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
SEC Divisions Issue Public Statement on Digital Assets and ICOs, Echoing Recent Enforcement Actions
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.
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SEC Enforcement Division Co-Director Provides Insight Into Commission’s Approach to ICOs and Cryptocurrencies
Over the past year, the U.S Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) has increasingly scrutinized initial coin offerings (“ICO”) and certain digital assets. On September 20, 2018, the SEC’s Enforcement Division co-Director, Stephanie Avakian, gave a speech in which she addressed the Division’s approach to dealing with these new forms of tradeable assets. This speech came only days after the SEC settled its first case charging an unregistered broker-dealer for facilitating the sale of digital tokens from several ICOs since the 2017 DAO Report. In her speech, Avakian provided three key insights into the Division’s enforcement strategy.
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Federal Court, SEC, and FINRA Scrutinize Cryptocurrencies and ICOs
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.
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World Economic Forum Publishes Recommendations for Managing Cyber-Risk
On March 6, 2018, the World Economic Forum (WEF) published a white paper report analyzing challenges that financial services and fintech firms face in protecting customer information against the increasing risk of cyber-attacks and setting out proposals to better manage this cyber-risk. As described below, the report recommends industry-wide efforts to adopt standardized cyber-risk metrics and to develop mechanisms for assessing cybersecurity. In conjunction with the publication of these recommendations, Citigroup Inc., Kabbage, Inc., Zurich Insurance Group AG and the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation have formed a consortium to address cybersecurity risks in the fintech industry.…
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