FATF guidance on virtual assets: NFTs win, DeFi loses, rest remains unchanged

The Financial Action Task Force has laid out its perspective on crypto, including its views of nonfungible tokens and decentralized finance.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) released its long-awaited guidance on virtual assets, laying out standards that have the potential to reshape the crypto industry in the United States and around the world. The guidance addresses one of the most important challenges for the crypto industry: To convince regulators, legislators and the public that it does not facilitate money laundering.

The guidance is particularly concerned with the parts of the crypto industry that have recently brought about significant regulatory uncertainty including decentralized finance (DeFi), stablecoins and nonfungible tokens (NFTs). The guidance largely follows the emerging approach of U.S. regulators toward DeFi and stablecoins. In a positive note for the industry, the FATF is seemingly less aggressive toward NFTs and arguably calls for a presumption that NFTs are not virtual assets. The guidance, however, opens the door for members to regulate NFTs if they are used for “investment purposes.” We expect this guidance to add fuel to the NFT rally that has been underway for the majority of 2021.

Related: The FATF draft guidance targets DeFi with compliance

Expanding the definition of virtual asset service providers

The FATF is an intergovernmental organization whose mandate is to develop policies to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. While the FATF cannot create binding laws or policies, its guidance exerts a significant influence on counter-terrorist financing and anti-money laundering (AML) laws among its members. The U.S. Department of the Treasury is one of the government agencies that generally follows and implements regulations based on the FATF’s guidance.

The FATF’s much-anticipated guidance takes an “expansive approach” in broadening the definition of virtual asset service providers (VASPs). This new definition includes exchanges between virtual assets and fiat currencies; exchanges between multiple forms of virtual assets; the transfer of digital assets; the safekeeping and administration of virtual assets; and participating in and providing financial services relating to the offer and sale of a virtual asset.

Once an entity is labeled as a VASP, it must comply with the applicable requirements of the jurisdiction in which it does business, which generally includes implementing Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and counter-terrorism programs, be licensed or registered with its local government and be subject to supervision or monitoring by that government.

Separately, the FATF defines virtual assets (VAs) broadly:

“A digital representation of value that can be digitally traded, or transferred, and can be used for payment or investment purposes.” But excludes “digital representations of fiat currencies, securities and other financial assets that are already covered elsewhere in the FATF Recommendations.”

Taken together, the FATF’s definition of VAs and VASPs seemingly extends AML, counter-terrorism, registration and monitoring requirements to most players in the crypto industry.

Impact on DeFi

The FATF’s guidance regarding DeFi protocols is less than clear. The FATF starts by stating:

“DeFi application (i.e., the software program) is not a VASP under the FATF standards, as the Standards do not apply to underlying software or technology…”

The guidance does not stop there. Instead, the FATF then explains that DeFi protocol creators, owners, operators or others who maintain control or sufficient influence over the DeFi protocol “may fall under the FATF definition of a VASP where they are providing or actively facilitating VASP services.” The guidance goes on to explain that owners/operators of DeFi projects that qualify as VASPs are distinguished “by their relationship to the activities undertaken.” These owners/operators may exert sufficient control or influence over assets or the project’s protocol. This influence can also exist by maintaining “an ongoing business relationship between themselves and users” even when it is “exercised through a smart contract or in some cases voting protocols.”

In line with this language, the FATF recommends that regulators not simply accept claims of “decentralization and instead conduct their own diligence.” The FATF goes so far as to suggest that if a DeFi platform has no entity running it, a jurisdiction could order that a VASP be put in place as the obliged entity. In this respect, the FATF has done little to move the needle on the regulatory status of most players in DeFi.

Related: DeFi: Who, what and how to regulate in a borderless, code-governed world?

Impact on stablecoins

The new guidance reaffirms the organization’s previous position that stablecoins — cryptocurrencies whose value is pegged to a store of value such as the U.S. dollar — are subject to the FATF’s standards as VASPs.

The guidance addresses the risk of “mass adoption” and examines specific design features that affect AML risk. In particular, the guidance points to “central governance bodies of stablecoins” that “will in general, be covered by the FATF standards” as a VASP. Drawing on its approach to DeFi generally, the FATF argues that claims of decentralized governance are not enough to escape regulatory scrutiny. For example, even when the governance body of stablecoins is decentralized, the FATF encourages its members to “identify obliged entities and … mitigate the relevant risks … regardless of institutional design and names.”

The guidance calls on VASPs to identify and understand stablecoins’ AML risk before launch and on an ongoing basis, and to manage and mitigate risk before implementing stablecoin products. Finally, the FATF suggests that stablecoin providers should seek to be licensed in the jurisdiction where they primarily conduct their business.

Relayed: Regulators are coming for stablecoins, but what should they start with?

Impact on NFTs

Along with DeFi and stablecoins, NFTs have exploded in popularity and are now a major pillar of the contemporary crypto ecosystem. In contrast to the expansive approach toward other aspects of the crypto industry, the FATF advises that NFTs are “generally not considered to be [virtual assets] under the FATF definition.” This arguably creates a presumption that NFTs are not VAs and their issuers are not VASPs.

However, similar to its approach toward DeFi, the FATF emphasizes that regulators should “consider the nature of the NFT and its function in practice and not what terminology or marketing terms are used.” In particular, the FATF argues that NFTs that “are used for payment or investment purposes” may be virtual assets.

While the guidance does not define “investment purposes,” the FATF probably intends to encompass those who buy NFTs with the intent to sell them at a later time for a profit. While many buyers purchase NFTs because of their connection with the artist or work, a large swath of the industry purchases them because of their potential to increase in value. Thus, while the FATF’s approach toward NFTs is seemingly not as expansive as its guidance for DeFi or stablecoins, FATF countries may rely on the “investment purposes” language to impose stricter regulation.

Related: Nonfungible tokens from a legal perspective

What the FATF guidance means for the crypto industry

The FATF guidance closely tracks the aggressive stance from U.S. regulators concerning DeFi, stablecoins and other major parts of the crypto ecosystem. As a result, both centralized and decentralized projects will find themselves increasingly pressured to comply with the same AML requirements as traditional financial institutions.

Moving forward, DeFi projects, as we are already seeing, will burrow deeper into DeFi and experiment with new governance structures such as decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) that approach “true decentralization.” Even this approach is not without risk because the FATF’s expansive definition of VASPs creates issues with key signers of smart contracts or holders of private keys. This is particularly important for DAOs because signers could be classed as being VASPs.

Given the expansive way that the FATF interprets who “controls or influences” projects, crypto entrepreneurs will have a tough fight ahead of them not only in the United States but also around the world.

This article was co-authored by Jorge Pesok and John Bugnacki.

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

This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

Jorge Pesok serves as general counsel and chief compliance officer for Tacen Inc., a leading software development company that builds open-source, blockchain-based software. Before joining Tacen, Jorge developed extensive legal experience advising technology companies, cryptocurrency exchanges and financial institutions before the SEC, CFTC, and DOJ.
John Bugnacki serves as policy lead and law clerk for Tacen Inc. John is an expert on governance, security and development. His research and work have focused on the vital intersection between history, political science, economics and other fields in producing effective analysis, dialogue and engagement.

Coinbase Launches Defi Yield Earning Service to Over 70 Countries, United States Not Included

The cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase has revealed that it has made decentralized finance (defi) more accessible by giving Coinbase customers from over 70 countries access to earning yield on the stablecoin DAI. Coinbase claims the process is simple with “no fees, lockups, or set-up hassle,” as the firm believes “defi has tremendous potential to help increase economic freedom.”

Coinbase Now Offers Yield on the Defi Stablecoin Issued by Makerdao

Coinbase has announced that it has opened up decentralized finance (defi) services to customers in more than 70 different countries. The news follows the company’s announcement last week when it revealed it acquired BRD wallet and Unbound Security. According to Coinbase, eligible customers in these countries can now earn yield on the defi stablecoin issued by Makerdao called DAI.

“Today we’re introducing a new way for Coinbase’s global customers to put their crypto to work and earn yield,” the firm’s announcement explains. “We are making defi more accessible, enabling eligible customers in more than 70 countries to access the attractive yields of defi from their Dai with no fees, lockups, or set-up hassle.”

Coinbase Defi Users Must Reside in an Eligible Jurisdiction

Coinbase notes that customers that want to participate in earning yield with DAI must access the DAI asset page either on the Coinbase app or Coinbase.com. Users need a balance of DAI to earn and customers must be located in an eligible jurisdiction. Coinbase has been interested in getting into defi-based yield earning and lending programs for a while. It previously had plans to reveal a lending product but was threatened by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Nasdaq-listed cryptocurrency exchange has abandoned the lending program for now. Furthermore, the latest defi yield earning service offered by Coinbase is currently not available for customers in the United States. The service that offers yield on DAI is just the beginning, Coinbase notes, as the company aims to use “a wider variety of assets and a greater number of defi protocols” going forward.

What do you think about Coinbase offering defi services to customers in more than 70 countries? What do you think about the United States being excluded from the Coinbase yield program for now? Let us know what you think about this subject in the comments section below.

Volatility, hyperinflation and uncertainty: How everyday Venezuelans are using stablecoins to protect their livelihoods

Customers of stablecoin payment app Reserve express their dependency on technology for everyday transactions.

Last month, Cointelegraph interviewed Reserve CEO Nevin Freeman and the payment decentralized application’s community manager Yens Michiels about the company’s mission to provide access to stable currencies. More recently, Cointelegraph spoke to a couple of users based out of Venezuela and Colombia who shared their positive experiences with Reserve. 

Reserve is a tool to exchange fiat currency like Venezuelan bolivares for U.S. dollars via the Reserve (RSV) stablecoin. From everyday purchases to family remittances, Reserve has said that its use cases are increasingly growing in Latin America. After one year on the market in Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Argentina, there are over 100,000 weekly app visitors and more than 8,000 merchants accepting it as a means of payment.

Sasha Antunez and Alicia Stephany are two Reserve customers who offered their perspective on the app’s role in their daily lives and on the economic situation in Venezuela. Antunez is a neurologist living in Maracay, Venezuela and a self-proclaimed “Reserve Ranger” who uses Reserve both at home and at work. Stephany is a Venezuelan living in Bogota, Colombia who uses Reserve to support her family members that still live in Venezuela.

Antunez explained how she uses Reserve for daily expenses:

“I have my Reserve dollars saved in the app. Suppose I have to go to the supermarket and I have around $20. I do the exchange so that I have bolivares in my bank account and can pay for everything at the supermarket. But I also know that I can take my bolivares, turn them into Reserve dollars, and then into USDT.”

Most customers use it to save their money. If they get paid in their local currency, they do not have to worry about its devaluation if it is in U.S. dollars. And if they need to buy something in a local currency, as Antunez described, they can always convert it back or pay directly with the RSV stablecoin if the merchant accepts it. Most don’t even realize that it has to do with cryptocurrency, like Stephany.

“The Venezuelan bolivar loses value so fast that if you have bolivares, you need to change it as soon as you can to protect them,” she explained, adding the example that if she’s in Colombia and her father is in Venezuela, but “I needed to pay for his things, then instead of only exchanging what I needed at the supermarket, I was always looking for someone to buy extra dollars from me. So, I convinced the people from the supermarket and the pharmacy I use to download Reserve.”

Related: Venezuelan international airport to accept Bitcoin payments: Report

The government introduced a re-denomination of the currency in October, the third one since 2008, in order to ease computations. The economy, however, had already been increasingly unofficially dollarized. This means that prices in stores are marked in dollars, corresponding to the black market rate rather than the official exchange rate, as more and more merchants use PayPal, Zelle or, now, Reserve. With Reserve, users can exchange currencies at rates closer to those of the central bank.

Couple this volatility with hyperinflation, and mistrust in the government and the banking system is bound to surge among citizens. When asked about the prospects of the economy getting better in Venezuela, Antunez said:

“I believe that technology will play a big part because cryptocurrencies allow financial freedom and free access for everyone. That’s how we need to address this situation, by giving people the tools to protect their money. Here, we don’t have any solutions, at least not right now. And I don’t see things getting any better. In the meantime, we’re just trying to protect the little money we earn from our jobs.”

At the time of publication, the project’s iPhone app was the No. 1 most downloaded app in the Venezuelan app store under the finance category. Binance and MetaMask, two other cryptocurrency trading apps, are among the top 10 as well.

Hong Kong-based Chiron Partners launches $50M Terra fund

Terra’s native cryptocurrency, LUNA, has emerged as one of the best-performing digital assets of the past 11 months.

Hong Kong venture capital firm Chiron Partners has launched a new ecosystem fund dedicated to Terra (LUNA), opening the door to new innovations for the layer-one decentralized finance, or DeFi, protocol.

The Chiron Terra Fund I, also referred to as CTI, will deploy $50 million in capital to support innovative projects building on top of the Terra ecosystem. Projects at the intersection of decentralized finance and “metaverse-linked” nonfungible token platforms are eligible for support, the company announced Wednesday.

Built using Cosmos SDK and Tendermint, Terra is a DeFi protocol that uses fiat-pegged stablecoins to power global payment systems. The native LUNA token has been designed to absorb the short-term volatility of Terra-based stablecoins. Following its Columbus-5 upgrade in October, Terra is reportedly set to house over 160 new projects by early 2022.

Terraform Labs, the South Korean development company behind the Terra blockchain, successfully raised $150 million in funding earlier this year. Major crypto venture funds including Pantera Capital, Galaxy Digital and BlockTower Capital contributed to the raise. 

Related: The stablecoin scourge: Regulatory hesitancy may hinder adoption

Terra has emerged as one of the largest DeFi-oriented blockchains on the market, with total value locked surpassing $13 billion, according to industry data. Only Ethereum has a higher TVL.

In terms of TVL, Terra is second only to Ethereum and ahead of Solana, Avalanche, Tron and Polychain. Source: DeFi Llama

In terms of price performance, LUNA has skyrocketed over 9,000% this year. Last month, the cryptocurrency peaked above $77.00. The cryptocurrency has a total market capitalization of $24.2 billion, placing it in the tenth spot among active projects.

$11 Billion Added to Stablecoin Economy in 10 Days, UST and OUSD Issuance Swells

During the last week of November, the stablecoin economy had crossed the $150 billion mark for the first time with tether and usd coin dominating the pack. In a mere ten days, the stablecoin economy gathered another $11 billion in value with origin dollar and terra usd swelling significantly during the last 30 days.

$11 Billion Added to the Fiat-Pegged Token Economy

Stablecoins are definitely a prominent part of the crypto industry whether people like them or not. In ten days’ time, the entire stablecoin economy has grown 7.33% larger from $150 billion to today’s $161.2 billion.

Month after month, stablecoin markets have swelled, and the token tether (USDT) is the largest stablecoin in terms of market valuation. Statistics indicate that USDT has a market valuation of around $77.3 billion and its market cap grew 6.1% during the last month.

Usd coin (USDC) is the second-largest stablecoin today with a market valuation of around $41 billion. USDC’s market cap grew by a sizable 19.5% during the last 30 days. The aggregate of USDT and USDC combined is 4.75% of the entire crypto economy.

In terms of the stablecoin economy alone, the two tokens USDT and USDC command 73.21% of the aggregate $161 billion in fiat-pegged tokens. While tether captures most of the trade volume, USDC commands the third-largest stablecoin trade volume below BUSD.

Terra and Origin Stablecoin Issuance Balloons Over the Last Month

Terra’s stablecoin UST has seen the largest increase in the top ten stablecoin markets during the last 30 days, with its market cap growing by 190%. A month ago, Terra’s UST market cap was only $2.88 billion.

The algorithmic stablecoin UST has a valuation of around $8.3 billion today and $178 million in global trade volume. UST’s market capitalization is just below DAI’s $8.95 billion valuation. The Terra-issued algorithmic stablecoin is also above Abracadabra.money’s magic internet money (MIM) and its $3.7 billion market.

The yield-earning stablecoin origin dollar (OUSD) issued by Origin Protocol (OGN) has risen a whopping 721% during the last 30 days. OUSD has an overall market valuation of around $226.5 million and $2.7 million in trade volume. The stablecoin commands the 15th largest dollar-pegged digital asset valuation today.

Other stablecoins that saw notable 30-day movements include frax, pax dollar, and liquity usd. In addition to fiat-pegged tokens tied to the value of USD, a slew of stablecoins based on different fiat currencies, like the euro and Turkish lira, have seen significant 30-day growth as well.

What do you think about the stablecoin economy over the last ten days and UST and OUSD growth this past month? Let us know what you think about this subject in the comments section below.

House memo details Congress’ priorities ahead of crypto CEO hearing

The hearing on digital assets will involve discussions around four key aspects: crypto exchanges, stablecoin offerings, regulatory concerns in digital assets and federal regulatory responses.

The United States House Committee on Financial Services released a memorandum detailing the points of discussion during the hybrid hearing on digital assets to be held on Wednesday at 10:00 am ET.

Addressing the members of the Financial Services Committee, the memo confirmed that the hearing will dedicate one panel to six executives from the crypto community as witnesses. The list includes Circle’s Jeremy Allaire, FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried, Bitfury Group’s Brian Brooks, Paxos’ Charles Cascarilla, Stellar’s Denelle Dixon and Coinbase’s Alesia Haas.

The hearing, entitled “Digital Assets and the Future of Finance: Understanding the Challenges and Benefits of Financial Innovation in the United States,” seeks to discuss four key aspects: crypto exchanges, stablecoin offerings, regulatory concerns in digital assets and federal regulatory responses.

The brief reads, “This hearing will examine some of the new products and services offered by major digital assets market participants, the role of cryptocurrency market exchanges in facilitating investments in cryptocurrency and related transactions, the growth of stablecoins and other digital assets, and the current regulatory landscape governing these new products and services.”

While the memo highlights the role of exchanges in serving as an entry point for crypto investors, the hearing will also discuss decentralized finance, given its potential to “replicate and replace conventional delivery of financial services such as loans, asset trading, insurance, and other services.”

The document also talks about the differences in operational structures and reserve compositions of stablecoins as compared to fiat currency, adding:

“Cryptocurrency markets have no overarching and centralized regulatory framework, leaving investments in the digital assets space vulnerable to fraud, manipulation, and abuse. Digital assets and related service providers can present money laundering, terrorist financing, sanctions evasion, kleptocracy, and other illicit finance risks.”

Acknowledging the rise of cryptocurrencies, Congress hopes to develop a clear stance on central bank digital currencies (CBDC) based on the ongoing study conducted by the Federal Reserve to “examine the potential benefits and risks of CBDCs and its impact on the U.S. domestic payments system.”

On Tuesday, Circle’s Allaire released a statement ahead of the hearing, stating:

“In a world where money becomes a core feature of the internet, the U.S. should aggressively promote the use of the dollar as the primary currency of the internet, and leverage that as a source of national economic competitiveness, security and a major upgrade needed for more efficient and inclusive financial services.”

Allaire’s firm, Circle is the sole issuer of dollar-backed stablecoin USD Coin (USDC). He suggested that the U.S. government can make mainstream use of the stablecoin via dollar-denominated reserves. “Policy frameworks need to support an open and competitive playing field, and allow new technologies to flourish,” he added.

TerraUSD (UST) adoption backs LUNA’s ascension to a new all-time high

Cross-chain integrations and the growing popularity of Terra’s UST stablecoin are just a few of the factors behind LUNA’s recent rally to a new all-time high.

Stablecoins are an integral part of the the centralized crypto sector and the decentralized finance (DeFi) ecosystems that have sprung up over the course of the past few years because they provide the liquidity needed for traders to easily swap into different assets. They also serve as a shelter against strong downside swings like the 25% correction seen on Dec. 3.

One project with a stablecoin component that has seen its price surge to a new all-time highs despite the wider market pullback is Terra (LUNA), a multi-sector blockchain protocol aimed at building a global payments system through the use of a fiat-pegged stablecoin called TerraUSD (UST).

Data from Cointelegraph Markets Pro and TradingView shows since hitting a low of $37.86 on Nov. 26, the price of LUNA has surged 106% to a new all-time high at $78.43 on Dec. 5 as its 24-hour trading volume spiked to a record $5.66 billion.

LUNA/USDT 4-hour chart. Source: TradingView

Three reasons for the breakout in LUNA price include the increasing supply of UST, a series of new cross-chain integrations for the Terra ecosystem and a surging total value locked (TVL) on the Terra network.

UST supply hits a new all-time high

One of the main drivers behind the strength seen in LUNA has been the rapid growth of the circulating supply of UST, which is now the largest algorithmically-backed stablecoin in the market and the fourth-ranked stablecoin with a market cap of $8.221 billion.

Crypto proponents in favor of decentralized stablecoin options have embraced the use of UST in comparison to its more centralized counterparts USD Coin (USDC), Tether (USDT) and Binance USD (BUSD).

As the popularity of UST grows, many in the field have begun referring to it as ‘The DeFi dollar’ because it embodies the ethos of decentralization and is slowly spreading across the multi-chain DeFi landscape.

Cross-chain integrations

LUNA is also available across a few cross-chain bridges, making it easier for LUNA holders to invest their in DeFi ecosystems on Ethereum (ETH), Solana (SOL), Fantom (FTM) and Polygon (MATIC)

Related: Decentralized exchange aggregator trading volumes surge to new highs

Total value locked on Terra hits an all-time high

Increasing use of LUNA and UST pushed the total value locked on the Terra blockchain to a new all-time high at $14.36 billion on Dec. 5th and LUNA price hit a record-high on the same day.

Total value locked on the Terra network. Source: Defi Llama

The rapid rise in TVL has resulted in Terra becoming the third-ranked blockchain network in terms of TVL after it surpassed Solana, which has $12.08 billion in value locked on its protocol, while the top-ranked Ethereum network boasts a TVL of $164.72 billion and the Binance Smart Chain has $22.4 billion in value locked on its blockchain. 

VORTECSâ„¢ data from Cointelegraph Markets Pro began to detect a bullish outlook for LUNA on Nov. 24, prior to the recent price rise.

The VORTECSâ„¢ Score, exclusive to Cointelegraph, is an algorithmic comparison of historical and current market conditions derived from a combination of data points including market sentiment, trading volume, recent price movements and Twitter activity.

VORTECSâ„¢ Score (green) vs. CHZ price. Source: Cointelegraph Markets Pro

As seen in the chart above, the VORTECSâ„¢ Score for LUNA began to pick up on Nov. 24 and reached a high of 85 around the same time as the price began to increase 106% over the next eleven days.

The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cointelegraph.com. Every investment and trading move involves risk, you should conduct your own research when making a decision.