Coinbase, the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the US, has recently obtained a Major Payment Institution (MPI) licence from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the country’s central bank and financial regulator. This licence will allow Coinbase to offer regulated digital payment token (DPT) products and services in Singapore, such as buying and selling cryptocurrencies, storing them in wallets, and transferring them to other users.
They not the first crypto exchange to receive an MPI licence from MAS. In June 2023, two other platforms, Crypto.com and Circle, were also granted full licences after obtaining in-principle approvals in 2021. However, Coinbase is arguably the most prominent and influential one among them, given its global reach, market capitalization, and reputation.
Coinbase’s entry into the Singaporean market is seen by many as a positive sign for the crypto industry in the region, as it reflects the country’s openness and support for innovation and digital finance. Singapore has been widely regarded as a crypto-friendly jurisdiction, with a clear and progressive regulatory framework for DPT service providers under the Payment Services Act (PSA) that came into effect in 2020.
According to the PSA, any entity that provides DPT services in Singapore must obtain a licence from MAS, either as a standard payment institution (SPI) or as an MPI. The difference between the two types of licences lies in the scale and scope of their operations. SPIs can provide any combination of regulated payment services, but are subject to transactional volume or e-money limits. MPIs have no such limits, but are subject to more stringent requirements, such as safeguarding customer funds, complying with anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing rules, and submitting regular audits and reports to MAS.
By obtaining an MPI licence, Coinbase has demonstrated its ability and willingness to meet the high standards set by MAS for DPT service providers. This could give it a competitive edge over other crypto exchanges that operate in Singapore, especially those that have not yet obtained a licence or are still waiting for approval.
As mentioned on MAS’s website, there are currently 170 entities that have applied for a licence under the PSA, but only three have been granted full licences so far (Coinbase, Crypto.com, and Circle). Among the applicants are some of the most popular and well-known crypto exchanges in Singapore, such as Binance, Kraken, Coinhako, Gemini, and Independent Reserve. These exchanges have been allowed to continue their operations while their applications are being processed by MAS, under a grace period that was initially supposed to end on July 28, 2021. However, due to the large number of applications and the complexity of the assessment process, MAS has extended the grace period for most applicants until January 28, 2023.
This means that these exchanges have less than four months left to obtain their licences from MAS, or they will have to cease their DPT services in Singapore. This could pose a significant challenge and risk for them, as they may lose their market share and customer base to Coinbase and other licensed platforms.
Competitive Challenges For Other Crypto Exchanges
While Coinbase’s MPI license is undoubtedly a boon for the company, it also presents a competitive challenge for other crypto exchanges operating in Singapore. Here are some key challenges they are likely to face:
- Regulatory Compliance Pressure: The foremost challenge for competitors is the need to meet the stringent regulatory standards set by MAS. Coinbase’s compliance with these standards sets a high bar, and other exchanges will need to invest significant resources to achieve similar levels of regulatory approval.
- Increased Competition: Coinbase’s entry into the Singaporean market intensifies competition. As a well-established global exchange, Coinbase has a strong brand presence and the resources to invest in marketing, user acquisition, and product development. Competitors will need to step up their game to compete effectively.
- User Trust and Confidence: Coinbase’s MPI license not only signifies regulatory compliance but also implies a higher degree of trust and confidence from users. Competitors will need to work harder to gain the trust of customers and differentiate themselves in a market where regulatory compliance and security are paramount.
Recommendations For Success In The Singaporean Crypto Market
To thrive in this evolving landscape and address the challenges posed by Coinbase’s MPI license, crypto exchanges in Singapore should consider several strategic approaches:
- Collaborate with Local Partners: Building relationships with local financial institutions, fintech companies, and government agencies can help crypto exchanges navigate the complex regulatory landscape in Singapore. Collaborations can also open doors to new markets and customer segments.
- Innovate New Products and Services: To stand out in a competitive market, exchanges should focus on innovation. Developing new products and services that cater to the unique needs and preferences of Singaporean users can help differentiate them from Coinbase and other competitors.
- Educate Customers and Regulators: Crypto exchanges should actively engage in educational initiatives aimed at both customers and regulators. Providing resources and information on responsible crypto use, security practices, and the benefits of blockchain technology can help build trust and bridge knowledge gaps.
- Adapt to Changing Market Conditions: The crypto industry is known for its rapid evolution. Exchanges must remain agile and adaptable to changing market conditions, regulatory updates, and technological advancements. Staying ahead of the curve can be a key differentiator.
- Foster Regulatory Relationships: Building positive relationships with regulators is essential. Exchanges should actively engage with regulatory authorities, participate in industry consultations, and contribute to the development of fair and effective crypto regulations.
- Emphasize Security and Compliance: Like Coinbase, prioritizing security measures and regulatory compliance is non-negotiable. Exchanges should invest in robust security infrastructure and continuously monitor for potential vulnerabilities or risks.
- Customer-Centric Approach: To succeed in a competitive market, exchanges should prioritize the needs and concerns of their customers. Providing excellent customer service, transparent fee structures, and responsive support channels can help build loyalty and trust.
- Diversify Product Offerings: Beyond trading, exchanges should consider diversifying their product offerings. This could include services like staking, lending, or even non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Diversification can attract a broader user base and increase revenue streams.
Coinbase’s MPI license from MAS is a watershed moment for the cryptocurrency industry in Singapore. It signifies not only the legitimization of digital assets but also the importance of regulatory compliance and security within the sector. While this development poses competitive challenges for other crypto exchanges operating in the country, it also sets a high standard that can benefit the entire industry.
Success in the Singaporean crypto market will require a combination of regulatory adherence, innovation, customer education, and adaptability. By focusing on these aspects and strategically positioning themselves, other exchanges can thrive alongside Coinbase in this dynamic and rapidly evolving sector. Ultimately, the success of these exchanges will contribute to the broader adoption and acceptance of cryptocurrencies in Singapore and around the world.
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”.