Crypto giant Binance is bolstering its presence in France after a choppy year of regulatory scrutiny.
The world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange is financing a 100 million euro ($113 million) initiative with industry group France FinTech in an effort to support the cryptocurrency and blockchain sector in France.
The initiative, announced in November and dubbed Objective Moon, will see Binance establish a research and development office in France and collaborate on an incubator program for start-ups and training programs.
“The aim of Objective Moon is really to develop an ecosystem and to nurture and accelerate an ecosystem. You cannot do it alone,” David Princay, Binance’s French GM, told CNBC.
“We need to be also able to capture the talent and to have more capabilities to grow bigger,” he said of plans to open an R&D office. “Having an R&D center is one step that we need to go for our next evolution.”
Ledger, the French crypto hardware firm recently valued at $1.5 billion, and edtech company OpenClassroom are also involved in Objective Moon on developing educational programs.
France may prove to be fertile ground for the initiative given its growing fintech scene. According to figures from Dealroom, fintech investments in France have ballooned this year with bumper funding rounds for the likes of Lydia and Qonto.
Binance has had a turbulent year in its relationships with regulators across the globe. Among its headaches were a ban by Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority and an investigation by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The company also put an end to the trading of its digital stock tokens and, most recently, shut down its trading platform in Singapore.
While its roots are in China, Binance has been famously shy about pinning itself down to any one location, leaning into the decentralization maxims associated with the crypto industry.
Binance has recently changed its tone on that front, however, as CEO Changpeng Zhao has spoken out in favor of regulation and of a willingness to work with regulators while expressing an interest in France as an official base of operations.
Princay was tight lipped on whether the company’s significant investment in France was a precursor to establishing its formal headquarters there; “We have nothing yet to add on that,” he said.
However the company’s moves in the country have not gone unnoticed by watchdogs. Last month the governor of France’s central bank said that Binance must have strong anti-money laundering checks in place if it wants to set up operations in the country.
Meanwhile, France’s digital minister Cedric O was present with Binance and France FinTech at the announcement of Objective Moon.
“Cedric O has been very clear with us, they are welcome to see us and to have us, but they are also very exigent and that’s for the better,” Princay told CNBC. He added that Binance is in discussions with regulators in France on licensing.
“It’s a very positive sign for innovation,” he said of regulation for crypto in France and Europe generally. “We need to be fully scrutinized and audited to pass and that’s for the better because when we’re going to pass, it is going to be a sign of trust, compliance.”
“Our aim is to be 100% compliant in every activity and country we operate.”
Regulation is often playing catch-up with cryptocurrency businesses. On a European level, the industry’s next big challenge will be the EU’s Markets in Crypto Assets (MiCA) regulation.
MiCA, which was recently approved by the European Council, will introduce greater investor protection and expand the licensing and passporting for crypto firms in the bloc. It is due to be discussed in the European Parliament in the coming months.
Ariel Wengroff is editor-in-chief at Ledger and leads the company’s educational content efforts.
She told CNBC that Ledger signed up to the initiative with Binance to increase awareness of crypto, blockchain and Web3 — a broad concept of decentralized web services built on blockchain technologies — in its home market. She said providing educational programs are “for the greater good” of the industry as it has moved much faster than traditional curricula.
“We are very much still at a stage of mainstream curiosity and if we want to get to mainstream adoption and have individuals have the education they deserve — for it to be a secure, seamless and open source future — then we have to come together as businesses to provide that now,” she said.
“Education in web3 should not be something that is siloed or held against one another, it should be open to any person that wants to learn about this space.”