New York Reveals BitLicense Framework for Bitcoin Businesses

By July 18, 2014Bitcoin Business
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New York Reveals BitLicense Framework for Bitcoin Businesses

New York
New York

The New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) has released its long-anticipated list of proposed rules and regulations that will be required for New York-based bitcoin businesses.

The announcement came via a Twitter post from Benjamin M Lawsky, New York State’s first Superintendent of Financial Services, who notably oversaw two regulatory hearings with digital currency leaders in January of this year.

Notably, the document states that bitcoin businesses that receive, transmit, store [or] convert virtual currency for customers; buy and sell virtual currency as a customer business; control, administer or issue a virtual currency; or perform conversions between bitcoin and fiat or any value exchange will need to be licensed to operate in New York. Merchants that accept bitcoin are not included under the rules and regulations.

State officials say the document is designed to strike “a balance between protecting consumers and use common sense rules”, and that they are still accepting feedback on the proposal.

Superintendent Lawsky said:

“We recognize that – as the first state to put forward specially tailored rules for virtual currency firms – continued public feedback will be an important part of finalizing this regulatory framework. We look forward to carefully and thoughtfully reviewing public comments on our proposal.”

Licensees will further be required to include the name of the licenses on all advertised products and services, and to “disclose in clear, conspicuous and legible writing in the English language [...] all material risks associated with its products, services, and activities”.

The rules will also require that all licensed bitcoin businesses meet capital requirements, maintaining “at all times such capital as the superintendent determines is sufficient to ensure the financial integrity of the Licensee and its ongoing operations.”

The document indicates New York will consider a variety of factors in this process, including the licensee’s total assets, the composition of its liabilities and the expected volume of its business, among other factors.

Virtual currency is defined as any digital unit of exchange that has a centralized repository or administrator, is decentralized and has no centralized repository or administrator or may be created or obtained by computing or manufacturing effort.

Impact on existing businesses

One uncertainty prior to the release of the rules was the impact on companies that already work with bitcoin and other digital currencies. The regulations outline a procedure for how businesses already working in the ecosystem can receive approval without suffering immediate disruption to their operations.

According to the NYDFS, existing companies have 45 days to apply for a BitLicense following the release of the final regulations. Applicants receive preliminary approval, but this designation may be subject to change following review by the agency.

The rules state that:

“[Applicants] shall be deemed in compliance with the licensure requirements of this part until it has been notified by the superintendent that its application has been denied, in which case it shall immediately cease operation in this state.”

Businesses that do not apply within 45 days face criminal prosecution for running an unlicensed digital currency company, the document concludes.

Account holder scrutiny required

The documents outline a data-heavy application process that, at it hearts, seeks to bring the reporting on digital currency activities and the companies that conduct them in line with the broader US financial system.

The NYDFS is requiring that all digital currency companies in New York follow detailed reporting guidelines on account holders. In addition to following procedures aligned with the US banking system, the rules state that high-risk or high-volume customers may be subject to additional scrutiny at the request of the Superintendent.

The rules state:

“When opening an account for a customer, each Licensee must, at a minimum, verify the customer’s identity, to the extent reasonable and practicable, maintain records of the information used to verify such identity, including name, physical address and other identifying information.”

Foreign account holders are subject to rules focused on money laundering prevention. Companies with a BitLicense are required to submit for review and implement “enhanced” reporting policies for customers located outside of the US.

As well, licensed businesses are prohibited from working with an international business that does not have an established base of operations within the US.

CoinDesk will continue to update this document, as the story develops.


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