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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

DFPI concludes MTA licensure not required for digital asset trading platform

Licensing State Issues Digital Assets State Regulators DFPI California California Money Transmission Act Digital Currency Cryptocurrency Fintech Money Service Business

On March 23, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) released a new opinion letter covering aspects of the California Money Transmission Act (MTA) related to a digital asset trading platform. The redacted opinion letter examines whether the inquiring Company (a registered money services business) requires licensure under the MTA. The Company requesting an interpretive opinion operates a software platform that allows retail and institutional investors to buy and sell digital assets, including cryptocurrency, and access related services, within the platform. The letter explains that U.S. customers must fund an account on the Company’s platform prior to purchasing cryptocurrency with either fiat currency (U.S. dollars) or cryptocurrency. The letter also describes, among other things, how customers can buy from and sell to the Company cryptocurrencies on one or more cryptocurrency exchanges using the platform. In these transactions, the Company would sell or buy cryptocurrency from the customer at the selected price and settle the trade using fiat or cryptocurrency held in its own accounts. Simultaneously, the Company would execute a trade for its own benefit on the exchange offering the price selected by the customer. Customer funds would not be used to buy or sell cryptocurrency from or to the exchange. After executing a transaction, a customer may choose to withdraw all or part of the customer’s fiat or cryptocurrency from the platform, or may choose to maintain a balance to execute future transactions.

The DFPI stated that it “has not concluded whether a wallet storing cryptocurrency constitutes a form of monetary value representing a claim against the issuer and accepted for use as a means of redemption for money or monetary value or payment for goods or services.” As such, the DFPI will not require the Company to be licensed under the MTA to provide customers with an account via a proprietary software platform to transfer and store cryptocurrency in order to execute trades directly with the Company. 

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