Singapore tells crypto operators: act like grown up financial institutions

Digital payment skeptics of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but grifters and crims

Singapore has joined the ranks of nations requiring digital payment operators to follow the same sort of regulations and customer protection requirements that apply to conventional financial institutions.

In measures floated in October 2022 and to be enacted by the end of 2023, Singapore's Monetary Authority (MAS) will require operators to hold customer assets under a statutory trust segregated from their own assets. Crypto outfits are also barred from facilitating retail customer lending and staking – the term for locking up crypto assets for a set time to support blockchain validation.

Operators will also be required to reconcile customer assets daily, keep proper records, maintain access and operational controls to customer digital payment tokens (DPTs) in Singapore, and provide risk disclosures.

MAS will not require the use of independent custodians for customer assets as long as the operator ensures operations of the assets are independent from other business units.

Operators can still facilitate staking for institutional and accredited investors while the MAS monitors market developments and risk.

"This will mitigate the risk of loss or misuse of customers' assets, and facilitate the recovery of customers' assets in the event of a DPT service provider's insolvency," said MAS.

MAS is obviously referring to debacles such as the recent fall of Singapore-based Terraform Labs' so called "stablecoin" products that deleted $42 billion of investors' funds, and the crash of companies like FTX.

FTX is a sore point for Singapore: the country's sovereign wealth fund, Temasek, was an investor and took a bath when it cratered.

The statutory body also warned that regulations alone cannot protect consumers, and advised utmost caution when trading in DPTs.

The move cements Singapore's distrust of digital assets. The city-state has issued multiple warnings that the alterna-cash has inherently higher risks than other instruments.

In June, MAS chief fintech officer Sopnendu Mohanty vowed Singapore would be "brutal and unrelentingly hard" on any crypto-related shenanigans.

Singapore is not alone in its stance. Last week, South Korea issued its own digital asset protections in the form of the Virtual Asset Act. The act imposes a number of requirements, including that operators of digital asset platform hold assets to guarantee customers' balances in offline cold wallets and secure insurance against infosec incidents. Platforms cannot trade in their own digital assets and must follow a similar disclosure framework to capital markets.

Hong Kong also took steps toward further defining its crypto regulations last week when it announced the establishment of its Task Force on Promoting Web3 Development.

The Special Administrative Region (SAR)'s financial secretary Paul Chan declared blockchain technology underpinning Web3 features has the "potential to solve many difficulties and pain points encountered in finance, trade, business operations and even day-to-day life."

"Premised on a balance between appropriate regulation and promoting development, Hong Kong seeks to lead and drive innovative exploration and development, create more new application models, and strives to draw together top-notch companies and talent in the arena to build a thriving ecosystem," said Chan.

Last October, Hong Kong pushed a vision toward becoming a global virtual asset hub – an unusual move given that cryptocurrency is banned in China.

By February, the SAR's Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) proposed measures that require virtual asset trading platform operators to acquire the same sort of licenses as securities traders. ®

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