FTX’s Bankruptcy Shines Light on Selling Trade Claims

In the wake of FTX’s downfall and bankruptcy filing, more crypto companies are expected to file for bankruptcy.[1] With a tumultuous year in the crypto world, creditors have been left with billions of dollars worth of claims. Unfortunately, bankruptcy proceedings can take years to resolve, thus leaving a creditor in a state of limbo and waiting to learn what portion of its claim will be paid out. As a result of this uncertainty, creditors may wish to consider selling their claims.[2] By selling a claim, a creditor can receive an upfront payment for the claim instead of monitoring the debtor’s bankruptcy case for years. Reconciling and distributing claims in the bankruptcy process is notoriously slow, particularly for very large debtors such as FTX.

Unlike stocks, bankruptcy claims are not sold or traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Instead, creditors must sell their claims through individually negotiated assignment agreements.[3] While there are no standardized forms for claim assignments, creditors tend to use assignment agreements that contain universally accepted terms in addition to negotiating the details, such as whether the buyer can force the creditor to repurchase the claim. Conveniently, creditors do not need to disclose the purchase price or other details of the assignment in the bankruptcy process.

While the prospect of quickly monetizing a claim may be enticing to a creditor, a creditor should consult an attorney to ensure that risks, such as the purchase price being returned to the buyer if the claim’s validity is questioned, are considered and mitigated. We are confident a market for FTX bankruptcy claims will emerge over the next 60 days.

[1] MacKenzie Sigalos and Rohan Goswami, Crypto firm BlockFi files for bankruptcy as FTX fallout spreads, CNBC (Nov. 28, 2022), https://www.cnbc.com/2022/11/28/blockfi-files-for-bankruptcy-as-ftx-fallout-spreads.html.

[2] Bruce S. Nathan and Scott Cargill, A Primer on Selling Bankruptcy Trade Claims, Business Credit (Feb. 2021), https://www.lowenstein.com/media/6418/nathanpluscargill-a-primer-on-selling-bankruptcy-trade-claims-business-credit-22021.pdf.

[3] Bankruptcy Claims Trading: What is it? How do I maximize my returns?, Nossaman (Mar. 25, 2010), https://www.nossaman.com/newsroom-insights-bankruptcy-claims-trading-what-how-do-i.

How the SEC’s New Marketing Rule Affects Investment Advisors’ Advertising Awards and Third-Party Ratings

On December 22, 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced new rules regarding advertising and marketing for investment advisors.[1] The SEC passed the new rules to synthesize and modernize their “Advertising Rule” and “Cash Solicitation Rule” into a new, singular rule designed to regulate investment advisers’ marketing communications.[2] This new rule, 206(4)-1, also known as the “Marketing Rule,” applies to all advertisements. The SEC provided a new definition of what an advertisement is under the Marketing Rule.[3] The revised definition of advertisement has two parts:

First, the definition includes any direct or indirect communication an investment adviser makes that: (i) offers the investment adviser’s investment advisory services with regard to securities to prospective clients or private fund investors, or (ii) offers new investment advisory services with regard to securities to current clients or private fund investors. The first prong of the definition excludes most one-on-one communications and contains certain other exclusions.

Second, the definition generally includes any endorsement or testimonial for which an adviser provides cash and non-cash compensation directly or indirectly (e.g., directed brokerage, awards or other prizes, and reduced advisory fees).[4]

Following the definition, which now includes endorsements or testimonials that promote awards won by the investment advisor, the SEC lists prohibitions.[5] The Marketing Rule prohibits advertisements, “including or excluding performance results, or presenting performance time periods, in a manner that is not fair and balanced.”[6] SEC-registered investment advisors (“RIAs”) must follow the standards set by the Marketing Rule and transition their advertisement of awards won and their performance results. The SEC provided an 18-month transitional period for SEC-registered investment advisors to conform to the new Marketing Rule.[7] The 18-month window closed on November 4, 2022, and the SEC now requires full adherence to the rules.[8]

RIAs seeking to promote third-party ratings, rankings, awards, and performance results through advertisements and social media are directly impacted by this new rule. The SEC dedicated an entire section to third-party ratings in its issuing release, so it is essential for RIAs to be in compliance. The SEC states Rule 206(4)-1(c) will “prohibit an investment adviser from including a third-party rating in an advertisement unless certain conditions are met.”[9] Because of the SEC’s consideration of third-party ratings and awards as advertisements, the advertisement must follow general prohibitions.[10]

The Marketing Rule prohibits making untrue statements of material fact. If the third-party rating entity is credible and the advisor does not use the rating inappropriately, then the prohibitions can be avoided.[11] If the RIC plans to advertise one kind of service when the rating is for another kind of service, the Marketing Rule prohibitions apply.[12]

Additionally, a third-party rating agency providing the rating or award must generate ratings as part of their normal course of business.[13] The RIA also must fulfill two requirements to show the third-party rating or award is presented equally. First, they must show due diligence. The RIA must “have a reasonable basis that any questionnaire or survey used in the preparation of the third-party rating is structured to make it equally easy for a participant to provide favorable and unfavorable responses, and is not designed or prepared to produce any predetermined result.”[14] To comply with the due diligence requirements, RIAs can look at the rating methodology and show the rating is not one-sided or seek representations from the third-party rating agency regarding general aspects of how the survey or questionnaire is designed, structured, and administered. Alternatively, a third party rating provider may publicly disclose similar information about its survey or questionnaire methodology.

The second requirement is disclosure.[15] The RIA must disclose, or ensure the third-party rater has disclosed the date the rating was given, the identity of the third-party that created and tabulated the rating, and if compensation has been provided directly or indirectly by the adviser in connection with obtaining or using the third-party rating.[16] When presenting the rating, the RIA must ensure these disclosures are presented with equal prominence as the rating itself.[17] With the additional attention of the due diligence and disclosure requirements of the Marketing Rule, promoting ratings and awards continue to be possible as long as they are credible.[18]

With the SEC’s focus on solicitation activity regarding awards and ratings, it is imperative of RIAs to review and update their policies and procedures for the publication of awards on their websites, communications, and social media. Given the complexity of the Marketing Rule and the scrutiny of advertising practices, investment advisers should be fully engaged in implementing new policies for their advertisements in compliance with the Marketing Rule.

[1] SEC Adopts Modernized Marketing Rule for Investment Advisers, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, (Dec. 22, 2020), https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2020-334.

[2] Scott L. Beal, Kerry Potter McCormick, Scott Budlong, Travis Ortiz, Paige McHugh, Compliance Date Approaching For New Marketing Rule For Investment Advisers, Vol. XII, The National Law Review, 319 (2022)

[3] Id.

[4] SEC Adopts Modernized Marketing Rule for Investment Advisers, supra note 1.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] 17 CFR Part 275 and 279.

[10] Benjamin Bishop, SEC Marketing Rule: Implications for news releases that promote third-party ratings and rankings, Lowe Group Financial Communications, (Aug. 3, 2022), https://lowecom.com/2022/08/03/sec-marketing-rule-implications-for-news-releases-that-promote-third-party-ratings-and-rankings/.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] 17 CFR Part 275 and 279.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Benjamin Bishop, supra note 10.

Opportunity for U.S. Backed Digital Currency

Cryptocurrency (“Crypto”) is an easily accessible digital asset used for financial transactions.[1] Crypto has become a source of payment on virtual platforms and utilizes blockchain technology.[2] While digital transactions eliminate the need for intermediaries such as banks, credit card companies, or third-party payment processors, it is an unregulated and volatile field.[3] The recent events with FTX highlight this issue.

The use of Crypto rose globally at an unprecedented rate during the COVID-19 pandemic.[4] Developing countries in particular accounted for 15 of the top 20 economies in 2021 using Crypto.[5] One of the most notable countries attempting to adopt Crypto is El Salvador. In 2021, El Salvador became the first country in the world to recognize Bitcoin as legal tender.[6] As such, El Salvador attempted to turn an impoverished area around the Conchagua volcano into a Bitcoin City.[7] The President of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, hoped to create a futuristic metropolis from Crypto using the Conchagua volcano as a geothermal plant.[8] Unfortunately, President Bukele invested $100 million of government funds into Bitcoin when prices peaked, which led to a further debt crisis in El Salvador. One of the issues El Salvador and other developing countries have run into with the use of Crypto as legal tender is the volatility of the market. Since 2021, Bitcoin has dropped 61%, and El Salvador is likely to default on its debts in the next few years due to the dramatic drop in value.[9] The price of Crypto is open to fluctuation, fraud, and tax evasion due to the lack of regulation and backing by a central bank or government.[10]

One solution that has been proposed to bring stability to the Crypto market is a Central Bank Digital Currency (“CBDC”), which is a digital token, similar to Crypto, issued by a central bank. In the United States, the digital form of the token would be the equivalent of the U.S. dollar.[11] President Biden and the Federal Reserve are evaluating the creation of a U.S. CBDC and how it would work alongside the existing form of physical currency.[12]

The benefits of a U.S.-issued CBDC include privacy-protected digital currency, improvements to cross-border payments, and support to the U.S. dollar’s international role.[13] A U.S. CBDC would offer access to digital money that is free from credit and liquidity risks, unlike money held in a traditional bank.[14] Currently, Federal Reserve notes are the only central bank money available to the public. The use of a CBDC would provide a cheaper, faster form of transferring money and bring people who do not have bank accounts into the financial market.[15]

The dollar is the world’s most widely used currency for payments and investment.[16] A CBDC would expand the U.S. economy by creating a financial market with the global use of a CBDC.[17] Recently, China introduced its own CBDC, which may decrease the demand for the U.S. dollar abroad. The creation of a U.S. CBDC would allow competition on a global scale with China and other countries that have developed a digital currency backed by their central bank.[18]

Despite the benefits to the U.S. consumer and the global financial system, a U.S. CBDC has several issues. Many Americans actively use and prefer cash.[19] Additionally, there are privacy issues with digital currency. A Federal Reserve-backed CBDC system would allow the central bank to see every user transaction.[20] Additionally, banks have questioned the legal authority of the Federal Reserve to issue a digital currency without authorization from Congress.[21]

The White House, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the National Science Foundation continue to work on the National Digital Assets Research and Development Agenda.[22] The Executive Branch has placed a high priority on advancing research concerning Crypto and how it could provide financial inclusion and equity to Americans.[23]  While the benefits of a U.S. CBDC are plentiful, there are many moving parts to the initiation of a central bank backed digital currency in the United States. However, even with the lack of regulation and its volatile nature, Crypto is not going away. Crypto provides businesses and consumers with easily transferable, convenient, less expensive means of transferring money.[24] A U.S. backed stable coin may provide such stability. Clearly, the U.S. would not want the European Union or another Western power to issue such a coin and undermine the U.S. leadership in global currencies.

 

[1] Molly Mastantuono, Cryptocurrency 101: A Guide to Digital Dollars (Dec. 17, 2021), https://www.bentley.edu/news/cryptocurrency-101-guide-digital-dollars.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] UN trade body calls for halting cryptocurrency rise in developing countries, United Nations (Aug. 10, 2022), https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/08/1124362.

[5] Id.

[6] Joe Hernandez, El Salvador Just Became The First Country To Accept Bitcoin As Legal Tender, NPR (Sept. 7, 2021), https://www.npr.org/2021/09/07/1034838909/bitcoin-el-salvador-legal-tender-official-currency-cryptocurrency.

[7] Zeke Faux, El Salvador’s $300 Million Bitcoin ‘Revolution’ Is Failing Miserably (Nov. 4, 2022), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2022-11-04/el-salvador-s-bitcoin-revolution-is-failing-badly.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] UN trade body calls for halting cryptocurrency rise in developing countries, supra note 4.

[11] Dr. Alondra Nelson, Alexander Macgillivray, Nik Marda, Technical Possibilities for a U.S. Central Bank Digital Currency (Sept. 16, 2022), https://www.whitehouse.gov/ostp/news-updates/2022/09/16/technical-possibilities-for-a-u-s-central-bank-digital-currency/.

[12] Money and Payments: The U.S. Dollar in the Age of Digital Transformation, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Jan. 2022), https://www.federalreserve.gov/publications/files/money-and-payments-20220120.pdf.

[13] Money and Payments: The U.S. Dollar in the Age of Digital Transformation, supra note 12.

[14] Id.

[15] Andrew Ackerman, What is a Central Bank Digital Currency and Should the U.S. Issue it? (May 26, 2022), https://www.wsj.com/articles/should-the-u-s-issue-a-digital-dollar-which-could-compete-with-crypto-assets-11646921329.

[16] Money and Payments: The U.S. Dollar in the Age of Digital Transformation, supra note 12.

[17] Id.

[18] Boucher, supra note 16.

[19] Andrew Ackerman, Fed Launches Review of Possible Central Bank Digital Currency (Jan. 20, 2022), https://www.wsj.com/articles/fed-launches-review-of-possible-central-bank-digital-currency-11642706158

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Money and Payments: The U.S. Dollar in the Age of Digital Transformation, supra note 12.

[23] Id.

[24] Shobhit Seth, What is a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC)?, Mar. 9, 2022, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/central-bank-digital-currency-cbdc.asp.

SEC ad rule may affect use of interactive analysis tools

The new SEC advertising rule 206(4)-1 addresses the use of “interactive analysis tools” commonly used by investment advisers. In a recent article appearing in Regulatory Compliance Watch, Pastore associate attorney Paul Fenaroli weighs in on how this rule may affect the way advisers use these tools with their clients.

Read the article here

Source: Regulatory Compliance Watch, October 3, 2022. (www.regcompliancewatch.com)

SEC Proposes Change to Cybersecurity Reporting Requirements for Public Companies

With the threat of irrevocable reputational harm and damage to consumer trust brought on by data breaches to public companies, the United States Security and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) recently proposed new cybersecurity reporting requirements. In March, SEC Chair Gary Gensler noted these new amendments will, “strengthen investors’ ability to evaluate public companies’ cybersecurity practices and incident reporting.”[1] If the proposed amendments pass, it would impose new requirements on board of directors, including management reporting, organization, and board composition.[2]

The proposals aim to promote incident disclosure and increase risk management, strategy, and governance disclosure of data breaches.[3] One amendment would require a company to notify shareholders and the SEC within four business days when a material cybersecurity incident occurs.[4] The SEC would also require standardized disclosure of a company’s cybersecurity risk management and strategy, management’s role in implementing cybersecurity policies, and the board of directors’ cybersecurity expertise.[5]

As the SEC signals the necessity of new disclosure policies, companies should assess their current cyber reporting practices and procedures. The proposals aim to bridge the gap between business executives and security executives to ensure cybersecurity is included in their everyday business conversations and reporting practices.[6] In preparation of these proposals, companies can educate their board on their policies and procedures regarding cyber security risks. It is no longer the sole job of the chief information security officer to translate technology risk to business risk.[7]

[1] SEC Proposes Rules on Cybersecurity Risk Management, Strategy, Governance, and Incident Disclosure by Public Companies, SEC (Mar. 9, 2022), https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2022-39

[2] Id.

[3]  Public Company Cybersecurity, Proposed Rules, https://www.sec.gov/files/33-11038-fact-sheet.pdf (last visited Sep. 22, 2022).

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Insight Report, World Economic Forum Global Cybersecurity Outlook (January 2022), https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Global_Cybersecurity_Outlook_2022.pdf.

[7] Bob Ackerman, New SEC Cybersecurity Reporting Requirements: Three Things Companies Need To Do Now, Forbes (May 25, 2022) https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesfinancecouncil/2022/05/25/new-sec-cybersecurity-reporting-requirements-three-things-companies-need-to-do-now/?sh=2d78e01e6f05.

New York State Department of Financial Services Issues Consent Order Against Robinhood Crypto, LLC

As interest in cryptocurrencies (“crypto”) continues to rise, businesses and investors are left wondering what regulations they must follow. While a broad regulatory framework is still nonexistent for the crypto industry, the New York State Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) recently imposed a $30 million fine on Robinhood Crypto, LLC (“Robinhood”), a wholly-owned crypto trading unit of Robinhood Markets Incorporated, for failing to comply with New York anti-money laundering (“AML”) and cybersecurity regulations.[1] This is the first time DFS has taken enforcement action against a crypto company. In making the announcement, the Superintendent of DFS, Adrienne Harris, stated, “[a]ll virtual currency companies licensed in New York State are subject to the same anti-money laundering, consumer protection, and cybersecurity regulations as traditional financial services companies.”[2] Superintendent Harris made it clear that while this may be the first such action against a crypto company, it will not be the last.[3] DFS expects crypto companies to invest in compliance programs like traditional financial institutions.

In the DFS Consent Order, DFS took issue with several aspects of Robinhood’s compliance program[4] Specifically, Robinhood failed to devote sufficient funds and resources to its compliance program,[5] its Chief Compliance Officer lacked “commensurate experience to oversee a compliance program such as [Robinhood’s]” and did not participate adequately in the implementation of Robinhood’s automate software compliance program, [6] and Robinhood overly relied on the compliance program of its parent and affiliate despite those compliance programs were not compliant with New York State’s regulations.[7] Moreover, Robinhood failed to adequately evaluate “potentially suspicious transactions in order to determine whether a [Suspicious Activity Report] should be filed.”[8] DFS noted that as of October 26, 2020, Robinhood had a backlog of 4,378 potentially suspicious transaction alerts.[9]

While Robinhood may have had a compliance program on paper, DFS made it clear that it is focused on the execution of such programs. One thing is clear: the DFS Consent Order indicates that regulatory and enforcement agencies are starting to take action against the crypto industry. Common sense, sound legal advice, and diligence will help any business or investor navigate this market as state and federal agencies begin to enforce traditional financial services regulations on the industry.

[1] In the Matter of Robinhood Crypto, LLC, Dep’t of Fin. Servs. (Aug. 1, 2022), https://www.dfs.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2022/08/ea20220801_robinhood.pdf.

[2] DFS Superintendent Harris Announces $30 Million Penalty on Robinhood Crypto for Significant Anti-Money Laundering, Cybersecurity & Consumer Protection Violations, Dep’t of Fin. Servs., https://www.dfs.ny.gov/reports_and_publications/press_releases/pr202208021 (last visited Sept. 19, 2022).

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at ¶¶ 36-41.

[6] Id. at ¶ 36.

[7] Id. at ¶ 6.

[8] Id. at ¶ 37.

[9] Id.

Will Delaware Order Elon Musk to Perform?

Tech giant Elon Musk (“Musk”) has been making headlines recently for announcing the termination of his agreement to purchase the popular social media platform, Twitter, Inc. (“Twitter”). In a court filing on July 12, 2022, Twitter accused Musk of breaching an agreement to buy Twitter for $44 billion.[1] Musk and his lawyers have asserted that he is not in violation of the agreement, which requires Musk to use “reasonable best efforts” to complete the purchase.[2] In support of this position, Musk claims that Twitter has not provided the necessary disclosures regarding the number of spam accounts on the platform and halted ordinary operation of the company while the acquisition was closing. Further, Musk alleges that Twitter’s public disclosures that five percent of its users are bots are materially misleading, which equates to a “material adverse effect” under the terms of the deal.[3]

Twitter was quick to file a lawsuit against Musk following his vocalized desire to back out of the agreement. Twitter stated that it was Musk who was violating the agreement, calling his quick escape from the merger a measure of “bad faith” and a “model of hypocrisy”.[4]

Twitter, which is headquartered in San Francisco, California, is suing Musk in Delaware, where its business is incorporated.[5] Delaware’s Court of Chancery is Twitter’s choice of venue for this litigation predominately for its excellent reputation in dealing with corporate law and for its specialization in being a “Court of Equity”[6]. Twitter has asked newly appointed Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick, to force Musk to abide by his offer to purchase the company at the $44 billion price the two sides agreed upon in just a five-day trial.[7]

Chancellor McCormick did just that, granting Twitter a five-day trial in October, the first win for either side – stating that “the reality is that delay threatens irreparable harm to the seller, Twitter, for the reasons I described earlier: The longer the delay, the greater the risk.”[8]

With Chancellor McCormick’s initial ruling, as well as the difficulty it takes to get out of a legally binding agreement, it appears that Musk has an up-hill battle to face against Twitter.

This is largely a result of the fact that the merger agreement includes a “specific performance clause”. This purpose of this type of provision is to prevent a party from backing out of a deal without good reason. The clause gives Twitter the right to sue Musk to force him to go through with the deal, as long as he still has the debt financing in place. [9]

Courts have enforced specific performance clauses in the past, notably in IBP v. Tyson Foods. This 2001 case saw Tyson agreeing to acquire IBP, a meat distributor for just over $3 billion. However, when the agreement went sour over poor business, Tyson tried to get out of the merger arguing over financial issues at IBP. The court ruled that Tyson had to buy IBP given the contract’s specific performance clause, “as it is the only method by which to adequately redress the harm threatened to IBP and its stockholders”.[10]

In addition to Tyson, a case from 2007 titled Genesco v. Finish Line saw the Delaware Court of Chancery rule in favor of Genesco after Finish Line attempted to terminate the deal. However, rather than going through with the deal, the sides agreed to terminate the transaction, with Finish Line paying Genesco damages.

The Musk litigation team has accused Twitter of a “material breach” of the deal agreement.  Musk’s lawyers argue that Twitter fraudulently reported the numbers of spam accounts, to which the company has estimated about 5% of users. In this case, Musk would have to prove that the number of bots is much higher and to show a material adverse effect on Twitter’s business for grounds to end the deal. A material adverse change is a change in circumstances that significantly reduces the value of a company. Twitter has responded, saying that the issue with bots did not have material adverse effect because its regulatory filings had warned that those figures were estimates. Equally, some commentators have noted that the term “bots” is not found anywhere in the deal documents, thus making it less likely to form a basis for termination.

As stated in the original agreement, a breakup fee of $1 billion is in effect if either side wants out. However, with Twitter’s stock price crashing as a result of Musk’s termination attempt. It seems as if settlement may not be on the table, which means that unless Musk is able to prove that there are many more than admitted bots on Twitter, he may be in for a difficult trial. The expectation is that the lack of substantial legal footing that Musk is leaning on will end in him becoming the new face of Twitter or having to pay the company financial damages (Tenesco v. Finish Line). The strategy to stall these eventualities out seems to be failing at least initially as the Delaware Court of Chancery has set a trial date for mid-October.

 

[1] Why Elon Musk Can’t Back Out of Buying Twitter, According to Twitter (July 2022) https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/12/technology/twitter-musk-lawsuit-reasons.html

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/22084456-final-verified-complaint

[5] https://www.npr.org/2022/07/13/1111239959/twitter-elon-musk-delaware-court-of-chancery

[6]  https://www.npr.org/2022/07/13/1111239959/twitter-elon-musk-delaware-court-of-chancery

[7] https://www.reuters.com/technology/groundbreaking-judge-will-oversee-twitters-lawsuit-against-musk-2022-07-13/

[8] https://finance.yahoo.com/news/twitter-elon-musk-hearing-152545679.html?guccounter=1

[9] https://www.cnbc.com/2022/07/08/elon-musk-faces-long-legal-war-with-twitter-as-he-abandons-deal.html

[10] https://courts.delaware.gov/OPINIONS/download.ASPx?ID=2530

Is the SEC kicking Crypto when it is down?

Coinbase Global Inc. (“Coinbase”) is facing an SEC probe into whether it improperly allowed trading of digital assets that should have been registered as securities. Although there have been several court rulings and position statements by the SEC regarding digital assets, it has not halted the trading on crypto exchanges. While the SEC scrutiny of Coinbase has increased since the platform expanded the number of tokens, in which it offers trading, no meaningful regulatory action has occurred with respect to Coinbase.

The drumbeat in Washington for US regulators to do more to oversee crypto has grown louder as digital currencies have tumbled from all-time highs, erasing hundreds of billions of dollars in market value. SEC Chair Gary Gensler has homed in on trading platforms and argued that the SEC should do more to protect “retail investors”.

To determine if a digital asset is a security, the SEC applies a legal test from the 1946 U.S. Supreme Court decision. Generally, the SEC considers monies under its purview if the funding is made with the intention of profiting from the efforts of the issuer. The SEC Commissioner has suggested publically that “many” cryptocurrencies come under the definition. The SEC has not indicated which “coins” are “securities”, and instead has allowed exchanges to decide for themselves.

In the absence of clear guidance this regulatory approach, seems like a game of “gotcha”. Crypto is a young industry and it deserves clear and accurate rules so that its participants can navigate the path forward. The SEC should either test its approach in court, and perhaps it is with Coinbase, or stand down. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court will likely decide the question of how to determine whether crypto coins or tokens are securities. Either way, crypto can thrive if its coins generate enough investor interest, but the rules for regulation and investor protection should be made clear at this point.

Is Cryptocurrency Regulation here yet?

Is Regulation here yet? The Evolving State of Case Law and the Appropriate Characterization of Crypto as a Security or Not.

For some investors, part of the appeal of tokenized assets is that the sector has been able to dodge regulations from institutions like the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), the U.S. Department of Treasury, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Tokenized assets can be fungible or non-fungible. Fungible tokenized assets are both interchangeable and indistinguishable such as Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies (“Crypto”). Non-fungible tokens (“NFTs”) are unique tokens that are non-divisible and cannot be replaced because each token has its own unique value.[1]

Investors and regulators alike have faced the recurring question of how to make sense of this decentralized digital space. However, more clarity on the guidelines surrounding Crypto and NFTS are forming. On March 9, 2022, President Biden signed an Executive Order on Ensuring Responsible Development of Digital Assets, calling for a closer look into the possible threats and benefits of Crypto.[2] The SEC has shouldered the weight of overseeing the majority of Crypto products and platforms. Regulatory efforts have been a challenge due in part to a major dilemma being weighed by regulators: whether cryptocurrencies should be processed as securities or commodities.

In 2021, a Connecticut federal case involving a securities class action suit against Stuart Fraser, GAW Miners, and ZenMiner began to provide a more definitive answer on how to classify cryptocurrencies; as the federal jury concluded that Paycoin and several other crypto-currency mining related assets were not securities.[3] However, as recently as June 3, 2022, U.S. District Judge Michael P. Shea has granted a motion for a new trial regarding Paycoin.[4]

Judge Shea justified the new trial by citing precedent in SEC v. Kik Interactive Inc., in which Kik Interactive Inc. (“Kik”) failed to register its digital tokens as a security.[5] The SEC was able to demonstrate that under the Howey Test, Kik met the criteria to be considered an “investment contract”. For an asset to be considered an investment contract, it must meet the three criteria of the Howey Test, which was developed and named after the Supreme Court case SEC v. W.J. Howey Co., 328 U.S. 293 (1946).[6]  The Howey Test requires that there be (i) an investment of money (ii) in a common enterprise (iii) that is subject to a reasonable expectation of profits to be derived from the efforts of others.[7] With Kik’s money being invested in a single integrated offering, the court granted the SEC summary judgement and Kik a $5 million dollar penalty.[8]

In addition to Kik, the SEC also brought a lawsuit against Ripple Labs Inc., claiming that over $1.3 billion had been raised as an unregistered digital asset security.[9] The lawsuit has made national news because XRP, the cryptocurrency developed by Ripple, is one of the most valuable in the world. Ripple has been arguing that XRP should not qualify as an investment contract because the company had never promised profits to any of its holders.[10] The case was formally served in December of 2020 and is still ongoing. However, on March 22, 2021, Judge Netburn declared that XRP has monetary value, separating it from bitcoin and Ether.[11]

A regulatory stance that aligns with the initial Paycoin decision would result in more lenient oversight over the Crypto space and likely promote further development in blockchain technology.[12] Conversely, a regulatory stance promoting SEC oversight over tokenized assets could force digital currencies, such XRP, to register as securities. Upcoming legal decisions, particularly the new trial regarding Paycoin, will be crucial in providing investors and legislators with a more concrete understanding of the legal space surrounding tokenized assets and blockchain technology.

 

[1] Tokenization: Opening Illiquid Assets to Investors, BNY Mellon (June 2019), https://www.bnymellon.com/emea/en/insights/all-insights/tokenization-opening-illiquid-assets-to-investors.html.

[2] Executive Order on Ensuring Responsible Development of Digital Assets, The White House (March 2022),

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2022/03/09/executive-order-on-ensuring-responsible-development-of-digital-assets/.

[3] Federal jury Concludes Cryptocurrency Products NOT Securities, The National Law Review (November 2021), https://www.natlawreview.com/article/federal-jury-concludes-cryptocurrency-products-not-securities.

[4] Federal Judge Orders new Securities Trial for Crypto-Product ‘Paycoins’, ConnecticutLawTribune (June 2022), https://www.law.com/ctlawtribune/2022/06/13/federal-judge-orders-new-securities-trial-for-crypto-product-paycoins/?kw=Federal%20Judge%20Orders%20New%20Securities%20Trial%20for%20Crypto-Product%20%27Paycoins%27&utm_source=email&utm_medium=enl&utm_campaign=dailybriefing&utm_content=20220614&utm_term=clt&slreturn=20220529104704.

[5] Id.

[6] Framework for ‘Investment Contract” Analysis of Digital Assets, The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, https://www.sec.gov/corpfin/framework-investment-contract-analysis-digital-assets (last visited June 29, 2022).

[7] SEC v. Kik Interactive Inc., 492 F.Supp.3d 169, 177 (S.D.N.Y. 2020).

[8] SEC Obtains Final Judgment Against Kik Interactive for Unregistered Offering, The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (October 2020), https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2020-262.

[9] XRP vs. SEC lawsuit update, Cryptopolitan (June 2022), https://www.cryptopolitan.com/xrp-vs-sec-lawsuit-update/.

[10] The ‘Ripple’ effect: a striking development on defending digital asset securities litigation, Reuters (April 2022), https://www.reuters.com/legal/legalindustry/ripple-effect-striking-development-defending-digital-asset-securities-litigation-2022-04-21/

[11] XRP vs. SEC lawsuit update, Cryptopolitan (June 2022), https://www.cryptopolitan.com/xrp-vs-sec-lawsuit-update/.

[12] SEC vs. Ripple: Case Explained, CNBC (April 2022), https://www.cnbctv18.com/cryptocurrency/sec-vs-ripple-case-explained-13054042.htm.

Weighing the Carbon Footprint of Cryptocurrency

Cryptocurrency (“Crypto”) is a virtual form of currency that functions through a decentralized system to record transactions and uses encryption, rather than an entity such as a bank, to verify transactions.[1] Crypto’s first mark on the digital world was in 2009 through Bitcoin, which remains the best-known form of Crypto today.[2] Crypto is created through a process known as mining, which involves downloading a unique software that contains all transactions that have taken place through that specific network.[3]

Crypto has had a profound effect on the global economy and has altered our world’s view of currency and financial transactions in general. Any investor with access to the internet can purchase cryptocurrency.[4] Additionally, over 15,000 businesses worldwide now accept Crypto as a form of payment, which has altered the availability of transactions to interested purchasers.[5] A study conducted by Forester Consulting on Crypto using the Total Economic Impact methodology demonstrated that 40% of customers that used Crypto as their form of currency were new customers to the merchant, evidencing intriguing information that Crypto is affording access to new transactions to new demographic groups.[6]

Despite the numerous advantages that Crypto has offered globally, Crypto’s high demand comes at the cost of an impact on our environment, which is currently being addressed at a federal executive level. The process of mining all Crypto was initially designed to be capped at 21 million units; however, the number of units available to mine has caused an increase in computation power exerted in order to mint new units of Crypto.[7] The estimated carbon footprint stemming from a single crypto transaction is estimated to burn 2,292.5 kilowatt hours of electricity, which equates to the amount of power the average U.S. household uses over the course of 78 days.[8] No payment system is foolproof in completely abolishing its carbon footprint and CO2 emissions. However, compared   to VISA, which is another payment system, the average Crypto transaction requires 200,000 times more energy consumption.[9]

The substantial footprint of Crypto is acknowledged by the current administration, which has prioritized climate change mitigation. [10] In an Executive Order on “Ensuring Responsible Development of Digital Assets” which took place on March 9, 2022, United States President Joe Biden addresses the resulting environmental pollution from Crypto and Crypto mining and implements a plan alongside many federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency.[11] The Executive Order recognizes the benefits of Crypto financial markets for consumers, investors, and businesses, however addresses the responsibility the United States has to mitigate contributions to climate change and pollution.[12]

To reach these goals and assure that Crypto’s harms to not outweigh its benefits, and to learn more about how to stray away from harms, the Executive Order calls on the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to prepare a report to the President within 180 days, specifically addressing “the connections between distributed ledger technology and short-, medium-, and long-term economic and energy transitions; the potential for these technologies to impede or advance efforts to tackle climate change at home and abroad; and the impacts these technologies have on the environment…The report should also address the effect of cryptocurrencies’ consensus mechanisms on energy usage, including research into potential mitigating measures and alternative mechanisms of consensus and the design tradeoffs those may entail.[13]

The damages Crypto could potentially have large effects on climate change and the state of our environmental crisis. However, mitigating Crypto pollution is not an impossible feat. Government encouragement in developing sustainable technologies can have social and economic benefits to the Crypto market and remove the serious threat that Crypto can pose to the emission of greenhouse gases and its carbon footprint.[14]

[1]What is Cryptocurrency and How Does it Work?, Kaspersky, “https://www.kaspersky.com/resource-center/definitions/what-is-cryptocurrency”>https://www.kaspersky.com/resource-center/definitions/what-is-cryptocurrency (Last visited March 17, 2022)

[2]Id.

[3] Jake Frankenfield, Cryptocurrency, Investopedia (Jan. 11, 2022) https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/cryptocurrency.asp#:~:text=Cryptocurrencies%20are%20generated%20by%20mining,have%20occurred%20in%20its%20network.

[4] Jim Probasco, What to Know About Investing in Crypto Exchanges, Investopedia (Nov. 30, 2021) https://www.investopedia.com/buying-and-selling-4689764

[5]Who Accepts Bitcoin and Ether Cryptocurrencies, Currency Exchange International (May 12, 2021) https://www.ceifx.com/news/who-accepts-bitcoin-and-ether-cryptocurrencies#:~:text=More%20than%2015%2C000%20businesses%20worldwide,Microsoft%2C%20AT%26T%2C%20and%20Wikipedia.

[6]Forrester Study Shows Accepting Crypto Attracts New Customers and Boosts AOV, Forrester (Aug. 6, 2020) https://bitpay.com/resources/forrester-report-says-bitpay-adds-new-sales-and-2x-aov/

[7] John Bogna, What is the Environmental Impact of Cryptocurrency? PCMag (Jan. 8, 2022) https://www.pcmag.com/how-to/what-is-the-environmental-impact-of-cryptocurrency#:~:text=The%20environmental%20concern%20comes%20from,household%20for%20over%2078%20days.

[8]Id.

[9]Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, Digiconomist (2022) https://digiconomist.net/bitcoin-energy-consumption

[10] Executive Order on Ensuring Responsible Development of Digital Assets (Mar. 9, 2022), https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2022/03/09/executive-order-on-ensuring-responsible-development-of-digital-assets/.

[11] Executive Order, § 5(b)(vi)

[12] Executive Order, § 1

[13] Executive Order, § 5(b)(vii)

[14] Jon Truby, Decarbonizing Bitcoin: Law and Policy Choices for Reducing the Energy Consumption of Blockchain Technologies and Digital Currencies, 44 Energy Rsch. Soc. Sci. 399 (2018) (Discussing the benefits of Crypto and how the harms can be avoided through commitment to positive government intervention choices).