Financial Watchdogs Have DeFi in Their Sights, Alter Wording Around NFTs

The FATF guidance makes a careful change of terminology, which appears to be a nod in the direction of NFTs.

Mar 20, 2021 at 7:38 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 12:29 p.m. UTC

Innovative areas within cryptocurrency such as decentralized finance (DeFi) are firmly on the radar of global regulators, according to draft guidance released on Friday by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global anti-money laundering (AML) body.

In addition to clarifying its wording on decentralized exchanges (DEXs), the mechanisms that power DeFi platforms and apps, the FATF made an oblique reference to non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which are exploding in popularity.

NFTs and DeFi present additional challenges to the FATF, which is already struggling to graft money-laundering rules onto pseudonymous-by-design transactions in the flourishing cryptocurrency industry.

When it comes to DeFi platforms, the FATF said its standards may not apply to the underlying software or technology, but said entities involved with the “DApp,” such as owners or operators, may now be considered virtual asset service providers (VASPs) – regulator-speak for crypto entities that must meet the same anti-money-laundering requirements as traditional finance. That's a clear shot across the bows of DeFi founders, investors and venture-capital firms. 

The FATF guidance also makes a careful change of terminology, which appears to be in a nod in the direction of NFTs.

A specific reference to “assets that are fungible” – which has important implications in light of the current NFT craze – has been replaced by “assets that are convertible and interchangeable,” Siân Jones, senior partner at XReg Consulting, said.

“NFTs that can be converted or exchanged for fiat currency or other virtual assets were always in scope, and remain so,” said Jones, the driving force behind the widely adopted AML data-sharing standard, IVMS101. “Some terms that were capable of being construed by stakeholders in ways that FATF had not originally intended have been replaced by language that more closely expresses the FATF’s intentions.”

In a blog post summarizing the key points of the new guidance, blockchain analytics form CipherTrace concluded the only NFTs that can facilitate money laundering and terrorism financing are “virtual assets” in the eyes of the FATF.

“Some non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that may not initially appear to constitute VAs may in fact be VAs due to secondary markets that enable the transfer or exchange of value or facilitate money laundering, terrorist financing and proliferation financing,” CipherTrace said.

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