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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

California enacts licensing requirements for digital asset businesses, regulation of crypto kiosks

Licensing State Issues California DFPI State Legislation Cryptocurrency Digital Assets Disclosures

On October 13, the California Governor signed AB 39, which will create a licensing requirement for businesses engaging in digital financial asset business activity. Crypto businesses will need to apply for a license with California’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI). The bill, among other things, (i) empowers DFPI to conduct examinations of a licensee; (ii) defines “digital financial asset” as “a digital representation of value that is used as a medium of exchange, unit of account, or store of value, and that is not legal tender, whether or not denominated in legal tender, except as specified”; (iii) empowers DFPI to conduct enforcement actions against a licensee or a non-licensed individual who engages in crypto business with, or on behalf of, a California resident for up to five years after their activity; (iv) allows DFPI to assess civil money penalties of up to $20,000 for each day a licensee is in material violation of the law, and up to $100,000 for each day an unlicensed person is in violation; and (v) requires licensees to provide certain disclosures to California clientele, such as when and how users may receive fees and charges, and how they are calculated. The new law exempts most government entities, certain financial institutions, most people who solely provide connectivity software, computing power, data storage or security services, and people engaging with digital assets for personal, family, household or academic use or whose digital financial asset business activity is reasonably expected to be valued at no more than $50,000 per year. In September of last year, the California Governor vetoed a similar bill because creating a licensing framework was “premature” considering conflicting efforts.

Also effective on July 1, 2025 is SB 401, which was also enacted on October 13. SB 401 establishes regulations for crypto kiosks under the DFPI’s authority. It will, among other things, prohibit kiosk operators from accepting or dispensing more than $1,000 in a single day to or form a customer via a kiosk. Operators would be required to furnish written disclosures detailing the transaction's terms and conditions as well as transaction details. Kiosk operators will also be obligated to provide customers with a receipt for any transaction at their kiosk, including both the amount of a digital financial asset or USD involved in a transaction and, in USD, any fees, expenses, and charges collected by the kiosk operator. Finally, operators will be required to provide DFPI with a list of all its crypto kiosks in California, and such list will be made public.