The power of Ask Me Anything

Last Wednesday, May 1st, saw my formal book launch at the headquarters of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, featuring a fabulous Ask Me Anything fireside chat. Having questions fired at me from all angles is something I thrive on. It keeps me on my toes, makes me consider my knowledge critically or present it in a new context, and shows me where I need to focus my research to find out more. We ranged over topics as diverse as the writing process, challenges for regulators, and the ever-changing policies of banks where crypto is concerned. These are some of the key questions and takeaways from the Ask Me Anything session.

Centralised regulation vs global activity

The greatest challenge for regulators around the world is that the rules which have governed financial services provision in the past have been found wanting with the emergence of a new asset class that brings with it new types of providers and services, new risks, and global influence. The rapid evolution of technology has left some regulatory bodies behind. Over the past decade, businesses and innovators in the crypto industry have chosen their headquarters carefully in an effort either to seek regulatory clarity and legitimacy, or to flee from it. Jurisdictions that rose to the challenge as soon as it was presented, including Gibraltar, Malta, the Swiss canton of Zug, and the states of New York and Wyoming, have reaped the economic rewards of growing businesses.

The use of crypto assets and crypto technology is becoming more widespread, particularly in emerging economies where they offer greater stability and better financial services than incumbent banking systems. Consistent regulation is therefore needed to protect consumers and support innovators. There are challenges, of course. Individual regulators have different perceptions of risk, and the regulatory tourism continues as firms find it near impossible to register with the UK authorities or face the unpredictability and inconsistency of US regulators. But increasingly global bodies seek to bring different jurisdictions into harmony, including the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

The FATF anti-money laundering (AML) and counter-terrorism funding (CTF) rules have helped in the drive to harmonise legislation. These measures must be adopted by all FATF countries by September 2024, and initiatives such as the Virtual Assets Model Law adopted by the 56 Commonwealth countries earlier this year will help emerging economies to meet the deadline.

My takeaway from this Ask Me Anything question was to dig deeper into the drive to harmonise regulatory approaches, and as ever, the universe delivered. At The Digital Commonwealth‘s Mansion House Summit the following morning, the Assistant Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Professor Luis Franceschi, and Policy Advisor Loretta Joseph discussed the Model Law in satisfying detail.

The secrets of writing

There were several question about the craft of writing, and the way that your mind becomes attuned to the topic cannot be understated. Whenever and whatever I am writing, I become more sensitive to relevant information that slews through the world. Headlines leap out from the screen, social feeds deliver new insights to follow up with deeper research, and the timing of world events and conference sessions, like the Summit last week, is uncanny. For example, during the month when I was writing (as opposed to the months of planning before, and subsequent months of peer reviews and proofing) the judgements in the cases of US vs Binance Holdings and US vs Sam Bankman-Fried both dropped at the perfect time to be included in the book.

One of the things that surprised people was that writing is not always a linear process. You can’t edit a blank page, as they say, so write something – anything! If that something ends up at the start, the end, or half way through chapter three (fiction or non-fiction) it doesn’t matter. Having a structure helps, but even that can change – I switched a couple of chapters around in Getting Started with Cryptocurrency because the flow of the story was clearer.

Where to draw the line

With any writing you have a deadline, so there’s a point at which you have to stop. In a book there are also things that may be too much in flux to go into fine detail in a publication that still needs to be relevant two, three, five years down the line. One of the Ask Me Anything questions was around the current issues with banking for individuals and businesses that are active in crypto. There are too many examples of accounts being closed, leaving people high and dry, because crypto activity is currently treated as a blanket risk. We see the same problem with insurance policies excluding crypto activity. It is a genuine problem but one that I hope will begin to recede as banks and regulators learn the ropes and understand exactly where risk lies and how it is mitigated.

If you know a banker, or a regulator, or just someone who wants to understand the landscape of digital assets and blockchain, I can recommend a good book…

Getting Started with Cryptocurrency: An introduction to digital assets and blockchain” out now from BCS Publishing.

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