UK financial regulator warns again regulatory overreach

Charles Randall, the Chair of the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has warned that whilst regulators should increase consumer protection for consumers investing in crypto tokens, they should also be wary of going too far.

Randall made his comments during a speech for the Cambridge International Symposium on Economic Crime, when talking about the risks for consumers who dive into the crypto world without really knowing how to manage these risks.

Tackling crypto promotions a priority

Significantly for those crypto projects that might be considering hiring a high profile influencer to help promote their tokens, Randall tackled this head on. In particular he mentioned Kim Kardashian’s recent Instagram promotion of EthereumMax (EMAX); a brand-new token issued by “unknown developers.” He commented that this “may have been the financial promotion with the single biggest audience reach in history.” 

Whilst Randall didn’t say that EthereumMax was fraudulent, he said that he had used it as an example of the issues around influencers and paid-for advertising, pointing out that using a celebrity like Kim Kardashian meant the campaign had a massive reach and that it had the potential to mislead under-informed consumers. He emphasised that this is the kind of marketing activity that regulators should be taking greater notice of in the interest of consumers, because “many consumers remain blind to the financial risks they are courting by trusting influencer endorsements and savvy online token campaigns.”

Randall went on to tell the audience that 2.3 million UK citizens own crypto and that 14% of them had bought it using a credit card, which in his view was a worrying scenario. Moreover, 12% of the UK’s crypto holders mistakenly believe the FCA, or the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, would protect them should things go wrong, according to the FCA’s research.

Don’t strangle crypto with excessive regulation

However, Randall appeared to be wary of too much regulation in the case of cryptocurrencies. As he said, the British consumer had multiple opportunities to invest in other unregulated speculative activities — from gold and foreign currencies to Pokemon cards — despite there being “no shortage of consumer harm in many of those markets.” He said:

“So why should we regulate purely speculative digital tokens? And if we do regulate these tokens, will this lead people to think that they are bona fide investments? That is, will the involvement of the FCA give them a ’halo effect’ that raises unrealistic expectations of consumer protection?”

Stablecoins and security tokens offer useful ideas

The FCA currently regulates cryptocurrency exchanges in the UK, and has banned the sale of crypto derivatives to retail customers. Going forward, Randall proposed that its measures should focus on stablecoins and security tokens, which would be a limited intervention. He said that both of these forms of digital asset offered, “encouraging useful new ideas” for cross-border payments, financial infrastructures and financial inclusion, and should not be hampered by “overbearing red tape.” Instead, he argued for a moderate approach, in line with existing rules for other FCA-regulated entities, to ensure that token issuers and blockchain firms are solvent and transparent.

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