Crypto startup Ripple seeks license in Ireland to drive EU expansion

In this photo illustration of the ripple cryptocurrency ‘altcoin’ sits arranged for a photograph on April 25, 2018 in London, England.

Jack Taylor | Getty Images News | Getty Images

US-based crypto company Ripple no longer derives most of its income from America and is looking to expand its reach in Europe, its top lawyer said.

Speaking in an interview with CNBC earlier this week, Ripple General Counsel Stuart Alderoty said that “effectively, Ripple is operating outside of the US” today due to the fallout from its extensive legal fight with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Essentially, its customers and its revenue are all driven outside of the US, even though we still have a lot of employees inside of the US,” he added.

At the same time, Ripple is expanding its presence in Europe.

The startup has two employees on the ground in the Republic of Ireland currently. It is seeking a virtual asset service provider (VASP) license from the Irish central bank so that it can “passport” its services throughout the European Union via an entity based there, Alderoty told CNBC.

Ripple also plans to file an application for an electronic money license in Ireland “shortly.” Its commitment to invest in Europe comes despite a deep downturn in crypto markets that’s been referred to as “crypto winter.”

Crypto has never just been sunshine and roses and it's an industry that needs to mature, Ripple CEO says

The Irish central bank previously handed a VASP license to crypto exchange Gemini.

Ripple, which helps financial institutions move money around the world using blockchain technology, has over 750 employees globally, with roughly half of them based in the US About 60 are based in its London office, which Alderoty was visiting this week during a trip to the UK for its annual Swell event.

SEC ruling expected in 2023

In 2020, the US Securities and Exchange Commission initiated a lawsuit against Ripple alleging the company and its executives illegally sold XRP, a cryptocurrency its founders created in 2012, to investors without first registering it as a security.

Ripple disputes the claim, saying the token should not be considered an investment contract and is used in its business to facilitate cross-border transactions between banks and other financial institutions.

Alderoty said he expects a ruling on the case to arrive in the first half of 2023. Final legal briefs are due by Nov. 30, after which a judge can either make a ruling or refer it to a jury trial if they find there are any issues of disputed fact.

“We are at the beginning of the end of the process in our case,” Alderoty said.

As part of the proceedings, Ripple fought to obtain documents related to a June 2018 speech from former SEC official Bill Hinman, which it says has aided its case. In the speech, Hinman says that sales of ethera rival token, “are not securities transactions.”

Despite its tense dispute with the SEC, Ripple is still “work very closely with policymakers in the US,” Alderoty said.

XRP was once the third-largest cryptocurrency, commanding a $120 billion market value in early 2018. It has dropped sharply since, however, amid US regulatory scrutiny and a wider downturn in bitcoin and other digital currencies.

Last week, the shock collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto exchange FTX sent cryptocurrencies into a tailspin. Bankman-Fried’s investment firm allegedly used FTX client funds to make risky trades, CNBC reported previously. The company spiraled into a liquidity crisis as customers demanded withdrawals and rival exchange Binance scrapped its nonbinding agreement to buy the company.

Bankman-Fried has said he got “overconfident” and “careless” as he grew FTX into a $32 billion juggernaut. He said that, to the best of his knowledge, he thought FTX had built up around $5 billion of leverage, when in actuality it was around $13 billion.

Alderoty said FTX’s bankruptcy was “a call to action for responsible economic centers to work to get it right.”

What the FTX collapse means for crypto market liquidity

On Wednesday, Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse told CNBC that the idea that crypto is not regulated is “overstated.” But, he added, “transparency builds trust.”

“Crypto has never just been sunshine and roses and as an industry, it needs to mature,” Garlinghouse said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe.”

Ripple is unlikely to refer to the FTX collapse and how it was handled by regulators in its case, Alderoty added.

Some of the confusion surrounding XRP stems from the company’s part ownership of the token. Ripple previously held as much as 60% of the XRP tokens in circulation. It has since reduced that amount to below half, or 49%, according to Alderoty.

Ripple generates a chunk of its sales by releasing its supply of XRP on the open market. For the last three years, it only has only sold XRP to enterprise customers rather than retail traders, Alderoty said.

As a private company, Ripple doesn’t disclose its revenues publicly. This year, the firm processed $10 billion in cross-border transactions with payment providers and other financial institutions using XRPa token it is closely associated with.

Ripple, the company, was last valued by investors at $15 billion. XRP has a market capitalization of $19 billion, according to CoinMarketCap data.

European expansion

Ripple’s European expansion drive comes in anticipation of the EU’s MiCA crypto regulations going into effect in the coming years. MiCA seeks to align rules on crypto assets across the 27-member bloc. It was passed by EU lawmakers earlier this year.

The EU has said it may still need to come up with a separate regime for nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, a specific type of digital asset that tracks ownership of art and other assets on the blockchain.

“I think MiCA’s off to a very good start,” Alderoty said.

The UK is also a priority. Ripple on Monday released a set of guidelines outlining how it thinks Britain should regulate crypto.

A bill is making its way through the UK Parliament that would give the financial regulator greater oversight of crypto, however this is yet to become law.

Crypto executives are hoping Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who is a fan of crypto and so-called “Web3,” will issue regulatory clarity to make the country a more attractive place for businesses to set up shop.

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