Stéphanie Cabossioras (Binance France): "Crypto players need to obtain authorisation fairly quickly".
Stéphanie Cabossioras, who worked for the Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF) for five years, has been running Binance France for just over a year. In an interview with The Big Whale, she looks back on her achievements and calls on the authorities to go even further on Web3 and cryptos.
You took over as head of Binance France just over a year ago. What is your assessment of your activity?
I would say that the assessment is positive overall, for several reasons. Firstly, when we arrived in France, we made promises and we kept them. Then because our move to Paris changed the way France is perceived abroad. Today, Paris is seen as a global hub for Web3.
One of the promises we made was to invest €100 million in France. Have you invested it all? What was the money used for?
We did indeed invest €100 million. Part of it was used to set up in Paris and recruit almost 150 people in France. The rest was used to create a Web3 incubator at Station F (an incubator created by Xavier Niel and located in the east of Paris, editor's note) and to make investments in companies in the French ecosystem.
Beyond this financial component, we also committed to structuring our business in France. Our governance is more like that of a traditional financial institution. We have set up a structure with a management board and a supervisory board. The aim is for the company not to be in the hands of just one person.
Also, with a partner, we will soon be setting up a "Web3 Security League", which will be based in France and of which I will be a director. It will be a forum bringing together experts, police officers and IT specialists, with the aim of advancing the fight against crime and cybersecurity. This is going to become a crucial issue, especially with the introduction of European MiCA regulations.
You are very well established in France today. How do you explain this?
Quite simply, the French really like Binance. According to the latest KPMG report for Adan (link here), 39% of French people who bought cryptos did so via our services. This is considerable, we have become the market leaders.
Users trust us because they know we work seriously. Today, Binance France manages almost a billion euros in assets on behalf of its French users.
However, not everything is rosy for Binance. You are the subject of several investigations around the world, including several in France...
There have been searches in France as part of a preliminary investigation (notably for illegal canvassing, ed. note), and we are cooperating fully. In the world of banking and finance, there are regular investigations and searches - that's the way business works. And Binance France is not the only crypto player to have been raided. So for us, at this stage, it's not an issue.
But isn't it a problem to be the target of investigations when you want to become institutionalised?
We're confident about this case. I note, however, that when it's Binance, it gets more media coverage.
Binance boss Changpeng Zhao announced in 2022in an interview with The Big Whale that he wanted to set up Binance's European headquarters in Paris. Have the investigations slowed this project down?
Not at all, our ambition is still to make Paris our European headquarters, but for that to happen we also need to keep things moving forward with the authorities. The ball is in the court of the regulator and politicians.
You recently withdrew several applications for registration in European countries. Why is that?
For a long time, Binance's strategy has been to seek registration in every country in the European Union, but this approach is not the most efficient. It takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money.
With the arrival of the 🇪🇺 MiCA regulation (which regulates crypto players at European level, ed. note) and the possibility of 'passporting' one's registration and authorisation, there's no point in going through the motions in each country.
Are you not afraid, however, that by being registered in just one country, like France for example, some neighbouring countries will still refuse to let Binance set up?
The principle of the passport is very clear: when you are registered and have approval in one European Union country, you can go to the other 26 EU countries. Legally, it's automatic. Nevertheless, we understand that regulators are vigilant.
After months of waiting, a few weeks ago France gave its first authorisation to SG-Forge, the subsidiary of the Société Générale group. What do you need to do to get your turn?
It's very positive that a player has been granted authorisation. The SG-Forge team is doing an exceptional job. On the other hand, this first approval should not give the impression that it is reserved for traditional banking and financial players.
The original idea of this approval was to allow crypto players to raise their regulatory requirements by bringing their structure closer to that of a financial institution. I'm all the more comfortable talking about this because I helped draft the regulations when I was at the Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF). A crypto player needs to obtain authorisation fairly quickly, otherwise the signal will be negative for the sector.
A player like... Binance France?
Or anyone else. The whole of Europe is watching us, and it's important to move forward. Binance France is the leader in the French market, so we have to show the way.
If France wants to be able to demonstrate that the texts have been adopted, the regulations must also have a business impact, which is an essential point. It's great to have more than 70 NSP registrations, but we need to go further and give approvals so that the ecosystem can develop.
One of the important points in obtaining approval is compliance. Are you up to speed on this point?
We have worked hard on compliance issues. In the latest Tracfin annual report (Tracfin is an intelligence service under the authority of the Ministry of the Economy, ed. note), almost three-quarters of the reports come from a "large market player" which is actually Binance France.
Today, we have 150 employees, a third of whom are dedicated to compliance and risk prevention.
If you've done all this work, why haven't the authorisations been issued?
Getting an authorisation takes time. In traditional finance, it takes at least a year! And let's not forget that the context is not helping. With the recent scandals, the regulators are very vigilant, which is a very good thing, but it can also penalise the industry and Europe more generally.
France and Europe are right to be demanding, but this demand should not end up driving Web3 players to other parts of the world.
France and Europe are not alone. The market is up for grabs today, not tomorrow. France must accelerate to take the lead on cryptos globally. That's also why I think we need to strengthen the AMF's resources so that it has the means to process all applications for registration and authorisation.
The entire French Web3 ecosystem seems to be unanimous on this point...
At all, and it's one of my priorities at the Association for the Development of Digital Assets (Adan) which I have just joined. We would like to see the creation of at least 3 new posts dedicated to cryptos included in the next finance bill (due in the autumn, editor's note).
We can continue to say that France wants to become a leader, but if players setting up in France take 18 months to obtain their authorisation, it's not tenable.
Many international players, particularly American, are aiming to make a place for themselves in France. Some are even close to obtaining their registration. How do you anticipate this future competition?
The more players there are, the better. We are at the beginning of the development of the sector, so from my point of view, no one is taking market share from the others. We're all in it together.