Hunter Wilkes: Regulatory certainty key for crypto’s future (Opinion)

By: Hunter Wilkes
May 4, 2024

Those who make the decisions in Washington are people far along in their life experience. They have studied in preparation for their careers, embarked on work in their chosen fields and arrived in positions of power and authority.

I stand at the precipice of that journey, at the end of my education at Charleston Catholic High School and the beginning of the path toward a vocation and a life of continual personal development.

Little from my generation has been heard inside the Beltway, where today the course is being set for years to come. Particularly unheard are those of us my age or younger who envision themselves in the fascinating world of finance and entrepreneurism. We are a small and rare group.

As part of that group, I hope I will be heard now because the decisions our elected leaders in the House and Senate are making today, the bills being advocated and laws being written, will have an impact that outlasts many of the people drafting and passing legislation. Their decisions will be those with which my generational peers and I live.

An area of interest to me is that of digital assets, more popularly known under names such as Bitcoin or cryptocurrency. Recently, I attended a West Virginia Crypto Speakers discussion led by West Virginia Regional Technology Park CEO Matt Ballard at the University of Charleston’s downtown Innovation Hub. I was the youngest attendee in the room, and I hope others my age will be inspired to gain general financial literacy and increase financial awareness.

Earlier this year, the Securities and Exchange Commission opted to permit mainstream investors to buy and sell Bitcoin like they do stocks and mutual funds. That, in turn, meant U.S. exchange-traded funds containing Bitcoin could be sold to the public.

But, among the things I learned from the UC panel, is that the future of this exciting new technology is still uncertain in America. Because of the lack of regulatory clarity — should all things crypto be under the watch of the Securities and Exchange Commission or should other agencies be involved? — some companies and entrepreneurs are taking their business outside the United States, where the legal lines are clearer.

This isn’t just something the panelists discussed. The issue was the topic of a study appearing last spring in Financial Research Letters, titled “Uncertainty in the financial regulation policy and the boom of cryptocurrencies.” A CNBC headline was similar: “Crypto has had a stellar year, but regulatory uncertainty may lurk beneath the surface through 2024.”

In a piece last fall in CoinDesk, the leading Bitcoin news site, research analyst Johnny Louey wrote that “the intensified crackdowns and charges by the SEC against the cryptocurrency industry have created a sense of regulatory uncertainty, causing some market participants to adopt a more cautious approach and reduce their exposure.”

Louey added: “[T]he implementation of restrictive monetary policies has led to a capital outflow from the riskier cryptocurrency markets to safer financial instruments.”

So, why does this matter to a kid from Elkview? I want a future that is open and in which the regulatory boundaries are clear, not one where my generation’s opportunities are limited before we even get to explore them.

That’s why I hope our elected leaders in Washington will support the Financial Innovation and Technology for the 21st Century Act, otherwise known as the FIT Act. Kristin Smith, CEO of the Blockchain Association, a trade group based in the capital, calls the FIT Act “the most comprehensive crypto regulation ever voted on by Congress.” Smith said bipartisan backing of the bill makes it “a symbol of cooperation and recognition that this sector is too important for the status quo regulatory regime to stand.”

Technology is our future, and digital assets are a critical part. My time in the world of finance is coming. Now is the time to ensure the doors of possibility stand open for everyone.

Hunter Wilkes, of Elkview, is a senior at Charleston Catholic High School, an Eagle Scout, winner of the state Department of Education’s Golden Horseshoe Award and the co-founder of Hear Hike LLC.

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