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Singapore's Crypto Revolution: MAS Greenlighting Multiple Licenses and its Implications for the Industry’s Growth in 2024

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As we embark into 2024 on a promising note, Singapore’s cryptocurrency landscape is experiencing a transformative phase with the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s (MAS) progressive approach to licensing. This article will delve into the intricacies of MAS’ regulatory stance, the significance of these licenses, and how they are shaping Singapore’s ascent as a global crypto hub. By providing a comprehensive understanding, we will explore the details of recent licensing approvals, the expectations set by MAS, and the potential benefits for both industry players and the general public.

MAS’ Strategic Regulatory Approach

In response to the collapse of FTX and the evolving crypto landscape, MAS has strategically positioned itself as a vigilant overseer of cryptocurrency activities within the country. Since January 2020, MAS has not only been closely monitoring these activities but has also taken proactive steps to mitigate associated risks. This includes imposing restrictions on cryptocurrency advertisements and conducting thorough background checks on entities and individuals involved in the financial sector.

The Licensing Regime

The heart of MAS’ regulatory strategy lies in its meticulous licensing regime. Introduced in January 2020, this framework has seen a remarkable surge in interest, with over 580 applications from digital payment service providers. However, MAS has adopted a discerning approach, approving fewer than 20 entities, including notable players like XREX Singapore. This measured approach underscores MAS’ commitment to maintaining a robust and responsible crypto hub.

MAS’ Fourfold Risk Management Approach

MAS Managing Director, Mr. Ravi Menon, has outlined the four key risks that the regulatory body is closely monitoring within the crypto ecosystem at Financial Times’ Crypto & Digital Assets Summit on 27 April 2022. These include money laundering and terrorism financing risks, technology and cyber risks, consumer protection concerns, and potential threats to financial stability. The regulation of digital assets and service providers is tailored to address these specific risks, reflecting MAS’ commitment to striking a balance between fostering innovation and mitigating potential harms.

MAS’ Expectations of Crypto Service Licensees

MAS places stringent expectations on crypto service providers to ensure the stability and integrity of the financial ecosystem. Beyond the innovative and nimble nature of these players, MAS emphasises the importance of having strong governance structures, a fit and proper board and management, and a track record that withstands scrutiny. The rigorous licensing process aims to filter out entities lacking in risk management capabilities, ensuring that only responsible actors contribute to Singapore’s growing crypto industry.

Recent Licensing Approvals

The MAS has approved several licensing approvals since they implemented the regulations, highlighting Singapore’s emergence as a global crypto hub.

Upbit Singapore
  • License Obtained: Major Payment Institution (MPI) license
  • Services Enabled: Regulated digital payment token (DPT) services
  • Significance: Upbit, one of South Korea’s largest crypto exchanges, can now expand its offerings within Singapore, joining a select group of institutions holding MPI status.
BitGo
  • Approval Status: In-principle approval to operate as a Major Payment Institution (MPI)
  • Strategic Focus: BitGo aims to become a leading provider of digital asset services for institutional finance throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
  • Future Prospects: Upon obtaining a full license, BitGo plans to broaden its services in Singapore.
Crypto.com
  • License Obtained: Major Payment Institution (MPI) license for Digital Payment Token (DPT) services
  • Global Expansion: The approval reinforces Crypto.com’s commitment to building with the Web3 community in Singapore and positions it to offer regulated services to customers in the region.
Coinbase
  • Approval Status: Major Payment Institution (MPI) license
  • Market Focus: Singapore was identified as a “priority market” for Coinbase, aligning with the nation’s progressive economic strategies and regulatory approach.
  • Expanded Offerings: The license enables Coinbase to extend its Digital Payment Token expansion to both local individuals and institutions in Singapore.
AsiaNext
  • License Obtained: Recognised Market Operator (RMO) license
  • Operational Scope: AsiaNext, a joint venture between SBI Digital Asset Holdings and SIX Group AG, can operate an organised market for securities and collective investment schemes.
  • Regulatory Compliance: The RMO license ensures AsiaNext maintains transparency, security, and reliability in its operations.
Blockchain.com
  • License Obtained: Major Payment Institution (MPI) license
  • Service Focus: Regulated digital payment token services for global institutional and accredited investor customers.
  • Strategic Significance: Singapore serves as Blockchain.com’s Southeast Asia HQ, and the license supports its profitable trading hub in the region.
XREX Singapore
  • Approval Status: In-principle approval for a Major Payments Institution (MPI) License
  • Service Expansion: XREX Singapore plans to expand its crypto-friendly escrow payment tool, BitCheck, supporting various currencies, including fiat, stablecoins, and cryptocurrencies.

Benefits for Industry Players

These licensing approvals represent a significant step towards legitimising the operations of crypto service providers. For industry players like Upbit, BitGo, Crypto.com, Coinbase, AsiaNext, and Blockchain.com, MAS’ progressive stance offers a sense of legitimacy, allowing them to operate within a regulated framework. These licenses provide an opportunity for expansion, collaboration, and the introduction of a wider range of services, reinforcing Singapore’s position as a leading crypto hub.

Benefits for the General Public

MAS’ regulatory efforts extend beyond industry players to safeguard the interests of the general public. By implementing stringent checks on money laundering and terrorism financing risks, conducting proper customer due diligence, and monitoring business relations, MAS aims to protect consumers from potential risks associated with cryptocurrencies. The focus on technology risk management ensures that consumers can engage with crypto services with confidence, knowing that their transactions are secure and compliant.

As Singapore continues its ascent as a global crypto hub, MAS’ forward-thinking regulatory approach plays a pivotal role in shaping the industry’s trajectory. The recent licensing approvals underscore the industry’s maturation and offer a glimpse into a future where responsible crypto practices coexist with regulatory oversight. As 2024 unfolds, Singapore’s crypto industry stands on the cusp of further growth, promising benefits for both industry players and the wider public.

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