Nasdaq Puts a Pause on Crypto Custody Plans Amid Regulatory Obscurity
Written by Van
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Nasdaq's CEO Adena Friedman recently shattered the anticipation surrounding the company's plans to foray into crypto custodianship. Friedman announced, during a recent earnings call, that the decision to shelve the venture was primarily influenced by the existing ambivalence in cryptocurrency regulations.
From September last year, the financial behemoth exuded considerable interest in launching a custody business for digital assets. The discontinuation symbolizes a pivotal shift in Nasdaq's future trajectory amid the increasingly competitive market of crypto custodial services.
The well-established entities like Anchorage Digital, leveraging their first-to-market advantages and proprietary tech stacks, were posing a severe challenge to Nasdaq's aspirations.
Inside sources reveal that Nasdaq preferred individuals seasoned in traditional finance over crypto-hotshots for their crypto custody initiative, adding another dimension to their strategic proposition.
However, the decision to abort this ambitious project isn't suggestive of Nasdaq completely pulling out from the realm of cryptocurrencies. Instead, the company expressed its unwavering commitment to exploring and creating a myriad of crypto-oriented products, including Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs).
Collaborations with potent entities like BlackRock are a testament to Nasdaq's steadfast focus in this domain.
The Looming Threat of Stringent Regulation
The U.S. Senate, firmly aiming to diffuse the risks associated with DeFi, has proposed the Crypto-Asset National Security Enhancement Act of 2023. This legislation is conceived to exert rigid anti-money laundering (AML) protocols on decentralized finance (DeFi) services.
DeFi, or decentralized finance protocols, facilitates users to transact, lend, or borrow cryptocurrencies via smart contracts. However, the features that make them devoid of a centralized authority also make them arduous to regulate.
This legislation intends to make anyone who "controls" a DeFi protocol or offers an application to use the protocol adhere to their regulations.
The act is aimed to halt activities that can potentially jeopardize national security by preventing money laundering and circumventing sanctions assisted through cryptocurrencies. In scenarios where direct control is not evident, responsibility for compliance would be enforced on entities that invest above $25 million in developing the protocol.
The bill is spearheaded by Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and co-sponsored by Senators Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Mitt Romney (R-UT), and Mark Warner (D-VA). The legislation also seeks to extend the influence of the Treasury Department in overseeing alleged money launderers in unconventional financial setups, including crypto.
SEC Reluctant to Assist on US Crypto Market Legislation
As the understanding and control over the landscape of cryptocurrencies continue to unfold, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chooses to step back from assisting a legislative attempt to bring sweeping changes to the crypto markets in the United States.
An upcoming draft of legislation, known as the market structure bill, designed to bring innovation into crypto regulation in the US is facing significant pushback from the stalwart financial regulator.
The proposed legislation envisages granting increased authority to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission over crypto commodities markets, notably bitcoin trading. The basic structure of the proposed law explicates a path for digital assets to transition from the classification of a security to a commodity.
However, the SEC officials reportedly indicate that they believe that the bill isn't salvageable and have declined to provide technical assistance to bolster it. Despite several complications involved in rewriting securities laws, Republican staffers for the Financial Services Committee were expecting more practical aid on the bill.
Democrats seem skeptical about supporting the bill due to the complexities associated with market structure legislation and the volatility of the crypto industry.
SEC Seeks Additional Budget for Crypto Market Regulation
Amid this milieu, Gary Gensler, the Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), has advocated for a further increment in funding towards enforcement and technology in the markets regulator, especially for regulating the crypto markets that are chaotic and highly non-compliant.
Gensler seeks an additional $109 million for the SEC’s enforcement budget, which would take the SEC enforcement budget to a figure of $1.4 billion if approved by Congress.
Jumping onto the wagon of quick technological leaps, especially in the crypto sphere, Gensler emphasized the need for greater expertise, tools, and resources as the key to counter increased financial misconduct.
Addressing these needs, Gensler is also soliciting $393 million for technological expenses, which would comprise data analysis and cybersecurity. The proposal aims to bring the SEC funding to $5.1 billion for this fiscal year from $4.7 billion.
Gensler looks forward to having a full-time crew of 5,139 in 2024 from 4,685 in 2023.
The quest for more funding accentuates the rapidly evolving complexities of the crypto sphere and the dire need for robust technological capabilities and tighter regulations.
1. What are the implications of Nasdaq's decision to halt its crypto custody business?
Nasdaq's pause on crypto custody comes from the ongoing ambiguity within the regulatory landscape for cryptocurrencies. Despite this, Nasdaq remains interested in the space, actively pursuing the creation of ETF products.
2. Why is the U.S. Senate introducing the ‘Crypto-Asset National Security Enhancement Act of 2023?’
This proposed bill aims to regulate DeFi protocols, addressing concerns about money laundering and evasion of sanctions that pose potential risks to national security. It seeks to place stringent anti-money laundering requirements on those involved in the development and maintenance of DeFi protocols.
3. Why is the SEC not assisting in the US Crypto Market Bill?
The SEC appears to be hesitating due to the complexity of rewriting securities law, fearing potential loopholes and risks to the broader securities market. The reluctance is compounded by existing lawsuits and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests concerning the SEC's involvement in the bill.
4. How might increased funding for the SEC affect the crypto market landscape?
With the proposed increase in funding, the SEC plans to enhance its enforcement activity in the unregulated space of crypto markets. This could result in stricter regulations, improved ecosystem stability, and increased investor protection.
5. What are the implications of increased SEC regulations on US-based crypto firms and users?
Increased SEC regulation could lead to more secure and transparent trading conditions for users, but may also pose compliance challenges for crypto firms. These challenges could lead to increased costs for companies and more controlled, less frictionless experiences for users.
In conclusion, the shifting sands of the crypto landscape are palpable as established players like Nasdaq yank plans due to regulatory gray areas, while legislation takes aim at DeFi operations in an effort to curtail potential risks.
The SEC too stands guard, both demanding bigger budgetary considerations and holding back on reshaping crypto markets through regulatory reconfiguration.
The intersection of finance and technology continues to present distinct uncertainties, and sailing these potentially treacherous waters will require institutions and legislators alike to strike a delicate balance between innovation and investor protection.
This article has been refined and enhanced by ChatGPT.