Updates on UK crypto regulations

Introduction

The United Kingdom’s government has taken a significant stride towards shaping the future of its financial services regulatory regime for crypto assets. In response to a “consultation and call for evidence on the future financial services regulatory regime for crypto assets,” the government has published a comprehensive report that not only outlines the path forward but also promises to usher in a new era for the crypto industry within the UK.

For years, the crypto community has expressed a need for a robust regulatory framework, one that balances innovation with consumer protection and financial stability. This report is set to provide much-needed clarity, laying down the foundation for a regulatory framework that can strike that crucial balance. This increased interest aligns with the intended objective of the government of becoming an attractive hub for businesses, investors and innovators operating in the crypto space. 

In this insight, we will delve into the key developments and implications of the UK’s latest crypto regulatory update and we’ll explore how these changes are set to transform the landscape for crypto activities in the UK. We’ll also consider the potential challenges and opportunities that lie ahead as the UK positions itself to become a focal point for crypto assets and innovation.

UK’s phased approach: Phase 1, Fiat-backed Stablecoins regulation

The United Kingdom’s approach to the introduction of crypto asset regulation is characterized by a well-thought-out and phased strategy. This approach acknowledges the need to carefully assess and adapt to the unique challenges and characteristics of the crypto asset market. The introduction of regulation is designed to be broader in scope than the current Money Laundering Regulations (MLR) registration regime, recognizing that crypto asset activities encompass a wide range of operations, some of which “may not have been previously assessed under the MLR registration regime” (Future financial services regulatory regime for cryptoassets, Response to the consultation and call for evidence).

The first phase of the new regulatory framework, to the surprise of many, will be dedicated to the regulation of payment services and financial activities related to certain fiat-backed stablecoins, despite making up only 11% of the crypto market cap (STABLECOINS:THE FIRST PHASE OF THE UK’S CRYPTO REGULATION). The decision to prioritize the regulation of fiat-backed stablecoins seems justified if we consider that:

  • The UK has fallen behind the European Union which published the EU’s Markets in Crypto Assets regulation. Introducing a similar regulatory framework would provide international harmonization, and favor cross-border transactions and business operations.
  • Stablecoins can serve as a safeguard against the volatility of other cryptocurrencies. Investors may use stablecoins to convert their more volatile crypto assets into a less volatile token that mirrors the value of a fiat currency. 
  • Stablecoins can act as a bridge between traditional fiat currencies and the evolving digital currency landscape.

UK’s Phased Approach: Phase 2, Regulation of other Crypto assets and activities

Building upon the foundation laid out in the initial consultation, Phase 2 introduces a comprehensive set of regulatory measures aimed at governing a wide range of crypto asset activities. The overarching objective remains the same: to ensure that individuals and businesses engaging in crypto asset activities within the UK are appropriately authorized and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

Phase 2 recognizes the diversity within the crypto asset ecosystem and understands that a one-size-fits-all approach to regulation is inadequate. As a result, this phase introduces a categorization of crypto asset activities and aligns each category with its specific regulatory requirements.  Particularly, the government sets regulatory requirements for:

  • Cryptoasset issuance and disclosures: 
  • Operating a crypto asset trading venue. 
  • Cryptoasset intermediation activities
  • Cryptoasset custody
  • Market Abuse
  • Operating a cryptoasset lending platform

Furthermore, the government continues to prioritize alignment with international regulatory standards. It emphasizes cooperation with global partners, including international standard-setting bodies like the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) and the Financial Stability Board (FSB). However, recognizing that full equivalence and deference arrangements are not yet in place, an interim framework is needed to facilitate access to global liquidity pools under specific circumstances. This temporary measure will be in effect until formal equivalence and deference arrangements are established. This approach is crucial to ensure that UK consumers receive satisfactory execution outcomes for their crypto asset orders. It also acknowledges the global nature of crypto markets and proposes a flexible solution. UK firms operating regulated crypto asset trading venues in foreign jurisdictions may establish UK branch extensions for specific trade matching and execution activities, with the specifics of physical location requirements to be determined by the FCA.

Conclusion 

Overall, the new improved plan to promote crypto regulation and protect consumers from frauds and risks associated with this peculiar digital environment, has received positive feedback. However, some stakeholders call for a faster pace in the introduction of an updated regulatory framework to keep up with the dynamic crypto environment. 

Moreover,as a reference, we leave an article published by the Financial Times, which warns about possible risks associated with treating Crypto assets as regular investments Former FCA boss warns of risks to investors from UK plan to regulate crypto.

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