On September 11, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) each separately initiated their first enforcement action for violations of broker-dealer regulatory requirements under U.S. securities laws in digital asset markets. These actions echo all prior agency actions and alerts indicating that where a “security” is involved, both agencies will expect digital asset market participants to fully comply with U.S. securities laws. Additionally, they serve as a serious reminder to all persons acting as “brokers”[1] or “dealers”[2] (together, “broker-dealers”) that just because digital asset securities are unconventional securities with unconventional compliance challenges does not mean that either the SEC or FINRA will lower its compliance expectations. Continue Reading The SEC and FINRA Bring the First Enforcement Actions Against Broker-Dealers for Violations in Digital Asset Markets, Providing Reminder of Compliance Obligations

Artificial intelligence and machine learning (for simplicity, we refer to these concepts together as “AI”)[1] 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 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

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.[1] 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

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?

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

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

On Monday, December 4, 2017, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) obtained an emergency order from a U.S. District Court in New York to enjoin an allegedly fraudulent initial coin offering scheme.  The SEC’s complaint alleges that Dominic Lacroix, a recidivist securities law violator, and his company PlexCorps violated the anti-fraud and registration provisions of the U.S. federal securities laws in collecting up to $15 million in investor funds purportedly in exchange for digital tokens and promised returns in excess of 1,000% in 29 days.  The complaint also charges Lacroix’s partner Sabrina Paradis-Royer with securities fraud.  Among other relief, the district court has granted the SEC’s request to freeze the defendants’ assets. Continue Reading Newly Created SEC Cyber Unit Takes First Action Against Allegedly Fraudulent ICO