HARD WALLET

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s latest crypto bill is ringing alarms

Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Fintech. This Tuesday: Warren’s crypto bill, Buterin’s Time cover, and Ramp’s big round.

Off the chain

Today’s Overheard is a special edition devoted to the aftermath of Vitalik Buterin’s Time cover. Some insight here: While Time is a venerable institution, it is not without its flaws, and questionable cover choices are one. When I worked there, I helped research the Jeff Bezos Person of the Year cover. Decades later, I still flinch when I look at that weird portrait of his head in a box.

— Owen Thomas (email | twitter)

Watching Warren

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is convinced Vladimir Putin and his friends use crypto to evade sanctions. And she wants to crack down hard on crypto companies that let them get away with that.

It’s unclear how much support the Massachusetts senator’s proposal, the Digital Asset Sanctions Compliance Enhancement Act, can muster. But Warren’s latest offensive is roiling an industry wary of her staunch opposition to crypto. It’s seen how ideas it deems vague and unnecessary can unexpectedly gain traction in Washington.

Four words are particularly alarming: “digital asset transaction facilitators.”

  • The bill would slap penalties on non-U.S. crypto exchanges that facilitate transactions involving Russian individuals and entities on the sanctions list, and give the Treasury Department the authority to ban crypto companies “from transacting with cryptocurrency addresses that are known to be, or could reasonably be known to be, in Russia.”
  • That would mean added pressure on U.S. crypto companies which have resisted imposing a blanket ban on Russian crypto, arguing that it would hurt ordinary users.
  • Crucially, the penalties would cover not just exchanges but “facilitators”: a group which includes pretty much anyone working in crypto, including “any person” who assists in the “purchase, sale, lending, borrowing, exchange, custody, holding, validation, or creation of digital assets.”
  • It’s deja vu all over again for many in crypto. For example: Last year’s infrastructure bill included a provision that could impose tax reporting requirements on folks like node operators and software developers.

Is this really necessary? The fear of crypto being used to evade sanctions is overblown, government officials and industry experts have told Congress, and Warren’s ideas could do more harm than good, crypto leaders maintain.

  • Take the proposed blanket ban against Russian crypto. “For ordinary Russians, who reject Vladimir Putin’s unjustified aggression, cryptocurrency could mean the preservation of their hard-earned livelihoods and the ability to resist and escape authoritarian power,” Kristin Smith, executive director of the Blockchain Association, told Protocol.
  • Michael Chobanian, the Ukrainian entrepreneur who is spearheading the embattled nation’s crypto relief fund, urged the Senate Banking Committee last week not to lump ordinary people using crypto in Russia with Putin’s allies, saying they are “not zombies of the regime.”
  • The FBI and FinCEN have said it’s extremely impractical to use crypto to evade sanctions anyway, since large movements of money will show up on the blockchain.
  • Michele Alt, a partner and co-founder of the Klaros Group, a financial services advisory firm, said the bill’s wording is “incredibly broad and raises First Amendment concerns in its apparent restrictions on contributions to open-source computer code.”

Don’t panic. These are just ideas right now, Alt pointed out: “This thing is far from baked.” The bill hasn’t attracted any Republican co-sponsors yet, for one thing. And given the dissonance between Warren’s rhetoric about crypto sanctions evasion and official guidance, the bill “seems like a solution in search of a problem,” Alex Johnson, director of fintech research at Cornerstone Advisors, told Protocol.

— Benjamin Pimentel (email | twitter)

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On the money

On Protocol: Malaysia’s Communications Ministry wants crypto to be legal tender, but its Finance Ministry, the entity regulating crypto, is not so keen.

Also on Protocol: Goldman Sachs made history with the first over-the-counter crypto options trade by a major U.S. bank, signaling a larger move by Wall Street to embrace the digital asset industry.

Singapore issued a preliminary license to a crypto firm. While it currently only has three companies that offer crypto exchange services listed as licensed entities, the Monetary Authority of Singapore issued an in-principle approval letter to Hodlnaut, a move that may signal more licenses in the future.

A number of crypto companies’ customers saw their data compromised. Circle, BlockFi, Pantera Capital and others suffered data leaks through a HubSpot hack. The less-sensitive contact information could be used in future phishing attacks.

Naomi Osaka partnered with FTX as its new ambassador. The tennis star is the first female pro athlete to partner with the crypto exchange, and will receive an equity stake in FTX Trading. Her role includes producing FTX content for her audience and featuring FTX’s logo on her Miami Open outfit.

In other FTX news, the crypto exchange expanded into Australia. It acquired a major financial license in the country, hoping to get ahead of the regulatory curve.

Overheard

Everyone had something to say about Vitalik Buterin’s instantly infamous Time magazine cover. Some questioned why the Ethereum co-founder was featured at all; others asked why he looked like … that.

Buterin’s less-than-flattering cover photo led some to compare him to “Dobby the House Elf” and ask “why […] the richest people have the least drip.” (We won’t make you Urban Dictionary that; it’s a term for swagger or poise.)

“[T]his feels like yet another of those tech stories where a guy created something with terrible consequences and now wants the credit for maybe making it less terrible one day when it shouldn’t exist at all,” Paris Marx, host of the Tech Won’t Save Us podcast, tweeted.

There were those who took the Time cover as an honor. Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke wrote that “Vitalik is one of the great builders *and* thinkers of our time” in response to a Time tweet.

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian also showed his support. “No doubt in my mind @VitalikButerin will be regarded as one of the major innovators of our time. A builder’s builder. Thank you for an amazing LEGO collection. Let’s all make the most out of it,” he tweeted.

Time announced that the Buterin issue was going to be released as an NFT.

Deal flow

Ramp raised $750 million and is now valued at $8.1 billion. The corporate management company’s latest funding round was led by Founders Fund, with participation from existing investors including Stripe, Coatue Management and D1 Capital Partners.

Jeeves raised $180 million and is now valued at $2.1 billion. Tencent led the corporate expense management service’s series C round.

Optimism raised $150 million and is now valued at $1.65 billion. The Ethereum scaling company’s series B round was co-led by Paradigm and a16z.

Policygenius raised $125 million. The insurtech firm’s series E round saw participation from new and existing investors including KKR, Norwest Venture Partners, Brighthouse Financial and Global Atlantic Financial Group.

FTX Ventures invested $100 million in Dave. The crypto exchange struck a strategic partnership with the banking app-maker as well as investing $100 million from its $2 billion VC fund.

Kyash raised $41.2 million. The Japanese digital wallet company’s series D round saw participation from Block, Japan Post Investment Corporation, StepStone Group, Greyhound Capital and others.

Lunar Labs, a Polkadot project, raised $10 million. The funding round was co-led by Arrington Capital and Hypersphere Ventures, and featured participation from Lemniscap, Robot Ventures, whatever we’re calling Katie Haun’s firm lately and others.

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Thanks for reading — see you tomorrow!



Traciwininger
Author: Traciwininger

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