Recently, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation released new opinion letters covering aspects of the California Money Transmission Act related to a digital currency trading platform and the referral of customers to financial institutions. Highlights from the redacted letters include:
- Digital Currency Trading Platform. The redacted opinion letter examines whether the inquiring Company requires licensure under the MTA. The letter describes that the Company’s customers would transfer digital currency into the account they have with the Company, with the balance being reflected in the customer’s wallet issued by the Company. The letter further explains that the Company would provide California residents access to its digital currency trading platform to buy, sell, or hold digital currency and provide liquidity services. The letter also describes, among other things, how customers could use the platform, transfer digital currency into the account, and transfer fiat currency by transferring it from their own bank account or by debit or credit card to the Company. Customers would not be able to send fiat or digital currency to others, except in the context of a sale. DFPI concluded that while the Company’s wallets holding fiat currency meet the definition of stored value, licensure under the MTA was not required because the Company offered fiat currency wallets to customers solely to facilitate the trade of digital currency. DFPI also noted that the Company does not require licensure under the MTA to perform Platform trading services or to issue wallets holding digital currencies.
- Referral of customers to financial institutions. The redacted opinion letter examines whether the inquiring Company’s referral service is subject to the MTA. The letter describes that under this service, the Company would refer customers to banks, trust companies, and other entities which are either licensed as money transmitters in California or exempt from licensure. Under the proposed referral service, customers would be re-directed to a financial institution’s website where they could set up and fund an account. Customers wishing to buy, sell, or exchange cryptocurrency or fiat currency could do so from the Company’s website and use a third party’s software platform to input their order details. The platform would check to make sure that the customer has sufficient assets in the customer’s account with the financial institution to purchase the cryptocurrency. The financial institution would be the only party to hold, receive, or transmit all cryptocurrencies in the customer’s account. DFPI concluded that the referral service does not meet the definition of money transmission because the service entails connecting customers with financial institutions from which customers can buy, sell, or exchange cryptocurrency. Further, DFPI noted that the transactions between customers and financial institutions are also not money transmission because the customer would simply exchange cryptocurrency directly with the financial institution. Accordingly, DFPI held that licensure under the MTA is not required because the Company will not sell or issue payment instruments, sell or issue stored value, or receive money for transmission by offering the referral service.
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