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How are regulators working together on crypto?

The regulation of cryptocurrencies across the world is a constant battle for investors in a rapidly expanding and constantly changing ecosystem. 

Various regulatory agencies around the world view digital assets in a different light that vary significantly from one another.

Recently, executive board member of the European Central Bank (ECB) Fabio Panetta mentioned in a written statement for a speech to Columbia University that regulators should follow a globally coordinated approach while regulating digital assets. He said that the world should have digital assets regulated by the Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (CFT) rules of the Financial Action Task Force.

Panetta also spoke about strengthening public disclosure, reporting on regulatory compliance in the industry and setting up certain “transparency requirements” and “standards of conduct.” He stated:

“We need to make coordinated efforts at the global level to bring crypto-assets into the regulatory purview. And, we need to ensure that they are subject to standards in line with those applied to the financial system. We should make faster progress if we want to ensure that crypto-assets do not trigger a lawless frenzy of risk-taking.”

Practicality of global regulation in question

The ECB applying such rules across the European Union is one thing, and having the same rules apply to the all the countries in the world is a whole other due to the fact that ECB can behave as the regulatory entity in the EU. Still, there is no clear understanding of which regulatory body would have the authority to conduct such coordinated regulatory activities.

Even more recently, Ashley Alder, chair of the International Organization of Securities Commissions — an association of market regulators — spoke about this aspect in an online conference organized by the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum. He elaborated on the need for a joint body that will be tasked with coordinating the regulation of digital assets around the world and could even be a reality within this year.

On May 16, the Basel Institute of Governance and the International Academy of Financial Crime Litigators published a paper that also called for further coordinated action against unlawful crypto markets. The paper suggested that investigators that are involved with cryptocurrencies should invest in learning approaches and technologies to keep up pace with the evolving techniques of criminal organizations and entities.

Cointelegraph spoke with Bianca Veleva, head of legal and regulatory compliance at Nexo — a crypto lending platform — about the advantages of a global regulatory approach. She said:

“The adoption of a unified legal framework and/or principles for crypto-related activities may prove beneficial in terms of accelerating the legislative efforts of countries which have not yet recognized the advantages that the crypto industry brings, following from the comprehensive framework that more forward-looking countries have already adopted and implemented.”

As the digital assets landscape expands and regulations begin to get clearer, a new paradigm could be underway wherein international regulatory consensus unifies. The mass adoption and increasing use-cases of digital assets and blockchain technology alike are bound to provide a solid foundation for the eventuality of a consensus among regulating bodies and nations.

However, there are many countries that have outright banned their citizens from indulging in cryptocurrencies and even their services. A prime example of that would be China, which announced an outright ban on digital assets in September last year. There are a total of nine countries that have banned cryptocurrencies, in addition to China: Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Nepal, Qatar and Tunisia have a blanket ban on crypto, according to a Law Library of Congress report from November 2021.

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This difference in the way various countries view digital assets could serve as the biggest obstacle to a globally coordinated regulatory framework. Igneus Terrenus, policy advocate at Bybit, told Cointelegraph that while a global regulatory system makes sense for tracking fund flows and reducing regulatory arbitrage, the reality is that there is no universal regulatory body capable of imposing it upon sovereign states. Realistically, it will have broader impacts on citizens and residents of countries that responded positively rather than countries that choose not to partake.

Terrenus added that “A blanket framework that fits the whole world does not seem to be attainable given the disparities between countries in even existing financial regulations. A feasible model would focus on easing the exchange of information between entities and jurisdictions, which tax authorities are already doing via the banking system, deploying zero-knowledge proof technology to prevent fraud and improving regulatory clarity and consistency.”

Another aspect to consider in the hypothetical eventuality of globally accepted regulations for cryptocurrencies is that a consensus between various countries at different stages of adoption could lead to innovation being stifled and a plateau in adoption rates. Veleva said:

“Any joint efforts of unifying the currently pending EU regime for crypto-assets with the United State’s legislative framework may be a double-edged sword. They may, in fact, impede the pace of innovation and crypto adoption at an EU level and lead to greater regulatory difficulties for crypto companies.”

Coordination like never before 

Despite the difficulties and challenges involved, some participants in the digital assets ecosystem remain positive about a move toward globally coordinated crypto regulation. 

Justin Choo, group head of compliance of Cabital — a cryptocurrency trading and passive income platform — told Cointelegraph that the current approach that countries have taken couldn’t be more varied when compared with traditional asset classes like equity, debentures and managed investment schemes that work with a regulated framework.

When compared to crypto-forward countries, Choo stated that “I would imagine that a globally coordinated regulatory system wouldn’t go as far ahead as what El Salvador and Argentina are doing simply because the governments of developed countries whose currencies are reserve currencies wouldn’t be ready to give up the economic prowess — which is often used to influence international diplomacy — that they already have in favor of cryptocurrencies.”

Global coordination on crypto regulation will require collaboration within the industry and from regulators across the world in a manner that is never seen before. Terrenus said:

“Paternalistic protections based on decades-old laws may not be the most helpful approach. Truly sensible, meaningful and impactful regulations should encourage transparency when it comes to the terms, ownership breakdown, vesting schedules and accurate representation of annual percentage yield of crypto projects. This would improve the overall information symmetry and reward investors who do their own research.”

Especially after the recent highly-publicized fiasco with the Terra blockchain and its stablecoin, TerraUSD (UST), regulators have begun to take a closer look at the feasibility and viability of stablecoins as well. The European Commission has also revealed its intentions of placing a blanket ban on large-scale stablecoins, considering the massive economic and investor impact that was triggered by the crash of UST and Terra (LUNA) in the Terra blockchain.

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As the adoption of digital assets increases, moving from one adoption and innovation cycle to another, the evolving regulatory landscape will be the most vital part of the transition of digital assets penetrating the masses. A global regulatory framework seems like the ideal solution for the transition, but the obstacles set in the way of implementing such a framework will make the transition a long process and it is highly unlikely that it would happen within a year.

Andreessen Horowitz — a crypto-friendly venture capital firm — recently released its “2022 State of Crypto” report, highlighting that the growth of decentralized markets has gone to a total value locked of more than $100 billion just within two years after the concept was first introduced. The report estimates that decentralized finance (DeFi) would be the 31st largest U.S. bank by assets under management.

It is only natural that such a rapidly expanding industry will require regulators and central banks to innovate and evolve at the same pace. Even if a highly laborious globally-coordinated regulatory framework slightly stifles innovation, the protection of investors is always the prime concern for regulatory bodies across the globe.