The new regulations divide the Isle of Man’s burgeoning bitcoin fraternity. “You can buy a Rolex or diamonds without going through an extensive know-your-customer process, and these things are much less traceable than bitcoin,” says Isle native Adrian Forbes. The founder of TGBEX, Forbes sells physical bitcoins or—rather, as his lawyer always reminds him to clarify, lest he be classified as a foreign exchange operator—“decorative, metal novelty tokens.” Each token is engraved with a bitcoin private key that enables a purchaser to transfer a set amount of the currency to a digital wallet. Forbes does the engraving himself in a tiny office decorated with CrypArt lithographs that incorporate QR codes for bitcoin digital wallets.
A bitcoin true believer, he sees the digital currency as a step toward a better world: “It’s a global currency that can’t be manipulated by any government, can’t be devalued on a whim,” he says. “You have these debt crises going on; these things couldn’t happen if everyone used bitcoin.”
Forbes grew up on the Isle of Man but left to work in financial services in the U.K. and Ireland before returning in 2013. Being on such a small island has big benefits, he says. “You can meet people at the very top of government, they will listen to you, and you can get things done quickly,” he says.
Unlike locals Forbes and Woolnough, Gareth Jenkins, a 35-year-old British programmer and computer game developer, first set foot on the Isle of Man in September 2014 for Crypto Valley Summit, an industry conference. He came to get exposure for