NatWest board member suggests bank will reject business customers who mainly deal in cryptocurrencies

The company later clarified that customers can accept virtual currencies if certain conditions are met

A NatWest board member has suggested that the bank would refuse business customers who accept virtual currencies as payment, although the bank has since rejected this position.

Morten Friis, a NatWest non-executive director, board member, and chair of the bank’s risk committee, called cryptocurrencies “high risk” during an online shareholder event on Wednesday, as reported by the Guardian.

“We have no appetite for dealing with customers, whether taking them on as new clients or having an ongoing relationship with people, whose main business is backed by an exchange for cryptocurrencies, or otherwise transacting in cryptocurrencies as their main activity,” Friis said.

“We think of cryptocurrencies as high risk and we’re taking, for that reason, a cautious approach to this. It’s an area where regulation is very much in evolution and we’ll obviously respond to that as things change,” he added.

For personal customers who want to use cryptocurrencies, Friis added that the bank would have to conduct extra financial crime checks, as these new digital currencies have been linked to money laundering and black market dealings.

“We expect to continue to take a cautious approach, but we’ll watch how the market evolves,” he underlined.

When asked for clarification, a NatWest spokesperson told IT Pro that as cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and their regulation are rapidly evolving in the UK, it’s important that the bank takes “appropriate measures” to ensure their customers are protected.

“We can clarify that as long as some specific conditions are met, our business customers can accept cryptocurrencies as forms of payment,” said the spokesperson.

They added that personal banking customers can transact with crypto asset firms from their bank account or debit card, subject to usual fraud and financial crime checks.

The spokesperson also underlined that due to the evolving nature of virtual currencies, the bank is constantly reviewing its stance, taking into account the latest guidance from the regulator and wider industry.

The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced the ban of the sale of financial products tied with cryptocurrencies or other crypto assets last year, calling them ill-suited for retail commerce. As of 6 January 2021, the sale of cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, Ether or Ripple, was prohibited; this affected the sale of derivatives and exchange trade notes, which track the virtual currencies, to investors.

Mastercard said in February that it would support specific cryptocurrencies if they prove to be secure, compliant with industry standards and regulations, and prove to be stable. The company also hinted that not all virtual currencies would be supported, casting doubt over whether Bitcoin would make the list.

Earlier this week, the government announced the formation of a special task force to explore the launch of a UK central bank digital currency (CBDC). This state-backed digital currency would operate alongside traditional currencies and allow for payments to be made using digital money issued by the Bank of England.

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