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  • SEC Obtains Emergency Court Order Against Canadian Firm for Allegedly Violating Federal Securities Law; Halts Initial Coin Offering

    Securities

    On December 4, the SEC announced it had obtained an emergency court order to freeze the assets of a Canadian company and the company’s founders (Defendants) and block Defendants’ ability to continue to raise funds through an initial coin offering (ICO). At the time the order was issued, the ICO had raised $15 million since August by “promising investors returns of 1,354% in under 29 days.” This is the first enforcement action taken by the SEC’s recently established Cyber Unit, whose focus includes distributed ledger technology and initial coin offering violations. (See previous InfoBytes Cyber Unit coverage here.)

    According to a complaint filed December 1 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Defendants allegedly violated the anti-fraud and registration provisions of U.S. federal securities laws by making a series of materially false and misleading statements when marketing and selling securities as digital tokens/cryptocurrencies to obtain investor funds. From August to the present, Defendants purportedly raised $15 million through the ICO, and made false representations including, among other things, that: (i) the firm consisted of large teams of experts across the globe, and (ii) investors would receive certain promised returns (1,354% in less than a month) on investments if all tokens were sold. Further, Defendants allegedly failed to disclose (i) that a portion of the proceeds from the ICO funds would pay personal expenses, and (ii) that the company’s principal executive was “a known recidivist securities law violator in Canada.” The SEC seeks relief in the form of permanent injunctions, monetary penalties and interest, and an “officer-and-director bar and a bar from offering digital securities” against the company’s founders.

    Securities SEC Initial Coin Offerings Enforcement Blockchain Cryptocurrency Fintech

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  • Federal Reserve Releases Paper Studying the Evolution and Forward Looking Growth of Fintech

    FinTech

    On August 1, the Federal Reserve Board released a paper on the origins and growth of financial technology, and how these “deep innovations” have the potential to affect financial stability. The paper, “FinTech and Financial Innovation: Drivers and Depth,” was authored by John Schindler and adapted from a speech prepared for Banco Central do Brasil’s XI Annual Seminar on Risk, Financial Stability and Banking. Fintech, according to Schindler’s adaptation of the Financial Stability Board’s definition, is best understood as a “technologically enabled financial innovation that could result in new business models, applications, processes, products, or services with an associated material effect on financial markets and institutions and the provision of financial services.” Schindler considers the following to fall into the definition of fintech: (i) online marketplace lending; (ii) equity crowdfunding; (iii) robo-advice; (iv) financial applications of distributed ledger technology; (v) and financial applications of machine learning (also called artificial intelligence and machine intelligence). The paper provides a deeper discussion into the following topics driving fintech innovation:

    • supply and demand factors of financial innovation, including regulatory changes and changes to financial or macroeconomic conditions, contributing to the use of technologies supporting fintech financial products and services;
    • depth of innovations such as peer to peer lending, high frequency trading, mobile banking and payments, bitcoin, and blockchain all with the “potential to have transformational effects on the financial system”; and
    • demographic demands.

    Schindler’s position is that fintech evolved, in large part, due to a combination of a number of supply and demand factors occurring in a relatively small period of time, which, as a result, drove new financial innovations.

    Fintech Federal Reserve Blockchain Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

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  • SEC Issues Investigative Report: Federal Securities Laws Apply to Virtual Organizations

    Securities

    On July 25, the SEC issued an investigative report stating that federal securities laws apply to anyone who offers and sells securities in the U.S., regardless of the manner of distribution or whether dollars or virtual currencies are used to purchase the securities. The SEC’s Report of Investigation (Report) advises users to make sure they are compliant with federal securities laws when raising capital through Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAO) or other forms of distributed ledgers or blockchain technology. These offering are often referred to as “Initial Coin Offerings” (ICOs) or “Token Sales.”

    The Report originates from an Enforcement Division inquiry into whether the DAO—and affiliated entities—“violated federal securities laws with unregistered offers and sales of DAO Tokens in exchange for ‘Ether,’ a virtual currency.” According to the SEC, the DAO, which has been described as a “crowdfunding contract,” has not met any of the specific Regulation Crowdfunding exemption requirements issued earlier this year by the agency. These regulations were previously discussed in InfoBytes. In its Report, the SEC stated that the individuals involved in a 2016 virtual currency offering that was later hacked will not face charges, but will rather serve as a warning to the industry that people who offer and sell securities in the U.S. must follow the law. In light of this discussion, the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy issued an Investor Bulletin to educate investors about the benefits and risks of ICOs, which promoters have begun to use to sell virtual currencies.

    “Investors need the essential facts behind any investment opportunity so they can make fully informed decisions, and today's Report confirms that sponsors of offerings conducted through the use of distributed ledger or blockchain technology must comply with the securities laws,” said William Hinman, SEC Director of the Division of Corporation Finance.

    Securities Fintech SEC Digital Commerce Virtual Currency Blockchain Initial Coin Offerings

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  • BAFT Announces 2017 Global Payments Symposium; Will Highlight Advances in Payments Innovation, Blockchain, and Artificial Intelligence

    FinTech

    On July 19 and 20, the Bankers Association for Finance and Trade (BAFT) will host its 2017 Global Payments Symposium in New York City. The symposium will help bankers and payments professionals understand the latest innovation trends affecting compliance, payments, blockchain, fintech, cybercrime, and artificial intelligence, among others. BAFT will also discuss methods to integrate innovations into the business lines and how global challenges and best practices impact the U.S.

    Fintech BAFT Blockchain Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Payments

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  • House Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Holds Hearing to Discuss Consumer Fintech Needs

    Federal Issues

    On June 8, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection held a hearing to discuss financial products and services offered by the fintech industry to meet consumer needs. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) opened the hearing asserting, “There are serious opportunities for companies to reach consumers with new products to help them create a rainy-day fund for the first time, pay their mortgage securely, rebuild their credit, budget and manage multiple income streams, and invest their earnings . . . Cybersecurity [specifically] is an ongoing challenge, and one the Energy and Commerce Committee is tackling head on.” The June 8 hearing included testimony and recommendations from the following witnesses:

    • Ms. Jeanne Hogarth, Vice President at Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) (statement). Hogarth stated that nearly three out of five American face financial health struggles and spoke about challenges fintech entrepreneurs may face when trying to help consumers, such as (i) “facilitat[ing] interstate and regulatory comity that enables consumers to access and use fintech products and service that promote financial health”; (ii) “support[ing] consumers’ access to their own data”; and (iii) “creat[ing] opportunities for pilot testing of both financial products and services and financial services regulations.” Hogath also detailed CFSI’s Financial Solutions Lab, which identifies financial health challenges faced by consumers and encourages companies to develop ways to address these issues.
    • Mr. Javier Saade, Managing Director at Fenway Summer Ventures (statement). Saade—whose venture capital firm backs emerging fintech companies—stressed the importance of understanding and mitigating associated risks as financial innovation continues to expand. Growth is supported and encouraged, he noted, provided entrepreneurs understand that the “’fail fast and often’ approach, typical of tech-driven startups in other sectors, may not be well suited for the financial services industry.” Furthermore, Saade stated that because “nearly 30 million U.S. households either have no access to financial products or obtain products outside of the banking system . . . even modest strides in achieving economic inclusion present the single largest addressable opportunity in fintech.”
    • Ms. Christina Tetreault, Staff Attorney at Consumer Union (statement). Tetreault, speaking on behalf of Consumer Union (the policy division of Consumer Reports), stated that while financial technology such as virtual currencies, digital cash, and distributed ledgers have the “potential to increase consumer access to safe financial products and return a measure of control to consumers,” safeguards devised between lawmakers and providers must be implemented with appropriate federal and state financial regulator oversight.
    • Mr. Peter Van Valkenburgh, Research Director at Coin Center (statement). Coin Center is a non-profit organization, which focuses on “public policy ramifications of digital currencies and open blockchain networks.” Van Valkenburgh emphasized the need for Congress to (i) create a nationwide federal money transmission license as an alternative to “state by state licensing,” which, in his opinion, emphasizes the needs of individual states rather than addressing the health and risk profile as a whole; and (ii) create a federal safe harbor to “protect Americans developing open blockchain infrastructure.” Van Valkenburgh also encouraged the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to establish federal “fintech charters” to promote a unified approach to regulating blockchain companies.

    Federal Issues Fintech OCC House Energy and Commerce Committee Blockchain Digital Commerce Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security

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  • FINRA Announces Fintech Outreach Initiative, Hosts Blockchain Symposium in July

    FinTech

    On June 13, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced a new outreach initiative to improve its understanding of fintech innovations and how they impact the securities industry. The Innovation Outreach Initiative will consist of the following components:

    • the launch of FINRA’s new webpage dedicated to fintech topics such as RegTech (covering compliance monitoring, fraud prevention, data management, and the identification and interpretation of regulations affecting the securities industry), artificial intelligence, and social media sentiment investing; and
    • the creation of a cross-departmental team led by the Office of Emerging Regulatory Issues developed to, among other things, foster discussion on fintech developments, develop publications on fintech topics, and increase collaboration with domestic and international regulators.

    Additionally, FINRA announced it will host a Blockchain Symposium in New York City on July 13 to create an opportunity for regulators and industry leaders to join together and discuss opportunities and challenges related to the use of Distributed Ledger Technology, also known as blockchain.

    Fintech Securities FINRA SEC Blockchain

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  • Vermont Governor Enacts Law Including Blockchain Application

    FinTech

    On June 8, Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed into law legislation (S. 135), which would, among other things, allow for broader business and legal application of blockchain technology to promote economic development. Additionally, S. 135 requires the Center for Legal Innovation at Vermont Law School, the Commissioner of Financial Regulation, the Secretary of Commerce and Community Development, and the Vermont Attorney General to prepare a joint report for the General Assembly on “findings and recommendations,” as well as policy proposals and “measurable goals and outcomes” concerning “potential opportunities and risks presented by developments in financial technology.” The new law follows the passage of House Bill 868 last June, which defined blockchain as “a mathematically secured, chronological, and decentralized consensus ledger or database,” and formally recognized blockchain-notarized documents as having legal bearing in a court of law.

    As previously reported in InfoBytes, Arizona recently enacted a similar law (AZ H.B. 2417) recognizing blockchain signatures and smart contracts under state law.

    Fintech Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security State AG State Legislation Blockchain

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  • First State Moratorium on Blockchain Taxes in Nevada

    State Issues

    On June 5, the governor of Nevada signed into law legislation that prohibits local governments from taxing or establishing restrictions on blockchain use—making it the first state to outlaw blockchain taxes. In addition to taxes, the new law prohibits requiring a license, permit, or certificate or any other condition on the use of blockchain. The bill also states that blockchain data can now be submitted in situations where the law requires a record to be in writing.

    State Issues State Legislation Blockchain Fintech

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  • Arizona Governor Signs Blockchain Records Bill

    FinTech

    On March 29, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed H.B. 2417, which recognizes blockchain signatures and smart contracts under state law. H.B. 2417 amends Title 44, Chapter 26, of the Arizona Revised Statutes, and defines “blockchain technology” as “distributed ledger technology . . . protected with cryptography . . . [that] provides an uncensored truth.” The amendment, cleared by the Senate in a 28-1 vote on March 23, addresses signatures and records and states “a signature that is secured through blockchain technology is considered to be in an electronic form and to be an electronic signature.” Furthermore, the amendment also discusses the legality and enforceability of a smart contract, defined by the bill as an “event-driven program, with state, that runs on a distributed, decentralized, shared and replicated ledger . . . that can take custody over and instruct transfer of assets on that ledger.” Smart contracts, therefore, “may exist in commerce . . . and may not be denied legal effect, validity or enforceability,” thus presenting a new option of delivering information via blockchain.

    Fintech State Issues Blockchain

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  • Federal Reserve Board Member Recognizes Blockchain Technology's Potential; Warns of Associated Risks

    Federal Issues

    On October 7, at the Institute of International Finance Annual Meeting Panel on Blockchain, Federal Reserve Board member Lael Brainard delivered a speech titled “Distributed Ledger Technology: Implications for Payments, Clearing, and Settlement.” Brainard acknowledged blockchain technology as possibly the “most significant development in many years in payments, clearing, and settlement” and outlined its potential “to transform the way financial market participants transfer, store, and maintain ownership records of digitized assets.” Brainard highlighted payment technology changes as a particular regulatory focus and emphasized the Federal Reserve’s “responsibilities for promoting the safety and efficiency of the payments and settlements systems; supervising financial institutions engaged in payments, clearing and settlement; and safeguarding financial stability.” The following potential benefits of blockchain technology are among those discussed in Brainard’s speech: (i) faster processing and reduced costs in cross-border payments and trade finance; (ii) transparency, reduced costs, and faster settlements within securities markets; and (iii) cryptography as a secure way of transmitting and storing data. Brainard cautioned that, notwithstanding the technology’s promise, certain risks associated with financial technological developments and innovation remain, particularly in the areas of settlement, operations, cybersecurity, money laundering, and terrorist financing. Brainard concluded by highlighting the Federal Reserve’s commitment to industry engagement as blockchain technology evolves, noting that stakeholders “will work together to foster socially beneficial innovation, while insisting that risks are thoroughly understood, managed, and controlled.”

    Federal Issues Payment Systems Federal Reserve Payments Blockchain Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security

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