From his throne atop Mt. Crypto, Changpeng Zhao surveys his empire, and whispers to himself, “It isn’t enough.”
To hear CoinDesk tell it, Binance, the world's leading cryptocurrency exchange, isn't just at the top of its game but the game—its brilliance unrivaled by any company in the history of cryptokind.
A bit much? It’s not an unpopular take. Hell, some heavyweight crypto pundits say Binance is so damn big and rich, it only has to play nice with global regulators if it wants.
And, well, it seems like Binance wants.
But on its own terms, of course.
On Thursday, the company announced it has hired CipherTrace— the Silicon Valley-based cryptocurrency intelligence solutions company known for its anti-money laundering and blockchain forensics operations.
“The selection of CipherTrace as our on-chain security solution will augment our expansion drive and build greater trust among our users, regulators and financial institutions,” said Samuel Lim, Binance chief compliance officer. “This partnership will bolster our existing world-class AML compliance program and help us expand into new markets in the most compliant fashion.”
CipherTrace does not mess around. The company works with law-enforcement agencies around the world to track down bad actors and cut down on any funny business using a “powerful API,” “machine learning algorithms,” “advanced attribution aggregation,” and all kinds of other buzzwordy, but still very impressive-sounding, tactics.
It's as legit as they come.
But that isn't to say that other KYC/AML compliance companies such as Refinitiv, Chainalysis, or IdentityMind are slouches either—all of which, incidentally, are companies that Binance has announced forming some sort of partnership with in the last six months. (This is where we wish we could resist making the joke that Binance changes its KYC provider more often than it changes its regulatory jurisdiction.)
To be fair, though, Lim explained to Decrypt last month (when it announced its partnership with IdentityMind) that Binance “routinely partners with KYC/AML providers globally” to essentially pick their brains and develop best practices and fine tune “user privacy and asset integrity.” So there’s that.
CipherTrace, coincidentally, just last month announced a partnership of its own the government of Malta—which is where Binance is based. So there’s also that.
“With regulators in the world’s most progressive jurisdictions that encourage innovation also using CipherTrace to assess and monitor risks of licensed cryptocurrency businesses, we are looking forward to helping the crypto economy grow by raising the level of transparency and trust in the overall market. We expect many others to follow Binance’s lead and are excited to help pave the path,” said CipherTrace CEO Dave Jeans.
“Progressive jurisdictions” is a very suave way of saying “places in the world where the rules aren’t as tough on crypto dealin’.” Then again, it’s also a way of saying “crypto-friendly nations where the regulations aren’t as draconian,” depending on which side of the regulatory fence you’re on.
Either way, we’re talking places like Malta, Uganda, Singapore—maybe even Argentina.
Binance built its business as a crypto-to-crypto exchange, avoiding many of the regulatory headaches that come with dealing in that filthy fiat. But it makes no bones about its plans for the future: The fiat-to-crypto on-ramps are coming.
It set up shop in Malta. Its first fiat-to-crypto exchange opened in Uganda, the next one is planned for Singapore—maybe even Argentina.
So what’s all this enhanced compliance really all about?
CZ keeps it real:
Secret sauce of success. @binance is one of (being polite to others) the most self-regulated exchange in the world. https://t.co/VU6nIsZGwc
— CZ Binance (@cz_binance) March 26, 2019
And Lim makes it crystal clear: "The goal really is to support our global expansion plan while carefully managing our risk," Binance's chief compliance officer tells Decrypt. Importantly, he says, it's all a matter of achieving "regulatory adherence, proper licensing and approvals in all the markets that we choose to operate in."
A robust, self-regulated exchange that places user experience, security, and privacy above all else—and one that will do just enough KYC/AML compliance to satisfy the regulators in the markets that it’s targeting, that's the business model.
Despite being on the receiving end of giants heaps of praise as of late, the one thing that Binance has been routinely pilloried over is its "relatively lax" KYC and AML procedures. It doesn't require anything more than an email address from its users, so long as they stay under the 2 BTC (roughly $10,600) withdrawal limit per day.
Adding another compliance partner isn’t going to change any of that. Why should it?
But with more fiat-to-crypto on-ramps on the menu, a little more regulatory compliance could be just enough of that secret sauce to get more “progressive jurisdictions” to come to the table.