Singapore city skyline at night

Singapore scales digital currency regulations as MAS gets additional power

Singapore is stepping up its efforts to regulate the domestic digital currency industry, this time targeting firms that are based in the country but offering their services outside the city-state.

Last week, lawmakers in Singapore approved the Financial Services and Markets Bill 2022, which further expanded the jurisdiction of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the country’s de facto central bank and digital currency regulator. The law covers virtual asset service providers (VASPs) who in digital currencies, exchanges, and firms that offer financial advice on the sale of such currencies and tokens.

Under the previous regulatory regime, the MAS only had authority over VASPs, which were based in the country and offered their services locally. This led to some regulatory loopholes in which a firm could claim to be regulated by the MAS, which is a reputable watchdog globally, but not be directly supervised by the regulator.

Alvin Tan, a board member of the MAS who spoke on behalf of Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, said that the regulator was worried about the reputational risk that the loophole presented.

“Digital token service providers could easily structure their businesses to evade regulation in any one jurisdiction, as they operate mainly online. We could be exposed to reputational risks brought by DT service providers created in Singapore, and which provide services relating to virtual assets such as Bitcoin outside Singapore,” Tan said.

The new law was well received by some who believe that it will make the industry more reputable and further increase protections for investors. Legitimate firms operating within the confines of the law have nothing to fear, the law’s supporters say.

One of them is Anndy Lian, the chairman of Dutch exchange BigONE, who deems the new regulations reasonable.

“If you walk the ground hard enough, you will see many bad actors and dubious crypto companies using Singapore as a base of their operations. We need to properly regulate things so that the bad actors won’t affect this industry’s image,” Lian said, speaking to Nikkei Asia.

There are others who don’t support the new law, which they claim is just another burden being piled on by regulators on a nascent industry that could prove fatal to its growth. 

“Sad, disappointed—we went 10 steps backwards. So MAS is making the assumption that the license is like gold—that everyone will want to get it?” One member of a digital currency group in the city-state stated.

There are also concerns related to the MAS’ processing of licensing applications. As CoinGeek reported in December, the MAS received about 180 applications for licenses by VASPs. Of these, 103 were either rejected or the applicants had withdrawn them after realizing they had not met the standards. At the time, only three firms had been granted operating licenses, with 70 applications being in consideration. 

This long queue of applications was just with local firms that target the Singaporean market. VASPS will take longer to get licensed in the city-state with the new law. This will require some firms to move out of Singapore or dig deeper into their pockets to get through the scrutiny.

“For companies that are unable to fulfill the AML/CFT requirement, they will need to move out to other countries. But with more governments regulating cryptocurrency in different jurisdictions, these companies will soon find it hard to operate,” Desmond Yong, the chief strategy officer at Digital Treasures Center, commented.

This new MAS crackdown piles onto others, such as a ban on digital currency ads in public places, which kicked off in January, and the shutdown of digital currency ATMs.

Watch: CoinGeek New York panel, Government & Public Sector Applications on Blockchain

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