MAS weighing more crypto safeguards for consumers: Tharman

Attendees at Crypto Expo Asia 2022 in Singapore on June 21, 2022. MAS is carefully considering having additional customer protection rules for cryptocurrency transactions. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

SINGAPORE - Singapore is considering more safeguards to protect consumers after the plunging prices of cryptocurrencies triggered a series of prominent players, including firms based here, becoming insolvent. 

Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Monday (July 4) said the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has been "carefully considering" having additional consumer protection rules, including limiting retail participation and imposing rules on the use of leverage, or borrowed capital, when transacting in cryptocurrencies.

"Given the borderless nature of cryptocurrency markets, however, there is a need for regulatory coordination and cooperation globally. These issues are being discussed at various international standard setting bodies where MAS actively participates," he said, in a written reply to a parliamentary question on whether the regulator would put up more safeguards.

Mr Tharman, who is also MAS chairman, stressed that cryptocurrencies are highly risky and are not suitable for retail investors as most digital currencies are subject to sharp speculative price swings.

To this end, MAS in January this year went further than most other regulators to restrict the marketing and advertising of cryptocurrency services in public areas and disallow cryptocurrency trading being portrayed in a manner that trivialises its risks, he said.

Since then, these digital payment token service providers have removed cryptocurrency ATMs from public areas and taken down advertisements from public transport venues.

The crypto market has been battered in recent months, with the price of the world's most traded digital currency, Bitcoin, falling 70 per cent since November to hover at US$20,000 currently, while the total market capitalisation has plunged by nearly two-thirds to under US$1 trillion (S$1.4 trillion).

The sell-off came in the wake of the collapse of Singapore-based Terraform Labs' stablecoin TerraUSD and sister token Luna.

Global economic concerns, soaring inflation and climbing interest rates also heightened investor jitters, leading to the crypto rout.

The falling prices have landed some of the biggest names in the industry, including Singapore-based hedge fund Three Arrows Capital and Babel Finance, as well as exchanges Celsius Network and BlockFi, in trouble.

The latest to be added to the list is Singapore-based crypto lender Vauld, which on Monday announced that it would suspend withdrawals, trading and deposits.

"This is due to a combination of circumstances such as the volatile market conditions, the financial difficulties of our key business partners inevitably affecting us, and the current market climate, which has led to a significant amount of customer withdrawals in excess of US$197.7 million since June 12, 2022," the firm said.

Vauld said it is now in discussions with potential investors and that it intends to apply to the Singapore courts for a moratorium to give itself "breathing space to carry out the proposed restructuring exercise".

Meanwhile, Singapore-based Three Arrows was last week censured by MAS for giving false information and for managing more assets than the rules allow.

The hedge fund was ordered last week by a court in the British Virgin Islands to liquidate after creditors sued the company for failing to pay its debts. Crypto fund Mirana Corp is suing Three Arrows for US$13 million in Singapore's High court over a loan repayment, The Business Times reported on Monday.

Lender Genesis Trading has also been dragged into the unfolding crypto saga as it reportedly faces "hundreds of millions" of dollars in potential losses due to exposure to Three Arrows and Babel.

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