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SEC Announces Second Forum on Crypto and Blockchain

SEC Announces Second Forum on Crypto and Blockchain

The United States’ Securities and Exchange Commission is set to launch its second public forum on cryptocurrency and blockchain on 31 May.

The forum held in conjunction with the SEC’s Strategic Hub for Innovation and Financial Technology (FinHub) has caused the industry to speculate if major changes in regulation are being considered by the regulatory body.

Until now the SEC has bordered on hindering any progress that the cryptocurrency industry’s major institutions and exchanges have fought for in attempting to bring digital currency into mainstream use. This includes delays on exchanges’ ETF approvals which are still waiting for green stamping and a lack of clear guidelines for the industry as a whole.

On a positive note, it’s thought that the fact the forum is open to the public and follows the SEC announcement of a “crypto tour” to engage with industry professionals, shows that the regulators are moving towards dealing with some of the growing regulatory issues which until now have been stalled.

One of the SEC’s concerns has been the risk of driving potentially innovative startups overseas in order to seek more relaxed regulations; a reason that the SEC, whilst it has been unclear on rulings and guidelines for the industry, has largely kept a hands-off approach. A change in attitude is clearly emerging over the past year following the SECs fairly intractable view regarding both security and utility tokens in the past. SEC Chairman Jay Clayton recently commented that a cryptocurrency can be sold as a security if it meets the definition of an investment contract after launch, and that the digital asset can later be sold without being defined as an investment.

The forum itself will include a live online broadcast and a panel of industry professionals and academics who are yet to be announced. Topics such as ICOs, crypto platforms, and blockchain will be the main focus of the event.

 

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SEC Chair Jay Clayton Affirms ETH No Longer a Security

Jay Clayton, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chairman, has backed up his colleague’s earlier analysis that the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency by market cap, Ethereum network’s Ether (ETH), does not qualify as a security.

Last year, SEC Director of Corporation Finance William Hinman made a similar statement, elaborating that Ethereum doesn’t exhibit the properties of a security. He added that he didn’t observe a central group as responsible for the cryptocurrency.

In a bid to clarify the issue, Congressman Ted Budd, along with industry advocacy group Coin Center, asked Clayton for a clarification, who now has responded that he agrees “that the analysis of whether a digital asset is offered or sold as a security is not static and does not strictly inherent to the instrument”.

Clayton elaborated in a letter that a cryptocurrency can be sold as a security if it meets the definition of an investment contract after the launch. But the digital asset can later be sold without being defined as investments. He added:

“I agree with Director Hinman’s explanation of how a digital asset transaction may no longer represent an investment contract if, for example, purchasers would no longer reasonably expect a person or group to carry out the essential managerial or entrepreneurial efforts. Under those circumstances, the digital asset may not represent an investment contract under the Howey framework.”

The letter did not point out Ethereum by name, however. Clayton’s latest observations echo his earlier comments, where he compared digital assets to tickets for a new theatre play. He explained how a group of investors might be offered “a suite of tickets” in return for funding the “play”, and then these tickets can be taken as securities. However, if the tickets are only sold to each theatergoer individually at a later date, “that’s decentralized”, which does not fit within the designation of securities.

 

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US Crypto Regulations Between a Rock and a Hard Place

US Crypto Regulations Between a Rock and a Hard Place

In the midst of the delay for the approval of Bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF) applications after several rejections, and current uncertainty regarding regulatory framework, US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Commissioner Hester Peirce provided insights into the matter as an opportunity for better industry development.

Last week, Heister made comments on the issues of state regulation at the University of Missouri School of Law where she opined that “entrepreneurship and innovation do not have the happiest relationship with innovation”, which may be the core reason why crypto ventures have suffered in the hands of most regulatory systems.

The SEC’s clamp down on non-compliant ICOs (issuing securities disguised as utility tokens), its rejection of Bitcoin ETF applications, and somewhat deliberate delay in providing a regulatory framework as regards the industry may have a more logical than malicious intent behind it. Innovations, while they make life easier most of the time, always come outside the norms, especially those of the regulatory system and often times drives regulators to accept changes despite skepticism.

“Regulators, for their part, tend to be skeptical of change because its consequences are difficult to foresee and figuring out how it fits into existing regulatory frameworks is difficult,” she said, implying that it’s not an easy task for the SEC to reject what seemingly looks like a financial innovation in an attempt to weigh and understand the situation correctly.

The last financial crisis has made it easier for trust issues to thrive, especially on the part of the regulator, given that some ascribe the crisis to be due to “financial innovations”. Peirce pointed out that “…every innovation — even one that almost everyone agrees is good — carries with it some risk”, something currently agreeable with the cryptocurrency system.

Accordingly, since innovations can be unpredictable, so caution must be applied when drafting regulatory frameworks, especially for a new industry such as blockchain and its underlying assets. Peirce continues by saying that “as regulators, therefore, we must allow innovation to proceed, even as we put in reasonable safeguards and watch for unanticipated consequences”, and still, it has to come with no comprise to the securities laws in place. It behooves one to imagine where the true line of trade-offs will be drawn, seeing that the core structure of the crypto industry lies in decentralization, which by implication makes it harder for any regulator.

Still, the regulatory polarity has created distinct shades of gray areas around the world. With the Chinese government adamant with its crypto ban, the Indian government chose a rather bizarre stance — first with a ban on banking services to crypto related ventures, and then planned to develop a state-backed cryptocurrency, which it shelved later on. Meanwhile, other jurisdictions have launched out to attract the “rejected”, by providing a safe haven to crypto ventures, and a few nations are developing their own state-backed crypto to augment their economies.

In the UK, the principal regulator has extended an invitation to the public through its consultation paper to better assess a possible way forward for industry regulations. It said in late January: “We are consulting on Guidance for crypto assets to provide regulatory clarity for market participants.” Meanwhile, in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has also hinted on possible ICO regulations to be introduced later this year.

So far, the crypto industry has had checkered developments and have more recently been in a stalemate (regardless of minor spikes in market dynamics), and many have been waiting eagerly for the next bull-run trigger. It’s basically what most crypto enthusiasts talk about these days, consequently, dialing down tech innovation, development and mass adoption of crypto products — at least, for the innovations that they stand for — and are relying on adjuncts gunning for more institutional involvement that would supposedly propel the market further.

While the US SEC does recognize the potential this innovative technology may provide, as Peirce says. “the United States has benefited greatly from the relative importance of non-bank financing”, supposedly placing them on par with the capital market. This further buttresses the point made by SEC boss Jay Clayton who viewed crypto as a “promise for adding efficiency to our [capital] marketplace”.

However, the regulatory watchdog maintains a stance of balance that involved protecting the interests of investors as market volatility, manipulation, hacks, frauds, exchange illiquidity, and a host of other unforeseen consequences from the unstandardized cryptosystem remain legitimate concerns.

Perhaps, when the SEC, as well as other financial regulators, have finally regulated the industry, these problems will be adequately tackled. Meanwhile, the regulator itself is waiting for the maturity of the industry marked by improved oversight on market surveillance, definitive asset classification, and airtight custody solutions, before embracing the industry wholeheartedly. But it still remains to be known at what cost?

The good news so far is that earlier this year, a bill was introduced in the House to help with asset classification, that partly takes care of one problem. Nasdaq introduced its SMARTS Market Surveillance solution which may have provided precedence in the direction of play towards controlling market manipulation. On the subject of custody solutions, crypto ventures are urged to ensure best cybersecurity practices. Fidelity, Coinbase, Gemini, BitGo, Ledger, ItBi and even Goldman Sachs are among many reportedly racing toward that end.

Peirce’s overall sentiment in a manner of speaking, perhaps one shared on both sides of the tussle is that the delay in drawing clear lines may actually allow more freedom for the technology to come into its own.

 

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ICO Fundamentals: Empowering or Misleading Investors?

ICO Fundamentals: Empowering or Misleading Investors

The year 2018 saw the dramatic decline of the initial coin offering (ICO) market. January began with an outstanding USD one and a half billion invested into ICOs, with this figure trickling down to less than USD 200 million per month as the year closed. 

So, what killed the booming ICO industry? In large part, the US government crackdown and the relatively poor performance of the cryptocurrency market seemed enough to scare off investors last year.

Token offerings are an innovative way for startups with solid proof of concept to raise capital should the option of collateral needed to take out a business loan be lacking, or the lack of contacts or skills needed to secure capital from institutional investors.

Through the examination of recent studies from both academics and journalists, it can be observed that the biggest threat to the industry is posed by irresponsible startups that are either reluctant to keep investors fully informed, or purposefully misleading them. If the ICO market can be regulated in a way that avoids stifling innovation, it is suggested that the token model can become the most dominant form of venture capital financing.

Transparency, Truth, and What ICOs Need to Survive

One theory presented by Jiri Chod and Evgeny Lyandres suggests that investors have as much to gain as do the entrepreneurs holding the ICO – as long as there is no disparity of information available to the investors, however. And that would seem to be one of the most predominant issues cited against startups holding ICOs; offering false or exaggerated promises of returns, or whitepapers full of fraud and plagiarism.

Indeed, the Wall Street Journal investigated the details of 3,291 whitepapers pertaining to ICOs, finding that over 2,000 of them included terms “nothing to lose, guaranteed profit, return on investment, highest return, high return, funds profit, no risk, and little risk,” language that has previously led US state and Federal regulators to issue cease and desist orders or file charges. Some 16% of the whitepapers were found to show evidence of either plagiarism, identify theft or the promise of ”implausible returns.”

Many see government regulation of the sector as an appropriate way to manage the risks posed to investors and hold startups accountable to their claims. Chod and Lyandres theorize that if this is the case, ICOs have the chance to ”dominate traditional venture capital (VC) financing.” Others, however, argue that too much intervention would likely stifle innovation in the sector. US-based cryptocurrency exchange Kraken has said that the cost of handling subpoenas is becoming a ‘‘barrier to entry” for new exchanges. 

Chod and Lyandres concludes: ”An implication is that while regulating ICOs is desirable, banning them outright is not.”

The Role of Tokenomics

Another academic paper that delves into tokenomics is authored by Lin William Cong, Ye Li, and Neng Wang entitled Tokenomics: Dynamic Adoption and Valuation. It outlines a model that can be used to predict the future growth of tokens that act as a means of payment on their native blockchain platforms, with the premise of an argument centered around the notion that the expected popularity and technological progress of the project renders the token as an ”attractive store of value,” .promoting further adoption.

Again, during the ICO stage, a parity between investor and startup in terms of the project’s realistic roadmap is required in order for this model to successfully play out.

The paper also outlines some of the benefits blockchain platforms can enjoy by using a token economy: ”Tokens… can accelerate adoption, reduce user-base volatility, and improve welfare.”

The US SEC Crackdown: Warranted or Not?

While the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has received criticism for its actions against ICOs last year, examining several of the public cases individually shows that perhaps the actions of the government agency were necessary in order to keep investors fully informed on their decisions, as the research shows that it is required to promote a healthy ICO market.

In the case of AriseBank, the SEC halted the ICO after proving that the startup had falsely claimed to be FDIC-insured bank which would have allowed the decentralized bank to offer customers FDIC-insured accounts. The SEC cited that AriseBank had ”used social media, a celebrity endorsement, and other wide dissemination tactics” to raise a claimed USD 600 million of its USD 1 billion goal in two months.

One of the benefits of ICOs cited by Chod and Lyandres is the unique ability of tokens to allow entrepreneurs to shift some of the venture risks onto investors without compromising their own control rights. This could be the biggest benefit of token offerings for startups, but for it to revolutionize venture capital financing in a way it is capable of, investors need to be made aware of the risks by entrepreneurs.

2019: What to expect

The future of ICOs in 2019 depends on three major factors: US regulation, transparency from startups, and the market performance of major cryptocurrencies.

Chairman of the US SEC Jay Clayton himself has said ”ICOs can be effective ways for entrepreneurs and others to raise capital,” so long as you adhere to the regulations set by his agency at least.

Tokenomics is a cutting-edge theory with the potential to revolutionize the structure of business development and entrepreneurship, but for it to live out these prospects, right now, startups would be advised to professionalize their whitepapers and start playing by the rules at least until the industry can prove it has matured.

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SEC Cites Cryptocurrency as Top Priority for 2019

SEC Cite Cryptocurrencies Top Priority for 2019

The US Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) has suggested that 2019 will be a year of great activity on the cryptocurrency front for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The latest report released by the OCIE says that the SEC will prioritize what it sees as risky crypto products and services, and monitor digital currency markets with more vigilance. Any product classified by the SEC as security will be prone to the usual regulatory compliance. The OCIE further stated that:

“For firms actively engaged in the digital asset market, OCIE will conduct examinations focused on, among other things, portfolio management of digital assets, trading, the safety of client funds and assets, pricing of client portfolios, compliance, and internal controls.”

The SEC has cited the protection of customer rights and the integrity of US capital markets as the main aims of the additional scrutiny being applied to cryptocurrency dealings.

Any tightening of control in the cryptocurrency space by the US regulators will not be favorably greeted by investors who are already unhappy with what most regard as SEC crypto overregulation. The regulator’s anti crypto chairman Jay Clayton has confirmed the aims of the OCIE report, suggesting that digital assets, ICOs, and distributed ledger technologies are an “area where the Commission and staff have spent a significant amount of time” and that this would continue into 2019.

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Days Could be Numbered for SEC Role in Crypto

Days Could Be Numbered for SEC Role in Crypto

A new law is under consideration that, if becomes legislation, could see the SEC’s role in cryptocurrency regulation come to an end.

The bill set to be introduced, the Token Taxonomy Act, has been formulated by pro-crypto Republican Warren Davidson and Florida Democrat Darren Soto.

The main point of conflict with the industry is the labeling of certain cryptocurrencies as securities and not as assets, particularly after SEC Chairman Jay Clayton‘s declaration earlier this year that cryptocurrencies and ICOs would be classed as securities by the US financial regulator.

Clayton’s comments were made despite SEC William Hinman commenting in June that both Bitcoin and Ethereum were not securities because their platforms don’t have a controlling body. Davidson commented on the plans to introduce the new bill; one that could potentially remove SEC from the picture, a fact that would be a great Christmas present for many cryptocurrency investors around the US:

“In the early days of the internet, Congress passed legislation that provided certainty and resisted the temptation to over-regulate the market. Our intent is to achieve a similar win for America’s economy and for American leadership in this innovative space.”

The Republican crypto trailblazer went on the point out that such as change would have the effect stabilizing the industry and adding further much-needed clarification to investors, many still hanging on decisions to be made by the SEC regarding ICOs and EFTs. He added that a law such as this would ensure that “securities laws would not apply to cryptocurrencies once they become a fully functioning network”.

Last week SEC Senior Adviser for Digital Assets and Innovation Valerie A Szczepanik indicated that in certain circumstances, ICOs may be able to avoid registration requirements.

Speaking in New York at a gathering hosted by the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance, the SEC official has suggested that in certain cases an application doesn’t fit SEC law or regulation “but that it perfectly fits the spirit accomplishing all the goals of investors protection”.

 

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SEC Chair: ICOs Effective for Capital but Must Follow Securities Law

SEC

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Jay Clayton has said that although ICOs are an effective tool to raise capital, they must adhere to securities law.

The chairman’s latest ICO-related comments came during his speech on SEC rulemaking recently. He said that digital assets, ICOs and distributed ledger technologies are an “area where the Commission and staff have spent a significant amount of time” and that this would continue into 2019.

According to Clayton, ICOs are working in a manner where investors are not protected like traditional securities are, leading to higher chances of market manipulation and fraud. He and his organization have a tough stance on ICOs, saying that most of them are just like securities and, therefore, must be treated like one. This means ICOs must follow the laws set for securities under the SEC:

“I believe that ICOs can be effective ways for entrepreneurs and others to raise capital. However, the novel technological nature of an ICO does not change the fundamental point that, when a security is being offered, our securities laws must be followed.”

The chairman also highlighted the commission’s openness to blockchain technology and its financial applications by talking about the creation of SEC’s Strategic Hub for Innovation and Financial Technology (FinHub). One of the major tasks of FinHub is to facilitate crypto startups to comply with current regulations when it comes to ICOs and launching of their tokens. Clayton said the “door remains open to those who seek to innovate and raise capital in accordance with the law”.

The SEC is very active when it comes to violation of regulations. Only a couple of days ago, it had issued an order to digital fund asset platform CoinAlpha Advisors to halt its ICO, fining it USD 50,000 for breach of regulations.

 

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SEC FinHub Now Monitors Blockchain Innovation and Offers Advice

The new SEC FinHub is suggesting that investors can now use a new form on their site to request meetings and other information regarding advice regarding compliance with current regulations.

FinHub is the go-to site for US Securities and Exchange Commission ICO Advisory Board inquiries regarding fintech. According to the SEC, the form will enable new companies and startups to gain access to all the necessary information required to tailor their activities to legal guidelines. The new form states, “We welcome requests for meetings and other assistance relating to FinTech issues arising under the federal securities laws.”

The SEC’s FinHub is overseen by the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance’s Senior Advisor for Digital Assets and Innovation Associate Director, Valerie A. Szczepanik. It was designed to provide an online forum for crypto and DLT and is staffed with crypto and blockchain savvy SEC professionals. In a statement recently put out by the Finhub, the SEC claimed that:

“SEC staff across the agency have been engaged for some time in efforts to understand emerging technologies, communicate the agency’s stance on new issues, and facilitate beneficial innovations in the securities industry…”

The SEC has suggested that by launching FinHub they offered a “clear path” to investors, entrepreneurs and developers to encouraging them to engage with the regulatory body and “test ideas,” and seek advice, adding:

“The FinHub provides a central point of focus for our efforts to monitor and engage on innovations in the securities markets that hold promise, but which also require a flexible, prompt regulatory response to executing our mission.”

In another recent “educational” move, one that irritated many industry players, the SEC launched a fake website called Howeycoins which replicated an ICO, with a “buy now” link redirecting investors to an educational programme outlining in some details, the pitfalls of crypto investment. Information provided on the website looked much like that supplied during a genuine ICO, complete with white paper, statements such as “We anticipate OVER 1% daily returns, with DOUBLE 2% returns on Tier 1 investors in pre-ICO stage secured purchases.”

SEC Chairman Jay Clayton justified that particular “educative exercise” as one designed to support the uninitiated crypto investor, stating:

“We embrace new technologies, but we also want investors to see what fraud looks like, so we built this educational site with many of the classic warning signs of fraud… I encourage investors to do their diligence and ask questions,”

Visitors to the SEC FinHub’s latest form are only allowed one request, which should be regarding information related to financial technology, including ICOs and cryptocurrencies. They are also able to request a face to face meeting with a top SEC researcher to gain advice.

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Crypto Pioneers Attack SEC over Regulation in Joint Letter

A group of crypto pioneers has laid out concerns about the regulation of cryptocurrencies to the US Securities and Exchanges Commission (SEC), outlining caution that further regulations passed could be detrimental to the industry as a whole.

The news of this letter to the SEC follows another written last week by the US Congress in which they asked for more clarity on cryptocurrency security. Congress also said that they believed that cryptocurrency important for many sectors of the US economy and that the SEC’s view that all cryptos are securities, besides Bitcoin and Ethereum, is leading to an exodus of crypto and blockchain companies and talent from the United States.

This latest letter from the industry itself against intrusive regulation is sure to put added pressure on the SEC to find a solution which is suitable to all. A major warning to the SEC was about the very nature of cryptocurrency which is that it was designed to be held by a third party, rather the individual, and any future regulation would need to keep this in mind.

The letter was a crypto who’s who cosignatory document including dotcom veteran Christopher Allen, Bitcoin core developer Bryan Bishop, financial expert Angus Champion de Crespigny, blockchain attorney Gavin Fearey and Caitlin Long, most recently Morgan Stanley’s managing director.

The letter explained that cryptocurrencies shouldn’t be type-cast due to their unique qualities and as such warned that “fitting them into existing market infrastructure introduces risks to investors that would not otherwise exist”.T he letter also warned against “applying rules to digital assets in ways which do not reflect their strengths”.

Earlier in June, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton clarified that the regulators had no intention of changing their traditional regulatory approach. He said:

“We are not going to do any violence to the traditional definition of a security that has worked for a long time. We’ve been doing this a long time. There’s no need to change the definition.”

Clayton was referencing a Supreme Court ruling from 1946 which defines a security as an investment of money in a common enterprise, in which the investor expects profits from others’ efforts. Those in the crypto industry have always