DEC 28, 2023
Hong Kong considers rules for fiat-backed stablecoin issuers
The Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau (FSTB) and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) are charting new regulatory territory with the release of a comprehensive consultation paper outlining their proposal to accept and regulate fiat-referenced stablecoins (FRS) within the Chinese autonomous territory.
The proposal has been published to the FSTB website in the form of a consultation paper titled “Legislative Proposal to Implement the Regulatory Regime for Stablecoin Issuers in Hong Kong.” Separately, the HKMA has published a press release on the topic. This development seeks to establish a regulatory framework for stablecoin issuers and address associated risks. The consultation period is scheduled to conclude on Feb. 29 of next year.
At the heart of this legislative proposal is the requirement for companies actively marketing the issuance of FRS to the public of Hong Kong to obtain a specific local license from the HKMA. The proposed criteria for obtaining this license are robust and include key elements such as maintaining reserves “at least equal to the par value” of all circulating stablecoins. This measure ensures that stablecoins remain fully backed, contributing to their stability and reliability.
The legislation also places a strong emphasis on the segregation and secure safekeeping of reserve assets, enhancing the protection of users’ funds and preventing misuse. Furthermore, issuers will be mandated to provide transparent disclosure and regular reporting, fostering accountability and transparency within the stablecoin ecosystem.
It is noteworthy that the proposed regulations explicitly exclude algorithmic stablecoins from obtaining an HKMA license, underlining a preference for stablecoins with solid reserve backing. No doubt the spectacular collapse of the UST algorithmic stablecoin in 2022 has informed the Hong Kong regulator’s decision to exclude consideration of algorithmic stablecoins in this instance.
Need to establish Hong Kong presence
To underscore their commitment to regulatory compliance, stablecoin issuers seeking an HKMA license will also be required to establish a registered office in Hong Kong. This office must have a chief executive, senior management team and key personnel in place, aligning with Hong Kong’s efforts to ensure that all activities related to stablecoin issuance are conducted responsibly.
The proposed licensing regime for FRS aligns with Hong Kong’s broader strategy to foster the growth of the Web3 ecosystem within the region. Christopher Hui, Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, highlighted the significance of this move, stating:
“With the implementation of the licensing regime for VA trading platforms from June this year, the legislative proposal to regulate FRS is another important measure facilitating Web3 ecosystem development in Hong Kong.”
Back in February, the HKMA signaled its intent to regulate stablecoins when it issued a discussion paper considering various regulatory approaches. Competition is on an upward trajectory relative to stablecoin issuance and use. In June, Hong Kong-based qualified custodian First Digital Trust announced that it was gearing up to launch “First Digital USD,” a U.S. dollar-backed stablecoin regulated in Asia rather than the United States.
Leading stablecoin issuer Circle has been active in furthering its product offering in Asia during 2023. It successfully attained licensing approval in Singapore while in Japan, it joined forces with SBI Holdings in an effort to propel further growth of its USDC stablecoin within the Japanese market.