6 Jun 2023

Banks stay cautious over cryptocurrency, goal to 'keep customers safe'

6:47 am on 6 June 2023
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Photo: Lev Dolgachov/ 123rf

The country's biggest banks are making no apology for tight controls and even bans on cryptocurrency users and traders.

New Zealand's Easy Crypto recently accused some of the big banks of bullying behaviour by refusing to complete transactions made to crypto currency firms such as Easy Crypto, or to open a bank account for consumers and businesses dealing in digital currencies.

The five biggest New Zealand banks said they had cause to be cautious, in line with international and domestic risk warnings from regulators, including the Financial Markets Authority.

There have also been a number of large scams involving crypto currencies, such as the spectacular multi-billion-dollar collapse of United States-based trading platform FTX, which sent shockwaves through the crypto industry.

Bank policies on cryptocurrency dealings range from a case-by-case by Kiwi Bank and ASB Bank.

"Ultimately, our goal is to keep our customers safe," ASB said in a statement.

"Banks are operating in a complex regulatory environment (globally and locally) with anti-money laundering, sanctions and counter-terrorism financing laws, among the range of regulations with which we are required to comply."

Westpac New Zealand was the most risk adverse when it came to cryptocurrency dealers and their customers.

"At this stage we consider the digital currency exchange industry to be high risk and would not routinely provide its participants with banking services," Westpac said.

ANZ was equally risk adverse, but did permit customers to make some cryptocurrency transactions.

"If an ANZ personal customer wishes to purchase cryptocurrencies using ANZ facilities (for example, credit cards) then they are able to do so as long as there are no commercial interests in the transaction (i.e. trading on behalf of someone else)."

The BNZ said it was guided by the advice of regulators, but acknowledged cryptocurrencies were gaining traction and it was monitoring developments.

"While we don't outright prohibit dealing with cryptocurrency-related businesses, we do categorise cryptocurrencies as high risk in line with the advice of our regulators, and this sets a threshold for onboarding customers operating in this sector that reflects this risk," BNZ said.

New Zealand-owned Kiwibank had perhaps the most open position of the big banks.

"Each potential customer will be assessed on a case-by-case basis and, as a minimum, evidence of compliance with AML/CFT and sanctions obligations will be required," it said, referring to compliance with anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism finance.

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