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Digital dollars gain credence despite cut from stimulus bill 



While the proposal to distribute digital dollars was struck from the new $2.2 trillion stimulus bill designed to buoy the economy, the proposal alone could accelerate a more widespread adoption of a cryptocurrency. When Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the House Committee on Financial Services, “brought that concept [of digital currency] up on such a prominent stage, it gave it new credence, which is going to propel this …Read More

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3 Common Compliance and Regulatory Pitfalls to Watch for in 2020



Regulations are not going anywhere. On the contrary, financial service providers face more regulatory challenges and higher costs than ever before. During the early days of cryptocurrencies, a “Wild West” culture emerged when regulators, uncertain on how to tackle this thing called blockchain, paid little attention to the thefts, scams and hacks plaguing the virtual-asset market.

Today, this is no longer the case. No matter their roots, every virtual asset project from Telegram to Shapeshift to Libra is ramping up compliance while regulators continue to issue guidance, enforce regulations and pay closer attention to digital securities platforms, crypto exchanges and other virtual-asset service providers, or VASPs, catering to the residents of their respective jurisdictions. Despite this, many organizations in the blockchain space still face a painful combination of misinformation, opaque legislation and willful ignorance when it comes to fulfilling their obligations in each of the markets they serve.

As the demand for digital tech continues to increase, regulatory compliance has become a competitive advantage and key differentiator for successful fintech and digital-asset platforms. In contrast to the Wild West days in the sector, “compliance” is now the new buzzword when promoting fintech services, with headlines like “the compliant _______ platform” plastered across the websites of digital securities, security tokens, ICOs, FX, OTC, brokers and exchanges.

Unfortunately, calling something compliant does not make it so. The very definition of compliance is not only a moving target, it also includes gray areas such as a “risk-based approach,” which can change massively depending on the nature of one’s business activities and client base. Without defined industry standards for guidelines such as Know Your Customer or Anti-Money Laundering, it is easy to see why VASPs — even those with the size and budgets of Coinbase, Binance or Libra — struggle to maintain a compliant business.

To stay ahead, VASPs must have a clear understanding of their regulatory obligations and how this impacts their business viability in any given market. Avoiding the three most common pitfalls of compliance can shorten a company’s time to market, create barriers to entry for competition, and protect its reputation.

Pitfall 1: KYC means verifying users’ identity during onboarding

This is the biggest misconception that plagues most digital securities platforms, exchanges and other virtual asset service providers in the market today. Knowing your customer is not a one-time thing — you are obligated to keep up-to-date, auditable records for each client for the entire time you serve them.

In many jurisdictions, your record-keeping obligations can extend for years after the client ceases to do business with you. In order to build a robust and scalable business, it is important to account and design for KYC refreshes, ongoing AML screening, transaction monitoring and user re-authentication for the entire client lifecycle.

Pitfall 2: Changes to compliance requirements depend on where you are based

Most virtual-asset businesses are subject to a wide range of regulations — data privacy, personal information protection, KYC, AML, securities and derivatives, payments and digital identity. Some regulations, such as the GDPR, apply across European Union members and harmonized jurisdictions. Others, such as payments services, are quite nuanced with complicated, state-by-state regulations for money services and transmitters as well as reporting requirements. In Singapore, payment token businesses have had to close up shop or leave the country as they wait for the ability to legally do business. 

It is important to understand the regulatory obligations in every market where you serve even a single user. For example, holding a license in Estonia or Lithuania may not provide the ability to offer that same service in Germany, the United Kingdom or Canada. While a business can take advantage of “passporting,” using a single financial services license across multiple jurisdictions, it is important to understand where and whether other regulatory variations exist, including how data is collected, processed, maintained and reported.

Pitfall 3: Build it once and we are good to go

While this is theoretically possible in very small markets, in practice, a business’ activities are most likely subject to multiple regulators in each market it serves. New regulations are being rolled out every week, potentially impacting how you process or maintain your users’ personal information, verify their legal identities, screen for risk, perform customer due diligence, or document successful compliance operations.

In order to stay ahead of these challenges, management teams must look at their business through multiple lenses such as that of AML, a VASP or securities law — and that is only within the scope of financial regulation. New trends in one market can quickly become the standard in others. Use of a specific method in one market may become outlawed in others. Innovative firms can often find new opportunities to use regulation for their benefit by closely monitoring the shifting landscape.

Key regulatory shifts in 2020

While not a definitive list, here are some of the key regulatory shifts to watch closely in 2020:

Virtual asset service providers

  • Last year, the FATF published new guidance that included definitions of both virtual assets and virtual asset service providers. Around the world, financial intelligence units such as FinCEN in the United States post local updates of their interpretation of FATF definitions.

Firms will be required to implement and maintain an AML program, even if they are “crypto only” service providers that avoid fiat transactions. These changes will take effect in the majority of FATF member countries over the next twelve months. Most notably, today marks the June 2020 deadline in the United States.

  • The so-called travel rule, also from FATF, has created significant buzz and misinformation throughout the industry. Most importantly, peer-to-peer or wallet-to-wallet transactions are not included — only transactions where funds are transferred on behalf of the end user by a VASP, with various interpretations setting local thresholds such as $1,000 in the U.S.

Similar to the evolution of SWIFT for bank-to-bank transactions, or the FIX protocol for trades between exchanges, compliance with the travel rule is requiring the industry to collaborate on technology, standards and interoperability. A global standard for VASPs will enable new models of open-source, decentralized finance that is compliant by design.

Digital securities

  • Communications: How a VASP markets its products and services or how an issuer markets its token is subject to myriad regulatory requirements. Promising financial returns, spamming potential users or investors, as well as how and where KYC data is stored and processed are all subject to regulation for data protection, consent and disclosure.
  • The U.S.: The example of the recent shutdown of Telegram’s TON clearly demonstrates that, in digital securities, compliance by design not only saves considerable time, money and prevents fines or being added to watchlists — it can also be the main factor keeping a project alive.

Secondary markets

  • In the U.S., Open Finance Network is closing operations largely due to lack of a market. Meanwhile, Nasdaq and Carta are seeking to leverage their massive user bases and established brands to create their own private markets. These trends are repeated in Canada, Europe and Asia — a global race to cracking the holy grail of finance: compliant and automated with multi-jurisdictional liquidity.
  • Globally, new regulations for strong client authentication and transaction monitoring require financial service providers to manage a web of complex tools. Digital onboarding is not KYC, the most common reason we see early-stage fintech firms failing a compliance review is because they do not understand the full scope of what it means to know your customer on a consistent basis. By integrating or consolidating systems for cyber security, anti-fraud, onboarding, KYC, AML, etc., these businesses not only make compliance easier — they are architecting scalability into their business. For private capital markets, the platforms that move beyond the false dichotomy of privacy vs. security and strike a balance between risk management and respecting their user’s privacy, data and assets will own the market.

The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.

Matthew Unger is founder and CEO of iComply, a global regtech for turn-key digital onboarding, SCA, KYC, AML and data governance compliance. After founding a $42 million wealth management practice, Matthew exited by age 26 and co-founded a wealthtech platform that was later acquired by Planswell in 2015. Matthew has studied blockchain, AI and business strategy at MIT.


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Starling Bank Scores Another £40 Million from Existing Investors



Starling Bank, a UK-based challenger bank, has raised £40 million (around $49.2 million) in the latest funding round from its existing investors.

Officially announced on Friday, the round was led by Harry McPike’s JTC and Merian Chrysalis Investment Company Limited, both of which are among the existing backers in the bank.

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This adds to a £60 million (almost $73.79 million) round the London-headquartered bank closed in February this year.

The challenger bank is targeting specifically small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and individuals across the UK and Europe.

According to the bank, it has more than 1.4 million current accounts, including 155,000 business accounts, holds a 2.6 percent share of the UK’s SME banking market.

It already has £500 million ($614.95 million) of SME lending on its balance sheet, with further commitments raising the total to almost £1 billion ($1.23 billion).

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Commenting on the massive funding, Anne Boden, founder and chief executive of Starling Bank, said: “This additional funding from our existing investors demonstrates their commitment both to Starling and to our small business and personal customers who need our support now more than ever.”

With the latest funding, the challenger bank has raised a total of £363 million (almost $446.45 million) since its launch in 2014.

The fresh proceeds will help the bank to “continue its rapid growth and help it provide much-needed support to small business customers who have been hit by the coronavirus emergency.”

The banking platform is going digital

The demand for challenger banks is skyrocketing globally, and with the COVID-19 pandemic, their market is projected to grow even further.

Earlier this month, N26, a German digital bank, raised $100 million in its Series D funding round with a valuation of $3.5 billion.

Revolut, another UK-based neobank, raised $500 million earlier this year, becoming the country’s most valued fintech startup.


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Samsung Partners With SoFi For Mobile-First Money Management Experience “Samsung Money By SoFi”



Samsung Electronics America, Inc. announced on Wednesday it has teamed up with SoFi to launch Samsung Money by SoFi, a new mobile-first money management experience that brings a cash management account and accompanying Mastercard debit card along with exclusive benefits to Samsung Pay.

According to Samsung, the account is secure, with no account fees and rewards users for saving, earning higher interest relative to the average national savings rate.

“At a time when people are turning to their technology to take care of essential tasks without leaving home, Samsung Money by SoFi makes it easier for them to manage more of their financial life in the Samsung Pay app.”

While sharing more details the account,  Sang Ahn, Vice President and GM of Samsung Pay, North America Service Business, Samsung Electronics, stated:

“Samsung Money by SoFi is our biggest move yet to help users do more with their money. Samsung Pay is already the most rewarding shopping and payments experience driven by numerous innovations over the years. Now, users can access mobile-first financial services and earn exclusive Samsung benefits.”

Anthony Noto, CEO of SoFi, added:

“At SoFi, we’re committed to helping people achieve financial independence both directly through the SoFi brand, as well as indirectly, through partnering with leading brands like Samsung to help the world get their money right. We’re excited to partner with Samsung, a world-class technology company, to help power this next-generation financial experience, while expanding the impact of SoFi exponentially.”

 Samsung Money by SoFi is now set to launch later this summer.


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