I recently had the pleasure to sit down and talk with SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce about the current landscape of digital assets, and how the SEC is working on making a clearer path for people in the space. See our discussion below for some valuable information and direction for anyone involved or interested in digital assets, security tokens, and digital securities.
Commissioner Peirce is known affectionately in the crypto community as “Crypto Mom” for her progressive outlook and push for sensible solutions that still allow for growth in the community. She recently released her Token Safe Harbor Proposal (Proposed Securities Act Rule 195) which is a very well thought out proposal to bridge the gap between regulation and decentralization.
The views expressed by Commissioner Peirce are her own and do not necessarily represent those of the Securities and Exchange Commission or her fellow Commissioners.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
RS: For someone trying to determine if the business model is a utility or a security, what would you say are the three most important elements to consider?
HP: Well I think that what I would suggest is that you take a look at the Howey test and determine where you fit in terms of whether you are selling the token to folks wrapped with a promise that you as a promoter are going to do something to make that token increase in value. If that is how you are promoting it, then I would say you need to study Howey carefully and determine which side of the line you fall on.
You can read more from the SEC about the Howey test below:
- Digital Asset Transactions: When Howey Met Gary (Plastic), Speech by William Hinman, Director of Division of Corporation Finance
- How we Howey, Speech by Commissioner Hester Peirce
- Framework for “Investment Contract” Analysis of Digital Assets
RS: If a business model is a security, what are the first steps the business should take with the SEC?
HP: I would absolutely encourage everyone working on something to come into the SEC as soon as possible in the process and specifically reach out to the FinHub, which you can find on the SEC website. You can meet with us in person or you can meet with us by phone. For people interested in keeping me in the loop, And just get a sense from our staff what types of things to think about, like the first question you raised in terms of where you fall, security or non-security. They will not give you legal advice but they will give you things that you really ought to think about as you are trying to figure out which side of that line you are on and therefore how you can go about doing your token offering.
HP: I look at each offering on a case by case basis, so it’s really difficult to make blanket statements like that. I think people need to be looking at where things fall, if it is a security, figure out whether you want to do it as a registered offering or whether you want to use an exemption, and figure out where it falls best in terms of which exemption to use. It’s hard for me to say categorically that STOs are better than ICOs or vice a versa, again we take a facts and circumstances based approach; we see every offering to be dealt with on its own merits.
RS: Should investors be equally cautious with STOs as they are with ICOs?
HP: In this situation as in every other situation, I tell people who are buying things to ask the right questions, if you’re putting a lot of your money at stake in something you better ask a lot of questions, no matter whether it is a new car, or buying a token, or buying a stock or bond, you need to ask questions. If you can’t get the answer that you think you should get, and if you are not getting answers to questions that are reasonable questions to ask then you probably do not want to invest. There are some basic red flags that apply across any purchase or investment no matter whether it is a digital asset or a traditional security.
RS: Right around this time last year you said “we might be able to draw clearer lines once we see more blockchain projects mature”. How do you think blockchain projects have matured in the past year? Is this more/less maturity than you expected?
HP: I think there has definitely been a maturing, it is encouraging, and I like to see that people are becoming more discerning. People are asking more questions than they were a year or two years ago. I think that holding projects to a higher standard has been good for everyone. I do think that we would see more maturity if the securities law framework were more clear than it is. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem, you can’t see as much development without regulatory clarity, and you can’t see the regulatory clarity without knowing what it is you’re providing clarity for. I am hopeful that we will see some more development in the coming year, maybe a lot of that will happen outside the USA, but it may help us think about what the regulatory framework should look like.
RS: I know Malta is doing a lot of progressive regulation for blockchain and digital assets, I think that that is helping guide people in a better direction.
HP: We see other jurisdictions, Malta, Switzerland, and some other jurisdictions that are taking a forward-thinking approach. I think we can learn from what they are doing. I would like for us to be more on the forefront, but it is not bad that other people are thinking about this and we can learn from them – regulators can crowdsource too!
RS: You have been pretty vocal about the SEC taking a watch-and-see approach with ICOs and digital assets. Many people in the ICO/digital asset industry wish that the SEC would regulate quickly so they do not need to operate in a grey zone. What would you tell those people?
HP: I would tell them that I have an idea for a safe harbor. I would hope that people can take a look at that. There are many issues in the United States where there is lack of clarity, this only deals with one of those issues. I hope that people get back to me and give me feed back on that and we can develop something that is workable
Readers can see Commissioner Peirce’s Safe Harbor Speech and Proposal here. The Safe Harbor Proposal details five conditions that teams must satisfy to be able to take advantage of a time limited exemption from federal securities law provisions:
“First, the team must intend for the network on which the token functions to reach network maturity—defined as either decentralization or token functionality—within three years of the date of the first token sale and undertake good faith and reasonable efforts to achieve that goal. Second, the team would have to disclose key information on a freely accessible public website. Third, the token must be offered and sold for the purpose of facilitating access to, participation on, or the development of the network. Fourth, the team would have to undertake good faith and reasonable efforts to create liquidity for users. Finally, the team would have to file a notice of reliance.”
The Safe Harbor Proposal is a work in progress and Commissioner Peirce welcomes additional input.
RS: Last month, the SEC filed a proposed rule to amend the definition of “accredited investor”. Can you tell us a little bit more about these proposed changes and how you think they can benefit the digital asset and ICO industry?
HP: The changes really are focused on the institutional category rather than the individual accredited investor category. When we talk about accredited investors, I hear feedback about how frustrated people are that we are essentially judging financial sophistication by one metric, and that is by how wealthy you are. So there are a lot of people who have told me that they would like to see the individual class of what an accredited investor is expanded to people who have demonstrated their financial sophistication in other ways. It is open for comments and people can weigh in on that and if people do not weigh in on that, most on the proposed changes will be on the entity side.
RS: Can the general public weigh in on the proposed accredited investor changes?
HP: You can just send an email, it’s a relatively painless process. It does go up on the website so everyone will be able to see it. We certainly welcome feedback and it is especially nice to hear from people who might not have known that they could submit comments. We are always eager for our proposals to reach more and more people.
For more information about the proposed changes to amend the definition of “accredited investor” :
- Proposed Rule to Amend the “Accredited Investor” Definition
- Press Release – SEC Proposes to Update Accredited Investor Definition to Increase Access to Investments
The deadline for providing feedback to the proposed accredited investor definition is March 16, 2020. Feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, noting File Number S7-25-19 in the subject line, or at the comment form here, and click on “Submit comments on S7-25-19” under release number 33-10734.
RS: Currently, companies can legally raise up to $1.07M through crowdfunding, in today’s environment this is not much start-up capital for industries like technology. Above $1.07M companies do not have many cost-conscious options for raising capital legally; the requirements for a company to have an IPO are enormous and bear an equally enormous cost. Some people have been using ICOs/STOs/IEOs as a bridge to solve this gap. What are your thoughts on this?
HP: I would agree that crowdfunding has not achieved the potential that it could achieve, and that’s something that now that it’s been in place for a little while we need to take a look at and see whether we need to adjust how it works and what those adjustments should be. One of the things that we have at the SEC that has been useful is a Small Business Capital Formation Advisory Committee that meets periodically, it’s a group of people outside of the SEC who are involved in capital raising for small businesses. They provide us input on existing rules and how they need to be modified so that they are more workable or on the need for potential new exemptions for people who are trying to raise money. Through that forum we have had some chances to think about crowdfunding and how we can make that work better. I do think people are trying to be creative in thinking about how they can raise money, so I suspect that you are right, some people are viewing token offerings as an alternative to something like crowdfunding. If they are doing that, they better seriously consider how the securities laws apply to what they are doing.
RS: There has been an uptick in IEOs (Initial Exchange Offerings) in the past six months or so; I noticed that the SEC issued an Investor Alert about IEOs recently which is helpful for investors who might not quite realize what is going on with some IEOs. I know some IEOs are trying to make the projects sound more official than they are.
HP: Yes, people like to do that. One of my constant mantras is that I want the SEC to be more open to letting people raise money and invest in projects. But I also want people to know, as a counterpart to that, the SEC does not sign off on investments. So, when you invest in something it is on you, the investor, to make a decision whether that is a good investment at all, and whether it is a good investment for you specifically. Do not assume that things have been pre-cleared or signed off on by the SEC no matter how official something looks.
RS: This is great advice for a lot of new investors that this industry has attracted.
RS: The New York Stock Exchange existed and operated for over 100 years before the Securities and Exchange Commission was established. If the public was able to successfully trade stocks on unregulated exchanges for such a long time, do you think that it is possible that people can self-regulate the ICO industry successfully until there is proper regulation from the SEC?
HP: There are lots of different ways to regulate. We in the US have chosen to regulate our securities market with a mix of self-regulation, government regulation, and quasi-government regulation. One point that I have made in this space, that sometimes gets lost on government regulators like me is that some regulation occurs naturally: markets regulate and discipline themselves. I think the securities industry is one in which we have seen that some versions of self-regulation that can be quite effective. That said, we have a framework that does involve a government regulator (SEC), to the extent that people are engaging in activity that falls within our purview we are the regulator that writes the rules so there should be interaction between what’s going on in that space and us. You can’t just do things that fall within our jurisdiction and say “well I am self-regulating so that’s an acceptable alternative”.
RS: And it comes back around to you saying earlier, contact the SEC, and the SEC can help guide people where to look.
RS: I’ve noticed over the past couple of years a pretty dramatic difference in the digital asset landscape: people are self-regulating, businesses are more professional, and people are asking better questions. I know many people would like SEC regulation so that they can easily follow the law.
HP: I understand that too. I think we are trying to come to a place where we can make it easier for people who are trying to do the right thing to do it in a way that is compliant with our rules that also achieves their objectives, that’s the place that I want to get to. It will never be particularly simple because our securities laws can be really difficult, but we can certainly make it easier than it is now.
RS: Do you foresee the regulations becoming easier for people to follow in the next year or two?
HP: I remain hopeful which is why we want to get the safe harbor draft idea out there so that we can get people thinking about it. One piece of the US regulatory infrastructure that makes nothing simple is that we have so many different regulators who have a potential interest in this space. So even if we do something at the SEC there are other regulators that may also have something to say. There is cross-government cooperation but I think we are going to hear even more calls for there to be even better and closer cooperation.
RS: Is there anything else that we did not touch on that you would like to share?
HP: No, I think you covered it well. You are right to focus on this question of where do things fall with respect to our securities laws and how can we work on adjusting those securities laws so that they help to make it clear to potential people who are interested in getting involved in the space. When a project is really seeking to do something legitimate with the funds and when they are seeing to do something not legitimate with the funds, trying to make a clear path for folks who are trying to do the right thing and I think will serve all of us well.
Below are some additional useful links:
- You can check the SEC database to see if a company you’re thinking about investing in has filed notices such as Form D, Form 1-A, Form C
- One stop shop for SEC news on ICOs and digital assets
- Investor Alerts
- FinHub, the main point of contact for innovators, developers, entrepreneurs to engage with the SEC
- SEC Spotlight on ICOs – for investors and market professionals
Natural Selection: Could Stablecoins Eat Into The Crypto Market?
Despite the financial uncertainty posed by 2020, the tumultuous year has represented something of a prosperous one for the stablecoin market. Since the beginning of the year, the cryptocurrencies that have their values pegged to existing assets like gold or the US Dollar have seen a heavy flow of funding as more traders look to buy into stable assets as a way of keeping their money from depreciating.
While stablecoins have become a useful store of finance that promises stronger protection against the disruption threatened by COVID-19 and subsequent recessions, there’s reasonable evidence to suggest that the currencies are actively evolving beyond their role as a trading asset and are increasingly being looked upon as a means of transferring value.
Over the coming years, we’re likely to see a range of central banks and large corporations start to tap into the stablecoin landscape, with global behemoths like Facebook already signalling their intent with the shelved Libra Project. With large scale investment into stablecoins looking like an inevitability, what will this mean for the crypto world’s smaller, un-tethered assets, like Ripple?
The Rise and Rise of Stablecoins
As Bitcoin made its famous rally towards the end of 2017, more and more cryptocurrency exchanges started to make the switch from fiat currency-to-Bitcoin trading pairs to Tether-to-Bitcoin – thus enabling crypto-only exchanges to build on market share gains.
The late 2017 boom opened the door for more stablecoins to enter the market, with countless projects surfacing in a bid to emulate Tether’s purpose and success.
As the arrival of COVID-19 caused widespread financial uncertainty, the market capitalization of stablecoins swelled up collectively to over $7bn in value in a matter of three months – with almost $6bn comprised of Tether investments.
Since the spring time, the rise of DeFi protocols have caused stablecoin markets to swell up by as much as $100 million each day – leaving the industry’s market cap more-than doubling in size since the start of the year.
Furthermore, more emerging trends surrounding the acceptance of stablecoin projects among banks have led to a greater level of acceptance among investors. The Liechtenstein-based Bank Frick recently announced that it would be supporting USD Coin – allowing customers to send, receive and store the stablecoin using their bank accounts.
The meteoric rise of the stablecoin market, coupled with ever-increasing levels of interest in blockchain technology from both banking institutions and big businesses alike means that stablecoins are set to emerge as the cryptocurrency market’s primary form of banking coin. But what will this development mean for coins like Ripple and investors who look to switch their holdings in Bitcoin to Litecoin, for instance, in order to leverage fast transactions?
Eating Into The Crypto Market
Payments using the coin were set to be swift and free of hefty processing fees that some early crypto assets commanded. The focus of the coin was set on interbank payments, but its early success caused Ripple to expand into a leading crypto payments network around the world.
At the height of its popularity, Ripple was easily accessible on leading crypto exchanges that allowed easy access to digital finance that could be easily traded.
However, Ripple also unwittingly formed the blueprint on how to build a successful stablecoin.
The implementation of stablecoins that are pegged to various assets designed to hold their value amid economic downturns while operating on an easy transactional framework with limited processing fees has placed numerous stablecoins in direct competition with Ripple.
With the arrival of other corporate-backed stablecoins like the JPM Coin and the Utility Settlement Coin Project, it’s clear that the old guard of XRP faces a significant battle to avoid being drowned out by the market’s new upstarts.
The financial might of corporate stablecoins means that Ripple’s swift payment systems may soon be bettered via new transactional developments.
However, there may be some hope for Ripple due to the coin’s longevity in a rapidly expanding market. Ripple has helped to onboard over 300 customers during its lifespan, and possesses a greater level of crypto experience compared to its competitors.
It’s clear that stablecoins are here for the foreseeable future, and even hold the potential to overhaul national fiat currencies in mainstream usage. With market caps inflating exponentially, the old guard of un-tethered cryptocurrencies may be at risk of losing out as more adopters look to find practicality and consistent prices within crypto assets.
For Ripple, the notion of competing to recapture its place as the industry’s preferred coin for transactions seems too whimsical given the financial might of these new players introducing stablecoins into the market place.
Instead, what was once looked upon as one of the world’s most promising cryptocurrencies will have to tap into its experience to adapt away from its swift transactional roots. The cryptocurrency market is based on natural selection, where only the most innovative survive. In this unforgiving climate, many of the pragmatic cryptocurrencies of yesterday will be required to explore new blockchain developments elsewhere to maintain their relevance to adopters.
Wave Financial Makes First 1000 Barrel Purchase for ‘Kentucky Whisky 2020 Digital Fund’
Tokenization is beginning to attract increased attention from investors with this past week bringing multiple examples of important markers being met. First, INX met its minimum threshold for token distribution, with $7.5M USD raised. Second, Wave Financial completed its first purchase of bourbon/whiskey for tokenization through its Kentucky Whisky 2020 Digital Fund.
Whisky – A Different Approach
What is intriguing about these events is the underlying assets. To date, the vast majority of tokenization efforts have surrounded real estate. In this instance, however, the underlying assets are a trading platform and Kentucky Bourbon/Whisky.
Although investors have taken an interest in alternative assets such as wine and art for decades, the fund by Wave Financial represents one of the first efforts to tokenize an asset such as bourbon/whisky.
“For investors to gain exposure to real assets that have impressive investment fundamentals such as whiskey is very difficult, but now it is possible via our fund. Following the launch in March we are delighted to have completed our first tranche time sensitive capital raise and purchased 1,000 barrels of physical premium Kentucky bourbon whiskey on behalf of our investors” – Benjamin Tsai, President and Managing Partner of Wave Financial
Other examples of niche tokenization efforts include:
CurioInvest – Fractional investing in rare automobiles
TheArtToken – Fractional investing in fine art
Although reaching this first marker is an important moment for Wave Financial, it is just the first on a long road. With Wave Financial expecting to tokenize between 10,000-20,000 bottles, this current crop of 1000 only represents 5-10% of its goal.
“With our unique access to Wilderness Trail’s whiskey production capacity for this year remaining open, we are in a great position to continue the capital raise for the fund.” – David Seimer, CEO of Wave Financial
If Wave Financial is able to reach its end goal, this would represent the tokenization of an entire years-worth of bourbon/whisky from manufacturing partner, Wilderness Trail Distillery.
A Full Set of Macallan Whisky
For those wondering if Bourbon/Whisky can indeed represent a good investment, look no further than Macallan.
Matthew Robson, 28, was the recipient of one bottle of Macallan single malt scotch whisky on his birthday, for 18 consecutive years. He recently made the decision to sell this collection, which was left untouched over time. This decision resulted in a sale, bringing in $56,000 USD.
While not an example of tokenization, the appreciation in the Macallan Whisky collection is exactly what investors are after. Providing the whisky is properly cared for, it is a product that will not deteriorate over time, and is only produced in limited runs. Furthermore, there will always be a consumer demand – simply put, people like to drink. For each of these reasons, Wave’s Kentucky Whisky 2020 Digital Fund may just go on to prove quite successful for investors thinking outside of the box.
Speaking with Benjamin
When the Kentucky Whisky 2020 Digital Fund was first announced, we were fortunate to have completed an exclusive interview with one of its fund managers – Benjamin Tsai.
As the President and Managing Partner of Wave Financial, Benjamin Tsai was able to provide unique insights into the fund, Wave Financial, and the digital securities sector at large.
To learn more about each, make sure to peruse this discussion HERE.
Founded in 2018, Wave Financial is headquartered in Los Angeles, California. As a Registered Investment Advisor with the SEC, Wave Financial is able to offer investors opportunities such as the fund described here today. In addition, Wave Financial offers various consultation and treasury management services to its clients.
CEO, Dave Siemer, currently oversees company operations.
Baxter Hines, Author of “Digital Finance: Security Tokens and Unlocking the Blockchain” – Interview Series
Baxter Hines, CFA, is managing partner with Honeycomb Digital Investments. He co-founded the firm in 2020 to provide income producing solutions for clients. His firm manages portfolios consisting of traditional assets, security tokens and digital assets.
His new book “The Digital Finance Book: Security Tokens and Unlocking the Real Potential of Blockchain“, is currently available to be pre-ordered at all major on-line retailers globally and will be in stores on November 17th, 2020.
What initially attracted you to blockchain and digital assets?
I spent an extensive amount of time looking into cryptocurrencies initially because I was so curious as to what the buzz was all about and after learning as much as I could about Bitcoin and cryptos I sought to gain a deeper understanding of the underlying technology, its capabilities and real world applications. It was at this point that I came to realize that blockchain is so much more than simply Bitcoin. It became obvious to me that this innovation would impact the transfer and management of assets such as stocks, real estate, bonds, private securities, intellectual property and much more. Placing real-world assets on the blockchain can lower costs of capital and that feature alone will cause eventual widespread adoption. When that idea sank in, I knew I wanted to learn as much about blockchain and digital assets as I could.
You’re a managing partner with Honeycomb Digital Investments, an investment firm that manages portfolios consisting of traditional assets, security tokens and digital assets. What are the things that you look for when reviewing investment opportunities?
I spent twelve years as a portfolio manager at NFJ Investments (a subsidiary of Allianz Global Investors) focused mainly on stocks with an emphasis on dividends. I bring that mindset to the digital asset space in that I seek out investment opportunities that I believe will capture the benefits of the upcoming growth of blockchain technology and its underlying ecosystem. Specifically, Honeycomb looks to invest in companies that are building the platforms and infrastructure to support the megatrend of blockchain and those cryptocurrencies and projects which will also be a part of the underlying ecosystem.
How would you personally describe what security tokens are?
Simply put, security tokens are a digital representation of real ownership in an asset – in most instances, one token is equivalent to one share in an asset. Security tokens are a digitized title to a financial instrument combined with the agility and speed of blockchain. Security token holders are entitled to certain rights and privileges of an underlying asset just as they would be if they owned the asset outright.
By building on top of the blockchain, security tokens offer capabilities, features and innovations that would never have been possible in a world of paper certificates. We are truly at the dawn of a new digital age in finance! Some of the brightest financial, technological and legal minds of today are working feverishly to develop the potential of this reliable, consistent, safe and consumer-friendly method of doing business. The future potential of these technologies is massive and the growth will occur over many, many years.
One factor that distinguishes security tokens from cryptocurrencies is that they are more regulated instruments. Tokens can only be released after meeting stringent legal and compliance hurdles providing investors with certain protections. Because of the programmable nature of the blockchain, security tokens can include features to automate servicing, embed compliance and enforce contractual obligations.
Not only do security tokens contain regulatory safeguards; but also, they provide investors with two major additional features: cost saving efficiencies and the potential to create enhanced liquidity. Process automation brought about by the blockchain will allow for security tokens to provide greater functionality, lower costs, faster speeds and increased transparency to financial markets. These aspects should ultimately lead security tokens to have lower costs of capital than their traditional paper alternatives.
Security tokens have been a bit slower to take off than most of us expected, in your opinion what are the reasons behind this?
Three major factors are holding security tokens back from wide-spread adoption: regulatory uncertainty, lack of education and first mover hesitation. The benefits of digitization are significant and eventually projects will have to go on the blockchain just to stay competitive. But before a takeoff in demand can occur, these three issues must be resolved.
Regulatory certainty has begun to arrive and technology is matching what is needed for this digital future. Jurisdictions like Singapore and Switzerland are taking a clear approach to how they want to govern security tokens and their leaders have noted digitization to be the path to a better and safer financial future. It is my opinion that larger economies such as the United States, the European Union and Japan will likely eventually follow and simply refine the earlier established frameworks. Once the financial community sees the incredible benefits digitization has to offer, other countries will be fast to adopt digital-friendly laws so to reap the subsequent rewards.
Second, for security tokens to grow and flourish, the market and all of its constituents need to be further educated. Security token usage will be a growing trend in the market; but to realize the full potential, certain terms, concepts and a better understanding of the functions and benefits of blockchain must be realized by all of the players in the financial services industry including retail
investors, those employed in the financial industry, market regulators, and entrepreneurs trying to issue securities to raise capital. Hopefully my book can help out on this front!
Finally, we need more traditional financial services players and issuers to bring high-quality projects on the blockchain. Asset classes with higher frictions around trading are prime candidates for early adoption. This includes fixed income, real estate and private equity investments. We have already seen several pioneering projects in these spaces gravitate towards the blockchain. Many other projects are sitting on the sidelines today, waiting in anticipation to see how the first movers to blockchain fare. As these initial projects that have already digitized prove themselves to be safe and legally compliant, a new group of followers will jump in. Like the old saying goes “Nobody wants to be first to a party, but nobody wants to be last!”.
Are there any current security tokens (digital securities) which you are bullish on?
Without getting into specifics, I must say that I can say that I am bullish on the benefits of security tokens for the financial services industry as a whole – in particular the benefits this technology will have on the underlying investors and such investors ability to better gain access to liquidity when it comes to certain asset classes.
You recently wrote a book on security tokens and digital securities called “Digital Finance” which is set to be published in November 2020. What inspired you to write this book?
After extensively researching blockchain and its “better, faster, and cheaper” nature, I realized our financial system is on the verge of a massive transformation. Blockchain technology is the solution to spearhead the next generation of financial market infrastructure and blockchain may be the most important innovation since the internet.
While most people are aware of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, few realize the far greater potential of blockchain. Blockchain has already proven itself to be an incredible means of exchanging value and information – but there is so much more to offer! My book examines how this powerful technology can overhaul our current financial infrastructure in a way that will increase efficiency, transparency, and security.
I wanted to publish a non-technical, easy to understand primer on blockchain and security tokens that would be relatable and practical for those in the financial industry. John Wiley & Sons seemed like the perfect publishing partner to assist in realizing my aim of producing a clear and concise framework on how to think about investments in the digital space. My goal with the book is to help readers uncover how blockchain and distributed ledger technology are disrupting the financial industry in an easy to understand and non-technical manner.
In your book you will be discussing case studies, historical perspectives and latest trends. What are some of the case studies that are discussed?
One of the book’s objectives is to make sure the reader can truly connect with the subject matter and as a result, the work contains many case studies, historical perspectives and latest trends to bring key concepts across. “Digital Finance” focuses on three major areas of digital assets: cryptocurrencies, stablecoins (like Central Bank Digital Currencies or other digital representations of money like the US Dollar or Euro) and security tokens. It is important that the reader get accustomed to real-world illustrations from all three of those fields. The book covers cases like Facebook’s Libra project building a global blockchain-based platform for cryptocurrencies and Britain’s Royal Mint creating a digitized way to own gold in its vaults. As security tokens are the main topic of the book, most of the examples focus on how blockchain can affect stocks, bonds, private equity and other alternative asset classes. As a result, examples such as the World Bank’s Bond-i, the Aspen St. Regis’ hotel token, and NBA player Spencer Dinwiddie’s professional athlete investment token (PAInT) are covered in detail. There is also considerable attention placed on projects that large established corporations such as IBM, HSBC, Goldman Sachs and the Singapore Exchange are undertaking to build a new blockchain-based infrastructure that will run our financial markets in the coming years.
The book also contains numerous examples from history that provide a framework on how to think about the upcoming rise of digital solutions. Through my research, I have noticed a striking similarity between the Internet Age of the 1990’s and the adoption of blockchain. By looking at the growth of the Internet from a historical perspective, one can gain a glimpse into what will unfold as blockchain becomes a bigger disruptive force.
What do you believe needs to happen to accelerate the pace of adoption of digital securities?
The move to a blockchain-based financial system will unfold one step at a time albeit in a quick manner with the most basic levels of finance developed first. As a result, payment systems will be at the forefront of digitization in the coming years and digital currencies will be a powerful force that will later aid in the growth of digital securities. The main reasons for gravitating to digital securities from their paper-based alternatives are largely two-fold: lower costs and enhanced liquidity. Without a digital payment mechanism in place first, security tokens will not be able to fully capture those benefits.
Cryptocurrency and stablecoins representing a national currency like the U.S. dollar have been the typical gateway people use to first experience digital financial products. Today, we are seeing many countries float the idea of a blockchain based national currency; the list includes the world’s largest economies such as China, Brazil, France, Canada and the United States just to name a few. If government entities around the world begin to formulate legislation that will allow for currencies to become digital in a legally compliant manner, this would be huge for digital assets in general. The move would certainly encourage people to further explore utilizing digital financial products and would provide an amazing amount of comfort in doing such.
Not only will national digital currencies facilitate adoption but also, they will clear hurdles for further regulatory reform. After creating a digital currency, government entities will have already had discussions around blockchain, its safety and the infrastructure that is needed to flourish. Leaders will then be more likely to debate further initiatives such as digitizing securities like stocks or bonds.
Liquidity around a digital security or security token is much easier once a digital currency is in place. Whenever a security token is bought or sold, it needs to have a digital currency on the other side of the trade to fully reduce frictions and allow for instant settlement. If the cash systems of today are used in that process, the trading aspects of security tokens will still be much slower than they can be. As a result, government entities will need to first focus on payments and central bank issued digital currencies in order for the pace of adoption of digital securities to really take hold.
Is there anything else that you would like to share regarding your book ‘Digital Finance’?
I think it is important for people to have a perspective as to just how big this wave of tokenization will be. Digital assets and security tokens are going to be a major factor in the future of capital markets and will represent the first new asset structure in roughly 30 years! The last new product with even remotely the same scale and effect was the ETF. This upcoming blockchain breakthrough will have a profound impact on the way we trade securities, how shares are maintained throughout their life cycle and even influence the ways we invest our money. This innovative process opens up the possibility of unlocking trillions of dollars in assets to new investment!
There are more and more signs that digitization will help to transform the traditional investment business model of today into a modern, fair, transparent and distributed marketplace. This new paradigm will connect investors and the projects they invest in directly with blockchain based platforms. Just recently, the first regulated security tokens have gone to market. We are at a point in time where more regulatory certainty has arrived and technology is being developed to match what is needed for this digital future. Everyone in the financial industry will need to have a broad comprehension of how the technology works, what it can affect and what consequences this could have for business.
The pace of development in this industry is remarkable. Almost every day I see another groundbreaking story that gets me excited. As a result, I’ve started a Twitter account for the book which highlights articles covering the hottest topics of the day. The purpose of this page is to aggregate the most important stories at a given time and put them into a one stop location for people to see the incredible milestones that digitization is hitting! Be sure to follow us on Twitter for the most important news!
Thank you for the fantastic interview, I enjoyed learning about your views on digital securities and the future of the industry.
Readers who are interested in learning more should know that the book is currently available for pre-sale at all major on-line retailers globally and will be in stores on November 17th, 2020.
Follow the Book on Twitter: @digifinancebook