On April 3, 2019, staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission released (1) a framework providing principles for analyzing whether a digital asset constitutes an investment contract, and thus a security, as defined in SEC v. W.J. Howey Co. and (2) a no-action letter permitting TurnKey Jet, Inc., without satisfying registration requirements under the Securities
On February 20, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC” or “Commission”) issued a cease-and-desist order against Gladius Network LLC (“Gladius”) concerning its 2017 initial coin offering (“ICO”). The SEC found that the Gladius ICO violated the Securities Act of 1933’s (“Securities Act”) prohibition against the public offer or sale of any securities not made pursuant to either an effective registration statement on file with the SEC or under an exemption from registration. While this is far from the first time that the SEC has found that a particular ICO token meets the definition of a “security” under the Securities Act, this is notably the first action involving an ICO token issuer that self-reported its potential violation. Due to this, and Gladius’s cooperation throughout the investigation, the SEC stopped short of imposing any civil monetary penalties among its ordered remedial measures.
Continue Reading SEC Issues First ICO Enforcement Action Against a Self-Reporting Token Issuer
On November 16, 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Division of Corporation Finance (“Corp. Fin.”), Division of Investment Management, and Division of Trading and Markets issued a joint public statement on “Digital Asset Securities Issuance and Trading.” The public statement is the latest in the Divisions’—and the Commission’s—steady efforts to publicly outline and develop its analysis on the application of the federal securities laws to initial coin offerings (“ICOs”) and certain digital tokens. These efforts have combined a series of enforcement proceedings with public statements by Chairman Jay Clayton and staff, including a more detailed statement of the SEC’s analytical approach in Corp. Fin. Director William Hinman’s speech on digital assets in June 2018.
Continue Reading SEC Divisions Issue Public Statement on Digital Assets and ICOs, Echoing Recent Enforcement Actions
Artificial intelligence and machine learning (for simplicity, we refer to these concepts together as “AI”) have been hot topics in the financial services industry in recent years as the industry wrestles with how to harness technological innovations. In its report on Nonbank Financials, Fintech, and Innovation released on July 31st, the Treasury Department (“Treasury”) generally embraced AI and recommended facilitating the further development and incorporation of such technologies into the financial services industry to realize the potential the technologies can provide for financial services and the broader economy.
Continue Reading Treasury Report Embraces Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence in Financial Services
On July 31st, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”) announced that it would begin accepting applications for a special purpose national bank charter (“FinTech Charter”) from nonbank financial technology companies that offer bank products and services, meet the OCC’s chartering requirements (the “FinTech Charter Policy…
On July 31st, the Treasury Department (“Treasury”) released its fourth and final report in response to President Trump’s Executive Order 13772. The report, entitled “A Financial System That Creates Economic Opportunities: Nonbank Financials, Fintech, and Innovation” (the “Report”), only briefly addresses distributed ledger technologies, blockchain and digital assets, but takes broad aim at perceived regulatory challenges to innovation. The Report argues for a significant rethinking of state and federal regulation across data access, licensing, payments and many other issues.
Continue Reading Treasury Report Recommends More Consistent Regulation to Spur Innovation
On Wednesday, July 25th, Pamela Marcogliese, a partner at Cleary Gottlieb, moderated a panel for Women in Derivatives on the role of artificial intelligence (“AI”) and machine learning in the financial industry featuring experts such as Dr. Sherry Marcus, Managing Director and Co-Head of Data Science Core at BlackRock, Asita Anche, Managing Director, Head of Systematic Market Making, Risk Centralization & Data Science at Barclays, Kristina Fan, CEO & Founder at 7 Chord (a FinTech start-up specializing in AI for credit trading) and Claudia Perlich, a Senior Data Scientist at Two Sigma and Adjunct Professor at NYU.
Continue Reading Cleary Gottlieb Partner Pamela Marcogliese Moderates Panel on Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence in Finance
The New York Department of Financial Services (“NYDFS”) recently announced approval of significant new activities for FinTech-oriented businesses. Over the past week, NYDFS has granted the following approvals:
- Additional virtual currencies available for trading through Paxos Trust Company LLC (formerly known as itBit Trust Company), a NY-chartered trust company; and
- Approval of BitLicenses for Xapo, Inc. and Square, Inc. which would authorize them to offer custody and exchange services, respectively, for Bitcoin to residents of New York.
These announcements demonstrate the breadth of state regulation of virtual currency operations through expansion of exchange services to new emerging currencies and through custody and related services.
Continue Reading New York Department of Financial Services Approves Significant Expansions of State-Regulated Virtual Currency Businesses
On Thursday, June 14th, the SEC Director of Corporation Finance, William Hinman, stated his view that current secondary market trades of Ether are not now securities transactions as part of a speech on the treatment of digital assets under the securities laws. While he expressly set aside the question of whether the capital-raising that initially accompanied the sale of Ether in 2014 was a securities offering, he confirmed previous suggestions that Ether is a prime example of a digital asset that may once have been offered as a security, but is now “something else” that is not regulated by the securities laws. While Hinman’s views are not binding on the Commission, his remarks strongly suggest the Commission’s willingness to consider whether certain digital assets that may be initially offered as securities over time can later lose their status as securities—a view that is shared by at least one CFTC commissioner.
Continue Reading SEC Director of Corporation Finance States That Secondary Market Sales of Ether Are Not Securities Transactions Now, but “Something Else”
Part 3: Developments in the United States and the Rising Tide of Enforcement
In 2017, the use of initial coin offerings (“ICOs”) as an alternative means to raise capital took off worldwide. By the end of the year, ICO sponsors raised over $5.6 billion globally through token offerings. At the same time, U.S. regulators’ focus on ICOs has rapidly expanded as well. Since releasing the DAO Investigative Report in July 2017 (the “DAO Report”), the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) has steadily increased its focus on ICO activity. As exemplified by numerous investor advisories, the creation of the Cyber Unit within the Enforcement Division with the purpose to halt and deter cyber-related misconduct in the securities markets, enforcement actions against ICOs, and the Office of Compliance Inspection and Examinations’ (“OCIE”) announcement that monitoring ICO sales will be one of its top 2018 priorities, it is clear that the SEC views ICOs as squarely within the scope of its mandate for regulation and enforcement. Unsurprisingly, state enforcement actions and private class action litigation targeting ICOs are also on the rise.
Continue Reading Around the World in ICOs: ICOs in the United States