Recently, in a wide-ranging speech, the SEC’s Chief Accountant, Wes Bricker, provided his thoughts on how the SEC accounting staff analyzes accounting issues surrounding digital assets and distributed ledger technology. Bricker emphasized that companies must continue to maintain appropriate books and records, irrespective of whether distributed ledger technology, smart contracts or other technology-driven applications are (or are not) used. Likewise, when accounting for digital assets, companies should act appropriately within the parameters of the existing requirements of the federal securities laws. Accordingly, they should consider traditional regulations and accounting standards such as those relating to books and records, internal accounting controls, internal control over financial reporting, and custody. Bricker emphasized that “[d]istributed ledger technology and digital assets, despite their exciting possibilities, do not alter this fundamental responsibility.” Continue Reading SEC’s Chief Accountant Discusses Digital Assets
On September 11, 2018, capital markets regulators announced a series of cases that are the first of their kind in the digital assets space.
The SEC announced its first case charging unregistered broker-dealers for selling digital tokens. According to the SEC’s order, the defendants operated a self-described “ICO Superstore” that solicited investors, took thousands of customer orders for digital tokens, processed investor funds, and handled more than 200 different digital tokens in connection with both ICOs and the defendants’ own secondary market activities. The defendants also promoted the sale of approximately 40 digital tokens in exchange for marketing fees paid by digital token issuers. Because the digital tokens issued in the ICOs and traded by defendants included securities under the SEC’s DAO Report, the SEC concluded that the defendants’ market activities required broker-dealer registration with the SEC. Continue Reading A Day of Firsts
As we previously reported, in May 2018, more than 40 state and provincial securities regulators in the United States and Canada launched a coordinated enforcement sweep of the ICO market dubbed “Operation Cryptosweep.” On August 28, 2018, the North American Securities Administrators Association (“NASAA”) published a press release with an update on the progress of this initiative. According to NASAA, more than 200 active investigations of ICOs and cryptocurrency-related investment products are currently underway, and blue sky regulators have brought 46 enforcement actions to date. Continue Reading NASAA Updates Status of “Operation Cryptosweep”
A recent settled SEC enforcement action against an ICO issuer (the “Company”) and its promoter calls into question the viability of the “airdrop” model of distributing digital tokens to investors. In the ICO context, an “airdrop” generally refers to the widespread distribution of digital tokens to community members either for free or in exchange for performing menial tasks. Whether such a distribution model runs afoul of the federal securities laws has been the subject of much debate in recent months, and the SEC’s case provides additional insight into their analysis of the issue. While a narrow path for airdrops may remain, the case will significantly curtail their current use. Continue Reading SEC Brings Enforcement Case Involving “Airdrop” of Securities
In a terse press release issued July 26, 2018, the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (“FINMA”) announced that it has launched enforcement proceedings against an ICO issuer based on evidence that the company may have “breached financial market law.” According to FINMA, the proceedings focus in particular on possible breaches of Swiss banking law resulting from the potentially unauthorized acceptance of public deposits. FINMA noted that, in the context of its ICO, the subject company “accepted funds amounting to approximately one hundred million francs from more than 30,000 investors in return for issuing EVN tokens in a bond-like form.” Continue Reading Switzerland Announces ICO Enforcement Action
On July 16, 2018, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) issued a customer advisory on digital tokens. Citing various studies and reports, the advisory identified high rates of fraud in some initial coin offerings, and warned investors to be on the lookout for the following risks associated with investing in digital tokens:
- The potential for forks in open-source applications that could split away market participants, increase the number of digital coins or make coins obsolete.
- Decrease in mining or validation costs (if price is tied to those factors).
- Acceptance of other currencies, coins or tokens for offered goods and services.
- The link between the value of a digital coin or token and the offered product or service.
- Adoption of the digital coin or token as a broad medium of exchange or store of value.
- Future competitors or technological changes that could disrupt the underlying business.
- Future demand or uses for an application, network, product or service.
- Liquidity in the market for a specific digital coin or token.
- Changes to the underlying technology that could devalue digital coins or tokens.
- Risk of theft from hacking.
The CFTC has largely ceded enforcement authority for digital tokens that are securities to the Securities and Exchange Commission, but the advisory reminds readers that “digital tokens and coins can also be derivatives or commodities, depending on how they are structured.”
On June 25, 2018, a magistrate judge of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Florida released a report finding that cryptocurrency tokens issued in an initial coin offering (“ICO”) by the startup company, Centra Tech, are securities under the federal securities laws. This report was released in connection with a class action lawsuit filed by former investors claiming that Centra Tech and its founders violated the federal securities laws through a token sale that ultimately raised $30 million in cryptocurrencies. The former investors allege that the sale of the Centra Tech tokens was an unregistered offer and the sale of securities was in violation of the Securities Act of 1933 (“Securities Act”). Continue Reading U.S. Judge Finds That Centra Tech Token Is a Security
While ICO issuers have understandably been focused recently on the latest pronouncements from the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and other regulators, a second group of potential litigants has largely avoided notice. Seeing a potential bonanza, private plaintiffs law firms have become aggressive in soliciting disgruntled investors as clients and filing lawsuits against issuers of digital tokens. Continue Reading Private Plaintiff Lawyers Are Actively Targeting ICOs
The Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and Commodities Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) are not the only U.S. government agencies exerting regulatory jurisdiction over initial coin offerings (“ICOs”) and cryptocurrencies. In an article written by Hunton Andrews Kurth lawyers in Crowdfund Insider, Richard Garabedian and Shaswat Das discuss the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s (“FinCEN’s”) guidance, enforcement actions and related compliance issues. In 2013, FinCEN, a bureau of the U.S. Department of Treasury, began issuing guidance on virtual currency, explicitly stating that virtual currency exchangers and administrators are money transmitters and must comply with the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) and related regulations. Most recently, on February 13, 2018, FinCEN sent a letter to U.S. Senator Ron Wyden that sought to clarify its role as a regulator of virtual currencies and ICOs. In the letter, FinCEN asserted that individuals involved in certain ICOs must register as money services businesses (“MSBs”) and consequently comply with the corresponding BSA and anti-money laundering (“AML”) compliance requirements. The FinCEN letter notes that ICOs that are otherwise regulated by the SEC or CFTC should comply with the AML and related requirements imposed by those agencies. Despite this attempt at clarifying the state of regulatory play for ICOs and virtual currencies, federal and state MSB registration requirements remain fluid and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis for ICOs and those issuing cryptocurrencies. Continue Reading AML and Sanctions Compliance Issues Facing Cryptocurrency Companies
Last week, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton gave an interview during which he provided his thoughts on initial coin offerings (“ICOs”) and cryptocurrencies. He applauded the “incredible promise” of distributed ledger technology as a driver of efficiencies, and also attempted to clarify the SEC’s position on its role in regulating ICOs and token offerings. Continue Reading SEC Chairman Jay Clayton Interviewed on ICOs and Cryptocurrencies