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Security Tokens End 2018 on a High Note

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Security Tokens End 2018 on a High Note

2018 has been a wild ride for the world of blockchain. The industry began the year at the peak of an unsustainable bubble.  As a result, it is now finishing the same year at what many believe to be the bottom of the market – Meaning 2019 has tremendous upside.

Potential growth in the digital securities sector is a major part of that potential upside. 2018 saw a crack-down on ICOs and an amazing amount of fraudulent tokens. However, 2019 promises to deliver functional products that are regulated, liquid, and secure.

A Year in Transition

There was a clear transition away from ICOs throughout the year, despite a record amount of funding being brought in through them. However, it is important to remember that a select few ICOs raised a good chunk of the total money gathered.

This transition can primarily be attributed to the Securities and Exchange Commission. While warnings from the SEC began much earlier, it wasn’t until mid-2018 that they actually began to enforce regulations. For instance, it was here that eyes really began to shift towards security tokens.

Platform Development

There is a race to develop user friendly platforms, for both potential token issuers, and investors alike. While there are many promising platforms that have jumped into the fray, here is a look at the two leading the way – One in North America, the other in Europe.

Securitize (North America)
  • This company immediately comes to mind. Led by CEO, Carlos Domingo, Securitize recently received over $12million in funding from industry stalwarts such as Coinbase.
  • Services offered by Securitize have seen more adoption than most. Companies such as Spice VC, 22x Fund, Blockchain Capital, and Augmate, have all turned to Securitize in some capacity.
NeuFund (Europe)
  • NeuFund is well poised to continue gaining traction, having just completed their own STO. Figures from their own token sale were double of those expected.
  • This platform represents, perhaps, that with the most adoption in Europe. Neufund has at least 10 companies lined up to complete STOs.

One thing is certain – 2018 was a productive year for product development. With this out of the way, 2019 should see the adoption and usage of these services.

Token Protocols

An increased focus on security tokens has led to increased scrutiny on the viability of certain protocols to provide the needed security and efficiency. In other words, by recognizing that simple ERC-20 tokens would not work as securities, multiple companies decided throughout the year to develop their very own protocol, tailored specifically towards the digital securities sector. For example, here is a look at a couple of those standards:

Polymath
  • Developed a variation of the ERC-20 token standard, known as ST-20. This standard has seen minor industry adoption, as it provides the necessary security and transparency features necessary in the digital securities sector.  As development continues, Polymath finds their protocols evolving with the advent of ERC-1400.
Harbor
  • The Harbor platform has already gone live.  This means that token issuers are able to utilize the in-house standard known as ‘R-Tokens’. These regulated tokens represent Harbor’s bid to become the industry standard for protocol use.

Successful STOs

2018 was most definitely a year primarily noted for its development of industry infrastructure.  With this in mind, there were multiple instances where companies capitalized on this burgeoning sector. Here are a select few STOs that took place, and were successful in 2018:

St. Regis Aspen Resort
  • Raised $18 million through the sale of digital securities representing equity in a luxury Ski-Resort
Science Blockchain
  • Raised $12 million through the sale of digital securities representing shares within an incubator fund for start-ups working in blockchain
tZERO
  • Raised $134 million through the sale of digital securities representing fractionalized ownership of tZERO. Above all, a company that specializes in integrating traditional finance and blockchain services.

2019 and Beyond

Overall, 2019 is shaping up to be promising for not only digital securities, but for the blockchain industry as a whole. Industry fundamentals have never been better.  In addition, infrastructure is rapidly being developed which will support the next boom.

Looking back, we have seen the launch of a variety of platforms, and multiple STOs successfully hosted on them.  In addition, we have seen the creation and adoption of various token standards. Furthermore, we have seen a steady increase in excitement towards this burgeoning sector.

Closing out 2018, here are a few words from Brian Armstrong. Speaking at TechCrunch 2018, he commented on the future of digital securities, stating, “It makes sense that any company out there who has a cap table… should have their own token. Every open source project, every charity, potentially every fund or these new types of decentralized organizations [and] apps, they’re all going to have their own tokens,”

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Joshua Stoner is a multi-faceted working professional. He has a great interest in the revolutionary 'blockchain' technology. In addition to this, he is a licenced Paramedic in Nova Scotia, Canada. As such, he can provide emergency care/medicine to any situation necessitating it.

Thought Leaders

When any Asset Becomes a Digital & Immutable Proof of Ownership – Thought Leaders

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When any Asset Becomes a Digital & Immutable Proof of Ownership - Thought Leaders

Regulation

The regulatory scrutiny has morphed into a permanent reality in the crypto space. This much had become clear in early 2018. Regulators from all corners of the globe are looking to fit the crypto phenomenon into some regulatory rules or framework. The main question however is to discern what crypto assets are? And whether crypto assets are securities? If they are, then the relevant law must be applied.

In the US, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had announced that all crypto assets are investment contracts or – securities. This later corrected that all, except for Bitcoin and Ethereum (in its present stage) are to be deemed securities. 1https://coincenter.org/ files/2019-03/clayton-token-response.pdf

The reality is the American legal system largely still relies on the 86 year old Securities Act, with exceptions made available with enacting the JOBS Act in 2012. And within this amendment, there is a place for security tokens to be issued as well. Small issuances of up to USD 1m can be effected as crowdfunding projects. Larger deals can be done as private placements or public offerings limited to accredited (professional or high net worth) investors. Either way, the registration of the issuing security is mandatory. It is likely that the Securities Act may see a major revamp to exclude most cryptocurrencies from the scope of federal securities law. 2https://cryptovest.com/news/bipartisan-bill-proposes-to-exclude-crypto-from-us-securities-law/ In the meantime, the most recent discussion identifies guidelines on how to assess if the publicly offered or sold digital asset is an investment contract and therefore a security. 3https://www.sec.gov/files/dlt-framework.pdf

In Europe, on the other hand, the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) has called to extend Europe’s revised Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MIFID II) to include cryptocurrency products such as initial coin offerings with securities features among transferable securities or other types of financial instruments. 4https://www.esma.europa.eu/press-news/esma-news/crypto-assets-need-common-eu-wide-approach-ensure-investor-protection European Prospectus Regulations will apply in full from 21 July 2019 and replace the current directive. Under the Regulation each EU member state will be able to set its own limit between 1 and 8 million EUR when the mandatory prospectus requirement applies.

On the brink of Brexit, the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) published an extensive consultation paper on the classification and regulation of crypto assets. 5https://www.fca.org.uk/publication/consultation/cp19-03.pdf The paper seeks to provide regulatory clarity for firms and consumers, when certain activities around “cryptoassets” or tokens themselves fall within the FCA’s regulatory perimeter. The FCA reminds that the breach of authorisation regime is a criminal offence and carries a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment or an unlimited fine, or both. Following the consultation period, FCA intends to publish the final Policy Statement in relation to cryptoassets by summer 2019.

Other pioneering jurisdictions, such as Switzerland, Malta, Estonia, Lithuania, Liechtenstein have reviewed the types of crypto assets and proposed a classification thereof.

All the above mentioned jurisdictions offer more-or-less similar classification of tokens. Largely separating tree or four types. It is a matter of not so distant future, when every national regulatory body will be compelled to put out their opinion or guidelines on the subject.

Tokenisation digital and immutable proof of ownership

The rise and fall of the ICO exuberance has resulted in setting a firm precedent in demand for tokenisation. It has also set an example for how the future of securities will likely look. There will always be a law governing securities issuance. But there also will be a decentralised reflection of the issued securities on the blockchain. With transparent protocol implementation, everyone should be able to access smart contract specifications and assess overall market interest.

The IEO or initial exchange offering appeared to remedy some of the most lacking aspects of a typical ICO, such as reliability, custodianship, vetting, transaction speed, cost, and sales channels. But it is yet to be seen, if it turns out to be the most appropriate utility token issuance method. After all, tokenisation is adding to a healthy competition amongst issuers and issuance platforms.

A legacy exchange listing cannot be applied to tokenised securities. Legacy exchanges lack understanding of the underlying technology and regulatory clearance. This is why there are many new technologically advanced initiatives, looking to set up a regulated space for security token listing and secondary market.

For a small-capital company a KYC/AML compliant STO campaign can be considered as an alternative way to access funding. Tokenising businesses by offering equity tokens, revenue sharing or raising capital with debt tokens may become an inevitable part of a company funding life cycle. A security token offering may be equaled to initial or subsequent equity or debt offering in the form of a digital token.

When asset becomes a digital and immutable proof of ownership to a global community, that is when we have created a democratic access for everyone to participate in the growth of the global economy. Today, not all countries have harmonised securities laws. But we are well on the way to lowering barriers of entry for both investors and issuers.

About the author

Liza Aizupiete, the Managing Director of Fintelum, which serves the crypto industry by carrying out a technically sound and KYC/AML compliant token sale process, crypto funds co-custody, transfer agency, secondary token OTC desk and corporate actions.

Previously Liza was a founder and the Managing Director of a cyptocurrency exchange Globitex, as well as the General Director of Lithuanian e-money institution NexPay UAB. A Latvian native, Liza graduated from the University of Geneva, Switzerland, majoring in Philosophy. Liza is experienced in the financial industry, including trading, fund and portfolio management. Since 2012, she has become passionate about Bitcoin and later crypto industry at large, as a proponent of a decentralised and sound monetary system.

About Fintelum

Fintelum is a comprehensive ICO/STO token launch platform for businesses looking to tokenise their assets in the form of utility, equity, debt and other asset or revenue sharing token. Fintelum suite of services comprises a regulated KYC investor onboarding, and continuous compliance with the EU AML laws. The token sale process can be followed through a tailor made dashboard. The backoffice system allows data access and management as well as on-demand reporting. In addition, to help mitigate token sale process risks, Fintelum acts as a crypto currency co-custodian. The system incorporates an integrated multi signature cold/hot wallets. To serve the security token industry, Fintelum acts as a transfer agent, ensuring security token ownership amongst whitelisted investors. Fintelum is also able to provide secondary token OTC exchange desk functions, with ongoing corporate action services, such as voting, dividends and announcements.

Learn more at https://www.fintelum.com


 

This is part 5 of a 5 part series.

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Evolution in Capital Markets – Thought Leaders

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Evolution in Capital Markets – Thought Leaders

From the traditional private equity or debt to less conventional crowdfunding. The most recent tokenisation method is the next step in the evolution of the capital markets.

Often ICO token issuers made public promises regarding future increase of value of their token. Such claims are deemed to be promoting securities, according to regulators. There were additionally cases where ICOs blatantly disregarded their roadmap commitments. Around the same time as some bad ICO apples were falling, and regulatory scrutiny was increasing, STO or security token offering ideas became vocal, as the natural continuation of the ICO industry.

Indeed, STOs make more legal sense, but much less retail buzz. The times of raising hundreds of millions for a white paper idea are definitely gone. But it is the contention of the author of the present article – that does not mean all ICOs are dead. There still can be cases of utility represented by a smart contract token.

However, if there is no utility or service on offer, then it is likely a future profit distribution, or outright corporate rights exercise. In other words – a security.

A security is a legally defined financial asset that can be traded or exchanged. A legal definition however varies by jurisdiction. The main categories are equity or debt, or derivatives thereof. Securities are offered by an issuer. The primary offering of a security today can be done either through crowdfunding, private placement, or full- fledged public prospectus offering. Depending on the amount and jurisdiction, either option would constitute an issuance of a security.

A tokenised security offers a combination of advantages of both the ICO practice as well as the existing securities laws. On the one hand, an STO complies with the law to the letter. And on the other hand, an STO offers a similar promise of an immediate (or delayed in case of legally required lockup periods) liquidity.

There are no “securities token exchanges” to date (April 2019). But there are quite a few initiatives looking to obtain regulatory authorisation to run a securities exchange for the modified securities asset class – security tokens. Potential way of exchanging security tokens would be OTC desks provided by ownership transfer agents such as Fintelum. See more below.

The main difference that sets security tokens apart from non-token securities is the actual blockchain aspect. Now in stead, or rather in addition to regulatory requirements, such as registration of certificates, shares, bonds and debentures – a smart contract is issued representing the registered rights and obligations of the issued security, whereas bearer securities could be most effectively tokenised.

Investors or participants of an STO are typically cryptocurrency users, but not necessarily. STO practice will continue the path carved by the ICO industry in setting the use cases for cryptocurrency at large. The STO offer is not so democratic than ICO used to be. Security token offering is much less frictionless than it used to be with utility tokens.

Today, the potential buyer of an STO will need to overcome burdensome KYC/AML profiling process to be compliant with the sales of a security. And often try providing the impossible – the accredited, sophisticated or professional investor status. And depending on the jurisdiction and the project offering, the pain levels may vary. This is why, an STO issuer should have an attractive proposition on the table to be able to attract investors.

Security token or tokenised securities?

As a note of importance, not to confuse the two concepts, well posted out by Noelle Acheson in her piece 6https://www.coindesk.com/security-tokens-vs-tokenized-securities-its-more-than-semantics. Security tokens are the subject of our present article. Whereas tokenised securities are a token representation of an already existing security. For example, an Apple stock may be tokenised and traded on a separate exchange than the original stock is traded (eg.: APPL ticker, traded on the New York Stock Exchange). Although it is questionable, but there seem to be attempts at listing tokens that allegedly represent an Apple stock 7https://www.fintelum.com/blog/digital-securities-tokens-based-on-share-of-10-nasdaq-listed-companies/.

This is part 4 of a 5 part series.

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STOs vs Crowdfunding, ICOs & IEOs – Thought Leaders

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STOs vs Crowdfunding, ICOs & IEOs - Thought Leaders

Crowdfunding and ICO a step in evolution of capital markets

ICO acronym abbreviates to “initial coin offering”. But the practice stems from small capital funding method known as the crowdfunding.

In 2009 a US company called Kickstarter launched and successfully continues today to promote and facilitate funding of creative ideas and products. The idea is to pre-sell some product that a creative team pledge to develop or mass produce and deliver to its backers. The practice had no clear legal foundation back when it started. It was only three years later, in 2012, the US law was amended to regulate the new practice of easier access to small capital financing, by adopting Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act 8https://www.sec.gov/spotlight/jobs-act.shtml.

Similarly, ICO phenomenon sprung up from the burgeoning crypto community. The first ICO is widely accepted to be the Mastercoin blockchain project in 2013. It set itself apart as the first crypto crowdfunding case. The idea was to presell a blockchain coin/token as a service that the team pledged to develop in future. To purchase interest in the project, one was able to pay in bitcoin cryptocurrency. All of a sudden, a new practice was born.

A new use case for cryptocurrencies was forged and started to unfold rapidly. By 2017, not only many new cryptocurrencies emerged, but there were hundreds of ICO projects,

pre-selling their services, often, but not exclusively blockchain-based business applications. Indeed, raising funding in less restrictive way was the prime goal of the practice. Selling a token as interest in the project that had some utility or representation. Hence the new expression – utility token.

By definition, investing in a nebulous utility token (typically Ethereum EIP-20, also known as ERC-20 compliant) had very loose legal obligations, only those pledged by the issuing entity. The investment was not an equity purchase, nor it was a loan, rather – a voluntary contribution. The attraction was an almost immediate liquidity of the newly minted token. After the initial offering, a bubbling secondary market developed and offered easy entry and exit to all participants. Selling a token was selling a promise of a non-existent yet service, not dissimilar to the age of discoveries of long sea voyage ventures.

Similarly, the beginning of 17th century introduced the first permanent joint stock form, where the investment into shares did not need to be returned, but could be traded on a stock exchange. 9https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_India_Company

The crypto investment practice unfolded into a wave of ICO projects, culminating in 2017. Thus many startups and mostly white paper ideas got funded. Most were real projects. Some were bad apples. But the most attractive aspect of the ICO were the returns on investments. According to one source, the ROI yielded in excess of 10x, even if you had invested in both the winners and losers alike over the 2017 year.  The whole industry was on a steep upwards pressure, with strong interest from the institutional sector. Such returns are unprecedented in the normal trading environment. Fortunes were made and lost.

The year 2017-2018 went down in history as the ICO hype unfolded. It culminated with several major events that occurred at the same time. One was Bitcoin blockchain forking and the subsequent nose dive of most cryptocurrency value. There were other notable events that coincided and contributed to the overall price fall.

From peak to trough the crypto asset market value was at times suddenly and later gradually reduced from over USD800B to little over USD100B. The so called crypto winter had set in. The bittersweet mass interest receded and an immediate flight away from all things crypto ensued. See chart below. 10https://coinmarketcap.com/charts/

STOs vs Crowdfunding, ICOs & IEOs - Thought Leaders

IEO initial exchange offering

Similarly as with Slack and Spotify exchange listing, there are some ICOs that have listed directly on token exchanges. This way projects can leverage token trading venue client base to showcase their projects directly, without active promotion of the offering through other, often ineffective, marketing channels. This has prompted many token trading venues to start issuing utility token IEOs on behalf of token issuing start-ups.

For the contributors, exchange listing adds trustworthiness, security and vetting, knowing that a reputable exchange, such as Binance will have done certain due diligence before listing an unknown project. Indeed, for utility tokens IEO may prove to be a safe, if not cheap way to gain community trust. It is yet to be seen, however, if the initial listings continue to persist over a longer stretch of time, and what regulatory requirements may be imposed as to listing requirements. This also is a piece of history in the making.

This is part 3 of a 5 part series.

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