FEB 6, 2024
Hong Kong regulator increases scrutiny of unlicensed VASPs and OTC venues
In a recent blog post, Christopher Hui, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau (FSTB), announced a stringent deadline for unlicensed virtual asset service providers (VASPs) to submit licensing applications, as well as outlining the intention to develop a regulatory framework for over-the-counter (OTC) venues.
Unlicensed VASP deadline
The Hong Kong government’s financial services department has set Feb. 29 as the cutoff date for applications from VASPs that are currently unregistered and unregulated. Those not approved must cease operations by May 31.
The move comes as the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) established a licensing system for VASPs, acknowledging a transitional period for those operating before its implementation. Midway through last year, the SFC issued a stern warning to unlicensed crypto trading platforms engaging in what it termed as “improper practices.”
Hui emphasized that VASPs wishing to continue operations in Hong Kong must submit their license applications by the end of this month.
Failure to meet the relevant requirements outlined by the SFC could result in the issuance of a “no-deeming notice” for existing service providers. This notice mandates that they must halt operations either by May 31 or three months after receiving the notice. Service providers failing to submit their applications by the February deadline are also expected to cease operations by the end of May.
As the deadline approaches, Hui highlighted that the SFC is actively preparing for enforcement work, including issuing notices to disapproved service providers and intensifying publicity efforts.
Proposed regulatory framework for OTCs
Highlighting the specific role OTC venues played in some fraud cases involving unlicensed VASPs in 2023, Hui announced that the SFC plans to launch a consultation on a proposed regulatory framework for OTC crypto venues. The consultation will encompass virtual-asset outlets, including shops and online platforms. Hui emphasized the necessity of regulating OTC venues to prevent investor deception and protect against fraudulent activities.
This move aligns with Hong Kong’s ongoing efforts to create a vibrant sector and ecosystem for virtual assets. The city implemented a licensing regime for crypto companies in June of the previous year, with companies requiring approval before June of the current year to continue operations.
Hui also took the opportunity to caution investors about the volatility and value of virtual assets. He stressed that many digital assets lack intrinsic value and exhibit price volatility, urging investors to thoroughly understand details and assess associated risks before engaging in related investments. Furthermore, Hui emphasized that only platforms officially licensed by the SFC should be used for virtual asset transactions.
Additionally, Hong Kong is exploring a regulatory regime for stablecoin issuers, proposing that fiat-backed stablecoin issuers obtain a license from the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. As Hong Kong strengthens its regulatory framework, it aims to create a secure and compliant environment for the evolving landscape of virtual assets.