It’s a truth universally acknowledged that cryptocurrencies have the power to create a more dynamic, mobile and accessible financial ecosystem, and the enormous potential of the underpinning distributed ledger technology (DLT) for application outside the financial sector is nowhere near being realised.
But as with most great strides in innovation, there are concerns and risks to address, understand and mitigate as early as possible. FINTRAIL has a keen interest in this fast-paced arena and is working with the UK FinTech FinCrime Exchange (FFE) to publish a white paper later this month exploring FinTech perspectives on and experiences of cryptocurrencies.
In the meantime, UK MPs are launching an inquiry into cryptocurrencies, including exploring the financial crime risks related to cryptocurrencies.
A government review of the need for cryptocurrency regulation is no surprise. The explosion of growth in the sector continues unabated. The German and French governments have called for greater regulatory coordination ahead of November’s G20 meeting. And the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has described cryptocurrency as an “across the border priority.” The UK inquiry also coincides with news that seven of the UK’s largest crypto companies have formed a self-regulatory body, CryptoUK, with the intention of promoting best practice and working with the government and regulators.
The Treasury Committee will no doubt consider the late-2017 revision of the EU 4th Anti-Money Laundering Directive (4AMLD), known as 5AMLD that delivers a definition of “virtual currencies,” which include cryptocurrencies, for all member states to adopt in AML legislation.
In addition to the definition, the 5AMLD aims to mitigate risks associated with the use of virtual currencies for terrorist financing. To do so, the 5AMLD extended the scope of “obliged entities”, which previously included financial institutions, accountants, lawyers, estate agents etc., to include cryptocurrencies and other related services such as exchanges and custodial wallet providers. This is significant as it acknowledges that cryptocurrencies and their supporting services carry the risks of money laundering and terrorist financing and that KYC policies, EDD controls and transaction monitoring are required alongside the immediate submission of suspicious activity reports to law enforcement.
While adoption of the new rules into national legislation will take time the principles of the 5AMLD and the obvious appetite from EU member states, the US and the cryptocurrency sector itself to bring about a more coordinated regulatory position, will inevitably play an important role in the deliberations of the Treasury Committee.
Regardless of the outcome of the inquiry, government scrutiny of cryptocurrency at a time when uncertainty and volatility pervade the sector is an encouraging development.
As to the 5MLD, further work is needed to ensure legislation keeps up with the high-tempo cryptocurrency risk landscape; however, for the time being, EU acknowledgement that cryptocurrency carries financial crime risk is a much-needed starting block.
 Virtual currency is not synonymous with cryptocurrency. Virtual currencies are tradable digital representations of value that are not issued by any government and don't have status as legal tender. Virtual currencies can have a central administrator (as in the case of services like WebMoney, or game-based currencies like World of Warcraft Gold); or they can be decentralised cryptocurrencies, which use cryptography to validate and confirm transactions.