Bitcoin investors are claiming Australia’s banks are freezing their accounts and transfers to cryptocurrency exchanges, with a viral tweet slamming the big four and an exchange platform putting a restriction on Australian deposits.
Cryptocurrency trader and Youtuber Alex Saunders called out National Australia Bank, ANZ, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac Banking Corporation on Twitter for freezing customer accounts and transfers to four different bitcoin exchanges – CoinJar, CoinSpot, CoinBase and BTC Markets.
Bitcoin, a currency once known for its use by criminals trading online through a ‘Silk Road’ for drugs and weapons, has become a popular investment option.
After hundreds of shares and responses to the social media posts calling the banks’ alleged behaviour “disgusting” and “appalling” with some threatening to move their accounts, some users said their activities with the cryptocurrency had still been described as a “security risk” by their financial institutions.
So @NAB @CommBank @WestpacNZ and @ANZ_AU are all freezing customer accounts and transfers to @BTCMarkets @coinspotau @GetCoinJar @coinbase . #Banks can fight it, but people want control of their money #ausbiz #auspol
— Nugget's News Australia (@nugget_alex) December 28, 2017
Banks were remaining tight-lipped on whether bitcoin activity was causing specific accounts to be closed or frozen, though its understood none had company-wide policies banning cryptocurrency investment activity.
Yet the terms and conditions in some cases do reference Bitcoin.
Commonwealth Bank’s June 2017 terms and conditions for CommBiz accounts specifically excludes this activity, saying it can refuse to process an international money transfer or an international cash management transaction “because the destination account previously has been connected to a fraud or an attempted fraudulent transaction or is an account used to facilitate payments to Bitcoins or similar virtual currency payment services”.
A Commonwealth Bank spokesman said it was receptive to innovation in alternative currencies and payment systems “however, we do not currently use or recommend any existing virtual currencies as we do not believe they have yet met a minimum standard of regulation, reliability, and reputation compared to other currencies that we offer to our customers”.
“Our customers can interact with these currencies as long as they comply with our terms and conditions and all relevant legal obligations,” he said.
One Twitter user, Michaela Juric who goes by the name Bitcoin Babe, said she had business accounts closed by 30 banks and posted a picture of a letter from ANZ, saying it was closing her accounts effective 30 January 2018 in accordance with its terms and conditions.
This is a letter I received a few weeks ago. Also included was a T&C's booklet. I've highlighted the clause they are referring to.
I have a PTY/LTD company, paying tax, registered with the OAIC and conduct all relevant KYC/AML/CTF checks. pic.twitter.com/DShAZPIjyi
— Bitcoin Babe (@BitcoinBabeAU) December 29, 2017
She shared letters with Fairfax Media from 10 different banks informing her they were closing her accounts, with one saying she had received fraudulent funds, though none specifically referenced cryptocurrencies.
She said banks were not the “be all and end all of accepting payments” for Bitcoin and there were other avenues to transfer funds.
An ANZ spokeswoman said it “does not prohibit customers buying digital currencies”.
Its terms and conditions for business accounts do not mention cryptocurrency payment services, though includes the broad statement that it “may exercise its discretion to close an account due to unsatisfactory conduct or for any other reason it considers appropriate”.
A recent statement from cryptocurrency exchange CoinSpot said it was putting a “temporary restriction on all forms of AUD deposits” that would remain in place until at least the first week of 2018 as a result of issues with Australian banks.
“We assure you we are just as unhappy with the situation as you, but unfortunately Australian banks have been so far unwilling to work with the digital currency industry which leads to frequent account closures and strict limits on accounts whilst they remain operational, in effect debanking our industry,” it said.
CoinSpot founder Russell Wilson said he was not aware of any new widespread issue, but was “monitoring” the situation.
“We are aware that on occasion banks will freeze payments while they clarify with their customers that the funds were not fraudulently sent from their account, this is standard best practice for the banks and protects everyone,” Mr Wilson said.
A Westpac spokeswoman would not comment on specific instances, but said it had controls in place to “actively verify the identity of our customers and monitor the activities of those customers”.
“Where we cannot verify the origin of transfers we may act to ensure we comply with Australia’s anti money laundering obligations,” she said.
A NAB spokeswoman said it was important to note the currencies are currently unregulated.
“While we don’t support unregulated currencies, NAB does not deny the right of individual customers to buy virtual currencies,” she said.
CoinBase, CoinJar and BTC Markets did not respond to request for comment.