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Business Maverick

Australia plans to require crypto exchanges to obtain licences to curb risks

Australia plans to require crypto exchanges to obtain licences to curb risks
The Binance Exchange website on a laptop computer arranged in Dobbs Ferry, New York, U.S., on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. (Photo: Tiffany Hagler-Geard/Bloomberg)

Crypto exchanges in Australia will soon be required to hold a financial-services licence issued by the markets regulator as the country seeks to support the growth of digital assets while protecting consumers. 

A government proposal that builds on existing laws will mean digital-asset platforms that hold more than A$5 million ($3.2-million), or A$1,500 for an individual, must get a permit from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission or ASIC, according to a Treasury department document Monday. 

Rules will also include custody and transaction standards that the government said are inspired by frameworks used in the UK, Canada and Singapore. 

A range of jurisdictions have stepped up efforts to regulate digital assets after a $1.5 trillion crypto rout last year that exposed risky practices and triggered the collapse of high-profile trading venues. Chief among the wipeouts was the bankruptcy of Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX exchange, with the fallen mogul now on trial in the US for allegedly overseeing a multibillion-dollar fraud.

Global drive

The UK intends to regulate crypto asset activities including trading, lending and custody under the same regime as traditional financial services. In Canada, firms are required to follow tougher regulations on segregating customer assets and prohibited from offering margin or leverage.

Singapore, meanwhile, is curbing retail-investor participation in crypto-related trading and investment while seeking to develop a hub for productive uses of blockchain technology, such as tokenizing real-world assets.

The Australian government will consult on its plans until 1 December. Draft legislation is expected next year, followed by a period of 12 months to allow exchanges to ensure they are compliant with the new rules. 

Existing law

The obligations for firms are drawn from existing law for financial services, the government said, including submitting financial records, monitoring market misconduct and meeting solvency and cash reserve requirements.

This marks “a positive progression for the crypto industry,” Caroline Bowler, chief executive officer at crypto platform BTC Markets Pty, said in a statement. “It is imperative the country keeps pace with our international peers, with a robust regulatory framework”.

The proposals also mean more obligations in areas such as trading, staking and the creation of tokens. Staking involves earning rewards by pledging coins to help run a blockchain.

Restricted access

Australia’s big banks this year have restricted access to digital-asset platforms on concerns about risks from scams. ASIC has also been probing the Binance Australia exchange’s now-defunct local derivatives business.

Crypto must be held “accountable” to the same high standards expected of everybody else, Joseph Longo, the ASIC chairman, said at a digital-asset conference in Sydney on Monday hosted by the Australian Financial Review.

At the same event, Brad Jones, an assistant governor at the Reserve Bank of Australia, said the central bank is in the early stages of planning for a new project assessing how different forms of digital money and infrastructure could support the development of tokenised asset markets.

Jones outlined hypothetical cost savings for local financial markets from tokenisation, including A$1 billion to A$4 billion annually for transactions and as much as A$13 billion for issuers in capital markets.

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