SEC and CFTC Hearing: More Legitimate ICOs or “If There Was No Bitcoin, There Would Be No Blockchain”

The Commodity Futures Trading Commision (CFTC) and US Securities and Exchange Commision (SEC) met the morning of February 6 2018 to discuss their roles in Blockchain, virtual currencies, and ICOs. Set in Washington D.C. at the Dirksen Senate Building, the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs met in open session for about 2 hours. Before the hearing began, testimonies were released on behalf of both witnesses.

The Pre-Testimonies

(these testimonies were released on February 5 2018)

J. Christopher Giancarlo, chairman and witness of the CFTC, expressed optimism in his testimony towards Blockchain/DLT, dedicating a page and a half (VI. Potential Benefits) to the numerous ways financial institutions, charities, social services, agriculture, and logistics can all benefit from it. Giancarlo seemed very bullish on allowing more freedoms for DLT, even comparing it to the internet:

“This simple approach is well-recognized as the enlightened regulatory underpinning of the Internet that brought about such profound changes to human society. During the almost 20 years of “do no harm” regulation, a massive amount of investment was made in the Internet’s infrastructure. It yielded a rapid expansion in access that supported swift deployment and mass adoption of Internet-based technologies. Internet-based innovations have revolutionized nearly every aspect of American life, from telecommunications to commerce, transportation and research and development. [“Do] no harm” was unquestionably the right approach to development of the Internet. Similarly, I believe that “do no harm” is the right overarching approach for distributed ledger technology. “

Despite his optimism, the chairman still stated that digital currencies will “likely require more attentive regulatory oversight” in regards to “fraud and manipulation.” But in his conclusion, he addressed that the SEC and CFTC should do their best to leave room for growth:

“As we saw with the development of the Internet, we cannot put the technology genie back in the bottle. Virtual currencies mark a paradigm shift in how we think about payments, traditional financial processes, and engaging in economic activity. Ignoring these developments will not make them go away, nor is it a responsible regulatory response.”

Jay Clayton, the chairman of the SEC, was a little less excited about virtual currencies – but he also wasn’t denying their role in a modern financial ecosystem.

“To be clear, I am very optimistic that developments in financial technology will help facilitate capital formation, providing promising investment opportunities for institutional and Main Street investors alike. From a financial regulatory perspective, these developments may enable us to better monitor transactions, holdings and obligations (including credit exposures) and other activities and characteristics of our markets, thereby facilitating our regulatory mission, including, importantly, investor protection.”

But he also admitted that there still lay many traps:

“At the same time, regardless of the promise of this technology, those who invest their hard-earned money in opportunities that fall within the scope of the federal securities laws deserve the full protections afforded under those laws. This ever-present need comes into focus when enthusiasm for obtaining a profitable piece of a new technology “before it’s too late” is strong and broad. Fraudsters and other bad actors prey on this enthusiasm.”

SEC Chairman Clayton and CFTC Chairman Giancarlo, image source: c-span

While Giancarlo mentions the word “ICO” once in his testimony, Clayton mentions it 132 times.

A recent study has found that 10% of all ICO proceeds have been lost to hacks and fraud, and Clayton’s fear is that many uneducated investors are losing lots of money. He even went on to promote Facebook’s recent ICO advertising ban:

“I do want to recognize that recently social media platforms have restricted the ability of users to promote ICOs and cryptocurrencies on their platforms. I appreciate the responsible step.”


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