A commissioner at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) called out gatekeepers—lawyers, accountants, auditors, compliance professionals, and others—for failing customers in the unregulated cryptocurrency market.
In a speech delivered Wednesday at the Wharton School and University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, Christy Goldsmith Romero said gatekeepers must not allow the “promise of riches” to be gained working for cryptocurrency businesses “to silence their objections to obvious deficiencies.”
“In traditional finance, these gatekeepers have an important role to play in protecting customers, investors, and market integrity,” said Goldsmith Romero, a former federal prosecutor. “The role of the gatekeeper is to promote good corporate governance, instill operational discipline, ensure compliance with required standards and the law, and prevent and detect fraud and other unlawful activity.”
When it comes to the cryptocurrency industry, these individuals must “step it up,” she said, and “have the courage of their convictions to do the right thing.”
Goldsmith Romero specifically called out gatekeepers working on behalf of FTX for failing to act on problems regarding the collapsed cryptocurrency exchange’s corporate governance, internal controls, recordkeeping, and more. FTX filed for bankruptcy in November and its founder, Sam Bankman-Fried, has been charged with perpetrating a $1.8 billion fraud on the exchange’s investors. Other former FTX employees, as well as the head of the cryptocurrency hedge fund, Alameda Research, that contributed to the alleged fraud, have also been charged.
Goldsmith Romero said the role of gatekeepers at cryptocurrency companies should be enhanced and that gatekeepers themselves must “step up and call for compliance, controls, and other governance” and speak “truth to power” or choose to cease working for firms that fail to protect customers and promote market integrity.
“FTX operated in a manner that simply should not be possible in the presence of appropriate independent governance and gatekeepers, even in an unregulated environment,” she said.
“Gatekeepers should have seriously questioned the operational environment at FTX in the lead-up to its meltdown,” she continued, including ensuring FTX transactions with insiders like Alameda were recorded in a timely manner, independently reviewed and approved, and logged accurately.
“FTX operated in a manner that simply should not be possible in the presence of appropriate independent governance and gatekeepers, even in an unregulated environment.”
CFTC Commissioner Christy Goldsmith Romero
Goldsmith Romero also noted venture capital firms and pension funds that invested in FTX failed to conduct proper due diligence. In October, she warned in a speech delivered at a cryptocurrency forum about the numerous problems plaguing the industry.
“Basic rules of the road were often not present in crypto, including segregation of customer assets and resolution of conflicts of interest,” she said Wednesday.
She also said the flood of successful thefts of digital currency, from FTX and other exchanges, displayed the industry’s cybersecurity shortcomings.
“The concerning lack of appropriate due diligence and related fallout from FTX’s collapse hurt FTX investors and customers,” she said.
Goldsmith Romero said cryptocurrencies require greater CFTC oversight and that she favors “comprehensive” legislation that would regulate the industry. In the meantime, she said, the industry should take proactive steps to rebuild trust with investors and customers, including increasing the role of gatekeepers and ensuring they have adequate resources, authority, and visibility.