Global Crypto Framework Needed to Stop 'Regulatory Arbitrage,' Watchdog Warns

Hong Kong’s securities regulator says the world needs a united response to stablecoins like Libra to avoid firms setting up in laxer jurisdictions.

AccessTimeIconNov 7, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. UTC
Updated Sep 13, 2021 at 11:40 a.m. UTC

Hong Kong’s chief securities regulator says world regulators needs a united response to Facebook’s Libra to tackle the "real risk of regulatory arbitrage."

In remarks delivered Wednesday at Hong Kong Fintech week, Ashley Alder, chief executive officer of the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission (SFC), said Libra and other "Big Tech" stablecoin projects pose a deep threat to fragmented financial regulators around the world. 

The risk comes not when countries shore up their domestic anti-money laundering and consumer protection laws, but when some do, and others don’t, Alder said.

Explaining the "arbitrage" threat – that is, when companies flee stricter jurisdictions for nations with more lax regulations – Alder said:

"If a retail stablecoin is approved in one jurisdiction, whether as a security, payment system, fund, trading platform or another category (or a combination of these), it could easily go global very quickly if it rides on the back of the huge user-base of a Big Tech platform."

Alder acknowledged that Libra’s explosion into the public consciousness has brought added scrutiny around the area. Indeed, recent pressure from Chinese, U.S. and EU regulators has triggered a hemorrhage among the project's governing council, with several companies exiting the project even before the namesake Libra Association was formally created. 

Regardless of how Libra itself performs or if it launches, Alder said, its very existence has drawn much regulatory attention to the crypto space.

"In 2018, the crypto world was seen to be of marginal importance to the global financial system. The Financial Stability Board, which is basically the G20’s financial regulatory arm, concluded last year that, although blockchain 'currencies' such as Bitcoin were problematic from an investor protection angle, they did not yet pose any significant financial stability risks," he said. "But then came Facebook’s Libra, and the international regulatory community had to get its act together very rapidly."

“But, regardless of its future prospects, the Libra project has galvanized regulators across the world to look far harder at the opportunities and risks inherent in virtual assets.”

Alder’s remarks at the Fintech conference also presaged the release of SFC’s updated regulatory framework for crypto exchanges.

Hong Kong coins image via Shutterstock


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