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Coinbase

A high-level regulatory offering attracting the biggest global FinTech businesses

Duration: Client since 2018

Services: Financial Services Regulatory, Commercial

The Charles Russell Speechlys FinTech team were a fantastic partner to work with. Their in-depth knowledge of financial regulation was a valuable asset to the program. Additionally, their attention to detail, flexibility, and prompt turnarounds helped ensure a smooth and timely launch.

Cyril Matthew, Head of Business Development in Europe for Coinbase

Situation

Cryptocurrency has grown in popularity in recent years following its December ’17 boom, but whilst popularity in acquiring cryptocurrency has grown, and become easier, they have been less successful in establishing themselves as a mainstream means of exchange. Relatively few merchants are prepared to accept cryptocurrency as payment for goods or services.

Coinbase, one of the biggest FinTechs in the world, specialising in cryptocurrency exchange and ownership, sought to tackle this challenge with the release of their Coinbase Card, a visa debit which allows users to pay for day to day products using their cryptocurrency.

Task

As with many innovations in FinTech, current regulation may not always be in the prime position to regulate new technologies, so it is essential that any new release be analysed by legal teams able to creatively ensure compliance between the product and existing regulation.

Having advised Coinbase on their European operations previously, Coinbase tasked us with providing the regulatory advice to ensure that the release of their Coinbase Card in the UK was compliant with existing regulations.

Action

The Coinbase Card is innovative because it is the first debit card to link directly with a major cryptocurrency exchange and allow consumers to use their cryptocurrency in the context of every day purchases.

Our team quickly analysed that regulations would cover, effectively, the two-stage process with the use of the Card: firstly the deduction and ‘fiat conversion’ of the user’s cryptocurrency, and secondly the use of this fiat currency to purchase. The critical pieces of legislation, the Electronic Money Regulations 2011 (EMRs) and the Payment Services Regulations 2017 (PSRs), had not been designed with this process in mind, so our team had to consider creative solutions to ensure that the Coinbase Card complied with these regulations.

Payments made using the Coinbase Card have an unusually complicated structure (in that a cryptocurrency conversion process precedes a standard payment card process) and Coinbase decided to involve a number of partners to deliver different aspects of the overall process. 

We were responsible for working with the relevant parties to ensure that:

  • each party knew its exact role
  • no party was allocated a role for which it did not have the requisite regulatory status
  • the “customer journey” was clear, and
  • the overall process complied with both applicable laws.

The team’s initial focus was on drafting and negotiating the multiparty agreement between the different service providers, to which given the nature of the innovative product, there were no precedents for either the legal analysis or documentation; our team were responsible for putting these together from scratch. We also drafted the customer terms and conditions for Coinbase, and oversaw the terms and conditions that customers were entering into with the other partners, ensuring all the relevant documents were consistent with each other.

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