Lithuania: Central Bank Policy Update Opens Crypto Investment Funds to Professional Investors

The Central Bank of Lithuania has recently updated its policies on cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings (ICOs), effectively allowing cryptocurrency-based investment funds to operate in the country.

According to Finance Magnates, the central bank has reportedly attempted to give financial market participants (FMPs) a “level playing field” when looking into the nascent industry. The Bank of Lithuania has now established that FMPs can launch investment funds for “virtual assets,” and has created parameters for how and when these assets can be used as a payment method.

The documents read:

Taking into account current market developments and evolving regulatory regimes as well as seeking to ensure a level playing field for all financial market participants, the Board of the Bank of Lithuania has updated its position on virtual assets and initial coin offering[s].

The central bank’s new policy means professional investors can create funds for digital assets, and that private companies can receive cryptocurrency payments processed by third-party exchanges, that turn them into local fiat currency.

It notes, however, that FMPs can’t accept digital assets if they’re then required to repay them, with or without interest. They’re also prohibited from issuing cryptocurrency-based loans, or from accepting virtual assets as collateral, unless they’re legally seen as securities.

Per the central bank, FMP should still attempt to separate their traditional financial activities from those related to virtual assets. They should, in fact, not provide services related to the cryptocurrency industry.

Crypto Growing in Lithuania

In Lithuania, the cryptocurrency scene has notably been growing. Recently, cryptocurrency wallet provider Blockchain.com opened offices in the country, and the amount raised by ICOs based in the country has kept on growing.

According to the report, it may have been behind Lithuania’s recent move, as the country saw a need for tougher anti-fraud measures with the growing popularity of the fundraising practice. As CryptoGlobe covered, in April of last year the central bank initiated a dialogue between crypto investors, banks, and regulators.

Unregulated Crypto Derivatives Exchanges Dominate Regulated Alternatives

Trading volume on unregulated Bitcoin (BTC) derivatives exchanges is growing rapidly, and continuing to far outpace their regulated-institutional counterparts, according to the most recent (March) CryptoCompare Exchange Review.

unregulated exchange volume(source: CryptoCompare)

Both OKEx and bitFlyer exchanges hosted an average daily derivative trading volume worth well over a billion dollars during March - $1.5 billion and $1.14 billion respectively according to CryptoCompare. It seems then that the older derivative stalwart BitMEX, at $645 million daily average volume, has been rapidly eclipsed by the newer exchanges.

regulated exchange volume(source: CryptoCompare)

Institutional, fiat-dealing (regulated) exchanges hosted a fraction of this volume, the highest being $70.5 million on the CME exchange. CryptoGlobe reported last month the CME’s primary competitor, the CBOE, was shuttering its Bitcoin futures products citing low demand. CME volume spiked last month, but is down this month below to January levels.

However, despite the relatively low average volume, the CME did have one bumper day of record-breaking Bitcoin futures trading volume, trading nearly $550 million worth of bitcoin on April 4th - days after Bitcoin’s unbelievable breakout from its $4,200 resistance.

Outflanked

The ease of onboarding new customers may explain why the unregulated exchanges get more attention.

In a recent interview, BitMEX CEO Arthur Hayes underlined his exchange’s ability to “onboard a [new] customer within 10 minutes,” by accepting Bitcoin and only Bitcoin for funding. In addition, no KYC/AML checks are required to trade on BitMEX, merely an email address; whereas OKEx offers margin trading only after basic KYC/AML checks. These exchanges are registered in Seychelles and Malta, respectively, specifically to avoid such onerous accounting requirements for their customers.

As CryptoGlobe covered early in 2019, however, BitMEX and other derivative exchanges including OKEx officially exclude certain citizens from trading on their platforms due to regulatory concerns, most notably US citizens.

Hayes also intimated at the upcoming launch of an interest bearing Bitcoin-only bond, which he speculated could be used to leverage credit into future Bitcoin-denominated economic activity.