The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has released final guidance on cryptoassets in a policy statement that includes feedback from their January consultation paper. It is important to note that the policy statement is of a limited scope and focuses on whether different types of cryptoassets fall within the regulatory perimeter of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (FSMA) and Electronic Money Regulations 2011 (EMRs). While the policy statement does touch upon the use of cryptoassets for payment services, prospectus requirements and anti-money laundering issues, it does not provide much new guidance on these areas.
In terms of whether cryptoassets fall within the regulatory perimeter, there is not much new or groundbreaking in the FCA’s approach – which is a good thing. The guidance closely follows the FCA’s views that it had set out in the consultation paper, and the FCA is aware that regulation outside its purview would require legislative changes. This being said, the guidance is useful in assisting token issuers and market players to classify whether the cryptoassets they deal with are subject to, or could potentially be subject to, the regulatory regime.
The guidance confirms that cryptoassets will fall within the regulatory regime, if they meet the definition of specified investments, under the FSMA (Regulated Activities) Order 2001 (RAO), the definition of transferable securities under the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID) or the definition of e-money in the EMRs. The guidance notes that the most relevant specified investments for cryptoassets are:
- Debt instruments
- Certificates representing certain securities
- Rights and interests in investments
The guidance deviates from the consultation paper in classifying the different types of cryptoassets. The previous categories had been security tokens, which were regulated, and exchange tokens and utility tokens, which were unregulated unless they met the definition of e-money under the EMRs. The new categories are:
- Security tokens
- E-money tokens
- Unregulated tokens
The definition of security tokens remains the same, that is, those tokens that meet the definition of specified investments under the RAO and fall within the regulatory perimeter. The previous categories of utility tokens and exchange tokens have been reclassified as e-money tokens, which are those tokens (either utility or exchange tokens) that meet the definition of e-money, and unregulated tokens which, as the name suggests, fall outside the regulatory sphere. This new approach is far clearer from a regulatory standpoint and acknowledges that utility and exchange tokens did not need to be classified separately when considering whether they were regulated.
Less obvious, and potentially more interesting, the policy statement also indicates a change from the FCA’s previous technology-neutral approach. This is not spelled out, and we suspect the FCA would still claim to be technology-neutral; however, the guidance notes that the use of particular technology may raise operational issues unique to that technology and the FCA will consider this as part of its ongoing regulation.
The policy statement also notes the transposition of the 5th Anti-Money Laundering Directive (5AMLD) into UK law by January 2020, although separate guidance on this will be issued. The policy statement confirms that the UK’s approach goes beyond that required by the 5AMLD with regards to cryptoassets, and the Government proposes to extend the Anti-Money Laundering regulations to all cryptoasset exchanges, cryptoasset transfers on behalf of another person and issuance of new cryptoassets, for example an ICO.
This shift towards a less technology-neutral approach is also shown in the FCA’s recent consultation on banning contracts for difference (CFDs) and CFD-like products that reference cryptoassets to retail investors. This consultation comes on the heels of the FCA imposing restrictions on the sale of all CFDs and CFD-like products to retail investors. We would argue, and suspect a technology-neutral approach to support, that CFDs and CFD-like products that reference cryptoassets should be treated in the same way as CFDs and CFD-like products that reference other assets. Given that the ban which is being consulted on only targets those products that reference cryptoassets, is it possible that the FCA is moving away from its technology-neutral approach and towards specific cryptoasset regulation?