Posted on

Switzerland to Ease Regulation for Cryptocurrency Ecosystem

Once called “Crypto Nation,” Switzerland has recently been driving away the ecosystem after setting up a more stringent regulatory framework.

Having dropped from second place last year to sixth in 2018, in a PwC country ranking of the sum of initial coin offering (ICO) funds raised, the government is attempting to make a U-turn in popularity by encouraging banks to accept the accounts of cryptocurrency companies.

Switzerland Struggles with New ICO Regulation, Plans to Facilitate Access to Banking System

Switzerland is bleeding cryptocurrency businesses to offshore rivals such as Liechtenstein, Gibraltar, the British Virgin Islands, and the Cayman Islands, following the publishing of ICO guidelines in February 2018.

The new regulation, which defines three types of tokens (payment, utility, and asset) and requires anti-money laundering compliance for payment tokens, was considered “pretty reasonable” by big names such as Erik Voorhees.

The reality is that a number of cryptocurrency entrepreneurs have lost their interest in establishing themselves in the country. Zug, one of the wealthiest Swiss cantons aka “Crypto Valley,” received up to 300 virtual currency entities in recent years. Its local government is concerned that they may leave if authorities don’t ease their way into the banking system, Zug’s finance director, Heinz Taennler, told Reuters.

“All their banking relationships are going to Liechtenstein. These are hundreds of jobs that have been created, and every job is important.”

The cryptocurrency ecosystem in Switzerland has even asked the central bank, Swiss National Bank (SNB), to relieve them from the hardships of opening bank accounts since the new legislation.

Zuercher Kantonalbank (ZKB) has closed over 20 accounts of virtual currency entities in 2017, according to Reuters, and only a handful of the country’s 250 banks have ever allowed cash deposits equivalent of cryptocurrency raised in ICOs.

Banca Zarattini banks ICO companies with know-your-customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) procedures and Hypothekarbank Lenzburg charges up to 2,500 Swiss francs for an initial assessment.

FINMA, the financial watchdog, is the one entity in charge of the issue. The challenge is to promote cryptocurrency innovation within the financial system while protecting the investors from fraud and lack of transparency. The current AML regulation on payment tokens could have banks liable for the mistakes made by the ICO issuers based in Switzerland.

Following a roundtable between the finance ministry, the central bank, the financial watchdog, and the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA) in May 2018, the latter has prepared a set of checks and conditions so that banks would allow opening an account for cryptocurrency firms in order to overcome their concerns over ICO fraud or money laundering.

The aim of the meeting was to have new FINMA-approved guidelines for cryptocurrency companies by year-end 2018.

Featured image from Shutterstock.

Posted on

CFTC Official to Congress: Don’t Be ‘Hasty’ With Crypto Rules

The director of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC)’s fintech initiative cautioned against what he called “hasty regulatory pronouncements” during a Congressional hearing on Wednesday.

The remarks from Daniel Gorfine, director of LabCFTC, were directed toward members of the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture which, as reported by CoinDesk, sought testimony on the issue of cryptocurrencies and digital assets. Alongside Gorfine were former JPMorgan blockchain lead Amber Baldet, former CFTC chair Gary Gensler and A16Z managing partner Scott Kupor.

Gorfine framed his remarks from the perspective that many different things can be considered “commodities” – but not all of them would warrant attention from U.S. regulators.

“It’s only when we start to see the rise of futures or swaps products built on those commodities that we have kind of direct oversight,” he remarked, going on to state:

“We all have the shared goal to bring clarity and certainty to the market but [we] also need to be sure that we are thoughtful in our approach and do not steer or impede the development of this area of innovation. Indeed, while some may seek the immediate establishment of bright lines, the reality is that hasty regulatory pronouncements are likely to miss the mark, have unintended consequences, or fail to capture important nuance regarding the structure of new products or models.”

Gorfine would return to that point several times during the hearing, which began at 10 a.m. local time.

“It’s important that we’re not hasty in figuring out what the contours are of applying securities law and then the commodities framework,” he remarked.

Congressional sentiment

The hearing notably provided a window into what some members of Congress think when it comes to the subject of cryptocurrencies – though it wasn’t positive in some cases.

For example, Rep. Collin Peterson remarked that, in his view, much of the cryptocurrency ecosystem “seems like a Ponzi scheme” and asking “what’s behind this?”

It was Gensler who offered a response, stating that “there’s really nothing behind gold either … what’s behind it is a cultural norm, for thousands of years we liked gold.”

“We do it as a store of value, so bitcoin is a modern form of digital gold. It’s a social construct,” he continued.

In other cases, committee members simply wanted more information on how cryptocurrencies exactly work.

“We’re creating another money supply here as I see it. I just don’t know how that works. Our dollar sets the mark for the world. I can’t visualize how this would work,” Rep. Rick Allen commented.

But it was Michael Conaway, the chairman of the committee, who perhaps had one of the most notable – and telling – remarks about bitcoin, coming at the very end of the hearing and just days after the U.S. Justice Department claimed it had traced bitcoin transactions conducted by 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacks during the 2016 presidential election.

“As long as the stupid criminals keep using bitcoin it’ll be great,” Conaway quipped.

Want to read CoinDesk’s full by-the-second coverage of the hearing? Follow our stream on Twitter here

Daniel Gorfine image via House Agricultural Committee

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.

Posted on

What to Expect When Congress Talks Crypto (Twice) Tomorrow

It’s a crypto doubleheader on Capitol Hill tomorrow.

Two U.S. House of Representatives Committees will be hosting hearings on Wednesday to look at the topic from two distinct angles.

The House Committee on Agriculture will focus on the emergence of “digital assets” while the Financial Policy Subcommittee hearing will examine “the extent to which the United States government should consider cryptocurrencies as money,” as previously reported.

According to new information published Tuesday, the Agriculture Committee hearing will notably see former JPMorgan blockchain lead and current CEO of Clovyr Amber Baldet, former Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) chairman Gary Gensler and Andreessen Horowitz managing partner Scott Kupor, among others, testify.

“This hearing will shed light on the promise of digital assets and the regulatory challenges facing this new asset class. Our committee has a deep interest in promoting strong markets for commodities of all types, including those emerging through new technology,” Rep. Michael Conaway, chairman of the committee, said in a statement.

By contrast, the Financial Services hearing seems to be tackling the broader question of what cryptocurrencies are exactly. According to a memo detailing the hearing’s goals, members “will evaluate the merits of any uses by central banks of cryptocurrencies, and discuss the future of both cryptocurrencies and physical cash.”

As of press time, none of the committee members contacted by CoinDesk responded to requests for comment, leaving the question of sentiment around the topics an open one ahead of the hearings.

Yet as for what those tuning in can expect, one might want to refer to the last few times Congress tackled the subject.

Back in March, for example, a hearing on initial coin offerings – likely to emerge during the testimonies tomorrow – saw lawmakers argue for greater protections while Representative Tom Emmer called for more regulatory restraint. A hearing in May saw lawmakers discuss the “almost limitless” applications of the tech, to borrow a phrase from one Department of Homeland Security official.

Luckily for those hoping to follow the action, the hearings – which will be live streamed – are spaced out throughout the day. The Agriculture Committee’s gathering is set for 10 a.m. EDT, with the Financial Services Committee’s hearing scheduled for 2 p.m. EDT. B

U.S. 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.

Posted on

Congress Is Now Holding Two Crypto Hearings This Wednesday

Congress is set to hold not one but two separate hearings related to cryptocurrencies on Wednesday.

Last week, CoinDesk reported that the House Committee on Financial Services will gather this week to discuss the subject, with this particular hearing honing in on the question of crypto as a new form of money. A memo published since that news first broke notably states that members will examine “the extent to which the U.S. government should consider cryptocurrencies as money and the potential domestic and global uses for cryptocurrencies.”

That same day, the House Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing entitled “Cryptocurrencies: Oversight of New Assets in the Digital Age.” In a statement, chairman Michael Conaway explained that the hearing seeks to “shed light on the promise of digital assets and the regulatory challenges facing this new asset class.”

It’s a noteworthy statement, declaring that at least some in the U.S. national legislature hold the view that cryptocurrencies constitute a new kind of asset.

“Our committee has a deep interest in promoting strong markets for commodities of all types, including those emerging through new technology,” Conaway added.

Together, the hearings represent a double-header of sorts, and CoinDesk has confirmed both hearings will be live-streamed from Capitol Hill, Washington, DC. The Agriculture Committee hearing will take place at 10 a.m. EST while the Financial Services Committee’s hearing will occur at 2 p.m. EST.

According to the Financial Services Committee memo, the witnesses set to appear are: Dr. Rodney Garratt of University of California Santa Barbara; Dr. Norbert Michel of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis; Dr. Eswar Prasad, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; and Mr. Alex Pollock, a senior fellow for the R Street Institute.

Capitol Building 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.