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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking says certain Bitcoin activity subject to money transmission laws

Licensing State Issues Digital Assets State Regulators District of Columbia Money Service / Money Transmitters Bitcoin Virtual Currency

Recently, the District of Columbia’s Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB) issued a bulletin informing industry participants engaging in or planning to engage in money transmission involving Bitcoin or other virtual currency “used as a medium of exchange, method of payment or store of value in the District” that such transactions require a money transmitter license. Specifically, the bulletin noted that DISB considers Bitcoin to be money for money transmission purposes. Relying on United States v. Larry Dean Harmon, DISB stated that while “money transmission is vaguely defined in DC Code,” the court’s decision “relied on the common use of the term “money” to mean a “medium of exchange, method of payment or store of value,” and that therefore Bitcoin functions like money. The bulletin also noted that the court found that while the D.C. Money Transmitters Act of 2000 specifically defined certain banking and financial terms, it did not define “money,” thereby reasoning “that the goal of the MTA is to regulate all kinds of transfers of funds, whether fiat currency, virtual currency or cryptocurrencies.”

Additionally, DISB noted that “engaging in the business of ‘money transmission’” includes “transactions where entities receive for transmission, store, and/or take custody, of Bitcoin and other virtual currencies from consumers via kiosks (aka BTMs), mobile applications and/or online transactions.” However, transactions where entities propose to sell and buy Bitcoin and other virtual currencies from consumers in exchange for cash payments via kiosks and/or online transactions are not considered to be money transmission. Entities that plan to engage in covered activities are subject to money transmission licensing requirements, DISB stated, explaining that whether an entity is required to obtain a money transmitter license depends on the individual facts and circumstances of each applicant, which include but are not limited to an applicant’s proposed business plan and flow of funds, as well as an applicant’s business model. 

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