In March of this year, G20 central bankers and finance ministers met in Buenos Aires to discuss everything from international trade to investment in global infrastructure. Among the topics covered was the regulation of cryptocurrency, which has attracted the growing attention of government regulators and political actors as blockchain adoption becomes more widespread and cryptocurrency markets gain a broader following.
Since then, the G20 has begun to intensely study ways to de-risk cryptocurrency markets and craft regulation that will not stifle the innovative potential of blockchain. While many entrepreneurs and investors in this space fear that compliance with government will hinder future growth, the reality is that engaged cooperation offers the best possible path toward a potential tipping point that accelerates adoption of blockchain technology by major enterprise-grade users and brings in far greater institutional investors.
With central bankers and finance ministers slated to discuss cryptocurrency this summer in Argentina and with the full G20 to meet in late November, action or inaction here will impact cryptocurrency markets. How the blockchain community chooses to engage between now and then has the potential to set the tone of how governments and entrepreneurs develop a long-term relationship.
As Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England and Chair of the G20’s Financial Stability Board, noted in March of 2018, blockchain has “the potential to improve efficiency and inclusiveness of both the financial system and the economy,” but unleashing this potential will require substantial work.
An ideal forum
The G20 was originally formed as a forum for finance ministers and central bank governors after the Asian debt crisis of 1997. It’s since become a body for cooperation among heads of state to address challenging economic issues of the time.
In the wake of the Great Recession, the G20 created the Financial Stability Board to better coordinate prevention of and coherent responses to financial instability. Since its inception, the FSB has been critical to enhancing banking regulations through the Basel Accords, an opt-in transnational framework designed to strengthen the resiliency of global financial systems, and to promoting good economic governance policies.
The G20, along with the FSB, provides the best opportunity for a global regulatory framework as they 1) convene the most relevant stakeholders and decision makers, 2) can craft a framework that is transnational in scope, and 3) are already studying cryptocurrencies and their impacts to a number of different fields.
Any regulatory framework will require cooperation from heads of government who possess the political power to move legislation and balance domestic considerations, from finance and economic ministers who have the technical ability to craft good policy and execute laws, and from central bankers who have a huge impact on the regulation of commercial banking within their respective states.
Additionally, the G20 can ensure whatever framework does take shape is transnational in nature as issues such as tax evasion, money laundering, and investor protection transcend borders. Such a framework would also minimize the risk posed by regulatory arbitrage to nations where firms can exploit loopholes in order to gain advantages based on geography.
Lastly, with G20 member states and FSB staff already working on these issues, there is attention, focus, and a desire to craft policy that will not stifle innovation.
Different nations have taken different approaches to the regulation of cryptocurrencies and related fields. While a comprehensive framework is likely years away, there are a few key points that stand out in crafting a regulatory setup.
The simplest issue that the G20 and FSB can mediate is deciding on a working definition of cryptocurrency. Several nations such as Switzerland through FINMA and Israel through the Israeli Securities Agency have taken steps to do this in a way that classifies cryptocurrency into payment tokens, utility tokens, and security tokens.
Clarity on this front will not be easy but defining cryptocurrency will allow entrepreneurs and investors much firmer ground on which to build projects and governments more guidance on how to regulate.
Accepting that all the information required to regulate does not yet exist is another important point. This thought lends support to the creation of sandboxes like what the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority is doing on fintech that will provide both flexibility and capacity to evolve to meet the demands of the industry as it matures.
On exchanges, the leadership shown by Japan, with the Financial Services Agency requiring licenses and working with self-regulating organizations (SROs) to help police the space and mainstream cryptocurrency should be lauded.
Exchanges will be critical to figuring out how banks interact with cryptocurrency and how taxes will eventually be collected. As the value of the cryptocurrency market increases more and more attention to know-your-customer (KYC) and anti-money-laundering (AML) compliance will follow.
Collectively, some of the issues above could be woven together to mirror efforts that G20 has taken on banking regulation. A Zug or Valletta Accords, comparable to Basel, could create an opt-in framework where nations agree on basic tenets for regulating cryptocurrency with active input from the industry.
Increased regulation, however, will not mean that blockchain and cryptocurrency projects die. On the contrary, increased regulation, as long as it is done with the cooperation of industry stakeholders and with the aim of de-risking the broader market, will hasten blockchain adoption by large enterprise users and reassure institutional investors.
Numerous large firms have already begun to explore blockchain applications and potential use cases to streamline costs and gain a competitive advantage with their peers. With a regulatory framework in place, the internal and external compliance requirements of publicly traded companies can be met and the true growth stage of the traditional S-curve can begin.
Working with regulators, industry stakeholders can help craft rules where both entrepreneurs and governments win. Such a framework by the G20 could be just the action required to help unleash the long-term creative potential and promise of blockchain.