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Nigeria’s Fintech Regulatory Hurdles: SEC’s New Rule And CBN’s BVN Validation Suspension

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Nigeria



On Thursday, 8th of April, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a warning to “unregistered” investment platforms, asking them to desist from offering Nigerians access to foreign securities. The Commission stated that only registered platforms can offer foreign securities to Nigerians. According to SEC’s published statement, “The Commission categorically states that by the provisions of Sections 67-70 of the Investments and Securities Act (ISA), 2007 and Rules 414 & 415 of the SEC Rules and Regulations, only foreign securities listed on any Exchange registered in Nigeria may be issued, sold or offered for sale or subscription to the Nigerian public.”

The regulatory battle between investment-tech platforms and the SEC has been ongoing for a while. In December 2020, the Commission issued a statement which stated that investment platform, Chaka, would be restricted from offering stocks to the Nigerian public. However, on March 26, 2021, Chaka announced that it had taken necessary steps to obtain a newly created license. An excerpt from the company’s announcement says:
“We are pleased to inform our stakeholders and the general public that Chaka has taken the necessary steps to register with the Securities & Exchange Commission of Nigeria (SEC) for a newly created license, as SEC continues to maintain its avowed intention to encourage innovation within the market space.” With the SEC’s recent statement on the “proliferation of unregistered online investment and trading platforms,” things are a bit blurry on the state of regulations for investment platforms like Chaka.

The existence of investment platforms like Chaka, Trove, and Bamboo, has caught the attention of many Nigerians who are excited about having access to a simple means of investing in foreign securities. This has provided a path to financial freedom for many Nigerians, as well as a means to hedge against the constant devaluation of the Naira.

The regulatory hurdle plaguing these investment platforms may, however, wipe away the benefits that the platforms offer to Nigerians, thereby, threatening the streams of income that some Nigerians generate from trading foreign securities through these platforms, as well as leveraging the platform’s services to hedge their wealth against the devaluation of the naira. This would also directly affect the core of the business model of these investment companies, thereby, threatening their survival.

At the moment, the Nigerian fintech space is facing multiple struggles with regulations. The issue between the SEC and investment-tech platforms is one out of many. Just this week, news broke that the CBN suspended the provision of BVN validation service to fintechs and non-bank financial institutions. According to an email sent by Paystack, CBN’s directive will affect every third-party partner. The email reads thus:
“We’ve recently been made aware of a regulatory directive from the primary custodian of Nigeria’s BVN service to all their partners to suspend the provision of the BVN validation service to their third-party partners. In light of this news, we’re hereby informing you that the BVN Resolve service will be temporarily unavailable starting at midnight, today, April 8.”

This directive may have significant negative effects on the operations of fintechs in the country because identity verification or Know Your Customer (KYC) is critical for any financial institution to engage in any business with a customer. The verification system of many fintech startups in Nigeria is centered around BVN. Thus, banning BVN validation for these startups may adversely affect their operations.

Building an alternative identity verification system that does not require BVN could be more expensive because identity verification alternatives like ID verification cost more, which could increase the running costs of fintechs in Nigeria or lead to an increase in the cost of accessing their services by users. However, cheaper available KYC alternatives could suffice for the verification of identity for many platforms.

It is presently unclear why CBN is issuing this directive or why the SEC has been coming for Chaka and other investment platforms. However, we do know that the fintech space has been apparently under intense heat from regulatory bodies in recent times.

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Financial Leaders from G7 Release Guidelines for Central Bank Digital Currency

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Source: World Atlas

At a meeting that was held in Washington, yesterday, October 13, G7 leaders discussed central bank digital currency and endorsed 13 public policy principles with regards to their implementation. The financial leaders from G7 agreed that CBDCs would complement cash and should not be detrimental to the monetary system. The G7 leaders have been discussing CBDCs this week concluding that they should do no harm and meet rigorous standards.

It should be noted that G7 includes finance leaders in advanced economic nations comprising of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.S and the U.K. the G7 leaders make it mandatory that any newly launched CBDC should not harm the central bank’s ability to perform its duty of maintaining financial stability. In a joint statement by the G7 finance ministers and central bankers, they said that, 

“Strong international coordination and cooperation on these issues help to ensure that public and private sector innovation will deliver domestic and cross-border benefits while being safe for users and the wider financial system.” 

The joint statement further states that CBDCs are complements to cash and could serve as a liquid or safe settlement assets with an added advantage of anchoring existing payment systems. CBDCs issuance should be entrenched in a long-standing public commitment to transparency, rule of law, and sound economic governance. The statement added at CBDCs must be so efficient that they are fully interoperable on a cross-border basis. 

The G7 leaders agreed that they had a duty to minimize the incidence of ‘harmful spillovers to the international monetary and financial system” 

The G7 statement reiterated a similar statement earlier made by G20 that no global stablecoin project should begin operation until such a token has addressed legal, regulatory and oversight requirements. 

Countries like China and Nigeria are ahead of the pack with regards to the adoption of digital Yuan and Naira respectively. China’s crackdown on cryptocurrency may be a step forward for the country’s plan to promote its digital Yuan. Nigeria, on the other hand, postponed the launch of its eNaira in deference to the 61st anniversary of Nigerian independence on Oct 1. 

However, countries like the US and the UK are dragging their foot with regards to the introduction of CBDCs to their financial system. There are insinuations that America is in danger of being left behind technologically and financially if it doesn’t get serious with the implementation of CBDC in its financial system.

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Understanding Speculation and Crypto Volatility

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Everyone who dabbles in the crypto industry learns almost immediately that the market is very volatile and oftentimes things can change very quickly. That volatility is the fundamental reason why some investors make absolutely stunning gains in so short a time and others lose a lot of money as well. Trading in crypto is one of the riskiest ventures any person can undertake and as they say, it’s not for the faint of heart. The risks can be mitigated of course and sometimes depends specifically on the coin or crypto asset being traded on, barring general market trends.

Nevertheless, to get to the bottom of the volatility concept, one must understand speculation in the market. To start off, the concept of speculation isn’t limited to cryptocurrencies, on the contrary, speculation has existed for as long as economics and trading has. But it is worth saying that speculation is often a feature of novel sectors, assets, commodities and the like. So, even though cryptocurrencies have been around for more than a decade, they’re still in their infancy as far as markets go. One could say that the market is still trying to find its feet.

One of the fundamental reasons why cryptocurrencies are so volatile is that they are fundamentally backed by nothing of value outside the attention that they get. Unlike many fiat currencies which are either pegged to another currency’s value or whose value is unilaterally determined by a central authority, cryptocurrencies only derive value as a function of how many people are willing to use is to transact, i.e. trust in the asset because other people trust it. As a rule of thumb, the larger the number of people who accept the asset, the more valuable it becomes.

This is one of the hallmarks of speculative trading. In the crypto world or in any market that’s novel and untested, many people are in it to win it which means their strategies in trade has the objective of making as much profits as possible in the short term. Therefore, the market enters a subtly dangerous cycle of rapidly changing prices of assets. Basically, investors typically buy assets when prices are low and wait. As more investors are attracted to the commodity for its low prices, it sets off a cascade where more people buy in, causing the price to steadily rise. 

However, all good things must come to an end and it almost always gets to a breaking point whereupon the price gets high enough for investors to begin to sell. This reverses the earlier cascade and as more and more investors pull out, the prices can fall dramatically causing even more to sell off in fear of losing whatever investments they have left. The prices having fallen resets the game and primes investors to begin buying again.

Volatility has been one of the talking points of many critics of cryptocurrencies often comparing it to a Ponzi scheme. And in certain cases, persons of interest with large pulls and audiences can substantially affect the rate at which prices rise and fall. Other factors include government regulations. Volatility at its core reflects the often chaotic nature of trade and market interactions and human hopes and fears.

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Market Watch

What China’s crypto clampdown means for investors

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Over the weekend, China, the biggest crypto mining country once again, began to clamp down on cryptocurrency. Ten Chinese agencies including the central bank and banking, securities and foreign exchange regulators have vowed to work hand in hand to expose illegal cryptocurrency activity.

China has always placed stricter rules on cryptocurrencies but the new rule has made all crypto-related activities illegal. According to the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), it is illegal to cryptocurrency trading and anyone that does so will be severely punished; this includes those within China that are working for overseas platforms. To fully phase out the cryptocurrency mining sector, the National Development and Reform Council (NDRC) said that it would launch a nationwide crackdown on cryptocurrency.

Over the years, China does not recognize cryptocurrency as a legal tender. In 2013, the Chinese government referred to Bitcoin as a virtual commodity that individuals are allowed to freely participate in. This freedom, however, precludes banks and payment companies from providing services that are Bitcoin related.

In 2017, Initial Coin Offering (ICO) was banned. The ban was also extended to the conversion of legal tenders to cryptocurrencies by trading platforms which led most of the platforms to shut down operations in China. The crackdown led 88 trading platforms and 85 ICO platforms to withdraw from the market as of July 2018.

To China, the crackdown on cryptocurrency is necessary as the country is trying to launch its official digital currency and the need to fulfil its 2060 climate targets. The crackdown was necessary as cryptocurrency was seen as infringing on people’s properties and ‘disrupting the normal economic order.’

The statement by PBOC on Friday was unequivocal as the current crackdown is distinct from the previous ones. In his statement on Friday, PBOC called Bitcoin, Ether and Tether ‘legally irreparable’ and should not be used. The new regulations forbid financial institutions, marketing and IT providers from supporting crypto-related activities. The activities of both crypto holders and miners are now considered illegal. This is what Henri Arslanian, a PwC crypto leader termed as “No ambiguity. No room for discussion. No grey areas” in his tweet.  

What does this mean for crypto holders worldwide?

The major effect of China’s crackdown on cryptocurrency is the increase in price volatility. While volatility is a common phenomenon in the crypto world, a crackdown initiated by the world biggest cryptocurrency mining country will have a huge effect on market price.    

After the PBOC interview, Bitcoin fell by 4% within 24 hours and is currently trading at $43,320. Ethereum fell by 6% and it is currently trading at $3,036. With the Evergrande debt crisis and the huge blow bedevilling the crypto market, a clampdown by China would most likely keep the market price on the red until another good news crops up.

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