Virtual banking – Linden Lab intervenes

Linden Lab today announced that any virtual banking facilities offering interest on Linden dollars deposited would now be banned. Initial reaction from a significant number of residents falls into the ‘about time’ category but like the July 2007 gambling ban the impact on the Second Life economy will be enormous. I’d be surprised if any of the financial providers are able to refund residents’ investments in full which means this decision will have a direct financial impact of a large number of people.

From an Australian viewpoint, the World Stock Exchange will be severely impacted by the move as far as in-world activities – we’ll attempt to get some comment on that throughout the day.

The full announcement:

“Please read this if you operate, or have transferred L$ to, an in-world “bank” or financial company.

As of January 22, 2008, it will be prohibited to offer interest or any direct return on an investment (whether in L$ or other currency) from any object, such as an ATM, located in Second Life, without proof of an applicable government registration statement or financial institution charter. We’re implementing this policy after reviewing Resident complaints, banking activities, and the law, and we’re doing it to protect our Residents and the integrity of our economy.

Since the collapse of Ginko Financial in August 2007, Linden Lab has received complaints about several in-world “banks” defaulting on their promises. These banks often promise unusually high rates of L$ return, reaching 20, 40, or even 60 percent annualized.

Usually, we don’t step in the middle of Resident-to-Resident conduct – letting Residents decide how to act, live, or play in Second Life.

But these “banks” have brought unique and substantial risks to Second Life, and we feel it’s our duty to step in. Offering unsustainably high interest rates, they are in most cases doomed to collapse – leaving upset “depositors” with nothing to show for their investments. As these activities grow, they become more likely to lead to destabilization of the virtual economy. At least as important, the legal and regulatory framework of these non-chartered, unregistered banks is unclear, i.e., what their duties are when they offer “interest” or “investments.”

There is no workable alternative. The so-called banks are not operated, overseen or insured by Linden Lab, nor can we predict which will fail or when. And Linden Lab isn’t, and can’t start acting as, a banking regulator.

Some may argue that Residents who deposit L$ with these “banks” must know they’re assuming a big risk – the high interest rates promised aren’t guaranteed, and the banks aren’t overseen by Linden Lab or anyone else. That may be true. But for all of the other reasons we’ve set out above, we can’t let this activity continue.

Thus, as we did in the past with gambling, as of January 22, 2008 we will begin removing any virtual ATMs or other objects that facilitate the operation or facilitation of in-world “banking,” i.e., the offering of interest or a rate of return on L$ invested or deposited. We ask that between now and then, those who operate these “banks” settle up on any promises they have made to other Residents and, of course, honor valid withdrawals. After that date, we may sanction those who continue to offer these services with suspension, termination of accounts, and loss of land.

We will not apply this policy to companies who submit a registration statement, charter, or other applicable license from a governing regulatory authority, or who are merely conducting marketing or education, but not accepting payments.

You may report a violation of this policy through the Help/Report Abuse feature in your Second Life viewer, and follow the instructions given.”

What are your thoughts? Is this a long overdue intervention or an unwanted intrusion?

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