Global policymakers are all over the map when it comes to regulating cryptocurrencies. But industry participants are eager to have some direction — and soon.
Industry players are hopeful that the world’s economic leaders, who gathered in Buenos Aires, Argentina for the G20 summit in March, will follow through with their call for proposals related to cryptocurrency regulations. For many, the July target date is a welcome step in what could eventually become a more unified global regulation of cryptocurrencies.
“Businesses are literally sitting there waiting for clear regulations. If there were common rules across multiple nations, it would make it much more scalable,” says Fran Strajnar, chief executive of Brave New Coin, a blockchain and digital currency market data company.
To be sure, coming up with a comprehensive global approach is a meaty endeavor. It’s especially challenging given the disparate approaches countries are taking with respect to cryptocurrencies.
China, for instance, has taken a harsh stance by issuing an outright ban on cryptocurrency trading and initial coin offerings (ICOs). India, meanwhile, recently made a similarly hostile move; India’s central bank issued an order this month saying that all entities under its regulation—meaning banks, payment service providers and nonbanking finance companies—would have three months to cut ties with any service dealing in cryptocurrency. The State Bank of Pakistan issued its own restrictions around the same time.
Other markets, by contrast, are more open to cryptocurrencies.
Japan is among the most friendly and favorable markets for cryptocurrencies; last spring the country began regulating bitcoin exchanges and recognized the tender as a legal payment method. Switzerland is also seen as a crypto-friendly country; the Swiss town of Zug has even been dubbed “Crypto Valley” for its role as a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity in blockchain and digital currency.
Meanwhile, several others countries around the globe, including the U.S., Germany, France and the U.K. are still grappling with what should be the appropriate the level of regulation.
“There’s a whole kaleidoscope of different efforts going on out there,” Strajnar says, noting that even within one country there can be disagreements about terminology, framework and whether and how the cryptocurrency space should be regulated. “That’s quite common in a lot of countries,” he says.
The uncertainty around global regulation of cryptocurrencies is making it more difficult for companies and investors to navigate an already confusing arena.
“The world of cryptocurrency is going through a seismic change, with governments and regulators starting to act. This is making investors nervous and the main reason that trading in cryptocurrencies is especially volatile at the moment,” says Egor Gurjev, co-founder and chief executive of Playkey, a blockchain-powered P2P decentralized cloud gaming platform. While “increased protection for investors is necessary and welcome, it shouldn’t become overbearing,” he adds.
Cryptocurrency is like the internet—it is beyond any one country’s ability to stamp out, according to Imran Khan, a cryptocurrency consultant based in the U.K. If certain countries decide to take an overly restrictive approach, like China has, crypto companies will simply set up shop in places where conditions are more favorable, he says.
“Crypto cannot be killed by individual governments. It’s a simple case of supply and demand and there’s a lot of demand for it,” he says.
In the meantime, companies in the cryptocurrency space are trying to navigate around the regulatory bedlam. For many, this means devoting more time, energy and money to legal matters.
“Although uncertainty hasn’t changed our long term goal concerning our product development, it does have some negative effects,” says Heidi Yu, founder and chief executive of BOOSTO, a decentralized app store. “For example, we need to have our legal bases covered in order to collect enough funds. If we cannot collect funds, then we cannot hire engineers to expedite the development. It is also hard to set up our milestone schedule without everything in place,” she says.
For its part, the U.S. hasn’t set a clear path toward regulation, but arrows seem to be pointing in that direction. The Securities and Exchange Commission has repeatedly warned investors of the risks inherent in this type of investing. The regulatory agency has also cracked down on several ICOs. And in March, the SEC issued a public statement saying that platforms trading digital assets that meet the definition of a security must register with the agency as an exchange.
Meanwhile, other U.S. federal regulators have stepped up to the plate. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said publicly in January that the Financial Stability Oversight Council, a government body that assesses financial system risks, has formed a working group focused on cryptocurrencies. Other countries, including the U.K., France and Germany have announced similar task forces on cryptocurrencies.
In the interim, fear of uncertainty may take its toll on development.
For instance, Khan, the cryptocurrency consultant, predicts the U.S. will suffer billions of dollars in lost opportunity from technology companies that are nervous about legal restrictions.
Yu of BOOSTO says the hodgepodge of global regulations means the company sometimes has had to make “some tough choices.”
For example, BOOSTO does not accept investments from the U.S. or China because of regulatory issues. The company hires a local attorney in each country it accepts investment from to provide a legal opinion on that specific country, Yu says.
In the meantime, the cryptocurrency market in countries where regulations are favorable is poised to continue growing. Recently released data from the Japanese Financial Services Agency, which regulates the country’s cryptocurrency exchanges, shows that the country has at least 3.5 million active crypto traders.
While he disapproves of outright bans, Khan says that regulation itself isn’t a bad thing.
“If there is regulation, this will benefit crypto because if you regulate something, it means you are approving of its existence,” he says. In the meantime, it’s still a wait-and-see matter for many in the space.