Huobi Exchange Plots Return to US Crypto Market as Soon as This Month

According to Sun, Huobi has been in talks with a crypto brokerage about a potential strategic partnership that could involve Huobi acquiring a minority stake. She would not identify the brokerage. 

Global crypto exchange Huobi Group could be back in the U.S. market as early as this month, a group vice president told CoinDesk.

Such a move would come five months after Huobi’s San Francisco-based over-the-counter (OTC) brokerage, Huobi US (HBUS), abruptly halted operations, citing unspecified regulatory roadblocks. At the time, Singapore-based Huobi Group said it would return but did not give a timeframe.

Now, the exchange aims to relaunch this business in partnership with a local licensed trading platform, said Ciara Sun, Huobi Group’s vice president of global business. This would allow it to be compliant with regulations at a lower cost, she said.

“By working with a fully regulated local partner, we don’t have to apply for licenses to run the businesses from every state”, Sun said. “We will come back as Huobi Group and there will not be a separate legal entity like Huobi US anymore.”

Through the partnership, the exchange would offer asset management services along with OTC brokerage, both exclusively for institutional investors in the U.S. The exchange will extend its offering to retail investors there eventually, Sun said.

Regulatory hurdles

Huobi is one of a few major global exchanges that originated in China. Data provider Nomics ranks it first by year-to-date volume (with the caveat that it has a “C” rating for transparency).

The exchange’s U.S. affiliate had an auspicious start. Before its official launch in March 2018 HBUS registered as a money services business (MSB) with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a bureau of the U.S. Treasury Department.

A year later, the U.S. entity hired Katelyn Mew, a veteran of asset management giant BlackRock, to lead a new institutional sales and service group. The company also expressed interest in seeking a BitLicense from New York state, which in regulatory terms would be like trying out for a Major League Baseball team.

But HBUS, it turned out, couldn’t even hack it in the minor leagues. In addition to registering as an MSB, a crypto exchange must obtain money transmission licenses in the states where it operates. HBUS got licenses in 43 of 50 states, but a number of them allowed the exchange to do only token-to-token trading, not token-to-fiat, according to an old FAQ page on HBUS’ website.

In November, HBUS froze all U.S. accounts and kicked local customers off its platform, framing the move as a step to being more compliant with U.S. law and regulations.

Huobi’s rival, global platform Binance, has similarly had to adjust to the regulatory realities of doing business in the U.S. Binance said in June it was not able to provide services to U.S. citizens until it was sure they were following the exchange’s terms of use and know-your-customer (KYC) procedures.

That announcement came less than a day after Binance disclosed its intention to expand its U.S. business with a little-known California-based crypto firm, BAM Trading Services, which was already registered as a MSB. Now known as Binance US, that entity currently lists 54 cryptocurrencies, according to its website.

However, as of September, the exchange has not yet been able to provide trading services to 13 states including New York, Texas and Florida.

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