Travel rule: virtual assets emerging from the shadow

Travel rule: virtual assets emerging from the shadow

2020-03-03 | Knowledgebase

In June 2019, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) published its guidance for a risk-based approach to virtual assets and virtual asset service providers. This document recommended states to comply with the so-called "travel rule". The latter is already implemented in Switzerland. What does the new rule provide for, and what are the obligations for financial intermediaries? Answers are below.

A brief introduction to the FATF's activity
FATF Guidance on virtual assets

FATF Guidance on virtual assets

The FATF is an independent inter-governmental body that develops and promotes policies to protect the global financial system against money laundering, terrorist financing and the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. [1] It regularly publishes thematic guidelines which are recognized as a global standard in the financial sector. The FATF monitors the progress of its members in implementing necessary measures, reviews money laundering and terrorist financing techniques and counter-measures, and promotes the adoption and implementation of appropriate measures globally. [2]

What is the travel rule?

The FATF, being worried that anonymity of virtual assets transactions may attract criminals who want to escape authorities' scrutiny, introduced the new order of how such operations have to be conducted. Travel rule is a conditional concept, and it originates from the Guidance for a Risk-Based Approach to Virtual Assets and Virtual Asset Service Providers, namely – from Recommendation 16.

The travel rule aims the virtual assets (VA) to emerge from the shadow. It prescribes that all transactions above USD/EUR 1,000 must be accompanied by identifying information – names, account numbers, etc. The rule obliges Virtual Asset Service Providers (VASP) to exchange information about their customers when transferring VAs. This innovation is similar to SWIFT technology in bank transfers. Additionally, each blockchain wallet should be checked against a complete set of AML risk assessment scenarios and their potential association with illegal activities. [3]

Definition of VASP

VASPs cover a wide spectrum of individuals (natural persons) and legal entities which provide financial intermediary activity. These may be exchanges, wallet providers, financial services providers related to issuance/offer/sale of Virtual Assets and any other possible business models in that area. It is also essential to know, that not only transaction with fiat or digital currencies are considered as VASP operations, but safekeeping of the digital private keys is also considered as VASP activity. [3]

Which countries are obliged by travel rule?

In fact, it is up to each state whether to implement the rule and if yes – to what extent. The FATF is emphasizing that countries need to implement the measures, and soon in order to ensure transparency of virtual asset transactions and keep funds with links to crime and terrorism out of the crypto-sphere. [5]

FATF Members

Many countries are interested in being compliant with FATF's recommendations due to the principle "better regulation – more investment". For example, U.S. regulator FinCEN issued its version of the regulation pertaining to VASPs in May 2019, stating that firms had 180 days to get their houses in order. [6]

The EU's Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive came into force on 10 January 2020 and seems to mostly correspond to the FATF guidance. Besides, Japan, South Korea and Singapore have been exceptionally receptive to FATF recommendations. [7]

Switzerland's approach to the travel rule

Switzerland, being one of the world's financial hubs, needs to comply with high AML standards. Therefore, it has already implemented the travel rule, namely, in Art. 10 of the AML Ordinance. According to the latter, financial intermediary of the client specifies the name, account number and address of the client as well as the name and account number of the beneficiary in the case of payment orders. [5] Some experts highlight that FINMA's approach is even stricter than FATF's. For instance, FINMA does not allow VASP transaction to unregulated wallets and requires any transaction party to be verified. [3]

To reflect Switzerland's progress, the FATF has now re-rated the country on the Recommendation 16 - Wire transfers, from partially compliant to largely compliant. [8]

Wrap-up

To sum up, travel rule is a step forward to a safer digital environment. It provides benefits for all players. It is a chance for states to improve their investment climate, for VASPs to build more reliable and transparent business and for users to get better security.

Sources:
1. FATF Guidance for a Risk-Based Approach to Virtual Assets and Virtual Asset Service Providers, June 2019, https://www.fatf-gafi.org/media/fatf/documents/rec...
2. https://www.fatf-gafi.org/about/
3. https://cvj.ch/english-articles/the-fatf-travel-ru...
4. https://www.fatf-gafi.org/publications/virtualasse...
5. Geldwäschereiverordnung-FINMA.
6. https://www.coindesk.com/inside-the-standards-race...
7. https://cointelegraph.com/news/governments-begin-t...
8. https://www.fatf-gafi.org/publications/mutualevalu...

Legal disclaimer. This article does not constitute legal advice and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. The article should be used for informational purposes only.

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