On October 26, 2017, the French Autorité des Marchés Financiers (“AMF”) launched a consultation on Initial Coin Offerings (“ICOs”) and the potential regulation of such offerings (the “Consultation”). The Consultation was opened as of October 26, 2017 until December 22, 2017. It is expected that responses to the Consultation will be published during the first quarter of 2018 and a final position will be issued thereafter.  In addition, the AMF advises all market participants contemplating an ICO offering to inform and liaise with the AMF with respect to the ICO project and white paper in advance of the launch.

In parallel with the launch of the ICO consultation, the AMF announced the launch of a new sandbox called UNICORN (for “Universal Node to ICO’s Research & Network”), which is a support and research program focusing on digital asset fundraising and, specifically, financing based on blockchain technology. The program aims to provide a framework allowing initiators to develop transactions while ensuring the protection of buyers and other market participants.  The AMF will meet with initiators (French or foreign entrepreneurs and their advisors) as well as academics and intends to publish an initial impact analysis of these new forms of financing by the end of 2018. Continue Reading The AMF Consults on Potential Legal Framework for ICOs and Launches Digital Asset Fundraising Sandbox

On February 6, 2018,  Chairman Clayton of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Chairman Giancarlo of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) testified before the Senate Banking Committee (the Committee) on their agencies’ oversight role for virtual currencies.  Consistent with his prior statements, Clayton took a strong stance on SEC regulation of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs).  But, when it came to cryptocurrencies themselves, he and Giancarlo struck a somewhat more circumspect tone.  In particular, despite acknowledging that their existing jurisdiction does not extend to spot transactions in cryptocurrencies, the Chairmen did not yet seek additional regulatory authority.

However, Chairman Clayton particularly expressed concerns about whether virtual currency exchanges provided adequate protections for investors and whether state regulation as payment services was sufficient.  While the Chairmen did not request new authority, it is clear that there would be support within the Committee for legislation in this area, and Clayton and Giancarlo committed to work with each other and other authorities (including bank regulators and law enforcement authorities) to develop an appropriate approach.  When the Chairmen of the SEC and CFTC express that they are “open” to exploring whether increased federal regulation is needed, there is a clear message. Continue Reading SEC and CFTC Testimony on Virtual Currencies: Is More Regulation on the Horizon?

Recent media reports, including in State-connected media, suggest that China is about to block access to all cryptocurrency trading platforms, including those operating overseas.  In September 2017, the People’s Bank of China (“PBOC”) and six other government agencies jointly issued guidance  immediately banning fundraising through offerings of tokens, such as initial coin offerings (“ICOs”), and requiring the closure of cryptocurrency exchanges in China by the end of September 2017.  Continue Reading Chinese Government Moves To Effectively Ban Cryptocurrency Trading

On Friday, January 12th, during an appearance at The Economic Club in Washington, D.C.  United States Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) was forming a virtual currency working group.  The announcement follows FSOC’s discussion of virtual currency issues, including “price volatility, investor protection and the potential for illicit use”, and commitment to continue reviewing these risks at its meeting in December.[1]

In his remarks to The Economic Club, Secretary Mnuchin emphasized that Treasury was concerned about the potential for money laundering and the risk to consumers investing in virtual currencies.  Continue Reading Secretary Mnuchin Announces FSOC Working Group to Combat Money Laundering and Speculative Risks in Virtual Currencies

Following the December 2017 listing of futures contracts based on Bitcoin by two exchanges regulated by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), several fund sponsors and securities exchanges applied to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to list exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that would invest in those futures contracts.[1]  By investing in futures contracts regulated by the CFTC, instead of Bitcoin itself, these ETFs seemed designed to address concerns that had previously led the SEC to deny applications to list ETFs linked to Bitcoin.  This change was not sufficient, however, as the SEC raised new concerns in early January that led to the withdrawal of these new applications.[2]   Exchanges, ETF sponsors and investors are now left wondering:  what will it take for an ETF linked to Bitcoin to pass muster with the SEC? Continue Reading SEC Requests Withdrawal of Bitcoin Futures ETFs

On January 4, 2018, the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) released an investor reminder regarding the risks associated with cryptocurrencies, initial coin offerings (ICOs), and cryptocurrency-related investment products.  In the warning, the NASAA described factors that investors should consider before making investments in cryptocurrencies and cryptocurrency-related investment products, as well as common red flags of investment fraud. Continue Reading Regulators Remain Focused on Risks Associated with Cryptocurrencies, ICOs, and Cryptocurrency-Related Investment Products

On Friday, December 15, 2017, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) issued a proposed interpretation of the term “actual delivery” for purposes of determining whether certain virtual currency transaction could be deemed “retail commodity transactions” subject to the CFTC’s jurisdiction under the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA).[1] Continue Reading The CFTC Issues a Proposed Interpretation Regarding Retail Commodity Transactions Involving Virtual Currency

On December 12, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed the New York Department of Financial Services’ (NYDFS) suit against the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”) challenging the proposed special purpose national bank for financial technology companies (“OCC FinTech Charter”).  The OCC FinTech Charter would apply a bank regulatory framework to financial technology companies to help ensure that they operate in a safe and sound manner. Continue Reading U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Dismisses NYDFS OCC FinTech Charter Suit

Part I: The Basics

Everyone is talking about “ICOs” or “initial coin offerings.”  Celebrities are tweeting about them.  You cannot open the Wall Street Journal or Financial Times on any given day without at least one story about ICOs.  Prominent CEOs of financial institutions have taken to the bully pulpit to fulminate about ICOs and cryptocurrencies, using words such as “bubble” and “fraud.”  Parallels are drawn to 17th century tulip mania.  And securities and financial regulators around the world are taking notice, with varying degrees of reactions.

But why have ICOs elicited such attention?   In this series of posts, our aim is to shed light on this innovative way of raising funds, the regulatory responses (thus far), the challenges to regulation in various jurisdictions, the factors motivating regulators and possible future actions by regulators. Continue Reading Around the World in ICOs: A series examining regulatory responses to ICOs

The SEC has recently signaled an increased concern with the offerings and marketing of Initial Coin Offerings (“ICOs”),[1] which should be of interest to companies and institutions involved with ICOs.  On November 1, 2017, the SEC Division of Enforcement and Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) jointly issued a public statement warning celebrities and other influencers promoting Initial Coin Offerings (“ICOs”) about potential violations of a host of federal securities laws, including the anti-touting and anti-fraud provisions of the federal securities laws.  Specifically, the public statement noted that endorsements may be unlawful if they do not “disclose the nature, source, and amount of any compensation paid, directly or indirectly . . . in exchange for the endorsement.,” and that endorsers may also face liability for potential violations of the anti-fraud provisions, for participation in an unregistered securities offering, and for acting as unregistered brokers.  The public statement also noted that investment decisions should not be based solely on an endorsement and cautioned that “celebrity endorsement may appear unbiased, but instead be part of a paid promotion.”  The public statement follows an investigative report issued by the Division of Enforcement on July 25, 2017, which announced that blockchain technology-based coins or tokens sold in an ICO may be a form of security under the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Continue Reading The SEC Warns That Celebrity Endorsements of Virtual Currency May Violate Federal Securities Laws