Hong Kong’s financial watchdog unveiled on Thursday a comprehensive set of regulations governing cryptocurrencies in a move to enhance investor protection which analysts believe could help make the city a major trading centre for virtual assets, analysts said.
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The new rules, announced by the Securities and Futures Commission, will target funds that invest in digital currencies as well as the trading platforms on which these virtual currency are traded.
Bitcoin, which just turned 10 years old on Wednesday, has been chased by investors worldwide over the past two years, pushing its price to a high of nearly US$20,000 in December 2017, up from just US$980 at the end of 2016.
The rally came as institutional investors and funds started to invest in the expectation the virtual assets could soon find wider uses in payments, while retail investors joined the rally for short term gains.
Mainland authorities imposed a complete ban on initial coin offerings and cryptocurrency trading exchanges in September 2017, following a number of market manipulation and fraud cases. Bitcoin has been trending lower this year, and is now down two-thirds from its peak to its recent level of US$6,300.
The new rules effectively close a regulatory loophole, as neither digital currency funds nor the platforms that enable trade in cryptocurrencies were under the regulatory purview of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority or the SFC.
“It will boost investor protection and hence attract more mainlanders to trade cryptocurrency assets in Hong Kong,” said Gary Cheung, chairman of Hong Kong Securities Association. “This will help Hong Kong to be among the top cryptocurrency trading centres worldwide because proper regulation is very important for attracting the big players.”
“To afford better protection, only professional investors should be allowed to participate for the time being,” said SFC chief executive, Ashley Alder, speaking at the 2018 Hong Kong FinTech Week.
Professional investors under Hong Kong law refers to those with at least HK$8 million (US$1.02 million) in investment assets and two years of experience. It is the responsibility of fund mangers, brokers and platform operators to make sure only professional investors are trading.
“We hope to encourage the responsible use of new technologies and also provide investors with more choices and better outcomes,” Alder said.
One key stipulation will be that funds that invest more than 10 per cent of their assets in virtual currencies will need to be licensed by the SFC, ending an era in which private equity funds could operate unregulated in the environment.
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