After the MtGox hack, Tokyo put in place tough rules that later protected FTX customers. Now, from that secure base, it’s moving to allow blockchain technologies to flourish.
More than a million investors around the world were left stranded when FTX suddenly collapsed in November with an astonishing hole, estimated at $8.7 billion, in its balance sheet. The cryptocurrency exchange and its 130-plus affiliates have been operating in bankruptcy for five months, and a new management team claims to have recovered $7.3 billion of the missing cash and tokens. Yet only one component of the company has returned money to clients.
FTX’s Japanese unit allowed all verified accounts to resume withdrawals on February 21. As of April 25, nearly 10,000 individual and corporate clients had withdrawn crypto and cash worth approximately 23.4 billion yen ($175.4 million), according to the company.
Count this as a victory for Japan’s financial regulators and the strict rules they’ve put in place to protect consumers in the wild and wooly world of crypto.
Japan cracked down with safety and soundness rules from a unified regulator after two big exchange hacks. But now, from that stable (and some in the industry would say overly restrictive) base, it’s seeking to come up with a strategy to become a leader in the collection of mostly decentralized, blockchain-based technologies known as web 3. The U.S., by contrast, has arguably been open to more innovation, but its dueling oversight agencies and lack of rules have created gaps in oversight and a culture of regulation by enforcement that makes strategic planning perilous.
Japan, an early adopter of digital assets, learned the value of regulation early and the hard way, through what remains arguably the most notorious crypto hack ever–the 2014 plunder of 800,000 bitcoins from MtGox, which had been the world’s largest bitcoin exchange. Four years later, Coincheck, another cryptocurrency exchange based in Tokyo, was robbed of $500 million worth of NEM blockchain’s xem coins.
“The drama and shakeup that the U.S. is experiencing around Sam Bankman-Fried, FTX, the Bahamas situation is not relevant in Japan,” says Sheila Warren, CEO of the Crypto Council for Innovation, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates for the industry worldwide. That’s because Japan has already been there and done that.
After the MtGox and Coincheck shocks, Japan’s primary financial regulator, the Financial Services Agency (FSA), tightened rules on crypto exchanges, notes Ananya Kumar, associate director of digital currencies at the Atlantic Council’s GeoEconomics Center, the think tank’s unit addressing foreign policy, finance, and economics.
The FSA’s rules include:
- Customer and company assets must be held separately, with holdings verified in annual audits.
- Investors can’t borrow more than twice their investments for leveraged trades on exchanges. (Many cryptocurrency exchanges, including Binance, allow trading at 100x leverage.)
- Exchanges must hold at least 95% of customer funds in cold wallets, which are not connected to the internet.
The measures proved instrumental in enabling clients of the Japanese subsidiary of FTX to withdraw their assets after its parent filed for bankruptcy in November. It remains unclear when other FTX clients will be able to get their money back, and how much of it they’ll get.
Learn more: Forbes