Jurisdictions with a different legal outlook towards Coin Offerings
The year 2018 was marked with technology advancements and new trends. The DLT industry started to get widely recognised in many jurisdictions around the world, making way to a new digital economy. Most financial service providers are using technology to their advantage, utilising blockchain wisely to store in data, or creating complex mathematical algorithms to create an easy way to digitally facilitate, verify, or enforce agreements by means of smart contracts. Moreover, the FinTech industry is also growing substantially, with many financial institutions opting to become part of this industry.
Countries implementing different ICO Laws
This year has marked a record-high for new ICO ventures launching their crowdfunding platforms. Many companies are now opting to design tokens to be exchanged for services offered to their clients. Various countries have taken different regulatory approaches towards this growing industry, with some regulating the space and others opting for non-regulation. Certain countries decided to implement strict legislation by banning people from owning cryptocurrencies or investing in ICOs altogether, while others have built well-structured progressive legal frameworks that provide legal certainty.
Stringent laws taken by the SEC in the US towards ICOs
Meanwhile in the US, ICOs are not formally regulated across the country, however, various administrative agencies, such as the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the Financial Crimes Task Force (FinCen), the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) have taken measures to regulate this market. The most notable administrative agency overseeing ICOs is the SEC. The SEC’s purpose is to investigate and regulate all securities issued by companies, while “protecting investors, maintaining fair, orderly and efficient markets, and facilitating capital formation.”
Although no concrete legislation regarding ICOs is in place, the SEC has jurisdiction over any securities related matter from the power granted to it by the Securities Act of 1933 and 1934. Guidance is also given regarding to what constitutes a security by the 1946 Supreme Court Case commonly known as Howey. Howey set forth a test used to determine whether an asset being offered constitutes the sale of a security. This test is applicable to all ICO issuances implicating the United States. The Howey Test is a financial instrument test which states that, if the asset meets all the elements, then it will be treated as a security. The elements of the test are as follows: 1) an investment in a common enterprise, 2) with the expectation of profits, 3) primarily derived from the entrepreneurial efforts of others.
Companies in the US launching their ICO have been commonly identifying their tokens as utility tokens in hope of circumventing registration with the SEC. However, utility tokens are not a legally recognised concept in the US and instead, the SEC looks at the economic realities of the transaction.
Although the US has stringent ICO Laws, companies are still risking to set up and open their ICO venture, due to the United States entities receiving the highest amount of crowdfunding.
In the past year, a number of celebrities and other public figures have endorsed ICOs, encouraging their fans to invest their money. However, recently, the SEC issued a warning to investors in various tokens stating that they are subject to have violated anti-touting laws along with anti-fraud provisions. In this case however, the SEC failed to clarify how these endorsements were paid, either directly or by indirect payment. Moreover, the SEC stated that celebrities marketing such ICOs “…may be unlawful if they do not disclose the nature, source, and amount of any compensation paid, directly or indirectly, by the company in exchange for the endorsement. The SEC’s Enforcement Division and Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations encourage investors to be wary of investment opportunities that sound too good to be true. We encourage investors to research potential investments rather than rely on paid endorsements from artists, sports figures, or other icons.” Hence, these promoters might be held liable on the basis of ‘acting as unregistered brokers’ as well as taking part in transactions of securities which have not yet registered by the SEC.
What about the Asian market?
Asian countries have taken various stances with regards to ICOs; some have imposed strict laws banning ICOs altogether, while others take a lenient and progressive approach towards ICO tokens and treat them on a case by case basis. For example, the Monitory Authority of Singapore (MAS) does not regulate the issuance of utility or payment tokens, but only security tokens. With this positive approach many ICOs – who typically issue utility tokens -have launched their ICO in Singapore, making it one of the most popular jurisdictions in Asia.
On the other hand, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) took a firm stance against all ICOs, banning citizens from launching them altogether. In addition, any coin offering including exchanges used to trade virtual coins have also been banned. This approach was set in motion when China stated that all ICOs are bound to hurt the market since they are prone to deception and fraud. For this reason, the PRC is encouraging ICOs issuing their currency to follow laws which protect investors rights while trading on a platform.
In Europe, many countries have enacted favourable ICO Laws, attracting Asian companies to shift their operations to Europe, which in turn resulted in a healthy growth for the sector. Three proactive and progressive jurisdictions in Europe that have received praise from many fronts are Estonia, Switzerland and Malta. Many large crypto-exchanges set up shop on the territory of these three countries, especially in Malta.
Estonia with its already set and business-friendly laws is attracting many ICOs and crypto companies to register their operations on its territory.
In the “crypto-valley” of Switzerland and the technological city of Zug, there are many ICOs operating. The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA), has implemented forward-looking ICO Laws, and many investors and issuers see Switzerland as a “go to” country due to its favourable taxation laws.
Meanwhile the Maltese Parliament has provided a firm progressive stance with regards to Blockchain, ICOs and crypto exchanges. This has motivated many big companies such as OKEx and Binance to move their operations to the island. On the 1st of November, three regulating acts came into force, which will enable more businesses working in this industry to benefit from these innovative laws. The Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA), will be the primary institution regulating this sector. Moreover, Malta’s tax rate to foreign companies is that of 35%, but by implementing effective tax planning it can go down to as low as 5%.
Malta is gaining a lot of traction within the tech industry, with many companies opting to set up shop on the Island. Malta will continue to strive and compete with other countries who are looking to follow the “Blockchain island” regulating framework of this industry.
Many legal companies sought out the opportunity to delve into this industry. One of the companies to stand out in the industry is surely E&S Group, a legal and corporate firm based in Malta, offering tailor made services to ICOs, crypto exchanges and Tokenomics to clients. So far E&S Group has successfully advised over 90 ICOs. E&S Group is being sought after by several ICOs wishing to launch their ICO project in Malta. Apart from that, said ICOs would also need to incorporate their company in Malta before getting started with their crowdfunding their project.
If you would like to know more about what we offer, send us an email on [email protected]. Our professional team of lawyers and accountants are there to make sure that your ICO will happen.