- The Advertising Regulatory Board, added new clauses to its rules that guide cryptocurrency advertising
- The relative freedom with which crypto has operated in South Africa has also made it susceptible to scams
- The amendments to the advertising rules compel cryptocurrency advertisers to provide clear warnings that money is at risk when dealing with crypto products
South Africa took another step down the road to comprehensive cryptocurrency regulation. A self-regulatory body, The Advertising Regulatory Board, added new clauses to its rules that guide cryptocurrency advertising. The rules were worked on with the participation of exchanges Luno and Binance.
The amendments to the advertising rules compel crypto advertisers to provide clear warnings that money is at risk when dealing with crypto products. Advertisers must also use clear, simple language while not contradicting any warnings about the risk of loss. Cryptocurrency advertisers who make claims about potential rates of return must show how those rates of return are calculated.
The regulation brings advertising rules around cryptocurrency in line with advertising rules for other financial products in South Africa. The country took a bold step to recognise cryptocurrencies as financial products within the country’s law. Cryptocurrency trading was already subject to taxation on capital gains. Unlike many other African countries, The Republic of South Africa did not have a ban or restriction of any sort on cryptocurrency.
South Africa; Cryptocurrency Scammers Paradise
South Africa tops in the continent as the country with many cryptocurrency participants. Fintech companies are innovating, retail giants are rolling out crypto payments to the public, and exchanges are rolling out the red carpet for South Africans. The other side of the coin is that the relative freedom with which crypto has operated in South Africa has also made it a fertile breeding ground for scams.
Some infamous crypto-related scams that have rocked South Africa include the Obelisk Pyramid scheme that operated via the popular chat platform WhatsApp. The scheme duped would-be crypto mining machine buyers of around US$6.5 million. Mirror Trading International was named the biggest crypto scam in 2020 in the Crypto Crime Report published by Chainalysis. MTI cost South Africans an estimated US$3.4 billion. In 2021 South Africa was also the scene of another significant crypto-related fraud in Africrypt. The founders of the investment scam disappeared with US$3.6 billion worth of Bitcoin.
Cryptocurrency scammers have found a haven in the confusion and misinformation around crypto. The technology has moved fast and gained popularity quicker than regulators could feasibly move. All the while leaving ordinary citizens in confusion and at the mercy of people working full time to fleece people of their money. These fraudsters have operated mainly in the public domain, advertising via social media to lure unsuspecting victims. The amendments to advertising laws to explicitly include cryptocurrency products are for the protection of the public interest.
The new clause is clause 17 of Section III, and the full text reads as follows:
17.1 Advertisements must expressly and clearly state that investing in crypto assets may result in the loss of capital as the value is variable and can go up as well as down.
The wording should be, or should communicate the same, as the following example:
Investing in crypto assets may result in the loss of capital.
17.2 Advertisements must comply with Clauses 2 and 4.2.1 of Section II In particular:
17.2.1. The overall message of the advertisement must not contradict the warning statements set out in Clause 17.1 above.
17.2.2. An advertisement for a particular crypto asset service or product must explain the relevant product or service in a way that is easily understandable for the intended target audience.
17.2.3 Advertisements must give a balanced message about the returns, features, benefits and risks associated with the product or service.
17.2.4 Rates of return, projections and forecasts must be supported by adequate substantiation that complies with the requirements of Clause 4.1 of Section II. It must be communicated how any rate of return, projection or forecast is calculated and what significant conditions apply.
17.2.5 Information presented about past performance must make it clear that the past performance is not indicative of future performance. Any historical period or past performance should not be presented in such a way that it creates a favourable impression of the advertised product or service.
17.3. Advertisements by crypto asset service providers who are not registered credit providers should not encourage the purchase of crypto assets on credit. This does not preclude advertisements providing information about the payment methods offered by crypto asset service providers.
17.4. Where influencers or ambassadors are used to promote a crypto asset product or service, the requirements of Appendix K must be complied with. In particular, the influencer or ambassador may share factual information only. Influencers and ambassadors may not offer advice on trading or investing in crypto assets and may not promise benefits or returns.
The rules mainly aim for messages around risk, product clarity, simplified language and third-party advertisers such as social media influencers. The participation of some of the most prominent exchanges in South Africa in the regulatory process will hopefully count for better regulation that captures the reality of the situation on the ground.
Crypto regulation gathering steam worldwide
The growth of crypto, the CBDC race and the crypto winter have brought the spotlight on cryptocurrency regulation. The fallout of the FTX saga, which is still unfolding, has increased the pressure on regulators to find their feet and fast. At the World Economic Forum, the United States announced a cryptocurrency action plan is on the horizon as academics and commentators around the globe are amplifying calls for (better) cryptocurrency regulation. South Africa’s problems with cryptocurrency scams have also increased the pressure to advance regulation in the country.
While the bulk of cryptocurrency regulation should come from government authorities, the actions of peer groups like South Africa’s Advertising Regulatory Board represent a movement to more comprehensive regulation. While authority is a source of order, community involvement and culture tend to be more potent forces in shaping an environment.
The explicit addition of cryptocurrency to advertising regulation also represents further mainstream adoption and inclusion of cryptocurrency. While the regulation may seem like it sets crypto advertisers back, it brings cryptocurrency players forward in reality. South Africa continues to set the tone for cryptocurrency regulation in Africa.