Cryptocurrency as an Alternative Currency in Malaysia: Issues and Challenges

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Sheila Ainon Yussof Abdullah Al-Harthy

Abstract

Fintech (or financial technology) is the current driving force behind innovations in the financial services industry. One of the most debated innovations is cryptocurrency, or digital currency, which uses blockchain technology to make a direct electronic payment between two people possible, without going through a third party (like a bank) or expensive intermediaries in order to save costs. This “future money” is pressurising central banks to manage the looming threat of redundancy as it overshadows “fiat currency” in a world of infinite fintech possibilities. Bitcoin, being the first decentralised cryptocurrency, will be the focus of this research. This digital currency is not produced by minting money in an unlimited supply, but through a virtual “mining” process designed to control the supply of “money” and make it more valuable. The increasing pace in financial innovation is pushing regulators to make a change in the way they define money and what money can be. Traditionally money is used to serve as a medium of exchange, legal tender for repayment of debt, standard of value, unit of accounting measure and a means to save or store purchasing power. Bitcoin may not fulfill all the functions of money but its scarcity value, anonymity (or pseudonymity), transparency, and autonomy from the government, make it attractive to users who are speculators, traders, merchants, consumers and netizens disenchanted with fiat money. Despite the alluring features of Bitcoin, it is not spared from potential abuses such as webcrimes, tax evasion, fraud, online black markets, money laundering and terrorism financing. In this paper, a forensic examination of Bitcoin’s benefits and risks will help regulators decide whether to adopt cryptocurrency and provide an appropriate framework to regulate it based on other jurisdictions’ approach. This paper recommends that Malaysia should fully embrace cryptocurrency due to global trends - the Islamic Development Bank is developing Shariah compliant contracts using blockchain technology; China is leading the drive to develop its own national cryptocurrency to complement fiat money; and a Shariah-compliant cryptocurrency has already entered the market backed by gold (Onegram). Financial and regulatory architectures in Malaysia should accommodate these changes to remain relevant. In addition, future research is recommended focusing on developing a Shariah compliant national cryptocurrency that is unique to Malaysia.

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