Crypto Firms Bullish on UAE Entrance — But Now They Wait

Hiring in the UAE is a work in progress as companies seek to secure more licenses following a Dubai regulator’s latest requirements

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Though crypto firms have rushed to build out a presence in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) following the passage of what they believe to be friendly crypto regulation, many still wait for the go-ahead to fully operate there.

Dubai launched its Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (VARA) — which oversees crypto trades and new product issuances — in March 2022.

Various crypto companies revealed plans to enter the United Arab Emirates last year, including Binance, OKX, Komainu and Crypto.com — and many firms have received provisional licenses. 

VARA rolled out the Virtual Assets and Related Activities Regulations 2023 last month in an effort to give the market “greater clarity on the expected level of operator responsibility,” according to a VARA press release at the time. 

The regulations span seven licensed activities — advisory, broker-dealer, custodial, exchange, lending and borrowing, and payments and remittances services, as well as virtual asset management and investment activities.

Existing Minimal Viable Product (MVP) operational license applicants — as well as holders of provisional MVP licenses, UAE-based virtual asset service providers and new market entrants — will be offered a path to become fully licensed, according to VARA. 

Hex Trust officially launched operations in Dubai late last month after being granted an MVP Operational License. The designation, which allowed the company to offer crypto custodial and staking services to institutional clients, made it the first virtual asset custodian in the emirate, VARA said

Spokespeople for VARA and Hex Trust did not immediately return requests for comment. 

Ramping up UAE activity  

Binance has three regulated entities in the UAE, according to a spokesperson — two with financial services permissions granted by the Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA) of Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) and one with an MVP license from VARA. 

The MVP license allows the company to offer a range of approved virtual asset-related services to suitably qualified retail and institutional investors in Dubai, the Binance representative told Blockworks.

Overall, the exchange already has roughly 600 employees in the UAE.

“We are officially operating in the UAE per the current licensing framework,” the spokesperson added. “The Virtual Assets and Related Activities Regulations 2023…clearly speaks to Dubai’s ambition to set the global benchmark for the Web3 industry, and we continue to collaborate in this space for the next phase of licensing.”

Crypto.com, which first received provisional approval from VARA in June 2022, said Monday it moved a step closer to operating in the region by receiving what is known as an MVP preparatory license. The new license came after regulators reviewed the firm’s personnel, governance procedures, anti-money laundering (AML) capabilities and know-your-customer (KYC) procedures, among other things.

Once licensed to be operational, Crypto.com intends to offer spot and derivatives exchange services, a brokerage, and OTC offerings around settlements for institutional investors. 

A Crypto.com spokesperson declined to comment on when that could be. 

Meanwhile, Komainu is in “the final stages” of being operational in Dubai, according to Sebastian Widmann, Komainu’s head of strategy.  

The company gained provisional approval to operate in Dubai last July and entered the MVP license phase in November. It has said it would seek to bring Komainu Yield — a product giving institutions the ability to earn yield on assets custodied with the company — and other services to clients in the region.

“We see a growing demand from institutional clients with exposure to digital assets in the region and are committing significant resources to make this expansion a success,” Widmann told Blockworks in an email.

Bloomberg reported in January that Deribit, the world’s largest bitcoin and ether options exchange, was making plans to relocate from Panama to Dubai this year.

Deribit Chief Commercial Officer Luuk Strijers told Blockworks the company intends to obtain a “full market license” in Dubai in the third quarter. That would allow Deribit to launch trading for institutional clients, followed by retail investors, he added.

The options exchange, which does not yet have a provisional license in the UAE, is looking at office space in One Central, part of the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) Free Zone, Strijers told Blockworks — where other crypto platforms are set to be located.

UAE hiring processes underway

“Deribit has not started hiring or moving staff yet, but expects to start with around 10 this summer, including senior management,” Strijers said. 

Hex Trust seeks a compliance officer to manage “maintenance of the company’s compliance and AML program” in Dubai, according to a LinkedIn job post. The professional would report directly to the company’s head of legal and compliance.

The digital asset custodian is also seeking vice presidents of risk management, as well as institutional sales and business development.  

Crypto.com was seeking to hire a regional head of compliance and money laundering reporting officer to be based in Dubai, according to a job post listed on LinkedIn earlier this week. The person would help Crypto.com secure licenses and manage regulatory examinations, among other things.

The listing is no longer active.

Binance is seeking to hire a range of professionals in the UAE, according to LinkedIn job listings. Such openings include a government affairs manager, regulatory counsel, an HR operations specialist and engineers, among other roles.   

The exchange, unlike many other companies in the sector, has continued hiring efforts in 2023 — onboarding about 600 new employees globally year-to-date. It plans to hire roughly 500 more people worldwide, including in the Middle East, by the end of the quarter, a spokesperson said.


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