The United States is divided politically these days into red states and blue states, and increasingly, it seems to be fracturing into cryptocurrency-friendly and crypto-wary locales, too. On Feb. 21, it was revealed that San Francisco-based Ripple Labs had registered as a Wyoming business. Wyoming is arguably the most blockchain and cryptocurrency-welcoming state in the United States.
Meanwhile, several days later, New York State’s attorney general announced a settlement of the office’s long-standing investigation into crypto trading platform Bitfinex for illegal activities. As a result, Bitfinex and affiliated Tether must pay $18.5 million for damages to the state of New York and submit to periodic reporting of their reserves.
Wyoming and New York — poles apart on the crypto regulatory spectrum — were both making industry headlines in the same week in other words. The irony wasn’t lost on Timothy Massad, former chairman of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission and now a senior fellow at Harvard University at Kennedy School, who told Cointelegraph:
“Federal regulation of crypto assets is like swiss cheese — full of holes — and that has meant a smorgasbord at the state level, with Wyoming actively luring crypto businesses and the New York attorney general bringing aggressive enforcement actions as we saw this week with Tether and Bitfinex.”
Whether this “smorgasbord” is a good thing is a matter of some debate. Crypto havens like Wyoming can be centers of innovation, pushing a potentially revolutionary technology further forward, as Wyoming’s recently elected U.S. Senator Cynthia Lummis emphasized this week in a Chamber of Digital Commerce panel discussion with Miami’s Mayor Francis Suarez, another crypto enthusiast.
A complex fabric
But it also leads to regulatory uncertainty that gives entrepreneurs a case of hypertension. As Stephen McKeon, an associate professor of finance at the University of Oregon, told Cointelegraph: “Our regulatory system is a complex fabric of multiple agencies at both the state and federal level.” He further emphasized that “they need to coordinate on the topic of crypto assets because this asset class doesn’t map cleanly to the existing regulatory structure.”
Asked if, from a business standpoint, Ripple and others were making a smart business move registering in crypto-warm states like Wyoming with a higher degree of regulatory certainty and freedom — as well as lower taxes — McKeon added: “Businesses strive to reduce regulatory uncertainty. If moving to Wyoming helps to achieve that objective, then it’s a smart move.”
Others could follow Ripple. Zachary Kelman, managing partner at Kelman Law, told Cointelegraph: “Many crypto projects fled New York after the introduction of the onerous BitLicense back in 2015. I expect more projects to relocate in Wyoming, as well as other crypto-friendly states like New Hampshire.”
Wyoming created a stir in 2019 when its legislature authorized the chartering of special purpose depository institutions, or SPDIs, that can receive both deposits and custody assets, including cryptocurrency. The state’s banking division itself acknowledged that “it is likely that many SPDIs will focus heavily on digital assets, such as virtual currencies, digital securities and utility tokens,” though they could also deal with traditional assets. SPDIs can’t make loans like traditional banks, however.
Kraken Bank was the first business to receive a Wyoming SPDI bank charter in September 2020, followed by Avanti Bank and Trust in October, and there are “three more [SPDIs] in the pipeline” said Lummis at the Chamber of Digital Commerce’s Feb. 25 event. Avanti founder and CEO Caitlin Long had earlier suggested that Wyoming’s SPDIs potentially were “a solution to the #BitLicense problem” faced by crypto companies because “New York law exempts national banks from the BitLicense.”
But even though the…