Swiss blockchain firm Smart Valor wins regulator's approval

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss startup Smart Valor has become one of the few blockchain groups to win approval to operate in the Swiss financial market, opening the way for it to launch its own online investment platform later in the year.

While firms have made headway in receiving approval from market supervisor FINMA to offer cryptocurrency services, most groups running their own digital currency -- or blockchain -- platforms are not regulated under financial supervision rules.

Switzerland has made a name for itself as home to the “Crypto Valley” hub where hundreds of virtual currency projects have set up shop in recent years. But a lack of regulatory clarity and due diligence checks has made banks uneasy, leading them to cut off access to financial services for most of the industry.

Approval for Smart Valor as a financial intermediary will give greater credence for the blockchain group, because it means it will be supervised for compliance with anti-money laundering rules.

Smart Valor will not be directly supervised by FINMA but by an association called VQF, a self-regulatory organization approved by FINMA to check anti-money laundering compliance.

VQF on Wednesday confirmed that Smart Valor had been accepted as a member.

Both FINMA and VQF declined comment on whether others running blockchain platforms have won approval as financial intermediaries.

Smart Valor said it intends to launch an online platform for alternative investments, including cryptocurrencies, in the fourth quarter. The assets will be “tokenized” on the platform, which is underpinned by blockchain technology.

“Most of these investments have previously only been available to a small elite of high-net-worth individuals and institutional investors,” Chief Executive Olga Feldmeier said.

“Tokenization transforms the way people own things, improves liquidity, and makes these investment opportunities accessible to a broader audience of investors.”

The group said it was applying for a banking license in order to expand its offerings to include securities investments, planned for the first half of 2019.

“Pending regulatory approval, the VALOR platform will expand its offering to asset-backed tokens, such as equity in blockchain companies, blockchain-related infrastructure projects, real estate, crypto funds, venture capital, and private equity funds,” the group said in a statement.

Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle