US Regulator OCC Proposes ‘Fair Access’ to Banking Services For All Including Crypto Companies

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the US’s national bank regulator, has proposed a rule that would forbid banks from providing their services to legal industries, including cryptocurrency companies.

As per the proposed rule, led by former Coinbase counsel Brian Brooks, fair access is promoted under which financial services could be denied by banks to customers only on the basis of “quantitative, risk-based standards established in advance.”

They can’t do so due to political pressures, to prevent the customer from entering or competing in a market or to benefit another person or business activity.

Published on Friday, the proposal does not explicitly mention cryptocurrency but is surely welcoming news for the industry, which has been time and again denied the services by the banks.

The proposal does mention Operation Choke Point, an initiative taken by the Justice Department under the Barack Obama presidency that reportedly aimed to shut down the fraudulent businesses and lenders.

It further reads that it has been revealed that the government agencies have pressured banks to sever their financial services access to “disfavored (but not unlawful) sectors of the economy.”

But neither OCC nor banks are well-equipped to balance these risks that are unrelated to the financial exposure, it said.

Marco Santori on US OCC
Source: @MSantoriESQ

“Fair access to financial services, credit, and capital are essential to our economy,” said Acting Comptroller of the Currency Brian P. Brooks.

“This proposed rule would ensure that banks meet their responsibility to provide their services fairly since they enjoy special privilege and powers because if the system fails to provide fairness to all, it cannot be a source of strength for any.”

The proposal is open for public comments until January 4, 2021.

This week, President Donald Trump nominated the acting Comptroller Brooks as the permanent head of the OCC, a five-year stint.

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Author: AnTy

Deregulating Bitcoin may Increase Speculative Trading Instead of Technical Innovation

Ryozo Himino, the new top financial regulator of Japan, wants the country to take caution over promoting digital assets, arguing that instead of promoting technical innovation, it may end up fueling the speculative fire.

“Deregulating bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies may not necessarily promote technical innovation, if doing so simply increases speculative trading,” Himino told Reuters.

“We’re not thinking of taking special steps to promote cryptocurrencies,” he said. Himino became the new commissioner of the Financial Services Agency (FSA) just last month by replacing Toshihide Endo.

Last year, Himino, under Japan’s chair, spearheaded the G20 debate on regulating cryptocurrencies. Himino was in favor of setting strict regulations on the likes of Facebooks’ Libra, warning the global risks cryptocurrencies pose needs to be addressed first.

Focus on CBDC

According to him, Tokyo needs to shift the focus towards issuing a central bank digital currency (CBDC) as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic could help speed up a cashless society.

Japan has already been studying the technical obstacles to issuing a digital yen and conducting research in joint efforts with other central banks as well.

Himino welcomed these efforts and said, “We shouldn’t be worried about various challenges without even trying to design a plan (for issuing CBDCs).”

“In the end, Japan must think hard about whether to issue CBDCs because there are merits and demerits to doing so. What it can do now is to be ready so that when Japan decides to issue CBDCs, it can do so straight away.”

No “One-Size Fits All” Solution for Banks

The coronavirus (COVID-19) has been making things worse for the country’s regional banks, which are already feeling the pain of years of ultra-low interest rates and a sluggish economy.

According to Himino, there is no “one-size fits all” solution for the banks and said regional banks could use the bail-out programs of the government, cut costs, or raise capital from the markets, though the situation hasn’t been that bad, he said.

“At present, there isn’t any regional bank that is facing concerns over its financial health.”

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Author: AnTy

US Regulator Authorizes National Banks and Federal Saving Institutions as Crypto Custodians

U.S. regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of Currency (OCC), allows federal banks and national savings institutions to officially custody cryptocurrencies for their customers. The statement released on July 22, confirms that any national bank or savings facility can now hold on to unique cryptographic keys of cryptocurrencies in their vaults pertaining to custody services.

According to the statement, the decision to allow banks to offer crypto custodial services follows a growing demand by investors to safely store their cryptographic keys, which, if lost, capitulates the value of the assets. This news opens up the field to large banks to provide these services, relieving current state-chartered crypto custodians such as Coinbase and Gemini.

Nonetheless, crypto custodial services differ from the traditional custody services banks offer, the statement explained. Given that the digital assets are not physical, digital wallets will be required to safely store the cryptographic keys.

The release, which comes a month after the OCC asked for public input on Crypto and DLT, further states that the increasing technological innovations in the financial world call for “banks and other service providers to leverage new technology and innovative ways to provide traditional services on behalf of customers.”

A modern form of traditional banking activities

Discussing the new regulation, the author of the statement, Jonathan V. Gould, the Senior Deputy Comptroller & Chief Counsel, claimed that cryptocurrency custodial services Is a new form of already existing asset custodian businesses of national banks.

The OCC permits national banks and savings to hold their customers’ cryptocurrencies in both a fiduciary and non-fiduciary role. Banks holding crypto in a fiduciary capacity will need to manage them in the same way as they manage other assets while non-fiduciary capacity targets holding cryptographic keys that control the actual transfer of the cryptocurrency.

Manage your cryptocurrency risk

Brian Brooks, the current head of OCC and a former executive at Coinbase, however, warns on the risk management of custody services across national banks. Focusing on customer assets protection, Brooks said,

“This opinion clarifies that banks can continue satisfying their customers’ needs for safeguarding their most valuable assets, which today for tens of millions of Americans includes cryptocurrency.”

The statement concludes by warning custodians to focus on risk management techniques, due diligence, and KYC/AML compliance as they begin the operations on holding crypto assets. No specific recommendation of customers was provided in the statement with banks open to deal with crypto institutions, as recently seen with JPMorgan onboarding Coinbase and Gemini.

This, however, should be done with the thought that cryptocurrencies do hold their risks and challenges. It states,

“A national bank or FSA engaging in new activities should develop and implement those activities consistent with sound risk management practices and align them with the bank’s overall business plans and strategies as set forth in OCC guidance.”

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Author: Lujan Odera

Singapore’s Financial Regulator, MAS, Wants More Power to Push Stringent Rules For Crypto

Singapore’s financial regulator, which also serves as the country’s central bank, The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), is seeking to introduce stricter rules for the crypto industry to adhere to the new Financial Action Task Force (FATF) standards.

The financial watchdog is seeking to have more powers that will help in prohibiting any unsuitable enterprise from doing any business within the country. The financial overseer is also seeking powers to oversee, license, and regulate all crypto businesses which offer services in other countries but are based in Singapore.

As per the proposal, the country’s financial authority is seeking to expand the provisions of the Payment Services Act (PSA), which came into effect in January this year. If the proposal is adopted, Virtual Asset Service Providers (VASPs) will be required to conduct their operations in other countries using the same standards and regulations in their country of origin, Singapore. Although the MAS, back in March, already exempted a few of the top crypto companies: Binance, Coinbase, Gemini, and Ripple.

The regulator has already published a consultation paper seeking public input and feedback in regards to the expanded powers of the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

The regulator argues that the new proposal will put a halt to regulatory arbitrage where multinational VASPs choose the regulations to adhere to if they suit their mode of business.

The VASPs that will be significantly affected by these proposals are the ones that work abroad but maintain a “meaningful presence” in the city-state; that is, their directors and offices are located within Singapore. Corporations registered in Singapore, partnerships, as well as limited liability partnerships created in the country, will also be affected by the new legislation.

The financial regulator also explains that the regulations will help Singapore to adhere to the set anti-money laundering (AML) standards that were set late last year by the global financial watchdog FATF.

The public has until August 20 to send their views and opinions.

Asia’s most preferred countries, is Singapore, for the crypto industry, because of its friendly crypto environment. There are more than 150 crypto and blockchain-based firms headquartered in the city-state.

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Author: Joseph Kibe

Swiss Financial Regulator, FINMA, Licenses Local Bank To Carry Out The Crypto Transactions

Switzerland’s top financial regulator, Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) grants local banks, InCore, the first license to transact digital currencies. This adds to the accelerated efforts from the Swiss government in the blockchain field so far in 2020 with the government looking to implement a central bank digital currency (CBDC).

InCore, first Swiss bank licensed to transact crypto

In an official announcement released on Friday, May 29, InCore bank confirms its FINMA license allowing it to process digital currency transactions. This makes it the first business to business Swiss bank mandated to operate within the crypto industry opening up a gateway for customers across the globe.

The license allows institutional-based clients banking with InCore bank to buy, sell, trade, hold and transfer digital assets on their accounts. Opening up crypto transactions aims at promoting the overall development of blockchain-based payment systems to increase efficiency, reduce cost, and enhance transparency in the financial system.

Speaking on the new license, CEO of InCore Bank, Mark Dambacher, says the demand from customers for digital assets pushed the addition of the services. The bank aims to provide world-class services for its customers “without having to invest in infrastructure and new processes themselves”. He added,

“And this while maintaining the usual security standards. This is how we build a bridge to traditional asset classes.”

The bank recently announced its “Digital Services” division that will work on the strategic development of these new crypto transaction systems. The bank aims to separate and secure the crypto wallets differently according to Daniel Blatter, InCore bank Head of Digital Services,

“We guarantee the complete segregation of crypto customer assets on individual wallets, which means that the bank’s own capital requirements are not required.”

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Author: Lujan Odera

NYFDS Gives Crypto Firms 30 Days to Submit A Coronavirus (COVID-19) Contingency Plan

New York’s Financial regulator, NYFDS, has given crypto firms registered within this state one month to have submitted a preparedness plan for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The watchdog sent out letters to crypto entities it regulates which was followed by a state of emergency declaration by New York’s Mayor, Bill De Blasio.

These firms are required to outline how they plan to tackle short term and long-term operational risks amongst others as the world’s economy dips due to Coronavirus (COVID-19).

The letter sent out to over 15 firms regulated by the NYFDS partly reads;

“COVID-19 has already had adverse economic effects domestically and globally. It is critical that each regulated entity establish plans to address how it will manage the effects of the outbreak and assess disruptions and other risks to its services and operations.”

Markets across the world have been red with crypto also falling victim. These highly volatile assets lost over 30% this week despite stakeholders having faith that they would be a great alternative for value realization during black swan events. The NYFDS concern with players in this field is, therefore, no surprise given the industry’s brief history.

The NYFDS Risk Mitigation Proposal Outline

Crypto firms targeted by the NYFDS are required to highlight a minimum of 9 areas that pose an operational risk to their businesses. In addition, they should have 3 separate plans to tackle the identified shortcomings.

Basically, the operational outlook will cover company specifics that are exposed including probable solutions that can be implemented in a scalable manner. The NYDFS took this approach as it yet to quantify how much financial damage Coronavirus (COVID-19) has done and will do in the coming days.

This development means the likes of Ripple, BitPay and Coinbase will have to analyze the options of working remotely. Furthermore, the regulator requires them to update health protection tactics to prevent their employees from COVID-19 exposure.

Apart from coming up with a contingency plan, crypto firms operating in New York have to regularly check whether their suggested strategy is effective. As of reporting date, the number of reported COVID-19 cases in New York is below 100 but the city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, might spike to 1000 hence the state of emergency.

Coinbase Ahead in COVID-19 Prevention

This San Fransisco based crypto exchange appears to have already taken initiatives to prevent more risks than the markets are already experiencing. Coinbase rolled out its contingency plan last month and it comprises four tiers; 0-3. At the moment, only Japan is at tier 1 with all the other subsidiaries still at 0. Ideally, all employees will work remotely in case it reaches a point where all outlet locations are placed in tier 3; this will probably be at the extremes of COVID-19.

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Author: Edwin Munyui

Russian Govt Looks To Block Censorship-Resistant Tech; IoT, TOR, and Telegram’s TON

Russia’s communications regulator, Roskomnadzor, is looking for contractors who can block networks that are resistant to censorship. According to a publication by General Radio Frequency Center on March 3, the communications watchdog is seeking technical solutions to get rid of unwanted platforms that often host extreme content.

Some of the platforms that have been officially identified as darknet threats in Russia include Zeronet, Freenet, Invisible Internet Project and Telegram’s Open Network (TON). The latter however popular for its social media network was not spared by Roskomnadzor.

How is Telegram’s Network a Threat?

Telegram featured in this list owing to its upcoming blockchain platform; the firm had planned to launch it soon but encountered some challenges with the SEC. Despite the shortcomings, the social network is determined to launch TON with the latest development update being a guide on how to leverage TON’s DNS for websites.

The TON network is designed to offer a number of services including anonymity hence the friction with Russia’s communications agency. It is also not the first time Telegram is facing a hostile ecosystem; back in 2017 Roskomnadzor tried to block Telegram’s messenger. The agency has however been unsuccessful to date given Telegram’s domain fronting technique.

Following the March 3 publication, Roskomnadzor has moved to block six crypto-oriented websites without any warning to users. The platforms that have suffered this wrath are; prostocoin.com, tittok.com, btcphone.ru, nicechange.org, alphatop.me, and bits.media.

Telegrams CTO, Mitja Goroshevsky, is however optimistic that TON cannot be blocked by Russia’s authorities;

“Even if there is an ‘Iron Curtain’ and all the communication channels with the outside world are blocked, chances to block it are around 5 percent,” adding that “it will be a new disgrace for Roskomnadzor”

Mitja also highlighted that the only way to tamper with TON’s network is by compromising over 30% of validators within its ecosystem. According to him, this would be a far-fetched ambition as most of the validators are based outside Russia in order to leverage the cloud services by Amazon and Google.

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Author: Edwin Munyui

Israel Securities Authority Is Looking To Private DLT Exchanges To Model Its Regulations

Israel’s securities regulator is calling on private sector players to submit proof-of-concept for Distributed ledger technology (DLT) backed virtual assets trading platforms.

According to CoinDesk, Israel Securities Authority (ISA) held a conference on Jan 20 in Tel Aviv where it announced that it was set to provide a full virtual value chain meant for investors which will comprise of virtual assets which are held, traded as well as settled through DLT. in connection to this, the agency is now calling for the players in the industry to submit their pitch that must have proof-of-concept.

The regulator stated that after the completion of this stage, it will come up with requisite regulation which will make it easy for the launching of digital platforms in the country’s capital market.

As per the conference notes, DLT presents not just a capital markets evolution, but it has become a necessity and Israel and the securities regulators should work towards creating an enabling environment. Majority of the people who presented their views during the conference stated that fresh and low-cost DLT-based platform have the potential of opening up extra financial opportunities for new entrants in the market. The regulator also indicates that Israel can be an example to other securities regulators around the world.

The endorsement of DLT by the authority comes a few days after a committee that was created to analyze the technology for half a year, taking into account all the technology aspects ranging from issuance of tokens to smart contracts. According to the committee’s report, DLT can transform the country’s capital market and can propel the market as the center of global technology. The committee also found that DLT could be a solution for faster settlements and can help to streamline clearance.

The committee also states that DLT in capital markets has an advantage especially in IPOs, clearance and trading. They also found that DLT will help in lowering associated costs. The technology can help in spurring innovation in the market and open up the market to many players as well.

ISA uses DLT through its messaging platform ‘Yael’.

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Author: Joseph Kibe

Firms Have Borrowed $8.2 Billion from the Blockchain Platform of a Chinese Forex Regulator

The Chinese regulator State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) runs a cross-border blockchain financing system and has helped firms with more than $8.2 billion.

The SAFE platform has helped small and medium-sized (SMEs) corporations and enterprises with this amount of money in only 8 months after being opened, reports the Economic Information Daily. Ever since it has been launched in March 2019, it has expanded its pilot financing program from 7 provinces to 17, having more than 160 banks joining its program.

One-Third of Chinese Lenders Providing Forex Services

Since November 29th, almost 1,600 companies, most of them SMEs, have become part of the SAFE program and started sharing their financial bookkeeps with over 160 banks. One-third of the lenders in China are providing Forex service. SAFE’s deputy director Zhang Xin said the platform will be advanced to make foreign exchange receipts and cross-border trade settlements easier. This is what the blockchain analyst Cao Yin declared about the initiative:

“The traditional financial processes, which require a lot of human labor to carry out information verification and authorization, leave a lot of room for financial fraud, but as the blockchain system promises a decentralized and encrypted track of each capital flow, it leaves potentially little to no space for human mediation.”

Aside from having a reliable trust mechanism, the SAFE platform offers real-time supervision and reduced processing time for any transaction. Zhang said transactions are now taking in place in 15 minutes, as opposed to the 1 or 2 days like they did before.

SAFE Platform to Be One of the Most Influential Chinese Blockchain Projects

The cross-border blockchain platform run by SAFE is at the moment the only state organ to file a Cyberspace Administration of China blockchain record. It’s set to become one of the most influential blockchain projects in the country, together with the central bank’s Greater Bay Area blockchain trade and finance platform.

After President Xi Jinping has endorsed the blockchain, more government authorities and enterprises in China have started hurrying to implement the new technology. Earlier in November, China has launched a blockchain identification system for cities.

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Author: Oana Ularu

Argentinians Can No Longer Buy Bitcoin with Credit Cards Per Country’s Central Bank Notice

Cointelegraph reports that the fiscal regulator has taken drastic measures in order to protect the foreign exchange reserves of Argentina which has been under immense stress following months of high inflation rates which has led to the slump in the country’s currency, the peso.

The new measures were contained in a communique from the banking authority which included various sectors whereby credit card usage was either limited or banned.

The part that dealt with the crypto sector stated,

“Acquisition of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies: It is prohibited to purchase BTC with this payment method. The only remaining alternative for this investment is to do so with funds transferred from a bank account.”

At the moment, it is still not clear if the prohibition by the central bank were meant only for credit cards or if it also affects debit cards. The mentioning of bank transfers brings the notion of peer-to-peer transactions provided that no foreign money enters into Argentina.

The central bank is hopeful that through introduction of restrictions in various sectors, it can have a tight grip on foreign exchange affairs. At the start of this week, the banking authority reduced the maximum dollar purchase limit for its citizens to only $200. This represents a decrease of 98% from the earlier $10,000 that was set at the beginning of October. At the time these measures were introduced, the value of Bitcoin trading increased sharply and the measures introduced are meant to deal with this phenomenon.

Bitcoin, although being seen as volatile in nature, has increased in value by about 150% from the start of the year. This means that it represents a better store of value in Argentina than the peso under the current regime of volatile inflation rates. The restriction on the usage of the US dollar within Argentina can easily be circumvented by adopting a crypto that is widely accepted like Bitcoin or Ether.

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Author: Joseph Kibe