Business 30 October 2018

Paul How

UK mulls ban on crypto derivatives

The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) will be holding consultations on a “potential prohibition” of cryptocurrency-based derivatives, in order to protect consumers from risks posed by digital assets.

“[T]he FCA will consult on a prohibition of the sale to retail consumers of all derivatives referencing exchange tokens such as Bitcoin, including CFDs, futures, options and transferable securities,” read the policy paper by the Cryptoassets Taskforce, which is composed of the FCA, HM Treasury, and the Bank of England. Not included under the proposed ban are cryptocurrencies classified as securities, which are then to be regulated by the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA).

The paper noted that the FCA has already supported ESMA’s restrictions on contracts for difference (CFDs) that reference cryptocurrencies, a measure that took effect last August 1.

The report added that the FCA “will not authorize or approve the listing of a transferable security or a fund that references exchange tokens (for example, exchange-traded funds) unless it has confidence in the integrity of the underlying market and that other regulatory criteria for funds authorization are met.”

The consultations have been scheduled for some time before the end of the year.

The task force also called for further clarification of general regulations for the cryptocurrency market, expressing similar concerns as the UK Treasury committee in its report released in September, such as price volatility of many virtual currencies.

While acknowledging the benefits of the use of cryptocurrencies, such as increased efficiency of financial transfers and the capacity to raise funds, the task force said, “Evidence of the current generation of cryptoassets delivering any of these benefits is limited and many use cases are unproven at a large scale,” leading it to conclude that “in many cases, the risks posed by the current generation of cryptoassets outweigh any potential benefits.”

The task force noted that the UK government itself is exploring the use of blockchain technology apart from financial services, having invested more than £10 million for various distributed ledger projects, and creating a £20-million GovTech Catalyst Fund to study applications of the technology for the public sector.

Last year, the FCA had already warned of the risks in investing in CFDs, but without suggesting a prohibition. It also issued guidelines last April affirming its authority over the trade of derivatives.

Note: Tokens on the Bitcoin Core (SegWit) chain are referenced as BTC coins; tokens on the Bitcoin Cash ABC chain are referenced as BCH, BCH-ABC or BAB coins.

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