Since Holon’s beginnings in 2018, the digital asset conversation has evolved rapidly. Back then, Bitcoin was a dirty word, and the scandals of Initial Coin Offerings only demonstrated the ‘wild west’ attitude of an immature crypto-world. Skepticism by the traditionalists was strong.
Now, with an estimated 100 million+ users (including leading payment companies and global corporates), and a market value of USD$1Trillion and growing, Bitcoin is no longer a dirty word, it’s just a word.
Institutions are quickly seeing Bitcoin (and other digital assets) as a valuable hedge against the volatility of the modern world. Investors (especially younger investors) are seeing that they have access to a store of value (wealth creation) opportunities as an alternative to the current financial system that has, and is, failing them.
And to meet this demand, new banks are being established (for example Avanti Bank in Wyoming, USA) to specifically custody Bitcoin for customers – with this trend accelerating. It seems that cryptocurrencies and digital assets, more broadly, are becoming mainstreamed. How things have changed in just a few short years!
But where is Australia in all this?
Holon has worked with Australian governments to discuss the accelerating digital economy across the political divide, particularly as we believe that data generation and storage requirements, driving Web 3.0, are being vastly underestimated by the market. While there has always been interest and an acknowledgement of where things were heading, we saw little real action.
Indeed, the major banks, and particularly the Reserve Bank of Australia, have been active ‘resistors’ – either attempting to delegitimize digital assets or dismissing them altogether, and even going to the extent of de-banking digital businesses. With all of this, there was a sense that Australia needed to be dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age.
2021 was different.
In October, we were pleasantly surprised that the advice contained in Holon’s submissions to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s (ASIC) crypto-related financial products consultation paper and the Senate Select Committee on Australia as a Technology and Financial Centre was reflected in the Senate Select Committee’s recommendations to the Australian Government enabling the Web 3.0 economy and ASIC’s guidance to the financial services industry.
Digital assets, and their custody and handling as financial products, were now being taken seriously. There was also acknowledgment that greater legal, business and investment certainty was needed to drive dollars into the Australian economy, rather than away from it.
The underlying message was that we desperately needed to avoid the ‘digital-desertion’ that we had been seeing (not unlike the ‘brain-drain’) – where young, talented digital companies are forced to move off-shore because of the uncertainty (and hostility) they faced at home. However, this may just have come to an end.
We have to thank the Chair of the Senate Select Committee, Senator Andrew Bragg, who led the charge to begin pushing for much needed regulation of digital assets in Australia and, as a consequence, helping to publicly legitimize them. From being ‘well behind the eight-ball’, Australia may have a chance to be a unique player on the global scene.
As a bigger surprise, and a significant affirmation to the work of the Senate Select Committee, the Federal Treasurer announced on 8 December that the Australian Government has agreed in principle with several core tenets of Senator Andrew Bragg’s report. The Treasurer said that the impending reforms would be ‘fast-tracked’ as they are the ‘most significant’ in 25 years and will progress in two phases – with the most urgent and immediately implementable changes being consulted upon in the first half of 2022, and the remainder by the end of 2022.
The Treasurer stated that the Government will commence consultation on the feasibility of a retail Central Bank Digital Currency in Australia – a digital asset issued by a central bank and linked to a sovereign currency for better consumer protection and connection the global financial system – with advice to be provided by the end of 2022.
In relation to payments, cryptocurrencies and digital assets, the Treasurer stated that, by mid-2022, the Government will have:
- Set out a strategic longer-term plan for the payments system, developed with industry and reviewed annually.
- Settled the details of additional powers for the Treasurer to set payment system policy.
- Determined the changes necessary to modernize payments system legislation to accommodate new and emerging payment systems, including consideration of BNPL and digital wallets.
- Completed consultation on the establishment of a licensing framework for Digital Currency Exchanges to provide greater confidence in the trading of crypto assets.
- Finalized consultation on a custody or depository regime for businesses that hold crypto assets on behalf of consumers so that investors have greater confidence in the safe keeping of these assets.
- Received advice from the Council of Financial Regulators, working with other relevant agencies, on the underlying causes and policy responses to the complex issue of de-banking.
By end-2022, the Treasurer indicated that the Government will have:
- Settled the framework to replace the current one-size-fits-all payment licensing arrangements with a functionally based framework adopting graduated, risk-based regulatory requirements.
- Received a report from the Board of Taxation on an appropriate framework for the taxation of digital transactions and assets.
- Undertaken a mapping exercise of existing crypto currencies and tokens to better inform consumers and others of the risks and benefits that arise.
- Examined the potential of so-called Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) that is a type of decentralized corporation used to co-ordinate financial contributors from around the world through automated (smart) contracts.
Overall, the Australian Government’s commitment to these reforms, based on the recommendations of the Senate Select Committee, are welcomed as they are advantageous to the future of Holon’s Web 3.0 cloud storage operations and digital asset management business.
However, there’s still some way to go to enact any regulatory reforms, but this is the clearest signal from Government that Australia is now embracing digital assets and ‘open for business’ – and at Holon, we’re proud that we were (and will continue to be) an active part of the policy making that is bringing it about!