Recognised international standards on virtual assets and digital ID are finally here, or at least in motion, with two major Financial Action Task Force (FATF) developments this week. These will assist all jurisdictions, including the forerunners in which we operate, to further develop their stance in relation to these key areas.
The States of Guernsey has approved proposals for new legislation under the Electronic Transactions (Guernsey) Law, 2000 regarding the use of 'electronic agents' in relation to the formation, execution, performance and termination of a contract and the legal status of that contract.
While the laws of agency and contract formation were considered to be 'sufficiently robust to encompass electronic agents' at the time the Electronic Transaction Law was enacted, the Electronic Transactions Law was drafted to permit the States to legislate specifically for electronic agents and the legal effect of actions carried out by such means.
Following on from the establishment of the UK-Australia Fintech Bridge earlier this year, which aims to increase trade between both countries and reduce regulatory barriers, the UK will be sending a 15 strong delegation to Sibos 2018 and the Intersekt Fintech Festival in Australia. The UK is further represented by several independent British fintech companies, UK banks including Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, Natwest and Standard Chartered and UK trade development bodies Invest Northern Ireland and London & Partners. The delegation highlights the UK's increasing commitment to trade ties with Australia, particularly in the fintech space.
The ESMA has set aside a budget of just over EUR 1 million with the aim of achieving a co-ordinated approach to the regulation and supervisory treatment of new or innovative financial activities. The ESMA's monitoring in this space will have a particular focus on financial innovation including fintech and crypto-assets helping the ESMA to play a proactive role in market intelligence gathering and deciding when to employ its own powers of intervention.
The European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) has renewed restrictions on the marketing, distribution or sale of contracts for differences (CFDs) to retail clients, in effect since 1 August, from 1 November 2018 for a further three-month period. ESMA has acted in response to a significant investor protection concern related to the offer of CFDs to retail clients, in particular in relation to cryptocurrencies where leverage is limited to 2:1, significantly lower than traditional assets such as gold which is limited to 20:1. Other restrictions include a requirement on CFD providers to provide a standardised risk warning including the percentage of losses on a CFD provider’s retail investor accounts. The protection of retail investors remains a key focus for regulators in the jurisdictions in which we operate and we continue to work with stakeholders in government and industry to ensure that innovations such as ICOs and cryptocurrencies are balanced with appropriate protection for retail investors.
Notes issued on a private blockchain have been listed on The International Stock Exchange (TISE) in what is understood to be the first such listing on a regulated exchange. Dom Re IC Limited, a Guernsey cell company, has issued notes on a private blockchain that replaces the settlement system traditionally used for note issues. The notes were subsequently listed on TISE. TISE has a well-deserved reputation for innovation and we look forward to continuing our work alongside TISE to deliver cutting edge solutions to our clients.
Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), the owner of the New York Stock Exchange, has announced "Bakkt" a new venture offering a regulated market for Bitcoin. ICE states that Bakkt is designed to serve as a scalable on-ramp for institutional, merchant, and consumer participation in digital assets by promoting greater efficiency, security, and utility. Our view is that this is part of an accelerating trend to provide retail and institutional investors with access to what has been perceived to be an inaccessible asset class.
The report notes "It is important to ensure that English courts and law remain a competitive choice for business. Therefore, there is a compelling case for a Law Commission scoping study to review the current English legal framework as it applies to smart contracts". We share this view in relation to the jurisdictions in which we operate and continue to actively engage with local stakeholders to ensure that the relevant laws are sufficiently certain and flexible to enable the use of smart contracts.
According to data compiled by Kraken-owned Cryptowatch (a cryptocurrency market data provider) from 15 of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges, BVI is the second biggest cryptocurrency market in the world. It places behind the USA, which is the largest market for cryptocurrency, with Japan ranking in third.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has delayed its final decision on a physical bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF) until late September. There are a total of nine proposed bitcoin ETFs currently under review and the SEC is expected to provide final decisions within the next two months. A SEC-regulated Bitcoin or cryptocurrency ETF is seen by many as essential to providing institutional investors with access to the market and so enabling liquidity and driving mainstream adoption.
Forbes reports that Northern Trust has added a number of new blockchain features to its fund management offering. Amongst the new features added are those relating to capital calls and automated processes for change in ownership of assets between GPs and LPs. It is also reported that Northern Trust, whilst not themselves a custodian of crypto assets, has opened its administration services to a select group of hedge funds with cryptocurrency investments.
Northern Trust Corp., a leading global asset management firm with $954 billion of assets under management, is reported to be developing a custody service for digital assets to supplement the services it already provides to funds investing in digital assets. It is noteworthy that a traditional market participant of Northern Trust's stature is working to address one of the key challenges for institutional investment in digital assets – a move that will no doubt be welcomed by the market and regulators alike.
The institutional environment around cryptocurrencies has continued its relentless development, with Coinbase recently launching their custody service. Bloomberg reports that the cryptocurrency service provider has already accepted deposits from ten hedge funds and family offices, all within its first week of operation and that Coinbase’s aspirations don’t end there, with the firm hoping to take on 100 institutional clients, managing a collective value of $5 billion in crypto assets come January.
The London Stock Exchange and the Financial Conduct Authority have worked together with an innovative technology start up whose aim is to demonstrate that UK equities can be tokenised and issued within a fully compliant custody, clearing and settlement system. The first company to test the technology will be the start up itself, with a launch slated for September 2018. If successful this could set the template for dozens of other companies to tokenise their corporate equity issuances in the regulated environment.
The Cayman Islands Monetary Authority has released an advisory regarding the potential risks of investments in ICOs and virtual currencies, including financial loss and fraud. The advisory, which appears to be pitched to members of the general public, emphasises that virtual currencies are not legal tender in the Cayman Islands and highlights certain red flags to help identify potentially fraudulent ICOs, but does not otherwise shed light on any ICO-related legal and regulatory changes that are in the pipeline.
The Financial Conduct Authority has announced that it intends to publish its cryptocurrency review later this year. The watchdog noted that cryptocurrencies themselves do not fall within its regulatory remit, but some models of use or packaging cryptocurrencies bring them within its perimeter, making the landscape complex.