On January 22, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) released its 2019 Risk Monitoring and Examination Priorities Letter (the “Letter”). The Letter highlights material new priorities for FINRA examinations in the coming year, as well as priorities in areas of ongoing concern. The topics highlighted in this year’s Letter reflect FINRA’s increasing focus on its members’ interaction with, and adoption of, innovative financial technologies, as well as its implicit acknowledgement of the ability for such innovations to assist in regulatory compliance. The new priorities highlighted in the Letter include several related to FinTech, including online distribution platforms, use of regulatory technology (or “RegTech”), and supervision of digital asset businesses. In priority areas of ongoing concern, the Letter confirmed that FINRA will continue to focus on reviewing the adequacy of firms’ cybersecurity programs. Below we detail FINRA’s discussion of these priorities and analyze them in the context of other recent guidance and enforcement actions. Continue Reading FINRA 2019 Examination Priorities Letter Includes Focus on FinTech and Cybersecurity
Continuing its efforts to engage with FinTech innovators and market participants in the adoption of new technologies, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) and its LabCFTC released a Primer on Smart Contracts (the “Primer”) on November 27. The Commission focused its Primer on (1) detailing the technical aspects of smart contract technology; (2) examining potential benefits and risks connected to their widespread adoption; and (3) the CFTC’s role in regulating the adoption of the technology within those markets under its jurisdiction.
On September 26, 2018, a federal court in the District of Massachusetts found that virtual currencies are a commodity under the Commodity Exchange Act, 7 U.S.C. § 1 et seq, (“CEA”). This marks the second time that a court has accepted the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s (“CFTC”) position and upheld the agency’s authority to regulate unleveraged and unmargined spot transactions in virtual currency under the agency’s anti-fraud and manipulation enforcement authority. Most notably, however, the reasoning behind its decision potentially expands the scope of the CFTC’s oversight of the market. Continue Reading Second District Court Determines Virtual Currencies Are Commodities
On Tuesday, September 11, 2018, Judge Raymond J. Dearie of the Eastern District of New York issued a decision holding that Initial Coin Offerings (“ICO”) may qualify as securities offerings and therefore be subject to the criminal federal securities laws. This ruling came as two U.S. regulators—the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”)—announced separate actions under securities laws against companies engaged in the cryptocurrency marketplace, including the sale of digital tokens. As the popularity of cryptocurrencies grows and businesses and entrepreneurs increasingly turn to ICOs to raise capital, these developments may serve as guideposts for how cryptocurrencies and ICOs will be viewed by courts and federal regulators in cases to follow. Continue Reading Federal Court, SEC, and FINRA Scrutinize Cryptocurrencies and ICOs
This week, the New York Department of Financial Services (“NYDFS”) announced approval for its two licensed FinTech-oriented state trust companies, Gemini Trust Company LLC and Paxos Trust Company LLC (formerly known as itBit Trust Company), to offer a new type of cryptocurrency referred to as a Stablecoin. The Gemini Dollar (“GUSD”) and Paxos Standard Token (“PAX”) are designed to be collateralized one-for-one by the U.S. dollar, and will permit payment for other assets traded on blockchains with instant settlement and minimal transaction costs. As described, GUSD and PAX are issued only when a customer of Gemini or Paxos deposits a corresponding amount of U.S. dollars, which are always held in a reserve account by the issuer on behalf of GUSD and PAX holders. At all times under this framework, Gemini or Paxos are required to hold, in a fiduciary capacity, at least as much fiat currency as GUSD and PAX in circulation. Continue Reading New York Department of Financial Services Approves Gemini and Paxos Virtual Currency “Stablecoins”
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
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
This week the New York Department of Financial Services (“NYDFS”) announced approval of significant new activities for its two licensed FinTech-oriented state trust companies, Gemini Trust Company LLC and Paxos Trust Company LLC (formerly known as itBit Trust Company), engaged in blockchain and virtual currency activities. Significantly, the approved activities demonstrate both the continuing importance of virtual currency trading and the expansion into permissioned blockchain trading and settlement services. These announcements represent the first substantive expansions in the approved activities of the two trust companies since their formation in 2015. Continue Reading NY Department of Financial Services Approves Expanded FinTech Activities for NY Trust Companies
On March 19, 2018, President Trump issued an Executive Order prohibiting all U.S. persons and residents from transacting in digital currencies issued by the Government of Venezuela, including the country’s recently launched oil-backed cryptocurrency the “Petro” (PTR) or petromoneda. The sanctions are in response to an emerging trend of sanctioned or rogue regimes experimenting with digital assets. Continue Reading U.S. Sanctions Venezuela’s “Petro” Cryptocurrency Amid Broader Trend of Sanctioned and Rogue Regimes Experimenting with Digital Assets
On March 27, 2018, Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin announced that the state had ordered five firms to halt initial coin offerings (“ICOs”) on the grounds that the ICOs constituted unregistered offerings of securities but made no allegations of fraud. These orders follow a growing line of state enforcement actions aimed at ICOs.
This was not Massachusetts’s first foray into regulating ICOs. On January 17, 2018 the state filed a complaint alleging violations of securities and broker-dealer registration requirements against the company Caviar and its founder for an ICO that sought to create a “pooled investment fund with hedged exposure to crypto-assets and real estate debt.”