How is a particular Token or Digital Coin Structured as a Utility?

Posted by on July 30, 2018

How is a particular Token or Digital Coin Structured as a Utility?- 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 several revelations for the crypto marketplace.

Hinman for the first time, gives some guidance to issuers and their counsel in determining whether a particular token or coin is being structured as a security. Hinman is clear that this list of factors is not comprehensive but rather lays the groundwork for a thoughtful analysis. Items to consider include:

1. Is token creation commensurate with meeting the needs of users or, rather, with feeding speculation?
2. Are independent actors setting the price or is the promoter supporting the secondary market for the asset or otherwise influencing trading?
3. Is it clear that the primary motivation for purchasing the digital asset is for personal use or consumption, as compared to investment? Have purchasers made representations as to their consumptive, as opposed to their investment, intent? Are the tokens available in increments that correlate with a consumptive versus investment intent?
4. Are the tokens distributed in ways to meet users’ needs? For example, can the tokens be held or transferred only in amounts that correspond to a purchaser’s expected use? Are there built-in incentives that compel using the tokens promptly on the network, such as having the tokens degrade in value over time, or can the tokens be held for extended periods for investment?
5. Is the asset marketed and distributed to potential users or the general public?
6. Are the assets dispersed across a diverse user base or concentrated in the hands of a few that can exert influence over the application?
7. Is the application fully functioning or in early stages of development?

In another step towards regulatory guidance, Hinman said the SEC is prepared to provide more formal interpretive or no-action guidance about the proper characterization of a digital asset in a proposed use. As recently as 3 months ago, the SEC had indicated it was not processing no-action letters on the subject at that time. In his speech, Hinman recognizes the implication of determining something is a security, including related to broker-dealer licensing, exchange registration, fund registration, investment advisor registration requirements, custody and valuation issues.

Hinman also expressed excitement about the potential surrounding digital ledger technology, including advancements in supply chain management, intellectual property rights licensing, and stock ownership transfers. He thinks the craze behind ICOs has passed, and I agree. In particular, as he states, realizing that securities laws apply to an ICO that funds development, industry participants have started to revert back to traditional debt or equity offerings and only selling a token once the network has been established, and then only to those that need the functionality of the network and not as an investment.

There have been earlier signs that the SEC is softening and rethinking its approach to cryptocurrencies as well. In a speech to the Medici Conference in Los Angeles on May 2, 2018, SEC Commissioner Hester M. Peirce warned against regulators stifling the innovation of blockchain by trying to label token and coins as securities and even when they are securities, being myopic on the need to fit within existing securities laws and regulations. Like Director Hinman, Commissioner Peirce encourages communication between market participants and the SEC as everyone tries to navigate the marketplace and technology.