Plans including raising the crypto tax threshold and legalizing ICOs are welcome, but will they give South Korea the shakeup it needs?
There is a risk the new government decides to allow investing in ICOs, IEOs, and STOs only to those above a certain income, to accredited investors. Certainly, the news of a new Basic Digital Asset Law, to enable the recovery of funds lost from illegal trades and scams is very welcome. But at the same time, a balance has to be struck, so the younger generation of investors in their 20s and 30s, who consist of around 36% of the market, feel they have a stake in the new system.
I also note that play-to-earn games are still illegal with no plans to change that. So, it’s somewhat ironic that the recent $620 million hack of Axie Infinity was reportedly carried out under the auspices of the North Korean government. While South Korea and the US are therefore looking to work more closely on cybercrime, there is a risk that the US will also seek to put pressure on the South Koreans to take a more highly regulated approach to crypto more in line with emerging US policy.
Will the prospect of a growing NFT market bear fruit?
What I do expect is for the market in NFTs in South Korea to grow in the future. And I think this presents a window of opportunity for the new government to take a positive approach. While the Financial Services Commission (FSC) is reportedly working to introduce NFT rules, this is yet to happen. Another potential source of frustration within the investor community is the complexity of using exchanges with different travel rule systems.
Among the big four exchanges Upbit, Bithumb, Coinone, and Korbit (with over 95% of the crypto market share), there are two travel rule systems. Upbit with the lion’s share of the exchange market has adopted its home-grown Verify VASP program, while the remainder follows another system. So, it’s perhaps good to know that Yoon’s Presidential Transition Committee is also “looking to grant more cash-to-crypto licenses to crypto trading platforms in efforts to dilute the local crypto exchanges oligopoly”.
Another overlapping issue is the dominance of the Upbit exchange in the South Korean crypto market. What’s interesting to me is seeing the concerted move by local banks to enter the crypto market. Part of the banks’ motivation to approach the incoming government is down to the fact that Upbit has over 80% of the market share.
This is underlined by the fact that Dunamu, operator of Upbit, posted a net income of 2.2 trillion won (around $1.8 billion) last year, with the figure growing 46-fold on-year. The news reportedly “shocked onlookers, as it drew near Woori Financial Group, a major banking group here. Woori posted a net income of nearly 2.6 trillion won in the same period”, according to the Korea Herald.
Banks fight for a slice of the crypto pie
Allowing banks to take apart on a more equal footing with exchanges certainly marks a step forward with potential implications for competition in regional crypto markets as well as internationally. Certainly, in Singapore, we have seen a tightening of regulations since the ICO boom years of 2017/18 which attracted so many crypto startups.
This stricter regulation has prompted startups to leave for the likes of more crypto-friendly Dubai, including global exchange Binance which recently withdrew an application to register in Singapore, instead setting up an office in the UAE.
The economic risks of not moving fast enough are also shown in the UK, where despite government plans for crypto growth there’s been significant criticism of its regulator, the FCA, for being too slow in processing crypto license applications to allow crypto startups to operate.
So, while I believe South Korea is likely to try to be more open, it’s going to be a tricky path to walk to keep all the different segments onboard, from crypto industry stakeholders to expectant younger investors. The ‘proof is in the pudding’ as they say, because while the incoming government might talk about plans to legalize ICOs it may in the fine print only be available to people who have say $1 million in assets.
However, on a more optimistic note, I do agree with crypto commentators such as Anthony Pompliano that South Korea’s crypto plans are potentially a significant step on the world stage. Yoon Suk-yeol is the first head of state from a major economy that says it plans to take crypto really seriously, including protecting the public; however, it’s also worth noting that outlined plans to set up a dedicated government agency for crypto and NFTs did not make it into the final copy of his campaign pledges.
Speaking recently in Korea on the same platform with a member of the People’s Power Party, I said that crypto and blockchain was the future. We now have to wait and see how well that promise and potential is delivered.
Anndy Lian is an early blockchain adopter and experienced serial entrepreneur who is known for his work in the government sector. He is a best selling book author- “NFT: From Zero to Hero” and “Blockchain Revolution 2030”.
Currently, he is appointed as the Chief Digital Advisor at Mongolia Productivity Organization, championing national digitization. Prior to his current appointments, he was the Chairman of BigONE Exchange, a global top 30 ranked crypto spot exchange and was also the Advisory Board Member for Hyundai DAC, the blockchain arm of South Korea’s largest car manufacturer Hyundai Motor Group. Lian played a pivotal role as the Blockchain Advisor for Asian Productivity Organisation (APO), an intergovernmental organization committed to improving productivity in the Asia-Pacific region.
An avid supporter of incubating start-ups, Anndy has also been a private investor for the past eight years. With a growth investment mindset, Anndy strategically demonstrates this in the companies he chooses to be involved with. He believes that what he is doing through blockchain technology currently will revolutionise and redefine traditional businesses. He also believes that the blockchain industry has to be “redecentralised”.