On April 3, 2019, the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance published a “Framework for Investment Contract Analysis of Digital Assets,” issued a No-Action Letter to Turnkey Jet, Inc. and made a statement on both. Although all guidance is appreciated, there is really nothing new or different about the analysis, which is firmly based on SEC v. W.J. Howey Co. (the “Howey Test”). Moreover, as discussed below, even though the SEC found that Turnkey Jet did not need to comply with the federal securities laws in the issuance and sales of its tokens, the opinion and issued guidelines do not go far enough and still leave a great deal of uncertainty.
Framework for Investment Contract Analysis of Digital Assets
The SEC’s framework sets forth facts and circumstances to be considered in applying the Howey Test to determine if a digital asset is an investment contract and thus a security subject to state and federal securities laws in its
This summer, the U.S. Department of the Treasury issued a report to President Trump entitled “A Financial System That Creates Economic Opportunities; Nonbank Financials, Fintech and Innovation” (the “Treasury Report”). The Treasury Report was issued in response to an executive order dated February 3, 2017 which has resulted in a series of such reports. The executive order identified Core Principles and requested the Treasury Department to identify laws, treaties, regulations, guidance, reporting and record-keeping requirements, and other government policies that promote or inhibit federal regulation of the U.S. financial system in a manner consistent with the Core Principles. In response to its directive, the Treasury Department is issuing four reports. For a summary of the Treasury Department Report on Capital Markets, see HERE.
The Core Principles identified in the executive order are:
- Empower Americans to make independent financial decisions and informed choices in the marketplace, save for retirement, and build individual wealth;
- Prevent taxpayer-funded bailouts;
- Foster economic growth and vibrant
On June 19, 2018, the SEC published a draft Strategic Plan and requested public comment on the Plan. The Strategic Plan would guide the SEC’s priorities through fiscal year 2022. The Plan reiterates the theme of serving the interests of Main Street investors, but also recognizes the changing technological world with a priority of becoming more innovative, responsive and resilient to market developments and trends. The Plan also broadly focuses on improving SEC staff’s performance using data and analytics.
The Strategic Plan begins with a broad overview about the SEC itself, a topic I go back to and reiterate on occasion, such as HERE. The SEC’s mission has remained unchanged over the years, including to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation. In addition, according to the Strategic Plan, the SEC:
- Engages and interacts with the investing public directly on a daily basis through a variety of channels, including investor roundtables and education
On July 30, 2018, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) published a Special Notice seeking public comments on how FINRA can support fintech developments including those related to data aggregation services, supervisory processes, including with the use of artificial intelligence, and the development of a taxonomy-based, machine-readable rulebook. The Special Notice, and fintech in general, necessarily includes blockchain technology, a topic FINRA has been examining for a few years now. Last July, FINRA held a Blockchain Symposium to assess the use of distributed ledger technology (DLT) in the financial industry, and earlier in January 2017 FINRA issued a report entitled “Distributed Ledger Technology: Implications of Blockchain for the Securities Industry” on the topic (see HERE).
Also, on July 6, 2018, FINRA sent Regulatory Notice 18-20 to its members asking all FINRA member firms to notify FINRA if they engage in activities related to digital assets such as cryptocurrencies, virtual coins and tokens. FINRA informs members that it is
On June 14, 2018, William Hinman, the Director of the SEC Division of Corporation Finance, gave a speech at Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit in which he made two huge revelations for the crypto marketplace. The first is that he believes a cryptocurrency issued in a securities offering could later be purchased and sold in transactions not subject to the securities laws. The second is that Ether and Bitcoin are not currently securities. Also, for the first time, Hinman gives the marketplace guidance on how to structure a token or coin such that it might not be a security.
While this gives the marketplace much-needed guidance on the topic, a speech by an executive with the SEC has no legal force. As a result, the blogs and press responding to Mr. Hinman’s speech have been mixed. Personally, I think it is a significant advancement in the regulatory uncertainty surrounding the crypto space and a signal that more constructive guidance
A Simple Agreement for Future Tokens (“SAFT”) is an investment contract originally designed to provide a compliant alternative to an initial coin offering (ICO). A SAFT as used today was intended to satisfy the U.S. federal securities laws, money services and tax laws and act as an alternative to an ICO when the platform and other utilization for the cryptocurrency or token was not yet completed. The form of the SAFT is the result of a joint effort between the Cooley law firm and Protocol Lab as detailed in the white paper released on October 2, 2017 entitled “The SAFT Project: Toward a Compliant Token Sale Framework.” As discussed in this blog, the SAFT’s compliance with federal securities laws has now come into question by both the SEC and practitioners.
SAFT’s are offered and sold to accredited investors as an investment to fund the development of a business or project in a way not dissimilar to the way equity changes
On February 20, 2018, the SEC issued new interpretative guidance on public company disclosures related to cybersecurity risks and incidents. In addition to addressing public company disclosures, the new guidance reminds companies of the importance of maintaining disclosure controls and procedures to address cyber-risks and incidents and reminds insiders that trading while having non-public information related to cyber-matters could violate federal insider-trading laws.
The prior SEC guidance on the topic was dated, having been issued on October 13, 2011. For a review of this prior guidance, see HERE. The new guidance is not dramatically different from the 2011 guidance.
The topic of cybersecurity has been in the forefront in recent years, with the SEC issuing a series of statements and creating two new cyber-based enforcement initiatives targeting the protection of retail investors, including protection related to distributed ledger technology (DLT) and initial coin or cryptocurrency offerings (ICO’s). Moreover, the SEC has asked the House Committee on Financial
On February 6, 2018, the United States Senate Committee on Banking Housing and Urban Affairs (“Banking Committee”) held a hearing on “Virtual Currencies: The Oversight Role of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.” Both SEC Chairman Jay Clayton and CFTC Chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo testified and provided written testimony. The marketplace as a whole had a positive reaction to the testimony, with Bitcoin prices immediately jumping up by over $1600. This blog reviews the testimony and provides my usual commentary.
The SEC and CFTC Share Joint Regulatory Oversight
The Banking Committee hearing follows SEC and CFTC joint statements on January 19, 2018 and a joint op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal published on January 25, 2018 (see HERE). As with other areas in capital markets, such as swaps, the SEC and CFTC have joint regulatory oversight over cryptocurrencies. Where the SEC regulates securities and securities markets, the CFTC
The SEC and U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) have been actively policing the crypto or virtual currency space. Both regulators have filed multiple enforcement actions against companies and individuals for improper activities including fraud. On January 25, 2018, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton and CFTC Chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo published a joint op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal on the topic.
Backing up a little, on October 17, 2017, the LabCFTC office of the CFTC published “A CFTC Primer on Virtual Currencies” in which it defines virtual currencies and outlines the uses and risks of virtual currencies and the role of the CFTC. The CFTC first found that Bitcoin and other virtual currencies are properly defined as commodities in 2015. Accordingly, the CFTC has regulatory oversight over futures, options, and derivatives contracts on virtual currencies and has oversight to pursue claims of fraud or manipulation involving a virtual currency traded in interstate commerce. Beyond instances of fraud
In a time of rapidly changing regulations and policies on all securities industry and corporate finance topics, and the development of distributed ledger technology (DLT or blockchain) and associated initial cryptocurrency offerings (ICO’s), I have never had so many topics in the queue to write about. With a once-a-week blog, I will just keep working through the list, reporting on all developments, some quicker than others. In this blog, I am circling back to DLT with a synopsis of state law developments and the Uniform Law Commission’s (ULC) approved Uniform Regulation of Virtual Currency Business Act (Uniform VCBA).
Uniform Regulation of Virtual Currency Business Act (Uniform VCBA)
On July 19, 2017, the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) approved Uniform Regulation of Virtual Currency Business Act (Uniform VCBA) to be used as a model for states seeking to adopt such legislation. The VCBA is a money-transmitting or payment-processing-based legislation. The VCBA defines a money transmitter in an effort to provide clarity