Australian fintech firm Block Earner is charging ahead with plans to launch a crypto-backed loans product, despite staring down an upcoming court date with the financial regulator for allegedly offering financial products without a license.
The new crypto loan product allows Australian crypto investors to use crypto as collateral to borrow cash. Similarly, a Colorado-based lending platform called SALT offers crypto-backed loans to U.S. clients. The major cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase once offered a similar service to its U.S. customers but shuttered it in May this year.
The initial rollout from Block Earner is expected at the end of September and will initially only allow loans using Bitcoin as collateral.
Block Earner co-founder Charlie Karaboga told Cointelegraph that the new loan products have been designed in a “very conservative way” in a bid to fit neatly into an existing licensing model.
Australia’s 1st Crypto-Backed Loans
Borrow Australian dollars without selling your crypto, using your #Bitcoin or Ethereum as security
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Thread ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/V55z5BXfOa
— Block Earner (@blockearner) September 7, 2023
Karaboga’s firm was burned in November last year after it was sued by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission for allegedly offering crypto-linked fixed-yield earning products without an Australian Financial Services (AFS) license.
At the time, Karaboga lashed out against the regulator for its lack of clarity, claiming that his firm had spent considerable time and resources building out products he believed were compliant with ASIC’s existing guidelines.
“Our position remains the same. There is no clear regulation in Australia.”
“Like any company in the fintech ecosystem, before we launched the product we got legal opinions. We think that there was no sufficient regulation, or sufficient licenses for us to apply,” Karaboga added.
However, Charlie said that the regulatory moves against Block Earner and competitor crypto company Finder were largely reactive and likely due to the collapse of FTX in November.
“ASIC has commenced civil penalty proceedings in the Federal Court against fintech company Block Earner alleging it provided unlicensed financial services in relation to its crypto-asset based products…” https://t.co/MpgKojxRRG #cryptolaw
— Aaron Lane (@AMLane_au) November 23, 2022
“We were impacted, unfortunately, most likely probably because we were more visible with our product compared to others, because they were using as an ancillary product, whereas we were using a core product.”
Despite being unaffected by the fallout of FTX, in the wake of ASIC’s legal action, Karaboga said he closed the company’s “earn” products and paid back all users.
The company appears to have learned its lesson. James Coombes, head of business at Block Earner, said the new launch wouldn’t see the same fate as their Earn product, as it already fits within the rules of an Australian credit license.
“There is a core difference,” said Coombes. “The Earn product — there was no clear guidance on whether or not a license was required, and that’s why we hold a conflicting view. Whereas this one, the clear guidance is that a license is required to provide consumer credit. So we went and got the license.”
Hopes for clarity
Looking forward, Karaboga said that faster regulatory progression in jurisdictions such as Singapore, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom will pressure the Australian government to catch up, or risk losing market share of crypto enterprises.
“I’m expecting within 12 to 18 months, we’ll see some more clarity.”
Karaboga explained that because Australia is one of the wealthiest countries by way of per-capita GDP and because Australians were “early starters” in the crypto industry, its citizens had become prime targets for scammers.
Ultimately, Karaboga asserted that domestic regulators are firmly pro-crypto and want to “push that innovation” moving forward.
This is a view that was shared by Binance Australia General Manager Ben Rose, who recently told Cointelegraph he was confident that Aussie regulators would side with crypto in the long term.
As recently as Sept. 6, Coinbase listed Australia as one of its primary locations for expansion outside of the U.S.
Block Earner’s Federal Court hearing is scheduled for November this year, with a decision to be handed down by January.