Even though Bitcoin merchant processor BitPay is not required to maintain an anti-money laundering (AML) program, the startup maintains one and is beefing it up with the hiring of former Visa executive Tim Byun.
As BitPay's new chief compliance officer, Byun's challenges will not be much different from what he faced while working at Visa, where he was the network's anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing officer, a role he held for more than five years.
"BitPay is maturing; they do have policies and procedures in place and some guidelines already written but those need to be consolidated and presented in a more mature manner," Byun says. In his new role, Byun will refresh day-to-day practices, examine how the company analyzes and assesses risk and focus on outreach and education.
Byun left Visa after it reorganized some of its departments, offering Byun a different position than his earlier role. But "I thought there were more existing and broader roles in the industry for me especially in AML," he says.
Moving from a mainstream payment company such as Visa to a much less established segment of the payment industry is "an exciting and empowering experience," Byun says. "The pace of activities is much faster at BitPay and I have immediate access to my colleagues."
Because the Bitcoin ecosystem is still so new (the digital currency protocol was introduced in 2009), the industry is flush with opportunity as startups try to establish themselves in the financial services and payment marketplace while treading lightly on the still-unclear regulatory environment around the world.
Before Visa, Byun was regulator for about 16 years, spending 12 years with the Federal Reserve and four years with the FDIC. During his time with the Fed, Byun became a central point of contact to formulate annual exam plans. Byun says he uses this background and insight to guide BitPay.
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Lawyers and industry experts have been harping on the advantages of creating aggressive compliance programs and proactively reaching out to regulators.
Creating an AML program without needing to "is really the personality or the discretionary standard that the founders [Tony Gallippi and Stephen Pair] have placed on BitPay," says Byun. His newly created role will focus on elevating the company's existing compliance program.
BitPay must abide by the Office of Foreign Asset Control's regulations, which prohibit it from doing business with certain of individuals and organizations.
While Byun says the regulatory environment in the U.S. is pretty clear, outside the U.S. where BitPay has about 30% of its clients is where opinions about the digital currency get more diverse. Because of the differences in how regulators categorize Bitcoin, compliance becomes more complex, but still in line with what Byun handled while at Visa.
BitPay is one of the most popular Bitcoin businesses in the industry, neck and neck with Coinbase in the race to sign up merchants to accept the digital currency. In May, BitPay received $30 million in venture capital funding. BitPay currently has around 40 employees.
"BitPay and Visa and the entire Bitcoin ecosystem will continue to coexist," Byun says. "But Bitcoin is exploding right now and I believe in the potential of the protocol as a global payment system; it's a fabulous growth opportunity."
The three-year-old startup has taken talent from Visa before. In March, BitPay hired Andy Goldstein as a regional sales manager. Previously, Goldstein was a senior business development leader in a merchant sales and solutions group at Visa.