Payment Expert’s 2023 reflections: Regulatory rumblings in the UK

The past 12 months have seen as active a year as any other in the payments and fintech space. Reflecting over 2023, Payment Expert highlights some of the defining events which shaped the fintech headlines.

British politics were once again a varied affair in 2023, although the country was able to last a full 12 months without changing Prime Minister. This did not stop a plethora of debates around regulation in the country, however.

In January, the UK Treasury initiated a consultation into a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC), part of the government’s ambitions to upgrade the country’s fintech sector and make it a global leader in the space.

This ambition has seen the UK government pursue a number of initiatives, such as a leadership position in the artificial intelligence (AI) space, and introducing legislation to regulate some of big tech’s biggest names.

Also under the spotlight was the British Open Banking sector, which was later the subject of its own review. Although the UK has held a leadership position in Open Banking in recent years, at the start of 2023 some warned that it was in danger of falling from the podium.

Meanwhile, British gambling remained the focus of a regulatory microscope. One of the key proposals of the country’s Gambling Act review were affordability checks, which the government revealed in January would be introduced as ‘finance risk checks’.

When published three months later in April, the Gambling Act review White Paper laid out a number of recommendations for regulatory reform – central to the notion of affordability/finance risk checks was Open Banking.

The importance of regulatory changes had been made evident throughout the year by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC), which conducted repeated enforcement actions against operators to uphold social responsibility and AML licensing requirements. In April, the Commission broke records with a $19m penalty against William Hill for multiple legacy failures in this area.

Looking away from gambling, 2023 continued to be a big year for cryptocurrency as the markets continued to reel and then bounce back from the collapse of FTX in November, with long-running legal proceedings taking place against the exchange’s Founder, Sam Barkman-Fried.

It was perhaps highly publicised cases such as this which prompted some regulators to begin stepping up their crypto efforts this year. In the US, for example, the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) upped its game on crypto monitoring.

Other murmurings in the crypto space saw continued concerns about criminality in cryptocurrency, including by state actors – a UN report in February highlighted allegations against the North Korean government regarding theft of crypto holdings.
Meanwhile, turning our and the wider crypto world’s attention to the US, and suggesting even more alarming developments later in the year, reports began to circulate that Binance’s stablecoins were not 100% backed.