OpinionFeb 10 2023

Treasury proposals would be a huge change for crypto assets

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Treasury proposals would be a huge change for crypto assets
Photo: grafvision/Envato

As had been anticipated, in last week’s policy statement HM Treasury proposed to expand the current UK regulated activity regime under the Financial Services and Markets Act to include activities carried out in relation to crypto assets.

From the perspective of existing regulated firms and their advisers, this is very familiar territory. For unregulated crypto firms it is going to be a substantial change; in many cases it will require them to obtain authorisation and to comply with detailed rules in relation to how they run their businesses and communicate with their customers. 

The Treasury’s proposals would be a huge change to the existing crypto asset ecosystem.

Following the introduction in 2020 of the requirement for certain categories of UK based crypto firms to register with the Financial Conduct Authority for anti-money laundering purposes, a number of firms in the crypto ecosystem relocated to more crypto-friendly jurisdictions, such as those in the Baltic states.

These firms continued to target UK based investors on a cross-border basis. It is therefore very interesting to see the proposed geographical scope of the UK’s regulations. 

The Treasury indicates in the paper that it intends the UK regulations to cover overseas firms that are providing services to UK-based customers. 

This could of course mean that some international firms may simply chose not to provide services to UK customers (thereby limiting the range of crypto products and services available to UK customers) and some smaller operators may simply choose to ignore the UK regulations entirely on the assumption that they are unlikely to be pursued by the regulators. 

However, a number of non-UK firms are likely to wish to seek authorisation to provide services to UK customers given the current appetite of UK customers for crypto assets. 

No boots on the ground

It is interesting that the Treasury is anticipating that there may be no need for a physical presence in order for a crypto firm to be authorised by the UK regulators. 

At the moment there is a requirement for a financial services firm to have 'boots on the ground' in the UK before it can be authorised to do business here.

This may be a sign that the UK government would permit firms in other sectors the ability to have a regulatory authorisation without a physical place of business in the UK. 

This potential new approach may be of interest for EU financial services firms that, pre-Brexit, used the EU passport to provide cross border services without a place of business in the UK.

The Treasury paper focuses on the whole crypto ecosystem, from the issuers to the platforms, exchanges and custodians.