An August 31 memorandum issued by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), an arm of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) within the Executive Branch, could dramatically change the way agencies handle civil and administrative enforcement proceedings. The memorandum directs covered agencies to provide greater due process to individuals and companies under investigation and reemphasizes the principle that the burden of proof of a violation rests solely with the government. The memorandum was issued to implement the directives contained in Section 6 of Executive Order 13924, Executive Order on Regulatory Relief to Support Economic Recovery (issued May 19, 2020). In relevant part, the executive order directed agency heads to revise agency procedures and practices in light of “the principles of fairness in administrative enforcement and adjudication.”
The virtual currency Bitcoin has been a hot topic in FinReg for some time, but in recent weeks mainstream interest in Bitcoin has grown in light of the approaching “halving” or “halvening.” So what is the “halvening” and why does it matter from a regulatory perspective?
What Is Bitcoin?
First, a bit of background. Bitcoin is based on technology known as “blockchain.” As it relates to Bitcoin, blockchain is a publically available ledger that provides a permanent record of Bitcoin transactions. Each “block” constitutes a series of transaction records, which builds on the block before it. Taken together, these blocks form a permanent “chain” showing the entire history of Bitcoin.
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.
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.
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.
The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) recently issued guidance consolidating current FinCEN regulations, rulings, and guidance about cryptocurrencies and money services businesses (MSBs) under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). Along with the May 9 guidance, FinCEN issued an advisory to assist financial institutions in identifying and reporting suspicious activity or criminal use of cryptocurrencies.
Two years ago, we wondered in our blog post whether the staff of the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) would have to further extend no-action relief to permit a broker-dealer to rely on an SEC registered investment adviser (RIA) to perform the broker-dealer’s customer identification program (CIP) requirements. And . . . here we are.
On December 12, the SEC staff issued the latest in a series of letters to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA). The letters conditionally extend no-action relief to allow a broker-dealer to rely on RIAs to perform some or all of the broker-dealer’s CIP requirements as well as the broker-dealer’s obligations under beneficial ownership requirements that went into full effect in May 2018.
The staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Division of Trading and Markets (Staff) issued a no-action letter on October 29 to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), which, in effect extends the effective date of recent changes to FOCUS reporting by registered broker-dealers. In August 2018, the SEC adopted amendments regarding, among other things, broker-dealer reporting with respect to reporting of extraordinary gains, the cumulative effect of changes in accounting principles, and comprehensive income reported on broker-dealer annual reports (i.e., Rule 17a-5). The amendments are scheduled to become effective for all filings made on and after November 5, 2018.