Bank regulators plan ‘conservative’ capital rule for bitcoin

LONDON (Reuters) – Banks must provide enough capital to fully cover losses from Bitcoin holdings, global banking regulators suggested on Thursday in a “conservative” move that could prevent widespread use of the cryptocurrency by large lenders.

FILE PHOTO: A banner reading “We accept Bitcoin, free, fast and without contagion” can be seen in a beach cafe on Punta Roca Beach in La Libertad, El Salvador, April 25, 2021. REUTERS / Jose Cabezas / file photo

The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, made up of regulators from the world’s leading financial centers, has proposed a twofold approach to capital requirements for crypto-assets held by banks in its first custom-made rule for the emerging sector.

El Salvador is the first country in the world to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender, despite central banks around the world repeatedly warning that investors in the cryptocurrency must be prepared to lose all of their money.

Large economies like China and the United States have signaled a tougher approach in recent weeks and developed plans to develop their own central bank digital currencies.

The Switzerland-based Basel Committee said in a public consultation paper that while banks’ exposure to crypto assets is limited, their continued growth could increase risks to global financial stability if capital requirements are not introduced.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are currently worth around $ 1.6 trillion worldwide, which is still tiny when compared to bank holdings of loans, derivatives, and other major assets.

The Basel rules require banks to assign “risk weights” to different types of assets on their books, which are then added together to determine total capital requirements.

Basel proposes two broad groups for crypto assets.

The first includes certain tokenized traditional assets and stablecoins that fall under the existing rules and are treated in the same way as bonds, loans, deposits, stocks, or commodities.

This means that the weight could range from 0% for a tokenized government bond to 1,250% or the full value of the funded asset.

The value of stablecoins and other Group 1 crypto assets is tied to a traditional asset, such as the dollar in the case of Facebook’s proposed stablecoin Diem.

However, since crypto assets are based on a new and rapidly evolving technology like blockchain, this carries a potentially increased likelihood of operational risks that require an “additional” capital requirement for all types, Basel said.


The second group includes cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, which due to their “unique risks” would be subject to a new “conservative regulatory treatment” with a risk weighting of 1,250%.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are not associated with any underlying asset.

According to the Basel rules, a risk weight of 1,250% means that banks must hold capital that is at least equal to the value of their exposure to Bitcoin or other Group 2 crypto assets.

“The capital will be sufficient to absorb a full write-off of the crypto asset exposures without exposing depositors and other senior creditors to the banks,” she added.

There are few other assets that are treated so conservatively under the existing Basel rules, including investments in funds or securitisations where banks do not have sufficient information about their underlying exposures.

Bitcoin’s value has fluctuated a lot, hitting a record high of around $ 64,895 in mid-April before plummeting to around $ 36,834 on Thursday.

Banks’ appetites for cryptocurrencies vary, with HSBC saying it has no plans for a cryptocurrency trading desk because the digital coins are too volatile. Goldman Sachs restarted its crypto trading desk in March.

Basel said that given the rapidly evolving nature of crypto assets, further public consultation on capital requirements is likely before final rules are released.

Central bank digital currencies are not included in their proposals.

Basel cryptographic

Reporting by Huw Jones; Edited by Rachel Armstrong and Alexander Smith

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