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South Korea Weighs Risks of Bitcoin ETFs Amid Global approvals


  • Researcher Lee highlights both the benefits and risks of Bitcoin spot ETFs in South Korea.
  • Global approvals show varied regulatory approaches to crypto-linked financial products.
  • Comprehensive research and regulation are crucial for introducing Bitcoin spot ETFs in Korea.

Recent global approvals for Bitcoin and Ethereum spot exchange-traded funds (ETFs) have ignited debates in South Korea about the potential introduction of similar financial products. Research by Bo-mi Lee at the Korea Institute of Finance (KIF) expressed concern about the implications of these developments, highlighting both potential benefits and significant risks.

Global approvals and South Korea’s Current Stance

Countries like the United States, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom have recently approved ETFs with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum as their underlying assets. After previously denying such applications, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved a Bitcoin spot ETF on January 10, 2024. Additionally, a revision in May allowed the listing of Ethereum spot ETFs.

In contrast, South Korea permits brokerage of Bitcoin futures ETFs but prohibits the issuance or brokerage of spot ETFs. This policy aligns with the country’s stance on restricting financial institutions from holding or investing in virtual assets, citing concerns over compliance with the Capital Markets Act.

Potential Benefits of Bitcoin Spot ETFs

Lee suggests that if Korea permits Bitcoin spot ETFs, it could provide significant benefits. Investors would gain protection under institutional regulations, and financial companies could profit from brokerage, issuance, and liquidity provision of these products. The regulatory oversight required for trading virtual asset-linked products would ensure better monitoring and investor protection against unfair practices.

Moreover, Lee emphasizes that allowing these ETFs could enhance the competitiveness of South Korean financial institutions in developing and managing virtual asset-based products, potentially attracting more sophisticated investors.

Risks and Concerns in South Korea

Despite these potential benefits, Lee also warns of the risks of introducing Bitcoin spot ETFs. The inherent volatility of virtual assets could lead to substantial price fluctuations, impacting financial stability. Increased capital flow into the virtual asset market might cause inefficiencies in resource allocation, while significant price drops could harm the liquidity and soundness of financial institutions.

Lee highlights that the perception of virtual assets as stable investment options could mislead investors, further amplifying market risks. He stresses the need for thorough research on the potential impacts before making any decisions.

Global Trends and Regional Differences

The global trend of approving crypto-linked ETFs highlights varied regulatory approaches. For instance, Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) approved spot Bitcoin and Ethereum ETFs with a cash redemption method in April 2024. The UKโ€™s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) followed suit in May, restricting these investments to institutional investors.

These regional differences reflect the complexity of integrating such products into traditional financial systems. The US, Hong Kong, and the UK have tailored their regulations to suit their market conditions, illustrating Korea’s challenges in adopting similar financial products.

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