U.S. Crypto Regulatory Fog Keeps Standard Chartered Rooted in UAE, Asia

Standard Chartered chose Dubai as its base for launching crypto services. Reading between the lines, the message coming from banks and large institutions is that almost anywhere is preferable to the U.S.

AccessTimeIconOct 18, 2023 at 1:54 p.m. UTC
Updated Oct 18, 2023 at 1:58 p.m. UTC
  • The London-based bank surveyed crypto market maturity outside the U.S.
  • Standard Chartered is also mulling a crypto settlement network further down the line.
  • The bank exemplifies how a lack of regulatory clarity in the U.S. is driving financial institutions to look elsewhere to set up their crypto operations.
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  • With U.S. regulators still wrangling their way through a cryptocurrency turf war, some of the world’s largest banks have quietly been preparing for the digital asset economy in other, more mature, jurisdictions.

    Standard Chartered, for example, has opted for Dubai, where the bank plans to start safeguarding bitcoin (BTC) and ether (ETH) for institutional clients in the first quarter of 2024. Institutional adoption requires a host of pillars to be in place, said Waqar Chaudry, executive director of innovation at the London-headquartered lender, and that includes safety mechanisms around the regulation itself.

    “So that it's not regulation which is in transit, or can suddenly change, which we have seen in some significantly large jurisdictions,” Chaudry said in an interview with CoinDesk.

    The rest of the world is moving faster into crypto than the U.S. Leading jurisdictions like Switzerland and Singapore have been joined by places like Germany and the rest of the European Union, where banks are now setting up crypto custody and working with large exchanges to roll out white labeled digital asset services.

    “Back in 2018, when places like Singapore and the UAE were busy consulting on crypto assets, some other regions had not even made the distinction between a security and non-security status when it came to crypto assets,” Chaudry said. “For that reason, now we see the difference in maturity in markets where countries like the UAE, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong are beginning to move faster.”

    It’s a step-by-step process for Standard Chartered, starting in Dubai, but with an eye on the bank’s strong presence across Asia, Africa and the Middle East. “The good thing is DIFC [Dubai International Financial Centre] allows us to offer services all over the world, technically speaking,” Chaudry said. “So if we have jurisdictional equivalence, and our license allows us to get clients on-boarded from other parts of the world, then we will do so in the interim, until we can actually deploy a local offering into that country.”

    Looking into the future, creating crypto settlement mechanisms – to some degree filling the gap left by Signature Bank’s Signet and the Silvergate Settlement Network – might be an attractive proposition from a settlement efficiency and cost management point of view.

    “We have existing rails and settlement capability as well as service provision with other traditional custodians; we can service them, we can use them, they can use us,” said Chaudry. “So that network effect will take hold pretty quickly after entities like us enter the market, rather than depending on a single bank network, unlike what recently failed institutions had built for the crypto market.”

    Edited by Sheldon Reback.


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    Ian Allison

    Ian Allison is an award-winning senior reporter at CoinDesk. He holds ETH.