The cryptocurrency exchange sector in Hong Kong may soon see an upheaval, as the city’s Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) explores various aspects of regulating the myriad of cryptocurrency trading bourses operating in the city, reported South China Morning Post on Oct. 15.
Hong Kong Exploring Digital Assets
Outgoing chairman Carlson Tong Ka-Shing cites investor protection as the primary reason of the agency’s move. However, he expresses concerns that the SFC is limited to regulating only classified financial securities – meaning the rising asset class would first have to be recognized as a security by the HK government. Also, the regulatory approach towards the technology may need careful consideration from the authorities, as the innovation “may not be security at all.”
Ka-Shing believes a blanket ban is not the answer to mitigating money laundering and investor protection concerns, as today’s “internet world” easily facilitates the transfer of data and accessibility to global platforms in case a particular jurisdiction places restrictions. Speaking about crypto-trading in particular, he notes transactions can be “easily conducted” in overseas bourses if a ban is enacted.
The cryptocurrency exchange market has grown from the fringes of Bitcoin trading to a significant sector in 2018. Billions of dollars are traded daily on 217 crypto-exchanges listed on CoinMarketCap, with a mammoth $4.6 billion handled by the world’s top five crypto-exchanges. Despite their success, exchanges remain a single-point-of-failure; threatening billions of dollars on the line and running without any globally-recognized framework to govern operations, maintenance, and security.
The SFC has issued numerous warnings both crypto-investors and exchanges in the city, warning them of risks involved in trading digital assets and legal action if the business does not comply with SFC regulations respectively.
However, after the rise of cryptocurrency trading as a serious contender to the traditional finance market – crypto hedge and ventures funds account for 20 percent of all fund openings in 2018 – the watchdog looks towards introducing formal cryptocurrency regulations to govern the sector.
Because of the uncertainty, Ka-Shing notes cryptocurrencies do not fit in the SFC’s valuation, audit, and custodian requirements as legally expected. He adds:
“No other international market currently has a comprehensive regulation framework for these cryptocurrency platforms. We need to see if and how these platforms can be regulated to a standard that is comparable to that of a licensed trading venue, while at the same time ensuring investors interest are being protected.”
Crypto-Businesses Welcome Move
Ka-Shing’s comments have been taken well by crypto-finance businesses operating in the city. Angelina Kwan, the chief operating officer of BitMEX, welcomed the sentiment and expressed the bourse would work closely with SFC regulations.
She added the business “hopes” regulations are drafted with the fast-paced developments in the broader cryptocurrency market, and referenced U.S. laws for CBOE- and CME-traded Bitcoin Futures as evidence of a regulatory authority shaping an industry.
In a similar vein, Jeremy Allaire, the founder of U.S.-based crypto-finance company Circle, stated his Hong Kong operation recently launched over-the-counter (OTC) trading for cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ether but is aware of the non-regulated, grey market area the product operates in. Allaire stated:
“Since we started the company, we have committed to collaborating with governments. We want to ensure the long-term potential of the digital asset industry.”
Cover Photo by Jimmy Chan on Pexels
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