire to expand its services by mid-2019, by applying for a banking license.

SEBA, a virtual currency startup formed by former Swiss bankers, raised $100 million from local and foreign institutional investors to fund its regulated cryptocurrency bank. The startup, however, needed a securities dealer and banking license from FINMA to form a licensed virtual currency banking solution.

Imaged courtesy of Shutterstock.

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There's a Huge Opportunity for Everyone in Crypto, It's Called KYC/AML

Bruce Silcoff is the CEO of Shyft in Toronto, which is focused on developing blockchain-based solutions for digital identity and KYC/AML processes.

It’s easy to question the need for strict know-your-customer (KYC) and anti-money-laundering (AML) controls, as Edan Yago did in a recent CoinDesk op-ed.

Who likes the rising complexity and costs of compliance? Who gets excited about relinquishing control of personal data to set up a wallet, let alone access basic financial services?

The resulting data duplication across multiple centralized, siloed databases raises the risk profile for organizations large and small, stifling basic operations and thrilling and delighting no one.

KYC/AML is an easy target for critics like Yago, who also argue that these practices effectively amount to global surveillance, and therefore stand in direct contradiction to two of the most important aspects of cryptocurrency — privacy and disintermediation. Not only can KYC/AML infringe on a user’s right to privacy, we are told, but it can see sweeping “Big Brother” surveillance practices instituted. Over and out.

Should we do away with regulation then? Down with KYC/AML? Not so fast.

We’ve seen the alternative to no regulation firsthand, and what that means for blockchain companies. Silk Road aftershocks slowed down innovation and effectively de-legitimized the space for years, because blockchain came to be associated with criminal activity. Regulatory uncertainty meant that for years, early adopters took enormous personal and financial risks to pave the roads we get to travel on today.

Even more importantly, if none of us show up to sit at the table when it matters most – when the future of the ecosystem is at stake, because, no doubt, more regulations are coming – we will have only ourselves to blame if we don’t like the results.

A new privacy standard

It’s important to note that although KYC/AML processes and regulations can hinder privacy, that doesn’t mean that they must.

There is no reason that approaches more consistent with the fundamental principles of cryptocurrencies can’t be devised to satisfy KYC requirements without placing too much data in the hands of a central provider (or a handful of providers) who could abuse it, or open it up to abuse through a catastrophic breach.

In fact, KYC practices are fast becoming the gold standard for regulatory bodies looking to thwart money laundering in the cryptocurrency ecosystem.

It’s incumbent upon the cryptocurrency ecosystem to develop solutions that carry out these practices in a manner that doesn’t kill the technology’s promise.

Mass adoption

If our common goal is to advance mass adoption, blockchain and crypto companies should be prepared to work closely with the regulators and come up with new ways to solve big thorny problems. Simply put, we must build better technology.

Blockchain and strong cryptography enable multi-stakeholder use cases that simply weren’t technologically possible even a few years ago, and KYC/AML presents new exciting opportunities to revisit and uphold the original intent to curb bad actors and improve the protocol.

At present, the KYC/AML infrastructure mirrors guidelines implemented by centralized financial enterprises around the world. Just as traditional financial institutions require due diligence on prospective customers, cryptocurrency companies also rely on KYC/AML to collect personally identifiable information on individuals before allowing them to create new crypto wallets, do peer-to-peer lending, remit money across borders, or buy or sell crypto on an exchange. In the event a crime is committed, this information can be used to accurately pinpoint an offender and take appropriate action where necessary.

However, identity verification shouldn’t come with the risk of data compromise and extreme costs.

Through strong cryptography and through introducing decentralization into the current system and process, it’s possible to create protocol-level crypto rails to dramatically improve the handling of KYC/AML from the privacy and security perspective — all while reducing the cost of verification and clearing the barriers to mass adoption of cryptocurrencies and blockchain.

Financial inclusion

Once the costs are dramatically reduced, the upside of having strong and efficient KYC/AML regulations in place means more businesses will innovate and prosper. Progressive jurisdictions like Bermuda, Mauritius and Australia are already taking note and turning to the blockchain and crypto space for collaboration on legislation.

This levels the playing field for those billions of people without “legal ID” in a traditional sense, because new methods emerge to help assess people’s ability to repay loans, prove their credibility, transact and participate in the global economy. Traditional banking becomes a viable option then, as do the alternatives because there are new ways to transact and establish trust that don’t involve relinquishing full control of personal data. Finally, if the costs of KYC/AML compliance keep that global economic participation at bay, once that barrier is gone, imagine the freedom for innovators it would create.

This is why my team and other notable organizations are working to showcase the importance of KYC/AML and other important initiatives in the global cryptocurrency community — to prove, through tangible use cases, that it’s not preventing crypto innovation, it’s pioneering it.

Image via Unsplash.

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Blockchain Research Institute Report Calls for Crypto Regulation Clarity

“Regulators would be wise to avoid the chainsaw when microsurgery could do” when it comes to blockchain technology, says author Don Tapscott.

Tapscott, the co-founder and executive director of the Blockchain Research Institute (BRI) – a multi-million dollar global blockchain think tank – published a report Wednesday calling for increased regulatory clarity on blockchain and cryptocurrencies. The report also recounts the takeaways from a roundtable discussion held in May on cryptocurrency regulation.

The report identifies the four “core issues” of regulatory oversight as being a lack of regulatory clarity, obsolete statutes, a lack of dialogue between both regulators and other stakeholders, as well as, financial service providers and blockchain entrepreneurs.

The report does caution a clear “Canadian slant,” given that the majority of the near 70 participants were from Canada.

This would explain why some of the major takeaway items are explicitly geared towards a Canadian audience, with one such action item being “establish a national regulator in Canada” highlighting the lack of a central securities regulatory authority in the country.

Other such recommendations in the report include forming action committees, encouraging special interest groups and creating clearer distinctions between different types of cryptocurrencies.

All of these recommendations, however, seem to support the sentiment for a greater degree of clarity when it comes to blockchain technology, not just with government officials but with the broader public as well.

Tapscott explains:

“The new oil of the digital age is data…We need to help educate the public to distinguish a cryptocurrency from the many amazing results that people are achieving with blockchain, and what they might do with a self sovereign identity secured on a distributed ledger”

Ongoing research by BRI on the impact of blockchain technology to society is supported by leading corporations and government agencies such as Microsoft, IBM, the Bank of Canada and more recently, Salesforce.

In February, it was reported that BRI would be taking on a new project with one of India’s leading tech industry organizations to help developers in the country learn more about the use cases of blockchain technology and spur forth stronger digital economies.

Image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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G20 Crypto Regulations Could Unleash Real Blockchain Change

Jonathan M. Padilla is a Schwarzman Scholar at Tsinghua University where he wrote the dissertation “New Regulations for the New Economy: A Proposal for the G20 on the Regulation of Cryptocurrency,” from which this article was adapted.

He has advised major e-commerce and natural resource companies on blockchain integration and has a background in government and politics.

In March of this year, G20 central bankers and finance ministers met in Buenos Aires to discuss everything from international trade to investment in global infrastructure. Among the topics covered was the regulation of cryptocurrency, which has attracted the growing attention of government regulators and political actors as blockchain adoption becomes more widespread and cryptocurrency markets gain a broader following.

Since then, the G20 has begun to intensely study ways to de-risk cryptocurrency markets and craft regulation that will not stifle the innovative potential of blockchain. While many entrepreneurs and investors in this space fear that compliance with government will hinder future growth, the reality is that engaged cooperation offers the best possible path toward a potential tipping point that accelerates adoption of blockchain technology by major enterprise-grade users and brings in far greater institutional investors.

With central bankers and finance ministers slated to discuss cryptocurrency this summer in Argentina and with the full G20 to meet in late November, action or inaction here will impact cryptocurrency markets. How the blockchain community chooses to engage between now and then has the potential to set the tone of how governments and entrepreneurs develop a long-term relationship.

As Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England and Chair of the G20’s Financial Stability Board, noted in March of 2018, blockchain has “the potential to improve efficiency and inclusiveness of both the financial system and the economy,” but unleashing this potential will require substantial work.

An ideal forum

The G20 was originally formed as a forum for finance ministers and central bank governors after the Asian debt crisis of 1997. It’s since become a body for cooperation among heads of state to address challenging economic issues of the time.

In the wake of the Great Recession, the G20 created the Financial Stability Board to better coordinate prevention of and coherent responses to financial instability. Since its inception, the FSB has been critical to enhancing banking regulations through the Basel Accords, an opt-in transnational framework designed to strengthen the resiliency of global financial systems, and to promoting good economic governance policies.

The G20, along with the FSB, provides the best opportunity for a global regulatory framework as they 1)  convene the most relevant stakeholders and decision makers, 2) can craft a framework that is transnational in scope, and 3) are already studying cryptocurrencies and their impacts to a number of different fields.

Any regulatory framework will require cooperation from heads of government who possess the political power to move legislation and balance domestic considerations, from finance and economic ministers who have the technical ability to craft good policy and execute laws, and from central bankers who have a huge impact on the regulation of commercial banking within their respective states.

Additionally, the G20 can ensure whatever framework does take shape is transnational in nature as issues such as tax evasion, money laundering, and investor protection transcend borders. Such a framework would also minimize the risk posed by regulatory arbitrage to nations where firms can exploit loopholes in order to gain advantages based on geography.

Lastly, with G20 member states and FSB staff already working on these issues, there is attention, focus, and a desire to craft policy that will not stifle innovation.

The agenda

Different nations have taken different approaches to the regulation of cryptocurrencies and related fields. While a comprehensive framework is likely years away, there are a few key points that stand out in crafting a regulatory setup.

The simplest issue that the G20 and FSB can mediate is deciding on a working definition of cryptocurrency. Several nations such as Switzerland through FINMA and Israel through the Israeli Securities Agency have taken steps to do this in a way that classifies cryptocurrency into payment tokens, utility tokens, and security tokens.

Clarity on this front will not be easy but defining cryptocurrency will allow entrepreneurs and investors much firmer ground on which to build projects and governments more guidance on how to regulate.

Accepting that all the information required to regulate does not yet exist is another important point. This thought lends support to the creation of sandboxes like what the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority is doing on fintech that will provide both flexibility and capacity to evolve to meet the demands of the industry as it matures.

On exchanges, the leadership shown by Japan, with the Financial Services Agency requiring licenses and working with self-regulating organizations (SROs) to help police the space and mainstream cryptocurrency should be lauded.

Exchanges will be critical to figuring out how banks interact with cryptocurrency and how taxes will eventually be collected. As the value of the cryptocurrency market increases more and more attention to know-your-customer (KYC) and anti-money-laundering (AML) compliance will follow.

Industry impact

Collectively, some of the issues above could be woven together to mirror efforts that G20 has taken on banking regulation. A Zug or Valletta Accords, comparable to Basel, could create an opt-in framework where nations agree on basic tenets for regulating cryptocurrency with active input from the industry.

Increased regulation, however, will not mean that blockchain and cryptocurrency projects die. On the contrary, increased regulation, as long as it is done with the cooperation of industry stakeholders and with the aim of de-risking the broader market, will hasten blockchain adoption by large enterprise users and reassure institutional investors.

Numerous large firms have already begun to explore blockchain applications and potential use cases to streamline costs and gain a competitive advantage with their peers. With a regulatory framework in place, the internal and external compliance requirements of publicly traded companies can be met and the true growth stage of the traditional S-curve can begin.

Working with regulators, industry stakeholders can help craft rules where both entrepreneurs and governments win. Such a framework by the G20 could be just the action required to help unleash the long-term creative potential and promise of blockchain.

G20 flag image via Shutterstock.

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Malta Says Crypto Rules Aren't Yet In Force

Malta’s new cryptocurrency regulatory framework has not taken effect just yet.

Three bills regarding cryptocurrencies, blockchain and distributed ledger technology, passed by Maltese Members of Parliament in June, set out a number of ambitious changes to the country’s legal landscape overseeing cryptocurrency-related businesses. However, the Malta Financial Services Authority said Friday that one of these laws is “not yet in force.”

The government is currently developing the “Virtual Financial Assets Framework,” which will complement “The Virtual Financial Assets Act,” according to the announcement.

Until such a time as this framework is complete, the MFSA is not yet in a position “to start receiving request for approvals and authorizations under the Act.”

Nor is it clear when the framework will take effect. The announcement notes that the bill will not take effect until “such date as the Minister for Digital Economy may establish by notice in the Government Gazette.”

That being said, Malta, dubbed the “Blockchain Island,” has been hailed as one of the world’s most friendliest jurisdictions for cryptocurrencies attracting major crypto businesses such as Binance and OKEx.

In fact, it was reported this month that Binance, a major cryptocurrency exchange, would partner in efforts to launch the first Malta-based “decentralized and community-owned bank” dubbed the Founders Bank.

Malta flag via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Crypto Startups Don't Need Sandboxes, They Need Greenhouses

John Collins, is an affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University and former head of policy for crypto exchange Coinbase.

I’ve written before about how I believe regulatory “sandboxes” for financial services innovation serve a useful function and, in absence of federal action in the U.S., states should establish them.

Since that time Arizona passed legislation to establish a sandbox, other states are trying, and there are continuing and active discussions in my home state of Delaware around how to support financial services innovation.

During my testimony at a Maryland Financial Consumer Protection Commission hearing on cryptocurrency, I took the opportunity to give a plug for regulatory “sandboxes” because I think crypto and blockchain projects are excellent candidates for such programs.

With that in mind, I read with great interest a recent speech by Maria Vullo, the Superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services.

She touched on a number of different topics across the financial services landscape (including the state’s BitLicense regulations) and the speech is largely a rebuke of the current administration, its policies, and its overall regulatory worldview. It’s an excellent and provocative speech and I urge everyone to read it.

However, one passage, in particular, caught my attention:

“There are those who argue that the mere utilization of financial technology alone somehow grants them an exemption from the rules that banks and other financial institutions follow to manage risk and protect consumers. I have been highly vocal on myriad fronts in my opposition to this view, which would permit any company that calls itself a fintech to engage in a form of regulatory arbitrage, either with no regulator or in a so-called sandbox.”

She followed with this memorable line:

“A sandbox is where toddlers play. Adults play by rules and if you engage in banking activities, that means you are responsibly regulated in order to protect the customers. Period.”

I don’t disagree with the overall sentiment of Vullo’s statement (and should note than Jan Owen, head of the California Department of Business Oversight made a similar remark a few weeks later): the financial services industry is highly regulated for a reason, and the responsibilities of a financial services company should be higher than that of a photo-sharing app. (I stole this line from Circle co-founder Jeremy Allaire.)

Where I disagree with Vullo is in the representation of so-called “sandboxes” as a no-man’s land of unregulated financial services offerings and the companies who want to discuss new ways of testing financial technologies as “toddlers.”

No one serious is arguing for that type of construct — and if they are, they should stop. And while many of these companies have too many people riding scooters, they aren’t toddlers.

Her description of “sandboxes” sounds more like quicksand. It’s dangerous. In my view, it doesn’t accurately reflect what market participants need or desire — and it doesn’t accurately represent what governments are implementing around the world.

Bad nomenclature

I’ve come to the conclusion that the term “sandboxes” is a bad one. It reinforces the visual that Vullo portrays in her speech and it portends a lack of seriousness that is needed when discussing about financial services.

I have stolen the term “Greenhouse” from Rob Morgan and my former colleagues at the American Bankers Association. I think it more accurately represents what is being attempted. Namely, it’s a place that financial technology solutions can be safely seeded, fed, and controlled.

Those that grow to potential are moved to the real world. Those that fail are filled in with new seeds. And the weeds are cut down.

Fundamentally, these greenhouses aim to relieve the tension between innovation and technology. As technology has (for the most part) finished its disruption of unregulated industries, it has now moved on to the regulated ones.

Testing is inherently necessary for the development of good technology. Disallowing it inhibits innovation, increases the chance of poor technology, and pushes innovators into gray areas that provide little or no transparency for regulators and makes fulfilling their mandate more difficult.

Rather than a “trust but verify” model whereby the regulator accepts an application, allows the business to operate, and checks compliance after operations begin, a greenhouse allows for the solution to be examined in real time.

A few months ago, the UK Financial Conduct Authority published a report detailing its “lessons learned” from experiences over the past several years.

There are certainly problems in the implementation and execution of such programs: Jackson Mueller of the Milken Institute has opined on some of these issues, which include: picking winners and losers, maintaining fairness, finding solutions that actually need such a construct in order to do testing, etc.

Primarily, however, it appears the exercise promotes a two-way conversation between regulators and industry, forces government to make guidance easier to find and understand, and helps companies lower the cost of compliance or quickly pivot away from solutions that might not work, avoiding the waste of time and precious investment dollars.

These are all things we should be promoting. No matter what we call it.

Greenhouse via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Japan's Finance Minister Balks at Changing Crypto Tax Rules

Japan’s top financial official is cautious about the idea of his nation changing how it taxes gains from cryptocurrencies.

During a meeting with the budget committee of the Upper House on June 25, Senator Kenji Fukimaki asked whether Japan’s tax policy on cryptocurrency profits could be changed from its current “miscellaneous income” classification to “separate declared taxation,” Reuters reported. Taro Aso, the deputy prime minister and minister of finance, said he was cautious about making such a change.

Aso explained that, in his view, it was “doubtful” that the general public would understand such a change. He cited the “international nature” of cryptocurrency as one reason why Japanese residents might dislike a change in tax classification. The finance minister also said he was unsure about the “tax fairness” of implementing such a change.

At present, profits earned by investors in cryptocurrency can be taxed between 15 and 55 percent, due to the miscellaneous income rules, according to Bloomberg. Stock profits, which are treated more like separate declared taxes, are taxed at roughly 20 percent in the country.

While the finance official has doubts about cryptocurrency taxation, he still expressed support for blockchain technology in general, saying they have uses apart from cryptocurrencies.

Editor’s note: Statements in this article have been translated from Japanese.

Taro Aso image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.