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What does the EU’s MiCA Regulation mean for Crypto Companies?

The EU recently introduced a new regulation called the Markets in Crypto-Assets (MiCA) in order to regulate and supervise the use of cryptocurrencies and other crypto-assets. The main aim of this regulation is to provide legal certainty for businesses, investors, and consumers while promoting innovation within the digital finance sector. In this article, we take a closer look at MiCA and what it means for KYC compliance.

While crypto’s early days were defined by a total void of regulatory oversight or understanding of the space, times have changed and regulators are becoming more attuned to crypto’s nuances and utility. No longer simply a  “Wild West” — the crypto and DeFi ecosystems have evolved into a much larger sector of the global economy that includes stakeholders that range from bedroom investors to governments. 

Nevertheless, adoption and institutional acceptance of cryptocurrencies is still far from complete, and their decentralized and often-anonymous roots still pose significant challenges from an anti-money laundering (AML) and counter-illicit financing perspective. 

Just like how the Wild West eventually developed into a more civilized society with laws and regulations, new, crypto-specific regulations that aim to regulate and not strangle the space are bringing crypto into the fold of the conventional global economy. 

With MiCA, the European Union has placed itself at the forefront of this global drive to proactively regulate crypto. This article will take a look at the MiCA regulatory framework and what it means for regulated business’ KYC and AML responsibilities. 

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The EU’s MiCA Regulation: An Overview

The European Union’s Markets in Crypto-Assets (MiCA) regulation is a new framework that aims to regulate cryptocurrencies and crypto-assets within the EU. It was proposed by the European Commission in September 2020 as part of the Digital Finance Package, which also includes the Digital Operational Resilience Act (DORA) and the pilot regime for market infrastructures based on distributed ledger technology (DLT).

What is MiCA?

MiCA stands for Markets in Crypto-Assets and it is a proposed regulation that aims to provide comprehensive rules for issuers of crypto-assets, service providers, and trading platforms within the EU. Its main goal is to create a harmonized regulatory framework for cryptocurrencies and other digital assets, ensuring consumer protection, market integrity, and financial stability.

MiCA aims to bring more legal certainty to the use of crypto-assets within the EU, as there is currently no unified regulatory framework in place specifically governing crypto — although the bloc’s Anti-Money Laundering Directive (AMLD), now in its sixth iteration, has included some important steps for defining and regulating virtual assets. 

This lack of clarity has led to a fragmented market and hindered the growth of the crypto industry in Europe. 

By establishing clear rules and requirements for issuers, service providers, and trading platforms, MiCA seeks to provide a level playing field for all market participants while also protecting consumers from potential risks associated with crypto-assets. A key objective of MiCA is its to combat money laundering and terrorist financing through crypto by implementing strict anti-money laundering (AML) and counter-terrorist financing (CTF) measures.

Why was MiCA proposed?

The rise of cryptocurrencies has created new challenges for regulators around the world. With the increasing use of crypto-assets as investment instruments and means of payment, it has become necessary to establish a clear regulatory framework to protect investors and promote fair competition in the market. 

Currently, crypto-assets are subject to different regulations in each EU member state, creating a fragmented approach that lacks consistency and hinders the development of the sector. MiCA aims to address these issues by providing a single set of rules for all EU countries.

What are the key features of MiCA?

  1. Definition of Crypto-Assets: MiCA proposes a clear and comprehensive definition of crypto-assets, including both asset-referenced tokens (stablecoins) and e-money tokens.
  2. Authorization: Issuers of crypto-assets will have to obtain authorization from their national competent authority in order to operate within the EU.
  3. Investor Protection: MiCA introduces specific rules for marketing and selling crypto-assets, such as mandatory risk disclosure and suitability assessments for retail investors.
  4. Market Integrity: Crypto-asset service providers will be subject to strict rules on governance, conflicts of interest, and cybersecurity to ensure market integrity and prevent market abuse.
  5. DLT Market Infrastructures: MiCA also includes a pilot regime for the establishment and operation of DLT-based market infrastructures, such as trading venues and central securities depositories.
  6. Supervision: The European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) will be responsible for supervising crypto-asset service providers, while national competent authorities will oversee issuers of crypto-assets and DLT market infrastructures.

What are the potential impacts of MiCA?

MiCA has the potential to significantly impact the cryptocurrency market within the EU. Some of the expected effects include:

  • Increased Consumer Protection: MiCA aims to establish clear rules and requirements for crypto-assets, providing better protection for investors.
  • Enhanced Market Integrity: By setting standards for market conduct and governance, MiCA seeks to promote fair competition and prevent market abuse.
  • Easier Cross-Border Operations: With a harmonized regulatory framework, companies within the EU will have an easier time operating across borders.
  • Boost to Innovation: The pilot regime for DLT market infrastructures could lead to the development of more efficient and innovative financial systems based on blockchain technology.

One of the key aspects of MiCA is the creation of a new classification for crypto-assets, known as “crypto-asset service providers” (CASPs). These include entities such as exchanges, custodian wallet providers, and trading platforms, which will be subject to authorization and supervision by national authorities. This classification aims to ensure that all entities providing crypto-related services comply with the same standards and regulations.

KYC Compliance for MiCA

Unsurprisingly, KYC programs play a central role in MiCA’s framework for ensuring compliance and reducing potential risks associated with cryptocurrencies. Along with a continuation of adherence to the EU’s Travel Rule as outlined in its AMLD regulations — which require both payer’s and receiver’s identities to be registered in order to process transactions — MiCA also adds some other crypto-specific KYC requirements. 

Under MiCA, CASPs will need to carry out KYC checks on all of their clients, as well as more extensive enhanced due diligence (EDD) on customers from EU High Risk Third Countries as defined under MiCA Section 77. CASPs will also need to demonstrate that they are carrying out a risk-based approach on their customers, and that they implement ongoing monitoring of transactional behavior and risk profiles throughout the entirety of their client relationship lifespan. 

Conclusion

MiCA is a significant step towards regulating the cryptocurrency market in the EU. Its implementation would bring much-needed clarity and consistency to the sector.

As the adoption of digital assets continues to rise, it is crucial for regulators and service providers to work together in implementing effective KYC programs to maintain the integrity of the market and protect consumers.  

Are you looking for an automated KYC solution that can allow your business to seamlessly onboard customers or clients in ways that address MiCA requirements? Get in touch and we’ll be happy to arrange a demo of what KYC-Chain is capable of.