In a recent Forbes piece, it was noted that the virtual asset regulatory authority in Dubai expects to see several hundred virtual assets exchanges and service providers enter its licensing regime. This comes as CEOs of major crypto exchanges laud both UAE and Hong Kong as crypto hubs.

As per Henson Orser CEO of VARA, speaking to Forbes, “VARA makes Dubai one of a handful of global jurisdictions implementing a mature framework for crypto and virtual assets. The VARA framework expects to see several hundred virtual asset exchanges and service providers in Dubai start to come into its licensing regime in 2023.”

At the same time Hong Kong is also competing to get a piece of the crypto and digital asset market with the launch of new crypto licensing regime. In addition Hong Kong’s banking regulator is pressuring financial institutions including HSBC and Standard Chartered to take on crypto exchanges as clients.

In parallel the Central Bank of UAE came out with its new guidance on anti-money laundering and combatting the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) for Licensed Financial Institutions (LFIs), banks, finance companies, exchange houses, payment service providers, towards virtual assets and Virtual asset service providers. While VARA came out with its virtual asset rulebook for, the virtual assets transfer,  and settlement service. 

Both countries are showing digital asset entities that they are serious for business. In a Yahoo article, Ben Caselin, CEO of Maskex states Dubai and Hong Kong are establishing themselves as crypto hubs by recognizing the potential for virtual assets and blockchain technology.

He explains, “Much of the discussion has focused on whether Dubai, Hong Kong or indeed some other jurisdiction will come out on top. However, the debate is much more nuanced than that. The emergence of Dubai and Hong Kong as crypto centers is really a testament to the power of healthy competition in spurring innovation in the Web3 space.”

He believes that as the U.S. grapples with crypto regulation, there is a real opportunity for other countries to assert themselves on the more level playing field provided by a digital-first global economy. With favorable yet robust regulatory environments, both Dubai and Hong Kong are well-positioned to lead the way.

Despite being on similar paths, Dubai and Hong Kong have different motivations for their push into crypto and the Web3 space. To him Hong Kong wants to reinvigorate the greater Chinese economy, while Dubai seeks to shift its dependence on oil.

Yet he contends that both have recognized the scale of opportunity and understand that by pooling resources they could be at the forefront of a new wave of digital innovation leading advancements in the scalability, privacy and interoperability of blockchains, therefore benefiting the entire crypto ecosystem.

UAE money exchange company, Ferg ( Foreign Exchange and Remittance Group) CEO has stated that the company as well as other money xchanges will start to accept crypto after Central Bank regulations are out sometime at the end of 2023 or early 2024. 

Adeeb Ahamed, Vice Chairmen of Ferg and managing director of LuLu exchange stated, “We are constantly in conversation with the Central Bank and waiting for the regulations. The Central Bank understands the use case of cryptos – CDBC (central bank digital currency). Cryptos is something that has definitely been taken up by the world. It needs to be part of the payment ecosystem. We are very sure that with the regulations coming out by the Central Bank, we will also start accepting.”

Ahamed expects regulations around digital currency are likely to come out later this year or early next year.

These statements were made on the sidelines of Ferg’s Techno meet 23 in Dubai UAE.

Ahamed added that exchange houses could no longer be content by being traditional models of doing business. “In the fast era of digitalisation, it is very important that we find partners that make the journey of customers much easier.

The Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority in a bilateral meeting in Abu Dhabi on 29 May, have agreed to enhance collaboration between the two jurisdictions on virtual asset regulations and development.  

In addition, the two central banks facilitated discussions between their respective innovation hubs on joint fintech development initiatives and knowledge sharing efforts. A joint working group led by the CBUAE and HKMA, with support from the relevant stakeholders of the two jurisdictions’ banking sectors, will be formed to take forward the agreed initiatives.

Following the bilateral meeting, the two central banks, joined by senior executives from the UAE and Hong Kong banks, conducted a seminar on key opportunities to pursue between Hong Kong and the UAE. The seminar covered discussions on possible arrangements to facilitate better cross-border trade settlement, how UAE corporates can better utilize the Hong Kong financial infrastructure platforms to access Asia and the Mainland markets, as well as financial and investment solutions and capital markets opportunities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (Greater Bay Area).

Banks operating in the UAE that participated in the seminar included First Abu Dhabi Bank, Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, Emirates NBD, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Bank of China, HSBC and Standard Chartered, whilst participation from banks operating in Hong Kong included Bank of China, Citi, HSBC and Standard Chartered.

H.E. Khaled Mohamed Balama, Governor of the CBUAE, stated, “We are pleased to have welcomed the Hong Kong Monetary Authority and its delegation to the UAE as we look to build on our central banks’ existing and robust relations. During the day’s discussions, we explored deepening collaboration across several important areas including financial market infrastructure development and mutual opportunities for growth in digitization and technological advancement.”

Eddie Yue, Chief Executive of the HKMA, added, “These events enhanced the collaboration between the central banks of Hong Kong and the UAE in a number of important areas, and provided a platform for financial institutions and corporates from Hong Kong and the UAE to step up exchange and collaboration.  Hong Kong and the UAE are two financial centers sharing many complementary strengths and mutual interests, and there is much room for market participants from these two places to work together and build up the connectivity.”

This is not the first time the Central Bank of UAE has cooperated with Hong Kong Monetary Authority, prior to this they worked on the mBridge CBDC project. 

XRPayNet a blockchain XRP Ledger based crypto-fiat micropayments solution provider is gearing up to launch in the UAE. Already in the process of being regulated through VARA and the Central Bank of UAE, XRPayNet and its partner in the UAE, ChainTech Labs aim to revolutionize the crypto payments sector by bridging the world of fiat and crypto for micropayments and buy now pay later offerings.

Kristian Poliszczuk Founder, of XRPayNet has been a passionate crypto investor since Bitcoin was valued at just $2000; he then became an XRP enthusiast and from there built XRPayNet on XRP’s Blockchain ledger. Poliszczuk is an entrepreneur at heart building small businesses since he was 12 years old. At just 23 years old he had 19 properties under his belt as a real estate broker and today he is seeking to become one of the world’s leading crypto micro payments provider.

A Solution to a Problem

According to Poliszczuk XRPayNet was developed to solve three major problems facing the 420 million crypto holders globally today. The first was that most crypto holders have no place to spend their crypto given that retailers are hesitant to accept crypto due to its volatility, secondly most crypto payment solution providers have yet to bridge fiat with crypto and finally retailers and merchants want a secure, easy technology platform to use seamlessly with their existing technology.

Poliszczuk told LaraontheBlock, “For crypto to be mainstream, it must work in harmony with fiat. I started to think about creating a tool that would allow users to spend their crypto from their wallet while retailer receives fiat currency. We are doing this through both our debit card solution as well as mobile application, making the Crypto to Fiat payment process seamless.”

Today, cryptocurrencies are accepted by less than 0.001% of companies throughout the world, yet $2.5 Billion was spent by consumers on pre-paid crypto cards in 3 months from the end of 2021-start of 2022.

Utilizing XRPL network, as one of the only 145 node validators, XRPayNet is built on one of the most scalable and ecological blockchains developed to date.

In addition to offering micropayments XRPayNet will be offering the first Buy Now Pay Later solution for crypto holders. Poliszczuk explains, “We are bringing the solution of Buy Now Pay Later to the crypto world. Clients who hold our card or application can buy on credit using the XRPAY coin staked with us as collateral. We are offering crypto holders more choice and providing the retailer with fiat currency of their choice.”

Entering the UAE

Currently XRPayNet is going through the process of acquiring a regulated license in the UAE, working with the legal firm Saeed and Company. They are seeking regulatory approval from Dubai’s Virtual asset regulatory Authority as well as the Central Bank of UAE given that they are a payment solution provider.

Poliszczuk says, “We have been told the process will take three months and we are confident given that one of our retail partners is closely involved in the regulatory scene and understand VARA’s requirements well.”

XRPayNet already has clients lined up in the UAE who are looking to offer crypto fiat micropayments and Buy now Pay later services. Poliszczuk, told LaraontheBlock, “We have a UAE chain of stores ready and waiting for us to deliver our technology to start using it in March 2023, we have also been approached by a gas station chain who also want to use our service. We have built a complete POS (Point of service) interface and all these stores need is to download our application on their terminals at point of sale to complete the payments.”

The XRPayNet coin while developed identical to that of XRP Ripple is not the same as XRP. According to Poliszczuk while the coin is built on XRP ledger and identical  to Ripple’s XRP we did not choose to use XRP because Ripple has already positioned it as a coin for international cross border payments for banks and not for micro payments.

To date XRPayNet has more than 10,000 holders of their coin. In addition XRPayNet is considering with its UAE partners to developing their own XRPayNet stablecoin as well as adopting the stablecoin required by UAE regulators. He states, “As part of the regulatory process it stipulates that we should use a particular stablecoin which has to be embedded in our applications. We are adhering to these regulations very strictly.”

XRPayNet founder is confident that there is huge demand in the UAE for crypto retail payments services and this is one of the reasons they were approached by ChainTech Labs. According to Poliszczuk, “ Today there are maybe 100-200 global crypto payment entities in the space and many of them won’t go forward as they usually stop development during bear markets. We are not them, we increased our talent base from 9 people to 26 within the last 6 months, and regardless of our coin price we are still developing to create the best products. So we are positioned ahead of others.”

Expansion and the Future

Other than the UAE, the 14 month old XRPayNet will be expanding to other jurisdictions. In December 2022 alone there were 11 requests for partnerships across the globe.

In conclusion XRPayNet founder believes that crypto is still in its infancy stage and is here to stay as long as people don’t convince themselves that crypto can work in silo of fiat, in the end they both need to work in harmony.

As per a recent PWC Crypto regulation report 2023, the UAE has finalized its crypto regulation, includes AML/ CTF Money laundering and counter terrorist financing rules as well as its travel rule and has already prepared the stablecoin regulation for payments which is awaiting final legislation. ( refer to graph page 8 of report).

For those not familiar with the travel rule, it is a Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) rule [31 CFR 103.33) which requires all financial institutions to pass on certain information to the next financial institution, in certain funds transmittals involving more than one financial institution.

This PwC Global Crypto Regulation 2023 report provides an overview of the crypto regulation landscape, with a focus on financial services. It offers insights into how the regulatory frameworks are developing across the world and seeks to identify how this may impact relevant industry participants and virtual service providers within the financial services sector.

The report notes that UAE authorities are assessing their approach to areas including stablecoins and wider DeFi.

In addition as per the report, the Central Bank of UAE is establishing its position in communicating permissible virtual asset activities to local banks. These include opening accounts for Virtual Asset Service Providers (VASPs) better known as crypto exchanges. 

 UAE Securities Commodities Authority with its Decision on Crypto Assets Activities Regulation (CAAR), regulates the offering, issuing, listing and trading of crypto assets in onshore UAE. This includes the initial coin offering exchanges, marketplaces, crowdfunding platforms, custodian services and related financial services based upon or leveraging crypto assets.

In December 2022 the UAE Cabinet updates some of its legislations including those pertaining to virtual business and virtual assets allowing them to be regulated onshore.

As for the rest of the GCC and Arab countries, the report notes that Bahrain has implemented crypto regulations and AML/CTF  yet has not implemented neither the travel rule nor stablecoin regulations for payments.

Jordan, Kuwait, and Oman have not initiated a crypto regulation process, while KSA and Qatar have prohibited cryptocurrencies.

It is interesting that while the report for example considers that Oman has not initiated the crypto regulation process, Oman had announced in 2021 that it was launching through the Central Bank a high level Oman cryptocurrency task force to study the economic advantages and disadvantages of authorizing the use of cryptocurrencies in the country.

In January 2022 Oman capital markets Authority announced a tender for specialized companies to assist in setting up a legislative and regulatory framework for virtual assets and licensing supervision and regulations of Virtual assets service providers within the Sultanate of Oman. Since then no other announcements have been made.

Both Bahrain and Oman have allowed crypto payments to be made in the country through virtual asset providers. Oman based, cryptocurrency broker, Easy Coins launched its trial of Tether USDT on the Tron Blockchain. Accordingly Easy Coin users in Oman can now purchase TRC20 USDT. At the end of 2021 there were 43 thousand registered crypto wallet addresses in Oman.

In the meantime even stablecoins are being trialled in Oman. The Oman Water and Waste Water Services Company (OWWSC), member of Nama Group, to trial a stablecoin linked to the Oman Riyal. The company signed an MOU with Oman based Digital Digits, the creators of Easy coins and Connected Chains to trial “ Hasalah” a stablecoin Wallet.

While in Bahrain EazyPay, a payments solution provider partnered with Binance’s Binance Pay to launch a regulated and approved crypto payments service offering in the Kingdom.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia crypto traders and investors are growing despite the ban on cryptocurrencies and the Central Bank of Saudi Arabia has created a division to study implementation of virtual assets and CBDCs. In 2022, Qatar announced the introduction of its blockchain blueprint for the country.

So while regulations are essential for the growth of crypto ecosystem, and the UAE is leading in this regards, it doesn’t mean that crypto is not being utilized in other countries regardless of their regulatory status. 

UAE Midchain’s, crypto exchange for trading digital assets has partnered with UAE Al  Maryah Community Bank, the leading digital bank to provide a secure channel for investing and trading cryptocurrencies and digital assets through the bank’s establishment of escrow accounts in UAE dirhams to protect investors’ funds on cryptocurrency trading platforms and boost their trust.

Within the framework of this cooperation, Al Maryah Community Bank seeks to support cryptocurrency trading platforms by using artificial intelligence technologies to automate transfers of Escrow accounts while purchasing and trading transactions according to the highest standards of safety, reliability, and transparency, and to accommodate the needs of investors and enhance the trust in the cryptocurrency market. This will be monitored by the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates and will be facilitated according to its regulations and laws to protect investors and to ensure the protection of investors’ accounts by separating them from the accounts of trading companies in order to avoid any potential risks.

This step contributes to achieving the strategy of the Al Maryah Community Bank to develop innovative and safe solutions for digital investment in line with the vision of the Abu Dhabi Global Market to strengthen the UAE’s economy and Abu Dhabi’s leading status as a global financial center, which was symbolized by the concept of the “Falcon Economy” that was announced during the activities of the “Abu Dhabi Financial Week”.

On this occasion, Mohammed Wassim Khayatah CEO of Al Maryah Bank stated, “We seek to protect users of local trading platforms from any potential risks, in accordance with the regulations of the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates, and as part of such efforts, we are pleased to cooperate with “MidChains”, one of the first local trading platforms for cryptocurrencies and digital assets that is fully licensed by the Abu Dhabi Global Market, in order to provide safe Escrow accounts that protect investors’ funds and separate them from trading companies’ accounts, thus protecting transfers, transactions, and balances of funds in cryptocurrency trading.

In return, Basil Al-Askari added, “If cryptocurrency is to become mainstream, it is clear that mainstream players will need to be involved. Our partnership with Al Maryah Community bank comes in line with similar partnerships being forged across the virtual asset industry. Traditional institutions are working alongside exchanges to expand access to this exciting and innovative new asset class. As one of the only fully licensed exchanges in the world we can offer banks a trusted platform partner with regulatory oversight to provide a feasible way into the virtual asset space for their existing customers and also help the bank attract a whole new type of crypto savvy consumer.”

UAE Central Bank officials have called for a comprehensive regulatory framework for central digital currencies that would facilitate, accelerate and reduce the cost of cross border monetary operations. The call came during UAE’s Central Bank participation at the fifth International Financial Architecture (IFA) Working Group meeting within the G20 Finance Track for 2022, which was held in a hybrid format on 22nd and 23rd September 2022.

Thiscomes after The Innovation Hub of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, BIS (Bank of International Settlements) and the Central Bank of the UAE announced on twitter the completion of the first CBDC pilot involving real value transactions and four jurisdictions, using mBridge, custom developed DLT platform.

As per the tweet, 20 banks participated in the final CBDC pilot, with over 160 transfers and FX exchanges carried out, totaling $171 million HK dollars ( $22 million)  in transfers and FX exchanges and $91 HK million in issuances equivalent to ( $12 million) .”

The Central Bank of the UAE (CBUAE) participated in “mBridge” project with partners from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), Innovation Hub Centre in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), the Bank of Thailand (BoT), and the Digital Currency Institute of the People’s Bank of China (PBoC).

In 2021, the Central Bank UAE completed the first pilot phase of mBridge with the participation of five banks located in the UAE including First Abu Dhabi Bank, Emirates NBD, Dubai Islamic Bank, HSBC, and Standard Chartered Bank, in  fifteen cases. International trade settlement was prioritized in the identified business test cases given the high volume of trade between the four jurisdictions, amounting to US$731 billion.

At the time of the press communications in 2021 it stated, “The project has now identified and will start to put through, business test cases based on historical transactions to test the recently-developed mBridge Trial Platform. In addition, a roadmap for the mBridge project’s target achievements in 2022 has been established, using an iterative and agile process to develop a minimally viable product that could support the full process of international trade settlement and other use cases.”

Asma Al Zarooni, Head of Exchange of Tax Information Section at the Ministry of Finance, and Khalifa Al Faheem, Director Monetary Operations at Central Bank of the UAE, who, participated at the Fifth International Financial Architecture (IFA) Working Group meeting within the G20 Finance Track for 2022, called for a comprehensive regulatory framework for central digital currencies that would facilitate, accelerate and reduce the cost of cross border monetary operations, and also previewed UAE’s experience in the mBridge project for building multi central bank digital currencies (CBDC). Attendees also discussed central bank digital currencies for cross-border payment and implication on the international monetary system and capital flows.

A detailed progress report will be released in October 2022, which will cover the technical design, legal, policy, regulatory considerations and future roadmap, during the Hong Kong Fintech Week October 31st- November 4th. 

Prior to that UAE Central Bank and Saudi Central Bank ( SAMA) had worked on the wholesale CBDC project called ABER.