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The Long and Winding Road: Navigating Fintech and Crypto App Approvals by the Apple Store
Thursday, June 20, 2024

Much has been written about the effort it takes to have a new app approved by the Apple App Store. With good reason, Apple’s strict approval process ensures quality and maintains the standards of its ecosystem. As Apple itself reports, in 2023 it “rejected more than 1.7 million app submissions for failing to meet the App Store’s stringent standards for privacy, security, and content.”1 An article from Decode about the top reasons for an Apple rejection2 included the usual tech-related problems: The app is low quality; there are broken links; lots of bugs and crashes; etc.

But when it comes to a Fintech or crypto-related app submission, there are additional licensing requirements that can cause significant delays. As has been widely reported, in October 2022, Apple revised its App Review Guidelines to include new requirements for apps related to digital assets (emphasis added):

  • Under Section 3.1, Payments, the following applies to “cryptocurrencies”:
    • 3.1.5 Cryptocurrencies:
      • (iii) Exchanges: Apps may facilitate transactions or transmissions of cryptocurrency on an approved exchange, provided they are offered only in countries or regions where the app has appropriate licensing and permissions to provide a cryptocurrency exchange.
  • Similarly, under Section 3.2.2 “Unacceptable,” it is noted:
    • (viii) Apps that facilitate binary options trading are not permitted on the App Store.…. Apps that facilitate trading in contracts for difference (CFDs) or other derivatives (e.g. FOREX) must be properly licensed in all jurisdictions where the service is available.

Proving that an app is “properly licensed” is relatively straightforward if the app-provider is indeed licensed. The thorny issue arises when the app-provider is not licensed because it understands or has been advised (often by counsel) that (i) no license is required, or (ii) users obtain services from third parties but itself does not provide those services.

Proving a negative is hard enough. But proving it in over 170 different global jurisdictions can be overwhelming.

The good news is that it can be done. But it requires careful advance planning, a network of global attorneys with good contacts to local regulators, time and patience. Having navigated this process several times, here are a few tips to help you get your Fintech app approved:

  • Keep it simple; the more complicated, the more likely to create delays, and spur more questions;
  • If your product offering requires licensing and you are not licensed, make sure you partner with an appropriate, licensed entity that will, among other things, support your Apple application with a written statement regarding its licensing status;
  • Thoroughly document your position regarding the need (or not) for licensing in each country your product is offered in; and
  • Make sure you can block access to your app wherever licensing is required and you are not licensed.

It isn’t easy but there is hope; Fintechs and crypto service providers CAN navigate the long and winding road to Apple app approval.


Footnotes:

1 https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2024/05/app-store-stopped-over-7-billion-usd-in-potentially-fraudulent-transactions/#:~:text=As%20published%20in%20its%20fourth,privacy%2C%20security%2C%20and%20content

2 https://decode.agency/article/app-store-rejection/

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