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Regulation on Markets in Crypto-assets (MiCA)

Foto: Thought Catalog

A first introduction

On 12 September 2020, a draft Regulation on Markets in Crypto-assets (MiCA) was leaked to the press. While this is only a draft which hasn’t been adopted yet and it is only expected to apply from 18 months after its entering into force (so not before 2022), the draft MiCA Regulation gives material insight in how the EU aims to regulate crypto-assets, thereby using familiar EU banking and financial services regimes.

General view

The draft MiCA Regulation includes many familiar concepts from the existing banking and financial services directives and regulations. To mention a few, the whitepaper requirement is like the prospectus requirement applicable under the Prospectus Regulation whereas the authorization for issuers of asset-referenced tokens and providers of crypto-asset services has similarities with the MiFID II authorization regime. Together with the fact that the draft MiCA Regulation includes a ‘light touch’ market abuse regime that is no doubt derived from the MAR, just like custody and payment requirements that seem to come from the AIFMD and the PSD2, the draft MiCA Regulation also refers to the CRD and the EMD for the authorization of issuers of e-money tokens. All in all, the draft MiCA Regulation seems to be a collection of (parts of) these banking and financial services regimes. A further analysis will have to show to what extent the same level of granularity is aimed for.

It is consequently beyond doubt that the issuance of crypto-assets and the provision of services relating to crypto assets, will become (heavily) regulated just like the provision of banking and financial services in the EU. Even though one of the purposes of the draft MiCA Regulation is to support innovation, this will have a considerable impact on the industry, which at present is largely unregulated. The change by this new regime will therefore be a major one to prepare for in time.

Crypto-assets: definitions

The purpose of the draft MiCA Regulation is to capture all possible crypto-assets that are not already covered by existing EU banking and financial services regimes (financial instruments, (structured) deposits, e-money, or securitisations). As a result, the definition of crypto-assets is deliberately wide and is further divided into three subcategories of utility tokens, asset-referenced tokens, and e-money tokens:

  1. Crypto-assets are “a digital representation of value or rights, which may be transferred and stored electronically, using distributed ledger or similar technology”. This definition aims to correspond with the FATF definition of virtual assets. Examples include crypto-currencies like Bitcoin and Litecoin.
  2. Utility tokens are “intended to provide access digitally to an application, services or resources available on a distributed ledger and that are accepted only by the issuer of that token to grant access to such application, services or resources available”. They often have a non-financial purpose, for example access to a platform or services such as OmiseGo or OMG (trading, payments) and Filecoin (storage, payments).
  3. Asset referenced tokens have as “main purpose to be used as means of exchange thereby maintaining a stable value by referring to the value of fiat currencies, commodities or crypto-assets, or a combination thereof”. They are aimed to be used as means of payment. Examples include DAI (backed by crypto-currencies) and PAX Gold (backed by gold).
  4. E-money tokens have as “main purpose to be used as a means of exchange thereby maintaining a stable value by being denominated in (units of) a fiat currency”. As such they can also be considered as a subcategory of asset referenced tokens. As they refer to one fiat currency only, they are very much similar to e-money. Examples include USD Tether and Libra (to the extent backed by one currency only).

Apart from this, the draft MiCA Regulation includes a definition of crypto-asset services that includes custody and administration, operation of a trading platform, exchange services, brokerage and placement services, advice and execution of payment transactions, all relating to crypto-assets.

Main elements of draft MiCA Regulation

The draft MiCA Regulation is a sizeable document including 114 (sometimes lengthy) articles and includes rules for the offering and marketing of crypto-assets applicable to all types of crypto-assets and additional rules and restrictions on the issuance of asset-referenced tokens and e-money tokens. Apart from this, the draft MiCA Regulation includes rules on the authorization and operating conditions for crypto-asset service providers as well as rules on prevention of market abuse.

As with almost all EU legislation, further rules will be laid down in delegated and implementing acts. The contents thereof are unknown at present. In addition, also the Annexes 1, 2 and 3 to the draft MiCA Regulation including the requirements for the various whitepapers to be published, are still missing. At this stage it is therefore still impossible to make a full assessment of the impact of the MiCA Regulation when in force. However, based on the general requirements mentioned in the draft MiCA Regulation itself it can be safely concluded that the impact will be considerable (crypto-assets), far-reaching (asset-referenced tokens, crypto-asset services) and severe (e-money tokens).

The core of the draft MiCA Regulation consists of rules and requirements for the offering and issuing of crypto-assets (utility tokens, asset referenced tokens and e-money tokens) and the providing of the various services relating to crypto-assets.

Highlights

Highlights of the new MiCA regime seem to be that:

  1. a whitepaper must be made public for the offering of crypto-assets (that must be approved by the regulator in case of asset-referenced tokens)
  2. issuers of asset-referenced tokens must be authorized
  3. e-money tokens may only be issued by authorized credit institutions or e-money institutions
  4. providers of services relating to crypto-assets must be authorized.

An overview of the main aspects of the draft MiCA Regulation is presented in this table.