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FinCEN

This tag is associated with 13 posts

What Would a BitLicense Look Like?

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Last November, the New York State Department of Financial Services issued a notice communicating its intent to hold a hearing on virtual currencies, with the purposes of reviewing “the interconnection between money transmission regulations and virtual currencies,” and considering “the potential issuance of a BitLicense specific to virtual currency transactions and activities.” The hearings are scheduled to be held on January 28 and 29 in downtown Manhattan.

I thought it would be useful to start a conversation on this topic by offering my experience-based perspective on the New York state licensing and examination process, and by posing a few trigger questions.

By way of background, the reason virtual currencies, New York and licensing appear in the same sentence is that in March of 2013, the United States federal government issued guidance equating virtual currency exchangers and administrators with money transmitters, a category of non-depository financial institution that in the United States, to the chagrin of crypto-preneurs worldwide, is subject to licensure by individual states.  Licensing is intended to subject industry participants to a supervisory authority primarily for purposes of Continue reading

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No Banking, No Bitcoin

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Last Friday’s news that the Internet Archive Federal Credit Union (IAFCU) had shut down Tradehill’s account must have sent chills down the spine of every virtual currency entrepreneur.  If it didn’t, it should. The IAFCU was supposed to be one of the few, if not the only, Bitcoin-friendly financial institution in the U.S. rescuing virtual currency exchangers from ‘banking oblivion’.  At this point, we can only speculate about the true causes of this unfortunate situation, and we certainly hope it gets resolved favorably, promptly and permanently.

Let’s hope it’s another case of entrepreneurial immaturity, as that would be the lesser evil compared to other potentially more devastating ones.  However, with all due respect to the parties involved in this particular case, there is, in general, a fine line between immaturity and stupidity; one that cannot be ignored in a nascent industry that is riddled with risks, and in which a few bad apples could set the entire industry basket back by years.  My point is: Are convertible virtual currency exchangers doing their homework?

News flash #1 to virtual currency exchangers: you are financial institutions!

Being a financial institution requires a heightened degree of governance –organization, discipline and Continue reading

The Hidden Rule that Could Kill Bitcoin’s Irrevocability

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If federal anti-money laundering rules ‘killed’ Bitcoin’s anonymity, could consumer protection rules ‘kill’ its irrevocability?

Last March, the crypto-currency world was struck dumb when the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the United States federal agency responsible for enforcing anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing regulations, issued the now famous interpretive guidance equating exchangers and administrators of ‘convertible virtual currencies’ to money transmitters.

Although some of us saw it coming, crypto-preneurs are just now slowly waking up to the reality of what it really means to be this particular species of non-bank financial institution.  See the final section for a compendium of risks and obligations.

One set of regulations that I included in the laundry list of obligations last April but has yet to come to the fore are the federal consumer protection rules emanating from the Dodd-Frank Act and being enforced by the Continue reading

Winklevii Warn Investors in Their ETF That Bitcoin May Become Illegal

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Apart from the cookie-cutter risks everyone is required by law to disclose, the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust prospectus contains a series of unique risk factors that would make even Bernie Madoff cringe.  One of those risks, indicated as my favorite below, almost made this post qualify for my ‘Seriously?’ category, reserved for cases of utmost nonsense and near insanity.

All joking aside, the unique virtual currency-related risks listed in the Winklevoss twins’ new Bitcoin fund SEC filing hint at the number and complexity of roadblocks that the crypto-community will need to surmount if it aspires to take digital currencies to the mainstream.  On the positive side, this first (technically, second) Bitcoin fund marks Bitcoin’s official entry into the capital markets and could go a long way towards legitimizing it as a commodity.

Here are some of the more salient risks for your edification and enjoyment:

  • The loss or destruction of a private key required to access a Bitcoin may be irreversible.  The Continue reading

Bitcoiners In Denial + Compliance Just the Beginning (Redux)

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For the benefit of those whose low tolerance for verbosity may have caused them to miss my insights-laden interview with David Landsman, Executive Director of the National Money Transmitters Association, the industry’s leading advocate for the rights of state-licensed US money transmitters, I have abridged it considerably and converted it into a more digestible format.

In PART ONE of the interview, David talked about the image problems that all money transmitters have in the United States, the fragmented regulatory regime and the likelihood of a federal license, now that the Bitcoin community has begun to join the fray.

In PART TWO David offered his strong viewpoint on US banks, federal and state regulators.  Also, he provided more details about the legal and PR efforts in fighting the closing of accounts, including anti-trust, administrative and civil rights causes of action.

On the fragmented US regulatory regime and the likelihood of a federal license Continue reading

“Bitcoiners Must Understand that Compliance is Just the Beginning”

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Interview with David Landsman, Executive Director of the National Money Transmitters Association (NMTA) – PART TWO

Longer post than usual, I’m aware, but well worth it –the closing of bank accounts, the Bitcoin Foundation Cease & Desist Order from California…  David comments on it all and gives links to valuable resources!

In PART ONE, David talked about the image problems that all money transmitters have in the United States, the fragmented regulatory regime and the likelihood of a federal license, now that the Bitcoin community has joined the fray.

Read on for David’s strong viewpoint on US banks –very timely, given the increasing closing of Bitcoin operator accounts in the US–, and the reasons why many legal and PR efforts in fighting the closing of accounts have so far been fruitless.

PART TWO Continue reading

“Most Bitcoiners Are Unaware or In A State of Deep Denial”

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Interview with David Landsman, Executive Director of the National Money Transmitters Association (NMTA) – PART ONE

In the past couple of weeks I have noticed in my conversations with cryto-preneurs a growing, yet begrudging acceptance of the inevitability of having to comply with United States regulation if their ventures are to be viable.  However, many remain unperturbed and some even defiant.

After writing extensively on America’s convoluted regulatory regime, and the challenges ahead for Bitcoin entrepreneurs, this week I thought I would seek the thoughts and opinions of someone I respect a lot, who knows the money transmitter industry inside out, and who has for decades advocated for regulatory rationality and fair play –David Landsman, head of the National Money Transmitters Association, a U.S. industry advocacy group for small and medium-sized operators who toil through some of the same issues as the Bitcoin community is facing today. Continue reading

The End of Bitcoin as We Know It

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(Or as hard-core Bitcoiners want it, I should say.)

“U.S. crypto-preneurs who don’t factor in regulation could under-budget their ventures by, at a minimum, a quarter of a million dollars annually.”

Rocky week for the crypto-currency world this past one!  All of the following happened over the course of the last seven to ten days:

  • Liberty Reserve (LR) was shut down, and its management indicted and arrested, in what is being described as “the largest money laundering case in U.S. history.”  A short video at the bottom explains how the case went down.
  • FinCEN designated LR as entity “of primary money laundering concern,” and proposed a rule to order that all large financial institutions freeze any and all of LR’s assets. Continue reading

Dwolla Account Seizure Reveals Mt Gox on Brink of US Indictment

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The US District of Maryland seizure warrant that stopped Dwolla in its tracks this week reveals in good detail that the Department of Homeland Security, the US federal agency charged with not only protecting the US borders but also deterring cybercrime, has been investigating Mt Gox for a while now, and has found a criminal violation to the US federal prohibition to operate an unlicensed money transmission business.

This warrant, which was published yesterday by multiple blogs, officially confirms that the FinCEN guidance of March 18, in which this federal government agency equates virtual currency exchanges and administrators to money transmitters, is already being enforced.  To my knowledge, no charges have been made at this point, but the fact that two bank accounts were seized (see below) seems to indicate that an indictment may be imminent.

What exactly is the “Dwolla Account” seizure warrant that stopped its operations this week?  Why was it issued?  What’s going on here!? Continue reading

The Criminal Precedent that Could Curb Bitcoin’s Enthusiasm

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In July of 2008, after months of wrangling with the Department of Justice (DOJ), E-Gold, Ltd.’s senior management and directors pleaded guilty to the following charges:

  • Conspiracy to Launder Monetary Instruments (federal)
  • Conspiracy to Commit an Offense Against the United States (federal)
  • Operating of Unlicensed Money Transmitting Business (federal)
  • Transmitting Money Without a License (District of Columbia)

What does E-Gold have to do with Bitcoin?

Well, as soon as I describe what E-Gold was and did, you’ll see that the parallels with Bitcoin and its crypto-brethren are remarkably similar.  I will be quoting from the indictment itself, underlining Bitcoin-relevant language, and adding comments in brackets:

  1. E-Gold was an issuer of “digital currency,” defined as a medium of exchange offered over the Internet Continue reading
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