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How Will the SEC Treat Crypto? Here’s What’s Been Said So Far

September 25, 2018

There’s clearly a few different opinions about the future of cryptocurrency, even within the SEC itself.



Because of my interest in blockchain technology, I’ve become the default “cryptocurrency person” in my immediate circle. Blockchain (which is different from cryptocurrency) is such a new and exciting industry, and it seems like everyone wants to know more.


Specifically, professionals often ask me to predict what the SEC will do in the future. This can be a difficult question to answer directly. While reading minds is not my virtue and I don’t have a crystal ball (though one would be very handy on occasion), I often share a few quotes that I think summarize the SEC’s current thinking.


Is Ether a Security?


Some SEC officials say no. On June 14, William Hinman, Director of the Division of Corporate Finance, spoke at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit: “[Putting] aside the fundraising that accompanied the creation of Ether, based on my understanding of the present state of Ether, the Ethereum network and its decentralized structure, current offers and sales of Ether are not securities transactions.”


Does Everyone Agree?


Maybe not. On June 6, Jay Clayton, chairman of the SEC, told CNBC: “A token, a digital asset, where I give you my money and you go off and make a venture, and in return for giving you my money I say ‘you can get a return’ that is a security and we regulate that,” Clayton said. “We regulate the offering of that security and regulate the trading of that security.” 


Is Crypto Safe?


Clayton appears to be more hesitant about crypto in general. Testifying before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee on February 6, Clayton said: “[T]here are significant security risks that can arise by transacting in these markets, including the loss of investment and personal information due to hacks of online trading platforms and individual digital asset ‘wallets.’ A recent study estimated that more than 10% of proceeds generated by ICOs — or almost $400 million — has been lost to such attacks. And less than two weeks ago, a Japanese cryptocurrency market lost over $500 million in an apparent hack of its systems.”


Will There Be Any New Regulations?


Clayton doesn’t seem to think that the definition of security will change. In the same June 6 interview, Clayton also told CNBC: “[The SEC is] not going to do any violence to the traditional definition of a security that has worked for a long time. We’ve been doing this a long time, there’s no need to change the definition.”


Wait, Does Everyone Agree On That?


With the recent nomination and confirmation of Elad Roisman, a new commissioner, we may also see movement toward approving at Bitcoin ETF. Roisman has already signaled his desire to focus regulatory attention on cryptocurrency’s fair treatment. Speaking at a Senate Banking Committee hearing in July, he said, “the SEC must examine and re-examine its rules, regulations, and guidelines to ensure that they are still working as intended to accomplish the SEC’s mission.” He also added, “It is essential that the SEC approach these new challenges in a fair and transparent manner, provide clarity and certainty to the markets and investors, and enforce the laws and regulations that hold market participants accountable.”


Based on these quotes, there may be a few different opinions about the future of cryptocurrency. I’d like to know — what do you think? Whose word are you taking, if any? And, bonus points if you share your favorite SEC quote!



Olga V. Mack

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