Coinbase Could Move Away From U.S. if No Regulatory Clarity: CEO Brian Armstrong

Armstrong said "anything is on the table" in terms of the crypto exchange's plans should greater regulatory clarity not emerge in the U.S.

AccessTimeIconApr 18, 2023 at 9:22 a.m. UTC
Updated May 9, 2023 at 4:12 a.m. UTC

Coinbase (COIN) CEO Brian Armstrong indicated that the crypto exchange would consider moving away from the U.S. if the regulatory environment for the industry does not become clearer.

"Anything is on the table, including relocating or whatever is necessary" he said after former U.K. Chancellor George Osbourne asked whether he could see Coinbase leaving the U.S. at Fintech Week in London.

"I think the U.S. has the potential to be an important market for crypto, but right now we are not seeing that regulatory clarity that we need," he said. "I think in a number of years if we don't see that regulatory clarity emerge in the U.S. we may have to consider investing more elsewhere in the world."

Armstrong's comments come weeks after rival exchange Bittrex said it planned to exit the U.S. by the end of April, citing "the current U.S. regulatory and economic environment." Bittrex received a Wells Notice – a statement that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's (SEC) Enforcement Division found evidence of legal violations – in March, general counsel David Maria told the Wall Street Journal. The SEC filed a lawsuit against the exchange on Monday.

Armstrong compared the U.K. situation, where there is only one regulator – the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) – responsible for both commodities and securities, with the U.S., where there are separate bodies: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the SEC.

"You don't have this unfortunate thing happening where the CFTC and the SEC are having a turf battle," he said. "We actually have contradictory statements from the heads of the CFTC and the SEC coming out almost every few weeks. How's a business going to operate in that environment? We just want a clear rulebook."

Coinbase received a Wells Notice from the SEC in March. Armstrong said Coinbase had met with the SEC "30 times" without getting feedback regarding the nature of its business before receiving the notice.

He said there's a lack of distinction or nuance in how regulators view the different arms of the cryptocurrency industry. Exchanges like Coinbase should be regulated like financial services companies, whereas the decentralized areas of the industry should be handled very differently because there is no central authority to regulate.

"Things like Bitcoin, Ethereum, DeFi and even self-custodial wallets should be regulated like a software business or something like that," he said.

Coinbase Beyond Crypto

Armstrong also spoke of decentralized identity as one of the most compelling use cases for blockchain technology beyond cryptocurrency.

“Decentralized identity is a way for people to kind of have their own, information ... because they actually own it," Armstrong said.

“Decentralized social media is on the horizon. I think that's pretty important in terms of freedom of speech.”

Earlier this year, Coinbase unveiled Base, an Ethereum layer 2 network upon which developers can build decentralized apps (dapps), sending a signal it wants to go beyond the trading of digital assets and into developing and expanding the broader uses of blockchain technology.

UPDATE (April 18, 9:51 UTC): Adds further comments, Wells Notice starting in fourth paragraph.

UPDATE (April 18, 12:08 UTC): Adds Bittrex lawsuit in fourth paragraph, further detail and additional Armstrong comments including section on decentralized identity/social media.

Camomile Shumba contributed to reporting.

Edited by Sheldon Reback.


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Jamie Crawley

Jamie Crawley is a CoinDesk news reporter based in London.

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