Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic continue to monitor and address cryptoasset and distributed ledger technology activities. We recently posted on the guidance issued by the US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network on cryptocurrencies and in another post touched upon differences in the regulatory treatment of cryptoassets across jurisdictions. Today we report on two new developments relating to the treatment of cryptoassets by UK and US regulators.

On the theory that three’s a charm, our third and final blog on Hong Kong private equity activities will take a look at Asset Management (Type 9) activities, which are among the most relevant regulated activities for private equity firms in Hong Kong.

 Asset Management (Type 9) covers managing, on a discretionary basis, portfolio of securities for and on behalf of a third party. If a private equity firm is licensed by the SFC to carry out the regulated activity of asset management, then in addition to being able to exercise discretionary portfolio management, such firm is able to rely on what is commonly referred to as the “incidental exemption” and market funds under its management or sub-management, without the need to obtain a separate Type 1 license. The Type 9 license is therefore very flexible.

In our first blog on Hong Kong private equity licensing, we looked at Dealing in Securities (Type 1). This second blog deals with Advising on Securities (Type 4).

Advising on Securities (Type 4) includes not only giving advice on acquiring or disposing of securities, but also advising on the terms or conditions on which securities should be acquired or disposed of. There is an important "intra-group" exemption for the requirement for a Type 4 license, and many private equity firms have traditionally relied on this to conduct advisory activities in Hong Kong. This exemption is available if advice on securities is provided by the private equity firms in Hong Kong to (i) any of its wholly-owned subsidiaries; (ii) a holding company which wholly owns the private equity firms; or (iii) wholly-owned subsidiaries of its holding company. The recipient of the advice, recommendation, or research should assess the advice, recommendation or research (as the case may be) and has the discretion to reject it, before issuing the material to its own clients in its own name. In other words, the recipients must assess the advice, and not merely rubber-stamp it.

In keeping with our interest in global financial regulatory developments, in this and two blog posts to follow, we examine recent regulatory developments and responses in the active Hong Kong private equity markets.

Historically, the most popular setup of private equity firms in Hong Kong involve a Hong Kong onshore investment adviser providing advice to an offshore investment manager or a general partner in the Cayman Islands. The Hong Kong investment adviser will typically be a wholly owned subsidiary of the offshore entity. If structured in this manner and subject to certain additional parameters, the Hong Kong investment adviser will be able to operate without any licence in Hong Kong as the Hong Kong investment adviser will be able to rely on what is commonly referred to as the “intra-group” exemption.

In a recently published statement, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS) has raised concerns relating to the risks that crypto-assets pose to the global financial system. While it acknowledges that banks do not currently have significant exposure to crypto-assets, it warns that these assets are increasingly becoming a threat to financial stability.

These concerns are founded on the volatility, constant evolution, and lack of standardization of crypto-assets, which the BCBS believes exposes banks to liquidity, credit, operational, money laundering, legal, and reputational risks. It considers that crypto-assets should not be referred to as “cryptocurrencies,” given that they fall short of being currencies that are safe mediums of exchange.

Our postings on All Things FinReg sometimes can take us far afield – in this case, to India.

Multinational companies, including those in the financial services and technology worlds, incorporate or acquire Indian subsidiaries to lower their costs and access a vast and growing market for customers and talent. If you want to be in India, however, you’ll need to understand and engage with the complex—and sometimes mystifying—local regulatory regime, because not doing so may cost you, as well as your banks and other financial services providers.

The Joint Committee of the European Supervisory Authorities (the ESAs) issued a report on 7 January 2019 on the status of regulatory sandboxes and innovation hubs following consultations with national regulators across the European Union.

The report compares the innovation hubs and regulatory sandboxes established in 21 EU member states and three EEA states, flagging too that Hungary and Spain are in the process of establishing regulatory sandboxes.

The ongoing and accelerating pace of developments in the realm of cryptoassets in multiple jurisdictions warrants continual review and monitoring. In a report issued earlier this month on the implications of cryptoassets, the international Financial Stability Board (FSB) stated that, while cryptoassets do not currently pose a material risk to global financial stability, vigilant monitoring is needed in light of the speed of market developments. The FSB believes that due to risks such as low liquidity and the use of leverage, market risks from volatility, and operational risks, cryptoassets lack the key attributes of sovereign currencies and do not serve as a stable store of value or a mainstream unit of account. The financial stability implications of these cryptoasset characteristics include an impact on confidence in, and reputational risk to, financial institutions and regulators; risks arising from financial institutions’ exposures to cryptoassets; and risks arising if cryptoassets were to become widely used in payments and settlement. Therefore, regulators are encouraged to “keep an eye on things” as cryptoassets continue to spread throughout the world economy.

The UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) issued a press release on August 7 announcing that it has joined 11 other financial regulators from around the world to create the Global Financial Innovation Network (GFIN), building on its proposals earlier in the year to create a “global sandbox.” The network is intended to provide fintech firms a more efficient way to interact with regulators as they test new ideas across different markets and to create a new framework for regulators to cooperate on areas of innovation. This announcement continues a regulatory trend of being more hospitable to fintech innovation, as we have previously discussed.

The UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) issued a press release on July 3 announcing the latest cohort of firms accepted into its regulatory sandbox. Twenty-nine firms were accepted, which represents the largest cohort to date. The sandbox, now in its fourth year, allows firms to test their products and services in a controlled environment, prior to use in the open market where they would be subject to the full suite of regulations and associated costs.

The United Kingdom is a leader worldwide in supporting growth and innovation in the world of financial technology. Similar efforts are occurring in the United States, but lag behind UK developments; as we reported just three months ago, Arizona became the first state in the United States to enact a law to create a “Fintech Sandbox.”

Focus of cohort

The focus of this year’s UK Fintech Sandbox cohort appears to be on the capital-raising process, with a large number of applicants seeking to increase the efficiency of the process and improve access to capital, including six firms seeking to automate the issuance of debt or equity. Other notable innovations among the UK cohort include the use of distributed ledger technology (over 40% of the cohort), firms offering automated or “robo” investment advice, and the continued increase of firms seeking to use technology to streamline the AML/KYC process.