MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN (BLOOMBERG) - Binance Holdings, which has claimed to be a virtual company, has held discussions with regulators in the United Arab Emirates about a potential headquarters in the Gulf Arab nation, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.
Executives at the world's largest cryptocurrency exchange by trading volume have been in talks with officials from special economic zones Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), and Dubai Multi Commodities Centre about a potential move, said the people.
Binance has also tapped former senior officials at the economic zones - Mark McGinness from Dubai Financial Services Authority, which regulates DIFC, and Matt Gamble from ADGM - in recent months, according to company announcements and LinkedIn profiles.
Setting up global headquarters is a major step for Binance as it seeks to establish itself as a mature, regulated financial institution. Founded in China in 2017, Binance quickly grew into a global crypto powerhouse, yet shunned picking a head office and instead incorporated firms in locations worldwide, making it difficult for regulators to establish jurisdictions over the company.
Under pressure from regulators, co-founder and chief executive officer Zhao Changpeng "CZ" Changpeng said in July that Binance is stepping up on licensing and compliance procedures and planned to establish multiple headquarters. The company has faced probes and consumer warnings in several countries, including the United States, UK, Japan and Germany.
Binance has a major presence in Singapore, where Mr Zhao, who holds Canadian citizenship, has been based in the past two years. But it recently suffered a setback in the city-state when its local unit withdrew an application to run an exchange, making Singapore an unlikely option for the headquarters.
Officials at ADGM, a so-called free zone located on an island in the capital city, have made a compelling case with their quick roll-out of a virtual asset framework and recent incentives to lure financial technology firms, the people said. Richard Teng, CEO of Binance's Singapore entity, was formerly ADGM's chief executive after working for the Singapore Exchange and the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
In a statement, ADGM said it's open to "all local and global entities" seeking to access opportunities in the region and its "comprehensive" virtual asset regulatory framework is built for exchanges, custodians, intermediaries and related services. It already has a number of digital assets entities and the ecosystem is growing rapidly, it said.
Yet Mr Zhao has a soft spot for Dubai, which he has praised for being "pro-crypto." He recently bought his first home there to show his commitment. Dubai, a financial center with a vibrant nightlife and tourism scene, is vying with Singapore, Switzerland and other regions to become a global crypto hub. It's looking to issue a regulatory framework that will include licensing for crypto trading. Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) has set an ambitious target of bringing in more than 1,000 crypto companies by next year.
Shopping for a headquarters is a delicate dance between crypto companies and regional officials, who have to balance the global regulatory and reputation risks of welcoming emerging players in their jurisdictions and the rewards of a fast-growing sector that could bring in jobs and capital.
Binance said it is having "meaningful conversations" with governments, agencies and key stakeholders in various markets, and major announcements on HQ plans could come next year.
"We are considering several potential strategies, including possibly establishing multiple regional headquarters," said its spokesman Patrick Hillmann. Besides different regions' approaches to the industry, factors of consideration also include access to engineering talent and local universities' commitment to support blockchain curriculum, he added.
In an interview at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore last month, Mr Zhao said Binance has decided on a location for its global headquarters and will announce it after he communicates with regulators. He cited the UAE, France and Singapore as examples of "pro-crypto" regions. Binance has also revived plans to register in the UK, Mr Zhao told The Telegraph in a recent interview.