If cryptocurrency markets want to move from the fringes of finance into the mainstream, they’ll need to make some changes. That’s according to a new report on best practices for digital-asset exchanges, which have been dogged by everything from market manipulation to cyber thefts and questionable data. Authored by the Asia Securities Industry & Financial Markets Association, whose members include Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and BlackRock Inc., the report is the first of its kind by a major financial sector trade group.
Crypto exchanges often play multiple roles including marketplaces, brokers, custodian and proprietary traders, which can lead to conflicts of interest.
Venues need to improve policing of pump-and-dump schemes, spoofing, and other forms of market manipulation. The marketplace needs better infrastructure, including custody services and reliable data feeds. It should strive for proper disclosure by coin issuers, policing of insider trading, independent research and independent rating agencies. Exchanges should publicly disclose their listing requirements and charge a flat rate for listing applications.
The financial industry is weighing in on crypto exchanges as institutional investors dip their toes into a market that captured the world’s attention when Bitcoin and its ilk soared last year. Increased interest from professional money managers is a key pillar of the bull case for virtual currencies, but a lack of faith in digital-asset trading venues has kept many investors on the sidelines. “We would like to see the sector mature,” Mark Austen, Asifma’s chief executive officer, said in a phone interview.
The group’s recommendations, which haven’t been endorsed by any government, come as policymakers around the world work out how to police crypto markets that were originally designed to skirt state intervention. In Asia, where much of the world’s trading takes place, the regulatory responses have varied: While China has banned crypto exchanges, Japan and Australia have allowed them to operate under government oversight and Korea is still debating its approach. U.S. authorities have yet to formulate a comprehensive regulatory strategy, although prosecutors have cracked down on fraudulent initial coin offerings and opened a criminal probe into crypto market manipulation.
The initial responses to Asifma’s recommendations among crypto exchanges have been mixed. Hong Kong-based venues Gatecoin and ANX International both supported the report’s findings, even as ANX co-founder Hugh Madden said in an interview that not all the suggestions were immediately practical. Arthur Hayes, a chief executive officer of Bitmex, took issue with Asifma’s observation that conflicts of interest arise when exchanges play multiple roles that are typically segregated in mature financial markets. Hayes, whose firm has attracted criticism for running both a cryptocurrency marketplace and a for-profit market maker, said the arrangement has benefited investors.