What is a crypto travel rule?

What is a Crypto Travel Rule and How It Affects Crypto Decentralisation

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The world of cryptocurrency is infamous for its security concerns and counterparty risks. This young industry has experienced numerous cases of crippling accidents related to fraud, white-collar crime, various scams and other malicious activities. The principal reason is that crypto transactions are traceless and completely anonymous, giving malicious attackers massive leverage to conduct harmful activities. 

Financial services related to crypto transactions have long suffered from this unfortunate status quo. However, FATF’s recent implementation of the crypto travel rule could finally shift the tide. Let’s explore the nature of the travel rule and its potential impact on the crypto world.

Key Takeaways

  1. The travel rule was introduced in 2019 by FTAF and is swiftly being enforced across the globe. 
  2. Travel rule requires crypto-related companies to implement KYC procedures and monitor their client activities. 
  3. The crypto travel rule was designed to combat money laundering and other significant crimes frequently conducted in the crypto market. 

Understanding the Crypto Travel Rule

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) introduced the travel rule in the second half of 2019, affecting virtually every aspect of the crypto industry. It was considered a spiritual successor of similar laws introduced by financial crime enforcement networks in the USA. The travel rule mirrored its fiat counterpart by enforcing companies to employ robust know-your-customer protocols and safeguards. Companies considered crypto asset service providers (CASPs and VASPs) must comply with these regulations within a predetermined time limit.  

The travel rule has not been entirely imposed as of 2023 since the FATF gives companies some time to conduct a smooth transition. After all, the travel rule requires crypto-related companies to monitor their customers’ identities and personal information, which was not even remotely implemented in most crypto service providers. 

Despite its inconvenience, the travel rule aims to improve the security levels in the entire crypto market, minimising the chances of fraud, scams and money laundering activities for virtual assets. Each financial institution will be responsible for its client activities, creating a sense of ownership across the industry. The ideal result will be that malicious individuals will find it increasingly difficult to conduct illegal activities through crypto means. 

Important Players in the Travel Rule

Now, let’s highlight the central figures and organisations instrumental in the Travel Rule’s application and evolution within the travel and financial sectors.

Financial Action Task Force (FATF)

The FATF organisation was formed in 1989 and currently represents one of the largest authorities battling money laundering crime worldwide. FATF is the last defence against money laundering internationally, enforcing KYC and transparency rules. FATF KYC requirements are strict but primarily fair, allowing companies to operate freely while only disclosing baseline information about their material customers. 

The FATF 16 requirements proposed in 2019 have become known as the travel rule, reaching beyond the fiat world and entering the crypto industry. While the basic principles are the same, the travel rule is slightly more strict compared to the fiat counterpart. This is due to the nature of cryptocurrencies and the heightened difficulty of catching crypto criminals. 

FATF member countries

Virtual Asset Service Providers (VASPs) 

VASPs are the subject of the travel rule enforced by the FATF 16 requirements. VASPs are characterised by FATF as entities providing crypto exchange or management services. Thus, the travel rule applies to exchange platforms, brokers, market makers, investment funds, and other related institutions. Companies considered as VASPs must follow the guidelines proposed by FATF and gather information regarding their clients. 

There are certain thresholds to be considered. Not every client is material enough to require information disclosure. Thus, VASPs must retrieve limited information from regular clients and comprehensive knowledge from material ones. The difference in this case is the real-world address and residence of material customers to verify their IDs. 

Who is a VASP?

How Does the Travel Rule Impact Financial Institutions?

The implementation of the crypto travel rule was a huge announcement in the world of blockchain. From the beginning, the travel rule sent shockwaves across the entire field, signalling different possibilities in the eyes of various market participants. For some, the travel rule is considered the end of this industry. For others, it is a necessary instrument to make the crypto landscape a viable and secure place for commerce. 

Proactive Approach to Anti-Money Laundering 

money laundering cycle

The first obvious advantage of the travel rule is its aggressive approach toward money laundering crimes. The AML monitoring practices in crypto left much to be desired in most of the 2010s. Due to the complete decentralisation and anonymity of peer-to-peer transactions, AML fraud detection was almost non-existent. 

After all, it is impossible to supervise transactions when their whole point is complete anonymity and privacy. While decentralisation is important for blockchain, money laundering practices have caused several billions in damages. Thus, it is of utmost importance to prevent such crimes once and for all. 

The travel rule will require all VASPs to create a reliable and strictly monitored base of potential suspect customers. The guidelines specify required thresholds for checking material clients and other classifications. As a result, the travel rule can potentially create a safer environment for crypto companies and their respective clients. 

A Simplified Bridge Between Crypto and Fiat

How travel rule strengthens crypto and fiat connection

The travel rule compliance in crypto also has a secondary benefit that could transform the entire industry for the better. The connection between crypto and fiat worlds is thin and involves numerous hurdles. Thus, investors mostly choose one of these fields to operate in, avoiding too many mixups in between. 

The primary reason is that fiat investors don’t trust crypto transactions. The absence of AML practices and guidelines is a big downside for most cryptocurrency investors. With the travel rule, the status quo can change dramatically as the crypto regulations become more uniform and standardised. Thus, many previously sceptical investors could become motivated to dabble in crypto. 

Additionally, the travel rule messaging protocol ensures that the customer data transferred by VASPs will be completely confidential and will not threaten the privacy of individual customers. Combining the above-outlined factors will enormously impact the transparency and legality of the crypto landscape, giving crypto holders and traders a greater sense of security and comfort. 

Does the Travel Rule Defeat the Purpose of Blockchain?

While the FATF travel rule in crypto has exceptionally positive implications for the crypto landscape, one colossal concern is voiced among the crypto community. Many claim that the travel rule goes against the decentralisation aspect of blockchain, which is considered the main attraction of the entire industry. While this sentiment is technically true, most crypto experts view the travel rule as the ‘necessary evil’ within the market. 

The crypto field has experienced far too many cases of fraud, digital theft, and white-collar crime to remain negligent in these areas. It is painfully evident that the anonymity aspect is wrongfully utilised to facilitate crime of various sorts. Thus, the travel rule is needed to ensure the safe growth and development of the industry. 

Final Takeaways

While many consider the travel rule controversial, this massive shift in the crypto regulation landscape is undoubtedly needed. The recent FTX collapse, numerous cybersecurity breaches, money laundering incidents and many other crimes have made it apparent that this market lacks proper regulation. The crypto world needs to incorporate new rules to reclaim the public’s trust. The travel rule is an excellent step in the right direction, although it requires refinements and revisions to become a mechanism for empowerment, not limitations. 

FAQ

What Is the Travel Rule in Crypto?

The crypto travel rule is a regulation implemented globally to combat money laundering and other crypto-related crimes. It forces companies to monitor their customers closely and retrieve their personal information to verify their legitimacy.

What is a VASP?

VASPs are subjects of the travel rule. These organisations must retrieve their customers’ personal data and conduct the travel rule data transfers to authorities. The entire process is confidential and doesn’t endanger the freedom of individual investors.

What are FATF KYC requirements?

The KYC requirements obligate VASP companies to retrieve all essential information from regular customers and comprehensive data from customers who conduct material crypto transfers.

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