Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic continue to monitor and address cryptoasset and distributed ledger technology activities. We recently posted on the guidance issued by the US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network on cryptocurrencies and in another post touched upon differences in the regulatory treatment of cryptoassets across jurisdictions. Today we report on two new developments relating to the treatment of cryptoassets by UK and US regulators.

A working group composed of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the National Credit Union Administration, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the US Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network issued a joint statement on July 22 that is intended to provide greater clarity regarding the risk-focused approach used by examiners for planning and performing Bank Secrecy Act (BSA)/anti-money laundering (AML) examinations.

On the theory that three’s a charm, our third and final blog on Hong Kong private equity activities will take a look at Asset Management (Type 9) activities, which are among the most relevant regulated activities for private equity firms in Hong Kong.

 Asset Management (Type 9) covers managing, on a discretionary basis, portfolio of securities for and on behalf of a third party. If a private equity firm is licensed by the SFC to carry out the regulated activity of asset management, then in addition to being able to exercise discretionary portfolio management, such firm is able to rely on what is commonly referred to as the “incidental exemption” and market funds under its management or sub-management, without the need to obtain a separate Type 1 license. The Type 9 license is therefore very flexible.

In our first blog on Hong Kong private equity licensing, we looked at Dealing in Securities (Type 1). This second blog deals with Advising on Securities (Type 4).

Advising on Securities (Type 4) includes not only giving advice on acquiring or disposing of securities, but also advising on the terms or conditions on which securities should be acquired or disposed of. There is an important "intra-group" exemption for the requirement for a Type 4 license, and many private equity firms have traditionally relied on this to conduct advisory activities in Hong Kong. This exemption is available if advice on securities is provided by the private equity firms in Hong Kong to (i) any of its wholly-owned subsidiaries; (ii) a holding company which wholly owns the private equity firms; or (iii) wholly-owned subsidiaries of its holding company. The recipient of the advice, recommendation, or research should assess the advice, recommendation or research (as the case may be) and has the discretion to reject it, before issuing the material to its own clients in its own name. In other words, the recipients must assess the advice, and not merely rubber-stamp it.

In keeping with our interest in global financial regulatory developments, in this and two blog posts to follow, we examine recent regulatory developments and responses in the active Hong Kong private equity markets.

Historically, the most popular setup of private equity firms in Hong Kong involve a Hong Kong onshore investment adviser providing advice to an offshore investment manager or a general partner in the Cayman Islands. The Hong Kong investment adviser will typically be a wholly owned subsidiary of the offshore entity. If structured in this manner and subject to certain additional parameters, the Hong Kong investment adviser will be able to operate without any licence in Hong Kong as the Hong Kong investment adviser will be able to rely on what is commonly referred to as the “intra-group” exemption.

In its continued efforts to learn what broker-dealers and their employees are doing in the digital asset space, FINRA has effectively reissued a regulatory notice requesting that broker-dealers keep FINRA apprised of their digital asset activities.

 Last July, FINRA issued Regulatory Notice 18-20 where it requested that broker-dealers notify their regulatory coordinators about their and their registered representatives’ digital asset activities. Although not an exhaustive list, some activities FINRA wants information about include the following:

On July 8, the staffs of the Division of Trading and Markets (TM) of the US Securities and Exchange Commission and of the Office of General Counsel of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. issued a joint statement on broker-dealer custody of digital assets that are also securities (Joint Statement). As explained in, and for purposes of, the Joint Statement, a “digital asset” refers to an asset that is issued and transferred using distributed ledger or blockchain technology, including, but not limited to, so-called “virtual currencies,” “coins,” and “tokens.” While all digital assets are not securities under the federal securities laws, a digital asset that is a security is referred to as a “digital asset security” in the Joint Statement. While the Joint Statement provides some insight on the issues under consideration by regulators regarding custody, it does not identify specific circumstances under which a broker-dealer could custody digital asset securities in a manner consistent with the financial responsibility rule applicable to broker-dealers.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a concept release on June 18 that seeks comment to "simplify, harmonize, and improve" regulations surrounding the sale of securities in nonpublic offerings, or private placements. The concept release seeks comments on a variety of topics relating to the existing exempt offering framework, including whether the current framework should be modified to address unique challenges, gaps, and complexities in capital formation within specified industries, geographical locations, demographics, and other factors. The 211-page concept release covers the accredited investor definition; exemptions for Regulation D, Regulation A, intrastate, and crowdfunding offerings; pooled investment funds; and secondary trading along with the concept of integration of exempt offerings.

We are always looking to identify good forums for keeping abreast of global fintech developments and trends. One such interesting platform was Cross-Border Fintech: Regulation & the Law 2019, held in London on June 6, where we heard some great insights into the current market trends in and the future of fintech. The conference was well attended, with representatives of many industry leaders, authorities, and industry bodies in attendance. The participation of many on the front lines of fintech from financial institutions, fintech startups, and industry bodies created a forum to share innovative ideas and trends that allowed participants—including us—to keep up with the latest innovation.

Practitioners, academics, and entrepreneurs joined SEC regulators at the 2019 FinTech Forum hosted by the SEC’s Strategic Hub for Innovation and Financial Technology (FinHub) on May 31 in Washington, DC. Panelists discussed a range of considerations on digital assets, including capital formation, trading and markets, investment management, and innovations in distributed ledger technology (DLT). In keeping with a positive trend that has emerged among the federal financial regulatory agencies, the forum demonstrated the SEC’s desire for industry engagement and the depth of its knowledge in the emerging technology.