SEC Guidance to Hold Client Cryptoassets on Balance Sheet Meets Resistance and Dampens Bank Plans; Staking Raises Prospect of Ether Being Classified as a Security

Thomas Murray Digital Newsletter

Securities and Exchange Commission Headquarters (SEC)

Reverberations from the SEC’s back-door attempt to move cryptoassets onto banks’ balance sheets – as we reported in May – continue as banks push back while their plans to offer digital asset services in the US falter. And the Ethereum Merge – a major and long-planned upgrade to the most widely used blockchain – passed uneventfully a week ago, shifting its operating model from Proof of Work to Proof of Stake and drastically reducing its energy consumption by an estimated 99.9%. While the change is welcome for environmental reasons, we examine whether the blockchain’s native ether token could be walking into a regulatory trap in which it could be reclassified from a commodity to a security.

Major Digital Asset Developments

      

      
SEC Accounting Guidance Issue Rumbles On
According to an article by Reuters, the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Staff Accounting Bulletin 121 (SEC), published in March earlier this year, is having a material dampening effect on banks looking to engage with digital assets. While ostensibly more of an expectation for organisations wishing to remain on good terms with the regulator than a rule, the accounting guidance requires public companies including banks to hold clients’ crypto assets as liabilities on their balance sheets, rather than off them as is customary for custodians of traditional client assets. This is problematic for banks which are subject to strict regulatory capital ratio rules.
Many of the largest banks in the US have announced intentions to support digital assets in one way or another, with some services already live, albeit primarily with select or private wealth clients. Nonetheless, the article makes clear that banks’ efforts in this space are undermined by the financial burden the capital requirements place on them, and some have had to ‘cease moving forward with [their] plans’. Both State Street and Bank of New York Mellon are reported to have been disrupted.
Nadine Shakar, head of State Street Digital, previously suggested at a recent Fund Forum panel discussion that this was no great imposition, and hinting that it could be an opportunity for large institutions like State Street to gain market share, saying ‘unless you have larger custodians moving into the space and be the big kids at the table, it’s [digital assets] unlikely to see institutional adoption’. It is now reported that she sees the SEC’s expectations as an issue for the bank, one that does not necessarily prevent them from custodying digital assets but that reduces its economic viability: ‘We do have an issue with the premise of doing that, because these are not our assets. This should not be on our balance sheet.’ (Reuters) U.S. Bancorp has paused onboarding new crypto custody clients, and anecdotally several European banks are pulling back from US advances until the issue is addressed.
Until there is clearer guidance, or changes to the capital impact faced by supporting crypto assets for banks – which seems unlikely in the short term – there may be a decline in ecosystem development, which is perhaps already being reflected in the value of the cryptocurrency market.
The Ethereum Merge and Securities Implications
The Ethereum blockchain successfully merged with the Beacon Chain on 15 September (CoinDesk), transforming it from a proof-of-work (PoW) to a proof-of-stake (PoS) protocol. The transition, which was many years in the making, has been welcomed as Ethereum is expected to consume 99.9% or so less energy as a result of the change (see previous newsletter). This, according to Bank of America (FXStreet), is an opportunity for greater institutional adoption of the blockchain’s native ether token, as those that were prohibited from investing in PoW systems due to ESG considerations may now acquire the cryptocurrency.
Ethereum and the thousands of tokens it supports have now removed themselves from potential moves by jurisdictions such as the EU and the US to ban or de-incentivise PoW: the EU has flip-flopped on including a ban in its pending Markets in Crypto-assets (MiCA) regulation, adding (The Block) then ultimately removing (CoinDesk) such clauses; the State of New York has implemented a moratorium on PoW mining using carbon-based energy sources (CoinDesk); and earlier this month one of the first responses to President Biden’s Executive Order on cryptoassets – from the White House Office of Science and Technology – asked the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy to consider a ban if the US cannot meet its climate goals through other means (Blockchain News).
However, by transitioning to PoS, with its reliance on the process of staking to secure and validate the network and its transactions, ether may have walked directly into the SEC’s securities oversight purview. In return for delegating ether to network validators (if they do not have enough tokens to qualify them to run staking nodes themselves), token-holders are rewarded in more ether tokens, which according to Chairperson Gensler of the SEC (Decrypt) and other regulatory agencies could constitute an investment contract under the US Howey test: ‘a contract, transaction, or scheme whereby a person invests his money in a common enterprise and is led to expect profits solely from the efforts of the promoter or a third party’ (US Supreme Court).
While the SEC has not presented any formal analysis of the issue, it is assumed it does not consider ether to be a security, although the fundamentals are much harder to assess now and there is considerable scope for questions of consistency of approach to arise. Earlier this month, Gensler announced qualified support for Congress to hand more power to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to regulate non-securities digital assets such as cryptocurrencies (Crypto Slate) so long as the move would not reduce the SEC’s power to regulate securities. He and the SEC have been the subject of notable dissatisfaction from the digital asset community and even the Commissioner of the CFTC due to the SEC’s failure to proactively shape a robust digital asset framework, receiving criticism for frequent cases of ‘regulation by enforcement’. Handing greater responsibility to the CFTC for such assets is seen by the community as a welcome development.
Bolstering the argument that ether and similar tokens should remain classed as commodities, Coin Center, a non-profit research and blockchain advocate, points out that the SEC looks at the economic realities underlying a project, rather than the terms and technologies used to create it, and given that the participation in the consensus mechanism is explicitly designed to be open to anyone, and not reliant solely on the efforts of others (Coin Center), staking, or mining for that matter, should not meet the criteria.

Other News and Links

White House Releases Inaugural Framework for Crypto Regulation (Crypto Slate)
Following President Biden’s Executive Order in March this year (described previously in our newsletter here), The White House has released a framework which offers a number of recommendations including how to approach the regulation of crypto assets, ways in which to mitigate fraud perpetrated using digital assets, and how to improve standards across the financial industry more broadly. The framework pays particular attention to fraud and fighting illicit finance, and suggests the President may call upon Congress to amend the Bank Secrecy Act so that digital asset exchanges and non-fungible token (NFT) platforms would explicitly fall subject to it.
US Banks Must Maintain Cautious Approach to Crypto, Says Acting OCC Head (Crypto Slate)
Michael Hsu, Acting Head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), believes that US banks should remain caution when considering digital assets. The OCC was the first to green-light the provision of crypto custody services by national banks and federal savings associations when it issued its Interpretive Letter #1170 in July 2020, which in all likelihood contributed to the crypto bull market. That said, in his speech at the TCH + BPI Annual Conference Hsu made clear that he is much more cautious than the previous head of the OCC, and sees ‘red flags in crypto’s rapid growth’. As such, the agency has reportedly tightened its criteria for acceptance, indicating that these institutions can only engage in certain crypto activities so long as they can demonstrate the activities can be performed in a ‘safe, sound and fair manner.’
Crypto Oversight Should Resemble Traditional Bank Rules, Fed Official Says (CoinDesk)
In his first speech since taking office, Fed Vice Chair for Supervision, Michael Barr, articulated the need for greater regulatory oversight, particularly in how banks engage in crypto activities. He reiterated the need to regulate based on the “same activity, same risk” approach cited by multiple regulators and commentators over the preceding months.
UK Introduces Law to Seize, Freeze and Recover Crypto (CoinDesk)
The Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency bill supplements the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act used to impose sanctions against Russia and freeze UK-held assets – both traditional and digital – and is ostensibly designed to prevent sanctioned Russians from using crypto to evade those measures, as well as aid in combatting criminal activities.
Crypto Exchanges in UK Required to Report Sanction Breaches (Finextra)
The UK has updated its guidance towards sanctions reporting, which now brings crypto exchanges into scope for reporting violations and freezing assets. The guidelines were implemented by the Treasury’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI) to combat potential breaches conducted with the use of cryptocurrencies.
New French Bill Could Give Authorities Powers to Seize Crypto Assets (CoinDesk)
In line with other countries around the world, such as the UK’s Economic Crime Bill, the French state is attempting to make it easier to freeze and seize the digital assets of suspected criminals. The proposal is due to be discussed next week by France’s Constitutional Law Committee.
Korea to Launch Security Token Guidelines, Pilots This Year (Ledger Insights)
SEC, CFTC Propose Amendments for Large Hedge Fund Crypto Reporting (Crypto Slate)
First announced earlier this month, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodities and Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) look set to introduce rules that will require hedge funds to report investments more accurately in digital assets. In particular, the Proposed Rule (Federal Register) will seek to distinguish between assets that have similar characteristics such as digital assets and cash and cash equivalents, and establish a new sub-asset class which will help regulators to more easily monitor systemic risks and economic stability.
Russia to Consider Possible Legalization of Cryptos for Cross-border Payments (AMBCrypto)
Due to the impact of financial sanctions on Russia, its Ministry of Finance is considering using cryptocurrencies as a means to support cross-border payments. This comes after Putin signed an order effectively banning the use of crypto-based assets for domestic payments in July earlier this year. Views are said to be softening in light of the ongoing financial situation, with Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin suggesting the country needs to look to digital assets as a ‘safe alternative’ to support cross-border commerce. The Central Bank has tried to limit the use of crypto assets in the country as it looks to develop its own digital ruble, and once rolled out, may try to impose another ban on cryptocurrencies.
Australian Senator Releases Draft Bill to Push for Crypto Regulation (Crypto Slate)
Australian Senator Andrew Bragg has released a draft Digital Assets (Market Regulation) Bill 2022 (Andrew Bragg). It seeks to apply pressure to the Australian regulatory system in order to push forward with the regulation and oversight of the digital asset market and its constituent components. At a high level, the bill proposes to provide a framework for digital asset exchanges, digital asset custody, issuance of stablecoins, and the protection of consumers while promoting investment in Australia. Interestingly, another objective of the bill is to provide for the reporting of information from banks that facilitate the use or availability of China’s digital yuan in Australia. Consultation on the bill is being received until October 31, 2022.
Colorado Enables Crypto Payment for Taxes (Crypto Slate)
House Stablecoin Bill Would Put Two-Year Ban on Terra-Like Coins (Bloomberg)
Nigeria Plans to Create a Virtual Free Zone with Binance Crypto Exchange (CoinDesk)
Nigeria’s Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) is looking to create a digital city to support the growing digital asset economy. It is reportedly looking to partner with Binance, the largest cryptocurrency exchange by volume, which signed an agreement to assist Dubai with the establishment of a similar industry hub for digital assets in December 2021.
Binance Secures Licence in Dubai to Offer More Crypto Services (CoinDesk)
Coinbase Is Helping Sue the US Treasury Over Tornado Cash Sanctions (Bloomberg UK)
Coinbase is challenging the authority of the US Treasury Department after it publicly declared its intention to pay the legal costs of a lawsuit brought by six individuals who are contesting the legality of the Treasury’s sanction of Tornado Cash. The plaintiffs argue that the move by the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to sanction wallets associated with the application, as well as the smart contract code itself, was unprecedented, as neutral technologies and tools are reportedly out of the scope of sanctions law. Brian Armstrong, CEO of Coinbase, stated that the Treasury issued a blanket-wide sanction rather than targeting the wallets of those known to have committed an offence, further suggesting that it was used by many law-abiding citizens looking for increased privacy, who now have funds trapped on the platform. Crypto Investment firm Paradigm strongly agrees with the action brought by the lawsuit, as it too stated in a legal argument (Paradigm) that blockchain infrastructures and the providers that support them should not be subject to US Treasury sanctions, as monitoring or censoring Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List) would jeopardise the neutrality of base blockchain layers and compromise their integrity and core functionality.
Coinbase Gains Regulatory Approval in the Netherlands (Coinbase)
Deutsche Börse to Issue Digital Securities on DLT-ready D7 Platform (Ledger Insights)
Societe Generale Securities Services Extends Its Offer to Funds Investing in Digital Assets (Societe Generale)
SGSS now offers asset managers to act as a fund custodian, valuator and liability manager, and has onboarded its first client, Arquant Capital.
Hong Kong’s HashKey Receives Approval to Manage 100% Crypto Portfolio (CoinDesk)
HashKey, a Hong Kong based asset manager, has received a Type 9 (Asset Management) Licence (Offshorelicense) from the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) of Hong Kong, permitting it – alongside a growing number of virtual asset managers – to manage portfolios that are 100% invested in digital assets.
Nasdaq Launches Crypto Custody Service (Nasdaq)
Nasdaq is moving into the digital asset business, citing growing institutional demand from its financial institution clients. It is set to launch a digital asset custody offering which, following regulatory approval, will incorporate liquidity and execution services, effectively creating a full-service solution that may take a lead from Switzerland’s SDX.
Royal Family of Dubai Company Seed Group Partners with Coincorner to Facilitate Bitcoin Transactions in the UAE (Bitcoin Magazine)
Brazil Exceeds 1M Registered Crypto Users in July for First Time as Number Grows 68% in a Month (CoinDesk)
Abra Launching First US Regulated Crypto Bank (Blockworks)
Abra, a crypto exchange and lending platform, has successfully acquired a licence to become the first US regulated crypto bank. With the licence comes an ability to offer clients regulated interest-bearing crypto accounts, an activity that some providers have had to discontinue. For example, BlockFi was sued successfully by the SEC for USD 100 million (The Verge) as its offering was considered an unregistered security and the firm was not registered as an investment company. Abra is due to launch in the US in Q1/2 2023.
Tokenization of Illiquid Assets to Reach $16T by 2030: Report (Cointelegraph)
A report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and ADDX, a digital asset exchange, estimates that illiquid assets such as pre-IPO stock, real estate, art, and private debt will become a USD 16.1 trillion tokenised market by 2030.
Singapore’s Financial Authority Grants License to SBI’s Digital Asset Arm (Cointelegraph)
The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has granted Japan-based SBI Holdings a Capital Markets Services licence for its digital subsidiary SBI Digital Markets. In-principal approval was granted in May this year, however the full licence will now permit the firm to offer digital asset custody, capital markets products, and financial advisory services in Singapore as a regulated business.
Singapore’s Largest Bank DBS to Offer Crypto Services to 300,000 Investors (Crypto Slate)
Fidelity to Launch Bitcoin Retail Trading in November (Crypto Slate)
ErisX Introduces Settlement Service for OTC Crypto Transactions (Finextra)
ErisX, a leading digital asset exchange, has launched a new settlement service for OTC transactions that is designed to eliminate counterparty risk by routing orders through a US-licensed crypto spot exchange, thus reducing the risk and operational burden associated with OTC transactions.
Broadridge Integrates with Coinbase (Finextra)
Broadridge, a leading provider of shareholder services, has partnered with Coinbase’s Prime offering, enabling enhanced liquidity and the ability for Broadridge’s clients to route orders to Coinbase Prime via its NYFIX order-routing network.
Crypto Custody Specialist Anchorage Digital Offers Japanese Yen Stablecoin (CoinDesk)
Gunvor, Total Execute First Physical Oil Trade Confirmation using VAKT Blockchain (Ledger Insights)
VAKT, a post-trade blockchain startup backed by oil majors including BP, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Total and Chevron, has launched an electronic trade confirmation solution which is designed to replace manual processing of oil contracts, which according to VAKT’s own analysis is responsible for a 15% error rate.
Major Fund Administrator Apex Offers Blockchain-based Valuation Data for Private Assets (Ledger Insights)
SWIFT Runs Blockchain Pilot for Corporate Actions Data (Finextra)
The banking infrastructure provider is trialling a new blockchain system for corporate actions with the aid of Symbiont, a private technology platform, as well as seven securities market participants. Corporate actions are seen as one of a number of key areas in which post-trade can be better served by blockchain technology, with SWIFT estimating as much as 30% of the costs associated with processing corporate actions are related to manual processing.
CME Group Launches Ether Options (Finextra)

Key: Legal/Regulatory             Technology            Ecosystem              Markets 

CBDC Corner

HKMA’s Policy Stance on e-HKD (Hong Kong Monetary Authority)
HKMA has concluded several consultations under its ‘Fintech 2025’ strategy and will take steps to prepare for a possible future retail CBDC based on broad support by working on technical and legal foundations while exploring application, implementation, and design issues.
IMF Says Crypto and Central Banks Could Set the Stage for Rich and Diverse Monetary Ecosystem – Here’s How (DailyHodl)
Crypto’s Adaptability, Openness Key to Ideal Monetary System, Say BIS Execs (Cointelegraph)
India’s Central Bank Plans CBDC Launch in 2022 with Help from Fintechs, Public Banks (Crypto Slate)
Digital Dollar Project Launches Sandbox Programme (Finextra)
Brazil, India Join CDBC Race: Will Start Pilot Projects in 2022 (The Tokenist)
Norwegian Central Bank Taps Ethereum for CBDC Work (Finextra)
ECB Taps CaixaBank and Amazon for Digital Euro Prototypes (Finextra)
China to Extend CBDC Trial to Most Populous Province, Guangdong, Three Others: Report (CoinDesk)
Iran to Start Testing a Digital Rial This Week (CoinDesk)

Thomas Murray Digital

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Asset Managers Move Into Digital Assets; CBDCs Could Be ‘Holy Grail’ of Cross-border Payments

Thomas Murray Digital Newsletter

CBDCs: A Holy Grail for Cross-Border Payments? (Public Domain)

BlackRock, Charles Schwab and Abrdn have joined the likes of Fidelity and Schroders in moving into the digital asset sector through tie-ups with Coinbase and Archax, and the launch of a new crypto thematic index and associated exchange-traded fund. Meanwhile, the European Central Bank believes that CBDCs could solve the centuries-old challenge of establishing a cross-border payment system that is ‘cheap, universal, and settled in a secure settlement medium’.

Digital Asset Developments

      

      
Asset Managers Move into Crypto in Numbers
Prominent asset management firms including BlackRock, Abrdn and Charles Schwab have moved en masse in recent days with tie-ups and new services that extend access to cryptoassets to more institutional and retail investors. These names join the likes of Fidelity and Schroders in entering the digital asset space.
  • Last week, Coinbase announced that it has been selected by BlackRock to enable its clients to access crypto trading and custody via Coinbase Prime (Coinbase). Clients will be able to access cryptoassets through Aladdin, Blackrock’s investment management platform, starting with bitcoin. Clients of the USD 21.6 trillion investment platform will be able to manage their exposure to digital assets directly from their existing accounts, with a holistic ‘portfolio view of risk across asset classes.’ BlackRock has also now launched a bitcoin private trust for institutional investors (BlackRock), designed to track the price of the oldest cryptoasset.

CPMI Consults on Increasing PvP for FX, Supported by DLT Solutions
The Bank for International Settlements’ Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures (BIS CMPI) has launched a consultation (Ledger Insights) on ways to lower global financial stability risks arising from FX transactions by increasing payment-versus-payment (PvP) settlement. The FX market has the largest turnover, and bank exposures to FX risks in some countries such as the UK, Hong Kong and Singapore exceed their regulatory capital requirements. The aim is to reverse the decrease in FX transactions with PvP protection arising from increased trade with emerging markets that lack PvP abilities. Four of the ten proposed solutions are based on DLT, and one is Citi’s Regulated Liability Network concept (Citigroup).
Santander Brazil Launching Retail Crypto Offering and Tokenising Traditional Assets
Santander Brazil is to launch a retail crypto offering (Ledger Insights), citing significant client demand for the asset class. CEO Mário Leão added in the bank’s quarterly earnings call last week that it intends to use blockchain to tokenise traditional assets such as debt securities. This announcement comes a month after Latin America’s largest bank, Itaú Unibanco, launched its tokenisation platform and digital asset custody solution. The solution is part of a new unit, Itaú Digital Assets (Coindesk) and will be available to institutional clients first, with a retail version expected towards the end of 2022.
US Treasury Sanctions Cryptocurrency Mixer Tornado Cash; Dutch Authorities Arrest Developer
The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has sanctioned Tornado Cash (US Department of the Treasury), a protocol used to ‘mix’ crypto transactions to provide transaction anonymity. OFAC asserts that Tornado has been used to launder over USD 7 billion of stolen cryptocurrencies. The move raises the long-standing question of the liability of platform operators for the uses to which their services are put, just as regulators continue to debate the responsibility of other services such as Facebook or YouTube. Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin has stated that he used Tornado Cash to donate funds to Ukraine (Forkast) in order to protect the recipients. In a development that has implications for the free speech rights of software publishers, Dutch authorities have today arrested the developer of the open source software behind Tornado Cash (Cointelegraph) on suspicion of money laundering.

Reserve Bank Innovation Hub: Interoperable DLT POC Closure Report
The Reserve Bank of India’s Innovation Hub (RBIH) has reported on the results of a proof-of-concept exercise (Reserve Bank of India) to move domestic trade finance processes – revolving around Inland Letters of Credit (LCs) – onto a distributed ledger platform. RBIH worked with a consortium of 11 banks and other fintech startups on the test, which was conducted using technology from IBM Hyperledger, R3 Corda, and Billon’s FIS. Following successful results, it now plans to facilitate the adoption of DLT ‘at scale’.

Crypto Takes a New Hit as Thousands of Solana Wallets Hacked
Security flaws in wallet software used to store assets for the Solana ecosystem were exploited to steal over USD 5.2 million of value from more than 7,900 wallets. Security researchers suggested that the Slope wallet was storing users’ seed phrases – used to create their private keys – in plain text (The Block) on a centralised server that was compromised. This follows an exploit of the Nomad ‘bridge protocol’ (Bloomberg) that transfers cryptoassets between blockchains that led to assets worth almost USD 200 million being lost. These stories, on top of several other hacks of similar cross-ledger bridge services that have led to estimated losses totalling over USD 2 billion this year (Chainalysis), highlight both the complexity of securing DeFi protocols and the dangers of relying on untrusted centralised services rather than regulated custodians.

News Links

SEC’s Gensler Wants Crypto Exchanges to Segregate Market Making, Custody (Ledger Insights)
Gary Gensler, Chair of the SEC, has proposed that crypto exchanges should segregate market making from custody activities, as is the requirement for traditional securities markets. He argues that clients are not expected to hand their assets to the New York Stock Exchange, and given that private keys are a proxy for ownership it would be more appropriate for the assets to be kept with a third party digital asset custodian.
Joint Statement on the UK-U.S. Financial Regulatory Working Group (US Department of the Treasury)
On 21 July, the UK-US Financial Regulatory Working Group convened and reconfirmed their commitment to addressing the cryptoasset market, with a focus on broadening their collaboration – and in particular strengthening the ‘regulatory outcomes for stablecoins across jurisdictions.’
UK Proposes Changes to Personal Property Laws Around Digital Assets (Ledger Insights)
The UK’s Law Commission of England and Wales has published a consultation paper suggesting that the law needs to be updated to account for the unique characteristics associated with cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and the metaverse more broadly. The objective would be to introduce the right legal foundation, in order to limit the potential impact of imposing existing structures on these new forms of assets that might stifle their development.
UK Legal Taskforce Probes Rules Underpinning Securities Issuance on Blockchain (Finextra)
More regulatory consultation in the UK, where the UK Jurisdiction Taskforce (UKJT) is examining support in English law for digital securities models in an effort to address concerns that the legal basis for digital securities in the UK is less supportive than that in other countries.
Crypto Inquiry 2022 (CryptoUK)
The UK’s Crypto & Digital Assets All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) has announced details of its assessment of the UK’s crypto and digital assets sector. It seeks feedback from the wider community on current approaches to regulation, the UK government’s plan for the country to become a crypto hub, the role of regulators, CBDCs, and investor protection.
Celsius Facing Legal Action by Aggrieved Custody Customers over $180M Deposit (Cryptoslate)
Bankrupt crypto lender Celsius is facing a lawsuit from a group of 400 customers of its custody service – distinct from its Earn programme, under which customers relinquished title to their crypto – whose assets remain stuck in the network. Celsius’s lawyers are resisting requests for refunds and claiming that even title ownership of deposited assets may not assure recoverability of funds in Celsius’s bankruptcy case. This is a further chapter in the debate on the status of crypto following the SEC’s guidance that custodians should move client assets on-balance sheet pending clarification of this issue in law (Thomas Murray Digital).
SEC/CFTC Proposed Amendments to Form PF (Securities and Exchange Commission)
In a joint proposal by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), there are to be New Crypto Reporting Rules for Large Hedge Funds (The Block) that would oblige qualifying hedge funds – reported to be those with more than USD 500 million of net assets – to provide information to the regulators that pertain to the hedge funds’ investment strategies, counterparty exposures, and trading and clearing mechanisms.
Over 70k XRP Holders Join Class Action Lawsuit Against SEC (Cryptoslate)
Tens of thousands of holders of Ripple’s token from all around the globe have now joined the challenge to the SEC’s assertion that XRP represents an unlicensed security token, in an alleged expansion of the principles of the Howey Test.
   EBA Warns Talent Shortage Will Hamstring Crypto Regulation (Finextra)
The European Banking Association (EBA) has warned that difficulties in attracting and retaining talent will limit regulators’ ability to supervise the digital asset sector. This follows a multitude of high-profile exits of leading regulators and industry experts into the clutches of the cryptoasset industry.
   Zodia Custody Gets Approval to Provide Cryptoasset Custodian Services in Ireland (Irish Times)
Zodia Custody has received approval from the Irish regulator to provide cryptoasset custody in the country, making it one of the first licensed Virtual Asset Service Providers (VASPs) there and the first dedicated custodian. As CEO Maxime de Guillebon articulated in a LinkedIn post, this will mean that Irish authorised Alternative Investment Funds will now be able to take advantage of institutional-grade safekeeping.
   Binance US Delists Token After SEC Labels It a Security (Blockworks)
Following the SEC’s categorisation of several crypto projects as securities, Binance US has delisted one, Flexa Network’s Amp token, that it previously supported on its exchange.
   Pando Asset Lists First Crypto ETP on SIX Swiss Exchange (Coin Speaker)
The Pando Asset Crypto 6 ETP offers investors the opportunity to participate in the performance of a basket of digital assets consisting of the largest cryptoassets by market capitalisation.
Ripple Casts Eye Over Bankrupt Crypto Lender Celsius (Finextra)
In other Ripple news, the firm has registered an interest with the bankruptcy court in acquiring assets from failed crypto lender Celsius.
Major Insurers Pull the Plug on B3i Insurance Blockchain Consortium (Ledger Insights)
Swiss insurer B3i is to close after its consortium of over twenty insurers and reinsurers failed to commit sufficient funds to its latest investment round, triggering its insolvency.
Bitcoin Fanatic Michael Saylor Steps Down as MicroStrategy CEO (Decrypt)
Saylor takes on Executive Chairman role in order to devote exclusive attention to the firm’s crypto activities, leaving management of the original software business to former company president Phong Le, who assumes the CEO role.
Virginia Pension Fund Invests in Crypto Lending in Bid to Boost Returns (Financial Times)
Virginia’s Fairfax County Retirement Systems Pension Fund is reportedly investing in crypto lending markets following earlier investments in cryptocurrencies, made alongside the Fairfax County Police Officers Retirement System. Its new venture into ‘yield farming’ entails lending assets in return for a fixed stream of payments, akin to securities lending. Katherine Molnar, CIO of the police retirement fund, cited the recent bankruptcy or withdrawal of other lenders as a factor that makes returns from the activity attractive.
Binance and Mastercard to Bring Streamlined Crypto Payments to Argentina (Blockworks)
Sygnum Bank Expands Bank-grade Staking with Cardano (ADA) (Sygnum Bank)
The leading Swiss digital asset bank has expanded its blockchain capabilities to support clients who wish to wish to earn rewards by staking their ADA tokens, the native token of Cardano’s Layer 1 protocol.
Bank of America “Disagrees” that Crypto Has No Intrinsic Value (AltFi)
In the July edition of its Global Cryptocurrencies and Digital Assets report, Bank of America contradicts the Governor of the Bank of England’s recent comments that the crypto industry has no intrinsic value, referring to the GBP 9 billion in transaction fees that blockchains have generated to date, in addition to network validation services and NFT transactions.
Ex-PwC Crypto Head Launches $75m Hedge Fund for Institutional Investors (FNLondon)
Henri Arslanian has launched Nine Blocks Capital Management in Dubai with backing from other hedge funds.
ASX Calls In Accenture to Assess CHESS Replacement Project (Finextra)
The Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) has engaged Accenture to assess the gaps in the current development plan and draw up a new timeline for the project’s completion. Originally slated for April 2021, the replacement for the aging CHESS system has suffered several setbacks. Current estimations suggest it will be delayed until late 2024.
Digital Assets — A World of Possibility (Wells Fargo)
In its August report, Wells Fargo states that digital assets are ‘a transformative innovation on par with the internet, cars, and electricity’. Its argument is that the ‘Internet of Value’ is likely to be as disruptive to the world of finance as the original internet was to communications and information.
Chinese Municipal Bank Issues First-ever Digital Yuan Loan Using Intellectual Property as Collateral (Coin Telegraph)
Agricultural Commerce Bank of Zhangjiagang has made the loan of e-CNY 500,000 (USD 74,000) directly to a manufacturer’s digital wallet.
Galoy Launches Synthetic Dollars Backed by BTC, No Stablecoins Needed (The Tokenist)
Galoy, an open source banking company that specialises in Bitcoin acceleration and integration, has launched Stablesats, a synthetic dollar backed by bitcoin that uses inverse perpetual swaps and forgoes the traditional fiat peg that most stablecoin operations implement.
ZK-Rollups Likely to be Main Layer 2 Solution for Ethereum, says Vitalik Buterin (The Block)
Vitalik Buterin, the founder of Ethereum, has suggested that ZK-Rollups are likely to win out over Optimistic Rollups as the main Layer 2 solution for scaling up the blockchain’s capacity due to their faster speed. Rollups move processing of transactions off-chain, posting batches of aggregated results to the main network. Optimistic Rollups – as the name suggests – save effort by assuming the validity of transactions without further verification, but allowing a challenge period during which they can be disputed, with staked ether used as an incentive to process only legitimate transactions. In ZK-Rollups, transactions are always presented with proof of their validity. This is slightly more computationally expensive, but reduces transaction finality from 7 days to near-instantaneous.
Bitcoin Network’s Power Demand Drops by Over 20% in 2022 as Shift to Renewables Accelerates (Finbold)
Crypto Investments Products See Inflows of $474M in July (Crypto Slate)
The end of July saw the fifth consecutive week of inflows. Total cryptocurrency market capitalisation exceeded USD 1 trillion once more in a slight recovery from the bear market.

Key: Regulation             Technology            Ecosystem              Markets 

CBDC Corner

Working Paper Series: Towards the Holy Grail of Cross-border Payments (European Central Bank)
The ECB’s latest paper assets that CBDCs could solve the challenge – ‘as old as international commerce and the implied need to pay’ of finding a cross-border payment system that is ‘cheap, universal, and settled in a secure settlement medium’. It expects this system to be developed over the next 10 years.
Reserve Bank and Digital Finance Cooperative Research Centre to Explore Use Cases for CBDC (Reserve Bank of Australia)
The Reserve Bank of Australia has initiated a year-long research project to consider use cases for a CBDC in Australia. Industry participants will submit proposals, and some will be selected to take part in a ring-fenced pilot scheme that will use a pilot CBDC that is a real claim on the Reserve Bank. The study aims to explore the economic benefits of applications of a CBDC for households and businesses in addition to technical aspects, as these are seen as a gap in existing CBDC studies for markets such as Australia that already have efficient and well-functioning payment and settlement systems.
Millicent Completes World’s First Test of a General Purpose Full-Reserve Digital Currency (FRDC) (Crypto.news)
Millicent, a fintech company partly funded by the UK Government, has used a sandbox to issue and test use cases for a pegged token fully collateralised by cash deposits held at the Bank of England. It claims it is effectively the first retail test of a synthetic CBDC.
Seven Out of Ten Tell Fed They Don’t Want Digital Dollar: Cato Institute (Ledger Insights)
The Libertarian think tank finds concerns over financial privacy, financial oppression, and fears of the disintermediation of banks. This may be a case of self-selection of respondents, or of a misplaced belief that the financial system simply needs a ‘faster horse’ rather than substantively newer technology.
Thailand’s Central Bank Extends Retail CBDC Study to Pilot Phase (CoinDesk)
Nepal Prepares Laws to Enable CBDC Issuance (Ledger Insights)
China’s Central Bank to Expand Digital Yuan Pilot Program (Yahoo)

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State of the Digital Asset Market: ‘Crypto Winter’ and Silver Linings

Sun rays shining through clouds

Hugo Jack

Photo by Jonny Clow on Unsplash

For investors in digital assets, and cryptocurrencies in particular, the last couple of months have been something of a nightmare. Ongoing macro and geopolitical pressures have continued to hit the digital asset ecosystem as investors – both retail and professional – have continued to exit the market as uncertainty around the regulatory and fiscal environment remains. While 2021 was officially the year in which institutional investors entered crypto in significant numbers, it is fair to say that the digital asset sector is still reminiscent of the early days of the Internet, evidenced by ecosystem failures, the misallocation of capital, and poor investor protection.

That said, while a much-needed shakeout (mostly of irresponsible leverage trading) is taking place, a digital asset future is still very much on the cards. Just as the tech bubble in 2001 paved the way for the Internet success stories of today, now global banks, financial institutions and FinTechs are continuing to invest and build new operational models and DLT-based infrastructure. The scope for this new environment is not just cryptocurrencies, which constitute a meaningful but relatively small asset class, but all financial instruments including equities, bonds, funds and alternative assets that will in time all likely run on blockchain rails. That said, as cryptocurrencies currently comprise the largest part of today’s real use cases for digital assets, it is worth taking a look at what is happening today: where things are going wrong, but also the continuing positives driving the industry forward.

Digital assets continue to dive amid macro uncertainty and ecosystem failures

In the past couple of weeks the cryptocurrency sell-off has continued as bitcoin crashed to its lowest level in two years. The period from May to June has seen one of the largest month-on-month declines with over USD 416 billion wiped from the total market capitalisation, which now sits at USD 933.0 billion. Considered a key line of support, bitcoin crossed its 200-week moving average (200W MA) last week, which has reportedly only occurred three times in its 13-year history. Historically, this has usually correlated with a market bottom. That said, central bank tightening is likely applying greater pressure to markets globally, which in crypto is compounded by miners of bitcoin needing to sell their BTC rewards to cover their operational costs which currently stand at approximately USD 20,000 per bitcoin. Consequently, there may still be some way to go before any sign of a true turnaround can be found.

The crypto markets are still reeling from the collapse of the Terra/Luna ecosystem in May, which impacted tens of thousands of investors globally including a well-known Dubai-based crypto focused hedge fund, Three Arrows Capital (3AC). It was quickly reported that 3AC was facing insolvency after incurring at least $400 million in liquidations. It failed to meet margin calls and is now considering multiple options including an asset sale, or a bail out by another firm. Celsius, a crypto lending platform which at one point claimed more than USD 20 billion in assets under administration, has come under pressure by investors in an old-fashioned “bank run”, with depositors scrambling to pull assets from the platform. On Monday 13 June Celsius released a community memo announcing its decision to pause all withdrawals, swaps and transfers between accounts, an option which it reserved under its terms of use. According to reports, Celsius is similarly in the process of considering insolvency proceedings and has appointed a legal firm that specialises in business restructuring, as well as hiring Citigroup as an independent advisor to brainstorm possible financing options. Nexo, another lending platform, put forward an unsolicited offer to acquire “any remaining qualifying assets”, although following a swift initial rejection it is unlikely the offer will be accepted.

It is unclear where the market goes from here. A significant amount of speculative capital has been put into the crypto ecosystem over the last couple of years during a period of exceptionally loose monetary policy and government stimulus; however, a flight to safety is now well underway across all asset classes. In addition, well established and high profile firms have put their reputations on the line and acquired significant amounts of bitcoin; the poster child for this tactic is MicroStrategy (Nasdaq: MSTR) which has 130,000 bitcoin, acquired at a cost of circa USD 3.97 billion, on its balance sheet, bought with cash from sequential debt offerings totalling nearly USD 2.4 billion. As a significant holder of bitcoin, all eyes are on the institution which at current prices is facing an unrealised loss of over USD 1 billion. In May it was reported that if bitcoin fell to USD 21,000 then a margin call would be triggered on a USD 205 million loan it took with Silvergate Bank in March to purchase additional bitcoin. That number was reached last week and has in the following thereafter gone as low as USD 17,744 as of Saturday 17 June. There is an inevitable concern that further liquidations would panic the market even further, however, MicroStrategy CEO Michael Saylor confirmed last week that a margin call had not been made, and that the company has reserves to protect against bitcoin dropping much lower.

Re-evaluation of business needs triggers firing and hiring

The bear market and general downturn is causing concern across the industry, as companies grapple with the implications of a looming recession and even stagflation. Financial considerations are being made a priority amidst declining revenues. Consequently, some digital asset institutions have announced reductions in head count. Coinbase (Nasdaq: COIN), one of the leading digital asset custodians and exchanges, announced cuts to staff of 18%, or approximately 1,100 staff, and furthermore rescinded 300 new hire offers. Gemini, an equally established exchange, expects to lay off 10% of its employees, while BlockFi and Crypto.com, more retail focused entities, will reduce headcount by 20% and 5% respectively, citing a “dramatic shift in macroeconomic conditions worldwide” which are impacting growth. However, at odds with the trend is Citibank, which this week announced its intention to hire 4,000 tech workers in a $10 billion effort to enhance online customer experience. It is joined by Binance and Kraken, two of the largest and most well-known cryptocurrency exchanges, which have similarly advertised their on-going efforts to recruit for 2,000 and 500 new positions respectively.

Longer-term sentiment remains positive as adoption increases

Despite the obvious pain that is being felt by the market during the latest crypto winter, sentiment around the future of the ecosystem and about cryptoassets remains positive. This week, Bank of America carried out a survey in which 91% of US adults said they plan to buy more cryptoassets over the course of the next six months, with 30% of respondents confirming their intention to hold their assets for at least the next six months despite the uncertainty. Echoing this sentiment, PwC’s Global Crypto Hedge Fund Report showed that allocations by crypto-focused and traditional hedge funds have increased over the past year, with 38% of traditional hedge funds currently investing in digital assets, up 21% from a year ago. Furthermore, 27% of the traditional funds that had not yet invested in digital assets reported that if the main barriers to adoption were removed they would accelerate their investments in them. Capgemini, a leading technology consulting firm, also released its 2022 World Wealth Report last week. Of the 2,973 global High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI) polled, 71% of them have allocated capital to cryptocurrencies and other digital assets. Furthermore, in assessing the demographic of respondents, 91% of under 40s have invested in digital assets, with Capgemini observing that cryptocurrencies remain their favourite digital asset investments for now. Even J.P. Morgan – whose chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon has been famously anti-bitcoin – has declared cryptocurrencies its new favourite alternative asset in preference to real estate, and has set a ‘fair value’ for bitcoin of USD 38,000, nearly twice its current price. And a joint PayPal and Deloitte survey of 2,000 senior U.S. retail executives found that nearly 85% of them expect digital currency payments to be ‘ubiquitous’ within the next five years.

Continued growth in institutional products and services

In other news, Goldman Sachs (GS) has launched a derivatives product linked to ether (ETH). The non-deliverable forward will enable investors to speculate on the price of ether without having to hold it directly. It comes at a time when investor confidence is low in the short term, however the firm reinforced its belief that digital assets are still desirable, stating that “institutional demand continues to grow significantly in this space”, with this offering helping the firm to evolve its nascent cash-settled cryptocurrency capabilities. And despite the reputation of stablecoins taking a knock of late, demand for them remains high as Circle Internet Financial – creator of the popular USDC dollar-pegged token – launches a new regulated euro-pegged stablecoin, EUROC, fully backed by euros held in custody by US qualified custodians.

Digital infrastructure for the repo market is also having a good month. BNP Paribas recently joined J.P. Morgan’s Onyx Digital Assets system, a tokenisation platform whose Intraday Repo application has processed over USD 300 billion of US treasury-based transactions in the year since it launched and is now looking to tokenise money market funds and other traditional securities as collateral. Meanwhile, Finteum’s DLT-based intraday FX swap and repo trading platform – due to go live next year – has been successfully tested by 14 banks, including Citi, NatWest and Barclays.

In Japan, the country’s two largest banks are making further moves in the digital asset space. Nomura – already one of the backers of custodian Komainu – will launch a new wholly-owned subsidiary to offer a range of digital asset services to institutional clients, with an unnamed executive quoted as saying, ‘If we don’t do this, then it’s going to be more difficult down the line to be competitive’. Meanwhile, Tokyo cryptocurrency exchange Bitbank has partnered with Sumitomo Mitsui Trust to create a new institutional digital asset custodian to be named Japan Digital Asset Trust. And the country has just become the first to pass legislation to limit yen stablecoin issuance to licensed institutions and guarantee their redemption back into fiat currency at par, a move that come into effect next year as a consortium of 74 Japanese banks and corporations moves to launch a private sector yen stablecoin.

Growing pains belie a maturing sector

The current market shake-up is inflicting short-term pain on investors, and the drying up of the previous flood of cheap capital that led to poor investment choices is now consigning thousands of weaker tokens and their associated projects to the scrap-heap. Investors are being reminded of the need to focus on utility and fundamentals over speculation. The last crypto market crash occurred in early 2018 when cryptocurrencies were the preserve of retail investors and the bravest of hedge funds, and institutional-grade services and infrastructure were not yet established. Four years later, the build-out of the foundations of the future financial system has got off to a strong start and continues apace. At the same time, regulation is beginning to catch up with the exuberant growth of this sector. We are witnessing the latest shift in a free market that should lead us to a more robust digital asset economy. Perhaps this moment will be seen in retrospect as an inflection point in the march towards a future financial system that encapsulates the best aspects of both stability and innovation.