After a long wait, RBI finally came out with a caution advise on “Virtual Currency” with specific reference to Bitcoins.
RBI has conveyed caution on the potential financial, operational, legal, customer protection and security related risks that users, holders and traders of virtual currencies are exposed to.
The caution includes a statement that
No regulatory approvals, registration or authorisation is stated to have been obtained by the entities concerned for carrying on such activities. As such, they may pose several risks to their users, including the following:
VCs (Virtual Currencies) being in digital form are stored in digital/electronic media that are called electronic wallets. Therefore, they are prone to losses arising out of hacking, loss of password, compromise of access credentials, malware attack etc. Since they are not created by or traded through any authorised central registry or agency, the loss of the e-wallet could result in the permanent loss of the VCs held in them.
Payments by VCs, such as, Bitcoins take place on a peer-to-peer basis without an authorised central agency which regulates such payments. As such, there is no established framework for recourse to customer problems / disputes / charge backs etc.
There is no underlying or backing of any asset for VCs. As such, their value seems to be a matter of speculation. Huge volatility in the value of VCs has been noticed in the recent past. Thus, the users are exposed to potential losses on account of such volatility in value.
It is reported that VCs, such as, Bitcoins are being traded on exchange platforms set up in various jurisdictions whose legal status is also unclear. Hence, the traders of VCs on such platforms are exposed to legal as well as financial risks.
There have been several media reports of the usage of VCs, including Bitcoins, for illicit and illegal activities in several jurisdictions. The absence of information of counterparties in such peer-to-peer anonymous/ pseudonymous systems could subject the users to unintentional breaches of anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) laws.
The press note does not however speak of any desire to ban the use of Bitcoins.
The advisory goes along with the views expressed in these columns.