FEB 7, 2024
Hong Kong’s SFC appeals to digital asset investors to verify licenses
As Hong Kong approaches the culmination of the Securities and Futures Commission’s (SFC) deadline for cryptocurrency exchanges to seek licenses, the regulator issued a reminder to investors about the potential risks associated with trading on unlicensed platforms.
In a notice released on Monday, the SFC emphasized the importance of engaging exclusively with SFC-licensed virtual asset trading platforms (VATPs) to ensure investor protection. With only one month remaining for exchanges to apply for a license under the city’s virtual asset regulation, the SFC urged investors to exercise caution when dealing with platforms that have not yet received approval.
The SFC suggested that investors check the list of regulated platforms, which it maintains on its website. Within the notice, the regulator outlined that in the past, some platforms have claimed to be regulated entities when they were not compliant platforms and not adhering to existing regulations within the Chinese autonomous territory. The advisory comes after the fallout from a high-profile fraud incident involving the JPEX trading platform last fall, resulting in substantial losses of $192 million.
Growing list of VATP license applicants
Last month, four additional crypto exchanges, including the KuCoin-affiliated HKVAEX and Singapore-based Bybit, joined the list of official VATP license applicants. The SFC began publishing this list in response to the JPEX scandal, underscoring the importance of regulatory compliance in the cryptocurrency sector.
Hong Kong’s virtual asset regulation, enacted as an amendment to the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing Ordinance last year, stipulates that companies engaged in selling or marketing cryptocurrencies to Hong Kong residents must apply for a license by Feb. 29. Those failing to do so must cease business operations in the city by May 31.
Currently, OSL and HashKey are the only licensed exchanges in Hong Kong, having received an earlier voluntary license that was later upgraded to include retail investors. These exchanges are operating under an interim solution permitted by the SFC, allowing retail investors to trade on their platforms.
Setting a high bar
While 14 companies have formally submitted license applications to date, Patricia Ho, General Counsel for blockchain company Scroll, told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) that the stringent requirements set by Hong Kong have led to a selective process. Ho explained that the city has intentionally set a high bar for application submission, resulting in only the most committed and resourceful entities progressing to the application stage.
Last month, it emerged that the SFC had acted to bolster investor protection by introducing a minimum insurance requirement of 50% for licensed crypto exchanges that handle customer funds. It is also planning to introduce a regulatory framework relative to crypto over-the-counter (OTC) trading desks. The SFC is also monitoring individual crypto projects, as last week, the regulator issued a stern warning to those behind the offering of the Floki and TokenFi staking programs.
As the deadline approaches, Ho anticipates potential enforcement actions against smaller platforms operating in legal gray areas. Larger platforms, on the other hand, have already begun restricting access from Hong Kong.