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Swiss State Secretary: Standards Not Regulation Will Boost Crypto Market

Switzerland’s State Secretary has commented that fintech has moved beyond “hype-cycle” into a stage where standards are now more important than regulation. Secretary Joerg Gasser was speaking at this week’s Singapore Fintech Festival.

The Swiss minister pointed out the increased demand for fintech regulation internationally was not necessarily in the best interest of promoting the industry. Improved market efficiency within the sector has lead to a situation where more focus can now be placed on technologically-neutral regulations based on a far more collaborative approach toward blockchain technology. Standards, Gasser maintained, are now the key element moving forward.

During the panel discussion entitled ‘Capital Markets: Killer Use Case for Blockchain?’, Gasser pointed out that powerful investors are now getting into blockchain, which has increased the demand for regulation. But adoption can only be assured if industry standards continue to be maintained.

He cited his native country, Switzerland, as an example of principle-based and technology-neutral regulation, a country in which regulation was seen as cooperative rather than punitive, encouraging innovation through government support.

This was demonstrated earlier this year when Switzerland took another step along that road with the country’s stock exchange, SIX,  announcing that it will open its doors to digital currencies. The new platform being built by SIX will offer integrated post-transaction services such as deal settlement and asset custody through DLT.

SIX, regulated by national regulator Finma and the Swiss central bank, says that it plans to roll out its cryptocurrency service in the first half of 2019. SIX’s chief executive, Jos Dijsselhof commented:

“For us, it is abundantly clear that much of what is going on in the digital space is here to stay and will define the future of our industry. The financial industry now needs to bridge the gap between traditional financial services and digital communities.”

With SEBA Crypto AG expecting to be licensed as a securities dealer and bank by June of next year, it appears that banks are finally warming to the concept of digital assets. Guido Bühler, CEO of SEBA Crypto AG, suggests that five large asset managers from overseas have also shown some interest in the bank.

The bank plans to offer custodial services with plans to raise a further USD 206 million through an ICO in order to expand its operations into major financial hubs in the new year.

 

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Cash Disappearing in Sweden, Native Crypto Needed

Cash is rapidly disappearing in Sweden, with the supply of the Swedish krona (SEK) declining to 1% of Sweden’s gross domestic product (GDP). Businesses are now allowed to refuse cash, since it is used so little in society, giving private payment apps like Swish a monopoly over the payment market in Sweden.

It has been speculated that to prevent the complete privatization of money in Sweden, a cryptocurrency is needed, which would probably be called the e-Krona.

According to data from 2010-2018, the circulating supply of cash in Sweden has declined from SEK 95 billion to SEK 55 billion. This suggests that the government has turned off the printing press and is burning physical cash out of circulation. Further, the legislator of Sweden has allowed banks and businesses to simply refuse cash, moving the entire society away from cash and towards digital currency.

If cash completely disappears in Sweden, then it would no longer be possible for people to buy goods or services without going through a third-party payment network. This subjects the citizens of Sweden to payment reverses, payment freezes, and fees for using their own money. Further, Swedish citizens will be forced to go through know your customer (KYC) policies, threatening privacy when paying in Sweden. Perhaps the most important downside is tat Swedish citizens will no longer have total control of their own money.

This can be solved in two ways. Firstly, the citizens of Sweden who still want to use cash can simply adopt USD or EUR, but this would not work well for going to restaurants or other local businesses. The more optimal solution is a native cryptocurrency of Sweden, the e-Krona. Any businesses that accept digital payments of SEK in Sweden can easily be equipped to accept e-Krona.

The difference between the e-Krona and a typical digital SEK payment is that citizens would have full control of their e-Krona via the private key, and do not have to worry about payment reversals, freezes, or fees. An e-Krona would be particularly useful for merchants in Sweden, since at this point, as cash disappears, they are at risk of receiving chargebacks on any sale they make.

 

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Nigerian Crypto Association Asks Government for Clear Guidelines

The Electronic Payment Practitioners Association of Nigeria (E-PPAN) is asking government regulators in the country for clearer guidelines to drive the industry forward.

This follows reports, including a statement by E-PPAN, that there is a growing possibility of fintech businesses offering blockchain services being driven overseas unless both the Nigerian government and the Central Bank of Nigeria can offer clarification on its view towards cryptocurrency.

A new Nigerian blockchain hub was announced by the government in August in conjunction with UK blockchain firm Coinfirm. The resulting launch of the Africa Blockchain Lab promises to offer financial inclusion to many Nigerians outside of the country’s financial system and also to attract new startups as part of the country’s drive to support the adoption of blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies in the continent.

However, the Bitcoin Exchange Guide claims that Central Bank governor Godwin Emifele has done little to encourage the growth of cryptocurrency; investors continue to be reluctant owing to the government’s lack of guidelines. Despite the launching of the Africa Blockchain Lab by state-backed KAD ICT Hub, cryptocurrency still struggles to receive recognition in Nigeria due to its continued links to criminal activities by authorities.

“Investments in blockchain-based financial services such as cryptocurrency are today going to Rwanda and Malta, which have provided regulatory frameworks that guide operators of the technology,” claims Ade Atobatele, founder of Gboza Gboza Technology Ltd, and member of E-PPAN.

This hasn’t stopped PundiX setting its sights on Nigeria, recently introducing Point of Sale (POS) machines which enable users to pay in Bitcoin and Ether along with the country’s local currency, the Naira. Nigeria certainly has the potential to accommodate such facilities with Africa’s largest contingent of Bitcoin holders and a population of 185 million, representing the continent’s largest population of potential users and investors. Localbitcoins is reported to have seen a trading volume of USD 260 million this year to date.

Nigeria should be looking to overseas for regulation, according to E-PPAN member Michael Kiberu, calling for regulators to look to countries such as Uganda, Switzerland, Kenya, and Japan, where cryptocurrency guidelines are clear and operate with legal status, while creating a healthy flow of capital into the financial sector.

 

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UK Exchange Jumps the Gun On German Crypto Regulator

The German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) has closed down the operations of UK cryptocurrency exchange Finatex Ltd.

It appears that the UK firm was ordered to “cease cross-border proprietary trading immediately,” for slipping under Germany’s regulatory wire, having not received the necessary authorization to operate cross-border exchange transactions from BaFin. The UK company which was launched in Leeds, Yorkshire in 2016 has announced it plans to dissolve the company this week as a result.

This is not the first time that BaFin has stepped in to flex its regulatory muscles in recent months over the question of cryptocurrency exchanges’ rights to operate. The last attempt to prosecute a company trading Bitcoin operating without a license was, however, unsuccessful after The Berlin Court of Appeal overturned the case.

Inconsistencies in the way cryptocurrency firms can operate cross-border transactions in Europe have caused some concern recently, and the German case once again brought these to the notice of European financial regulators. Although individual EU countries have clearly defined rules in their own jurisdictions for the trading of Bitcoin and other digital currencies, the EU as a whole has so far failed to come together with a Europe-wide regulatory framework. The EU passed a motion in 2016 enabling taxation of cryptocurrency holdings, investments, and profits.

Now that the Berlin Court of Appeals has classified Bitcoin as a “financial instrument” it now comes under the auspices of BaFin’s financial regulatory practices. Its CEO Felix Hufeld only last month told investors that they should avoid ICOs due to scamming concerns. He argued:

“We do not want to stifle innovation, but must avert dangers at the same time. For example, it is important for us to take action against money laundering and safeguard the privacy rights of investors. In addition, there should be certain minimum standards for the underlying terms of the contract.”

Earlier this year, the German Federal Government stated that cryptocurrencies do not pose a threat to financial stability. The government stated on 12 June that the volume of cryptocurrencies, when juxtaposed to the overall size of the German financial system, is comparatively low and, therefore, simply needs careful monitoring and regulatory measures put in place in order to control the space.

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French Crypto Taxes See Yet Another Drop Proposal

After stating in April 2018 that cryptocurrency taxes in France would be lowered, it appears that the government has settled on a figure.

Gains from the sale of cryptocurrencies were previously labeled as industrial and commercial profits under French tax law and therefore could have up to as much as 45% tax levied on them for larger users. With French social security contributions (CSG) currently standing at 17.2%, some wealthier crypto traders could have been paying a massive 62% in tax.

In April the Conseil-D’état, under new tax laws specifically aimed at Bitcoin had suggested setting the new crypto tax rate at 19%, which is the same rate applied to what the French call “movable property”, such as cars, jewelry, and patents. Bitcoin would fall into that same category.

However, the Finance Commission in France’s lower house of parliament revealed on Wednesday that its latest amendment to French taxation as it applies to cryptocurrency assets proposes a flat rate of 30%, equal to the current rate of French capital tax, from January of 2019.

The Bank of France proposed a ban earlier this year on investment companies to keep financial institutions from conducting business in the cryptocurrency market until the government could enact proper regulation. The Bank of France Governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau commented earlier this year that new laws were required to cover cryptocurrency exchanges, assuring investors who had previously been shocked when he commented:

“Bitcoin is in no way a currency or even a cryptocurrency. It is a speculative asset. Its value and extreme volatility have no economic basis, and they are nobody’s responsibility.”

The latest details coming from France’s lower house are sure to encourage investors, although original suggestions of a new rate of 19% proposed by the Conseil-D’état earlier in the year would have been far more warmly received by the industry.

The French aim is still geared towards establishing a more global regulatory network as digital currency is used globally, not simply in France. The country’s Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire, has suggested that the G20 need to reach agreement on how Bitcoin could be regulated amongst the member countries.

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Inclusion of Pro-Blockchain Gibraltar Minister in DC Panel Positive Sign for US Regulation

The Gibraltar Minister for Commerce, Albert Isola, has urged the DC Fintech Week panel to ”collectively strive towards fintech excellence” while sharing his views on regulatory competition in the blockchain industry. The inclusion of a well-known pro-blockchain speaker on the mainstream panel discussion is a promising indicator for the future of the technology in the US, as Isola shared ideas of regulation surrounding the nascent industry.

Visiting upon invitation, Isola discussed his experiences and ideas regarding regulatory competition, including that relevant to his expertise in blockchain. The minister participated in a panel discussion at the second annual DC Fintech Week entitled ‘Making or Taking Innovation?, Regulatory Competition and the Race for Fintech Dominance’, with an audience comprising of academics, lawmakers, policymakers and regulators.

Isola said that his participation gave Gibraltar a chance to prove its ambitions on the global stage as a leader in shaping blockchain regulation, adding, ”As ever, Gibraltar continues to punch above its weight, and is fast becoming an assertive voice in an increasingly noisy space.”

The panel was joined by a number of experts from the fintech and cybersecurity sectors, including Peter Kerstens, Co-Chair of European Commission Fintech Taskforce, and Sharon Yang, Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Financial Markets at the US Treasury.

The Gibraltan minister frequently acts as a spokesman for the country’s progressive blockchain and cryptocurrency policies, participating in conferences globally to share the concepts that have fostered the industries internally. Gibraltar remains in competition with its fellow European nation of Malta to gain status as the most crypto-friendly country in the region.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission has been a critic of the cryptocurrency industry, with the US generally failing to be recognized as a hospitable nation for blockchain start-ups.

 

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Lawyer Claims Bakkt Can Bypass Approval for Physical Bitcoin Futures

Crypto lawyer Jake Chervinsky has determined that Bakkt does not need direct approval from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to launch the physical Bitcoin futures, so it appears the launch date will proceed as scheduled.

The cryptocurrency markets are highly anticipating the launch of physical Bitcoin futures on Bakkt on 12 December 2018. It is a new cryptocurrency exchange which will be owned by the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), the same organization that runs the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

14/ A designated contract market like ICE can file a self-certification submission as late as one business day before initial listing.

That means ICE technically doesn’t have to file Bakkt’s papers until Tuesday, December 11 for Bakkt to launch futures on Wednesday, December 12.

— Jake Chervinsky (@jchervinsky) November 6, 2018

According to Chervinsky, ICE is a CFTC certified designated contract market, allowing it to self-certify new futures offerings without any prior approval. ICE and Bakkt can submit the filing for physical Bitcoin futures as soon as one day before launch. Chervinsky says the CFTC will probably publish a press release about the futures when the self-certification occurs.

16/ Consider the process that CME & CBOE went through to get approval for their bitcoin futures last year.

Both of them ended up self-certifying, but only after *months* of negotiations with the CFTC & changes to their products.

The CFTC explains here: (https://t.co/B0tuugmPDx)

— Jake Chervinsky (@jchervinsky) November 6, 2018

However, if the CFTC disapproves of the physical Bitcoin futures, they could find some way to block them after launch. At this time, there is no evidence that this will happen otherwise, the controversy would have already been underway as seen when cash-settled Bitcoin futures were launched on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) and Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBoE). It took months of negotiations for CME and CBoE to reach an agreement with the CFTC, even though those exchanges can self-certify like Bakkt.

Bakkt CEO Kelly Loeffler indicates that the plans for the physical Bitcoin futures would be reviewed and approved by the CFTC before launch, probably to maintain 100% compliance with regulators and avoid problems in the future.

The reason the Bakkt physical Bitcoin futures are important is that they would allow institutional investors to buy Bitcoin in a safe and regulated way on major stock trading platforms. The futures settle the same day and investors receive actual Bitcoin in their accounts, unlike the cash settled futures in Chicago. Market demand for the physical Bitcoin futures is expected increase demand on Bitcoin spot markets, which could possibly lead to a major Bitcoin price increase.

 

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Thailand Pursues Errant Taxpayers with Blockchain Upgrade to Tax System

Thailand’s tax system is set to get an upgrade with blockchain technology, which the ruling junta says will increase the chances of catching tax evaders as well as provide a more efficient system for returning tax refunds.

Ekniti Nitithanprapas, director-general of Thailand’s Revenue Department, said that blockchain and machine learning will be utilized in tax avoidance probes. Blockchain solutions will be responsible for verifying if the correct amount of taxes have been paid and sending refunds where applicable, while machine learning will track the ways in which taxes are evaded, enabling the department to prevent those methods happening in the future.

Blockchain will also benefit the taxation process by increasing the transparency of taxation operations, something particularly useful in Thailand which has seen tax rates fluctuate significantly since the ruling junta took power.

Nitithanprapas has spoken about his initiative to incorporate technology into Thailand’s tax scheme on prior occasions, saying blockchain and big data will play a role in future digital tax collection.

Cryptocurrency profits are subject to a 15% capital gains tax in Thailand, although investors are responsible for reporting their earnings to tax authorities. An additional 7% tax was proposed several months ago which would be effective on all trades and purchases even if the investor had lost money. This was quickly shot down, however, as legislators recognized the destructive impact on the native cryptocurrency industry if it was enforced.

The Thai Securities and Exchange Commission has been given the authority to shut down any initial coin offering (ICO) that fails to register with the regulatory body, although ICOs in the country are generally being promoted. A framework for encouraging investors is now in the works; coin offerings remain under strict observation.

 

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Taiwan Tightens AML Legislation to Remove Crypto Anonymity

Taiwan has amended its AML legislation to incorporate cryptocurrency transactions into state law.

Pro crypto congressman Jason Hsu proposed the amendment to the country’s Money Laundering Control Act last month in a bid to make cryptocurrencies face the same legal recourse as traditional financial instruments, in addition to several added rules specific to cryptocurrency. Hsu’s hope was that by providing a solid legal framework, investors will be encouraged into the market, while the new regulations could help inform citizens on the emerging technology.

Now that the new law has been passed, Taiwan’s Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) can place the onus on exchanges to conduct their own vetting and verification processes, which will now require users to use their own names and not hide behind an alias. This means that banks could now put pressure on exchanges for not observing AML and KYC guidelines.

Cryptocurrency exchanges can now expect to receive fines for non-compliance to accompany the new rules. Non- financial institutions can expect fines from between USD 7,300 and USD 145,000, while financial institutions will receive much more significant penalties for non-compliance from between USD 73,000 and USD 1.45 million.

The FSC had amended the original AML legislation in 2016 but it is thought that the changes had made no significant impact on financial crime. The Ministry of Justice sees the new rules as far more in keeping with international standards.

In response, a spokesperson from cryptocurrency exchange BitoEX said the anonymity was only relevant in cases of cryptocurrency-to-cryptocurrency transactions. Any transactions involving fiat had always required the user’s full details and correct name.

Earlier this year, banks in Taiwan ordered the FSC to identify bank accounts offered to Bitcoin trading platforms as “high-risk clients”, requiring transactions through the accounts above a certain threshold to be flagged to the regulator.

The FSC has revealed that it also intends to implement new ICO regulations by June 2019.

 

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UK Crypto to Flourish Despite Brexit Fears, Say Experts

Experts in the UK have indicated that Brexit augurs well for cryptocurrency regardless of concerns about the direction of Britain’s economy after March 2019.

UK Chancellor Philip Hammond’s August forecast that the UK could see an 87.7 percent hit to GDP and a £80 billion black hole in public finances in a no-deal scenario holds no concern for many cryptocurrency experts.

Mike Romanov, chief executive of Digital Securities Exchange (DSX) sees Brexit as a further way of the UK establishing its own rules for cryptocurrency trading which will push the sector forward, arguing that, “Britain is already looking at how it can maintain its dominance in financial services post Brexit, even as some major players abandon ship ahead of March next year.”

This is not only a positive outcome for conventional financial markets according to Romanov, but the UK taking back rulemaking could have a significant impact on the trading of digital currency. He suggests:

“As such, crypto could present a big opportunity. While the EU looks to apply regulation at an EU level, taking it out of the control of member states, Britain could be free to apply its own rules and shape itself to become a well-regulated and crypto friendly market that looks to nurture the future of this financial movement rather than eye it with an air of suspicion and cynicism.”

Cryptology’s chief commercial officer Herbert Sim also feels that bureaucracy will take a dent when Britain pulls out and that this has to be a good thing for crypto movement in the financial environment. He suggests that “…leaving the EU will give the UK decision-making capabilities on areas that the EU’s bureaucratic processes can be desperately slow to decide on.” The opening of foreign crypto markets outside of Europe will positively impact the status quo, Sim suggests. Another CEO, Iqbal Gandham from eToro, claims that any volatility from Brexit will be short-lived:

“We are already seeing crypto assets used as an alternative in less stable economies, and Brexit could spark a new wave of investment from people looking to diversify their portfolios and hedge against geopolitical risk.”

However, all these positivity comes with a warning according to Romanov who comments that Britain needs to maintain its competitive edge, “What can’t happen is for Britain to become scared of its own financial shadow and water down the investment it’s made into new technologies, all in a bid to placate the traditional financial services world.”

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