Bank Bans ‘Not Surprising’ Given Bitcoin Risks, Sweden SaysBy and
Swedish minister comments following Nordea’s employee ban
Finance unions have challenged such limits on staff freedoms
As Nordea Bank AB’s Bitcoin ban for staff has unions questioning the legality of the move, Sweden’s minister in charge of financial legislation says it’s understandable that the industry is resorting to such measures.
“If banks have rules on what investments they or their employees are trading in, it is up to them,” Financial Markets Minister Per Bolund told Bloomberg. “I am not surprised some banks are setting up rules, considering the volatility in the cryptocurrency market.”
Asked specifically whether the ban was legal, Bolund said he “would leave that for the labor market parties and legal experts to assess.”
Nordea said this week a decision to prohibit its roughly 31,000 employees from trading Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies was prompted by a lack of regulation in the area. But finance unions in Sweden and Denmark were quick to characterize the move as a potentially unlawful curb on staff freedoms. Regulators have said they won’t intervene, arguing the matter is ultimately a question for politicians to resolve.
In Finland, where Nordea intends to move its headquarters this year to be inside the bank union, the local regulator says it’s a “political question.” Hanna Heiskanen, senior digitalization specialist at the Finnish FSA, says the agency is “closely” watching movements in the world of cryptocurrencies in coordination with international authorities.
But the regulatory hole is unavoidable. Heiskanen listed the laws and directives that the FSA can act on in overseeing transactions in currencies and other regulated instruments. But because “Bitcoin lies outside the definition of a financial instrument,” these regulations “don’t apply,” she said.
Finland’s banks have no industrywide self-imposed regulations concerning trading cryptocurrencies, though binding rules have governed member companies’ staff securities’ transactions since at least 2013. While trading in cryptocurrencies has been discussed at banking lobby Finance Finland, regulating the practice has not yet been broached, according to Head of EU Public Affairs Mari Pekonen-Ranta.
Bolund says Sweden’s government is aware of the risks posed by the rise of cryptocurrencies and is monitoring the developments to ensure that consumers aren’t put at risk.
“We need to avoid that the new development can be used by criminals and terrorists to evade existing regulation concerning money-laundering and financing of terrorism,” he said.
Bolund pointed to a political agreement reached in Europe in December, requiring EU members “to subject virtual currency exchanges and wallet providers to anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing regimes.” He said that in Sweden, exchanges are already subject to anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing legislation “since the FSA treats them like payment service providers.”
“We will continue to follow this issue,” Bolund said. “We are following this issue and the consumer protection aspect of it. This as well as other issues are discussed on the international level.”