As a part of its mandate to regulate digital payment services, the Central Bank of the UAE (CBUAE) recently announced a new licensing regime for stablecoins.

Chainalysis data reveals that globally, fiat purchases of stablecoins reached $40 billion in March 2024 alone. “The CBUAE is once again demonstrating its ability to keep a finger on the pulse of the market, and roll out relevant and effective regulations to ensure emerging trends can thrive in a controlled and secured environment,” Arushi Goel, Policy Lead for Middle East & Africa at Chainalysis, told Khaleej Times in an interview.

By providing regulatory clarity for their use as payment instruments, the CBUAE is creating a conducive environment for businesses to set up operations and develop the crypto ecosystem, as has been done by VARA in Dubai and the ADGM in the nation’s capital, for the crypto asset ecosystem. “The regulations pave the way for high-quality, dirham-backed stablecoins to be licensed, fostering the development of a robust domestic market,” Goel said.

Unlike Bitcoin and Ethereum, stablecoins are cryptocurrencies that maintain a value equal to that of another asset or assets. This addresses a concern many consumers and businesses have with using traditional cryptocurrencies for everyday payments – their volatility. The most common and widely used stablecoins are backed by fiat currency, and in this case, it would be the UAE dirhams. Having stablecoins backed by fiat currency provides stability for the token.

“Now that the CBUAE has provided regulatory clarity, consumers will likely soon benefit from the offerings of regulated players who innovate responsibly. And as a result, dirham-backed stablecoins could spur the development of a robust domestic market for cryptocurrency. It will also serve as a catalyst for engagement from established financial players, such as banks, meeting the demands from both retail and institutional customers. Larger players, including banks and major financial institutions, will find it easier to integrate and accept stablecoins as part of their payment systems, fostering a more seamless financial system,” Goel said.

An interesting part of these new regulations is the potential for foreign currency tokens to be brought to market. The new regime for foreign currency tokens requires them to be registered, ensuring financial stability and consumer protection. “This opens the UAE market to global players, providing them with a regulated environment to operate confidently, while ensuring stability and consumer protection. The framework has taken a risk-based approach by exempting low-risk Payment Tokens, such as those used for reward and bonus schemes, from stringent requirements. The Central Bank can also exempt issuers with small reserves and limited token holders. Similarly, regulatory capital requirements have also been tiered based on volume of transactions, for service providers providing custody or transfer/conversion,” Goel said.

With clear regulations, larger players such as financial institutions and banks can confidently participate in the stablecoin ecosystem. This includes both retail and institutional access, promoting broader adoption and integration of stablecoins in the financial system.

By supporting the development and use of stablecoins, the UAE is encouraging innovation in the financial sector, Goel stressed. “This can lead to the creation of new financial products and services, further solidifying the UAE’s position as a leader in the FinTech space (not just the crypto space),” she added.

Although the regulatory landscape might seem fragmented with several regulators, each with their own regulatory perimeter, it provides a variety of testing grounds for stablecoin solutions, Goel said. “For instance, VARA regulates fiat-backed stablecoins, excluding AED-backed stablecoins, as these are within the purview of the CBUAE. DFSA has recently enhanced its framework to amend the requirement for 80 per cent reserve assets to be held in cash. ADGM’s FSRA has recently permitted a yield-bearing stablecoin to be issued. And now we have the CBUAE who have announced their stablecoin licensing regime. This diverse and responsive regulatory environment in the UAE is highly conducive to innovation and will accelerate maturity in the space. Moreover, the UAE can also serve as a model for other regions, showcasing how to effectively regulate stablecoins and other crypto assets,” she added.

As the regulations roll out and evolve, there will be a need to enhance the monitoring and supervisory architecture used to enforce these new rules. “Regulators can benefit from utilising blockchain analytics to monitor risks in the market and apply a graduated approach to supervisory oversight. Stablecoin issuers, on the other hand, could also effectively utilise blockchain analytics to monitor tokens in their secondary market, to understand how they are being used within the ecosystem,” Goel said.