UK Crypto Derivatives Ban Seen Having Limited Effect on Small Market

The FCA's ban could prompt some individuals to shift their crypto trading to offshore, unregulated exchanges.

AccessTimeIconOct 12, 2020 at 4:00 a.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 10:07 a.m. UTC

The U.K. Financial Conduct Authority's decision to ban individual investors from speculating on bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is likely to have a minimal impact, partly because the market is so small, according to analysts and industry executives who track the trading business.

Some U.K.-based brokerages that had offered the crypto derivative products to retail traders could see a drop-off in revenue, though big cryptocurrency exchanges including Kraken say the impact is likely to be minimal. While U.K. individuals can still trade the actual cryptocurrencies, there may be some traders who will seek to skirt the rules by trading on offshore exchanges.

The ban is set to take effect in January. Professional investors weren't barred from trading cryptocurrency derivatives partly because they "have greater understanding of the risks and greater capacity to absorb potential investment losses," according to an FCA report this month.

“Those still keen on trading crypto derivatives will just find ways to open accounts in unaffected regions,” Don Guo, CEO of Broctagon Fintech Group, told CoinDesk in an email. “There is a stark risk that retail traders will simply trade on unregulated exchanges, which in fact puts them at more risk.”

Few U.K.-based retail investors trade crypto derivative products directly, according to Sui Chung, CEO of CF Benchmarks, which provides price indexes to exchanges including Chicago-based CME Group.

Instead, they normally go through so-called contract for difference (CFD) providers, Chung said. 

Regulated brokers and exchanges that had offered crypto derivatives and exchange-traded notes (ETNs) to retail traders included the Kraken-owned Crypto Facilities, CMC Markets and IG Index.

“This has a very minimal impact on Crypto Facilities,” a Crypto Facilities spokesperson told CoinDesk in an email.

“We anticipate no material impact resulting from the FCA announcement as these products form a very small part of our diversified and global business,” IG Group told CoinDesk in a statement. ”The impacted revenue following the FCA restrictions would be less than 1% of IG Group’s overall revenue.”

As recently as May, crypto made up 2.7% of IG Group’s total revenue this year, of which the U.K. market was only 1% to 1.5%, according to a research note by Vivek Raja and Paul McGinnis, analysts from Shore Capital, on Oct 6. According to the note, crypto was within 18% of CMC Markets’ total revenue as of March.

Both CME Group and CMC Markets declined CoinDesk’s request to comment on this topic.

A research report released by the FCA on June 30 estimated that about 3.86% of the general population hold cryptocurrencies in the U.K., with 12% of respondents saying they “never” monitor the prices of their cryptocurrencies.

“Consumers seem to treat cryptocurrencies as a form of speculation akin to gambling, rather than as a payment or investment,” according to the report.

A separate FCA report this month indicated that some 97% of comments submitted in connection with the rulemaking were opposed to agency's proposed ban.

“With most of the bigger firms, whether that’s Coinbase or Gemini, I think the majority of them aren’t affected by it,” Yang Li, the chief growth officer at Ziglu, a U.K.-based cryptocurrency platform, said in an interview with CoinDesk. “It was a niche product.”

A silver lining for bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies might be that with more robust regulations on nascent digital-asset markets might encourage more institutional investors to jump in.

“Any step toward a better-defined regulatory framework serves to legitimize crypto as a mainstream investment for those institutions,” said Dmitry Tokarev, CEO of London-based crypto custodian Copper, told CoinDesk via email.


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