Fraudulent ICOs have stolen billions in investor capital, damaging market sentiment and capturing negative attention from strong-handed regulators around the world. There’s no doubt that the shape of ICOs is changing–but what role will regulators play in the future development of the ICO model?
As market participants begin to adapt to exit scams, a set of de facto requirements have emerged that ICOs must follow to succeed—rules that government regulators have begun to adopt while a legal scaffold is quickly constructed around the out-of-control ICO industry.
In this three-part series, CryptoSlate will assess the current state of the ICO ecosystem, analyze the regulatory shift that is making the “traditional” ICO model untenable and take a look beyond the ICO at the future of a decentralized capital generation. Read the first article here.
The ICO is Dead. Long Live the ICO
The hand that will drive the final nail into the coffin of the traditional ICO model is directly attached to the arm of regulation. Upcoming regulatory changes to the definition of what constitutes a security will see scores of the ICO ecosystem fall to the tyranny of financial watchdogs–which is, in some cases, necessary.
The core appeal of the ICO model, which democratizes access to growth capital, is how it opens up participation in the market of ideas to anyone, anywhere–free from restrictions such as the U.S. SEC’s limitation on pre-IPO sales to “accredited investors.” A small oversight, however, is arguably necessary to safeguard the interests of ICO investors.
ICO regulation hinges on the separation of the sale of utility tokens, which provide investors with access to future products or services, and security tokens, which represent ownership of an asset, with functionally equivalent to equity or debt.
The SEC’s position on ICOs, however, appears to place all tokens sold in ICOs in the latter category and, therefore, under the jurisdiction of the SEC. As expressed by SEC Chairman Jay Clayton in April:
“I believe every ICO I’ve seen is a security”
Regulators are Stepping in—and Why That’s a Good Thing
If the SEC does not step in to “stop the fraudsters,” states Clayton, there is a serious risk that the regulatory response to fraudulent platforms will be so severe that they will restrict the capacity of the entire crypto asset class. The SEC, it appears, will no longer tolerate the “wild west” environment of the ICO ecosystem.
While the SEC has recently softened its stance on ICOs, it’s clear that the classification and regulation of ICOs are soon to change. At the Yahoo Finance All Market Summit: Crypto in San Francisco, June 14, the SEC’s corporate finance division head, William Hinman, admitted that it’s possible for a token sold as a security offering, as defined by the SEC, to be reclassified:
“Can a digital asset originally sold in a securities offering eventually be sold in something other than a security? How about cases when there’s no longer a company? I believe in those cases answer is a qualified yes.”
According to SEC, cryptocurrencies that lack a centralized governing body and operate in a similar manner to commodities like Ethereum or Bitcoin are definitely not securities. Tokens sold in crowdsales that function as investments, however, unequivocally are.
If a decentralized blockchain-based growth capital generation is to continue to thrive, a paradigm shift in the structure and execution of ICOs is essential.
In part three of CryptoSlate’s “Beyond the ICO” series, we’ll take a look at the future of ICOs and examine what the future may hold for regulated blockchain-based crowdfunding.
Cover Photo by Sergio Souza on Unsplash
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