Where Finance Finds Its Future
Why the case for regulating cryptocurrencies is becoming unanswerable
The peer-to-peer system of cash outlined by Satoshi Nakamoto in his famous paper of October 2008 did not mention regulators or regulations. But its ambition of dispensing with trusted third parties did mean jettisoning regulated financial institutions. Nearly 14 years on, only the irreconcilable libertarian wing of the Blockchain industry still considers regulation of cryptocurrencies to be unthinkable. Major cryptocurrency intermediaries are getting regulated already. Two of the major cryptocurrency exchanges (Coinbase and FTX) have multiple regulatory licences and even Binance has secured a licence in France and applied for licences in Bahrain and Dubai. Likewise, of a list of 100 digital wallet custodians, 42 have secured or applied for regulatory licences. Nor is it true to say any longer that cryptocurrencies are unregulated. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) extended Know Your Client (KYC), Anti-Money Laundering (AML), Countering the Financing of Terrorism (CFT) and sanctions screening obligations to the cryptocurrency markets as long ago as October 2018. Grumbling by cryptocurrency brokers and exchanges about the application of the Travel Rule – which obliges them to share identifying information about buyers and sellers of cryptocurrencies – is merely the latest instalment of this long-running set of obligations. Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) now have to be filed. Besides, regulators are losing patience with the seemingly unending series of scams, hacks and thefts of cryptocurrency. Since hackers made off with US$500 million of Bitcoins from Mt Gox back in 2014, thefts of cryptocurrency have remained a constant. According to Chainalysis, thieves stole $3.2 billion worth of cryptocurrency in 2021 and another US$1.3 billion in the first quarter of this year, most of it from Decentralised Finance (DeFi) protocols. Chainalysis reports an average of 66 crypto-currency thefts a year since Mt Gox. But thieves are not the only people taxing retail cryptocurrency investors. Almost all the rewards of cryptocurrency trading go to professionals, including via pump-and-dump schemes. So it is not surprising that regulators are clamping down on the sale and distribution of crypto-currencies. Singapore has been particularly vocal about discouraging sales of cryptocurrencies to retail investors but the United Kingdom is now pondering similar restrictions. In emerging market economies, cryptocurrencies are used routinely to bypass capital controls or evade tax.