Listen to The Sidley Podcast for an informative discussion of how blockchain, digital assets and virtual currencies are changing the way we transact
Blockchain technology has the ability to transform how business and everyday commercial transactions are conducted across industries. This emerging technology represents more than just an incremental improvement in business practices — it could actually disrupt how we do business. What is blockchain, how will it affect the way we communicate and transact with each other and why are cryptocurrencies being used in conjunction with this technology?
We get answers to these questions and many others in the latest episode of The Sidley Podcast. Podcast host and Sidley partner Sam Gandhi speaks with Lilya Tessler, a partner in the firm’s New York office, who focuses her practice on the corporate and regulatory aspects of blockchain technology.
On February 6, 2020, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC or Commission) Commissioner Hester M. Peirce (Commissioner Peirce) gave a speech describing the need for more clarity on application of the securities laws to the offer and sale of blockchain tokens or digital assets. As part of the speech, she proposed a safe harbor (Proposal or Safe Harbor) exempting certain tokens from the registration requirements of the Securities Act of 1933 (Securities Act) and Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (Exchange Act), including an exemption for persons engaging in certain transactions with respect to such tokens from the definitions of “exchange,” “broker” and “dealer” under the Exchange Act. The Proposal is of significance to any existing or future blockchain development team considering the distribution of tokens, as well as any digital asset exchange or over-the-counter desk that facilitates transactions in digital assets, blockchain tokens or virtual currencies.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently published their examination priorities (together, the Examination Priorities) for the 2020 calendar year.1 In general, the 2020 Examination Priorities continue recurring themes from recent prior years.
OCIE’s 2020 Examination Priorities for broker-dealers and investment advisers include the protection of retail investors (including compliance with new standard of care requirements and interpretations), cyber and information security risks, anti-money laundering compliance, firms engaging in the digital asset space and the provision of electronic investment advice.
FINRA’s 2020 Examination Priorities for member firms include those generally identified by OCIE for registered broker-dealers, as well as cash management and bank sweep programs, initial public offerings, liquidity management, trading authorizations and order routing and vendor display rule requirements, among others.
This post summarizes selected aspects of the Examination Priorities that may be of particular interest to broker-dealers and investment advisers. As always, firms should use the 2020 Examination Priorities to review their compliance and supervisory procedures carefully and make any necessary revisions. Firms also should be prepared to explain their compliance and supervisory policies in these areas in their upcoming SEC and/or FINRA examinations, as applicable, and provide documentation of relevant reviews.
On January 14, 2020, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Office of Investor Education and Advocacy published an investor alert (Alert) regarding initial exchange offerings (IEOs), a type of digital asset fundraising facilitated by online trading platforms.1 Although the Alert is directed at investors, it provides important information to blockchain companies and trading platforms. The Alert highlights the following:
- an explanation of an IEO
- IEOs that are securities offerings must comply with federal securities laws
- a platform offering an IEO may need to register as a broker-dealer, national securities exchange or operate pursuant to an exemption, such as an alternative trading system (ATS)
- IEOs offered to U.S. investors, even if offered from outside the United States, must comply with federal securities laws
The California Department of Business Oversight (CDBO) recently concluded that the point of sale consumer financing programs offered by Sezzle, Inc., and another, unnamed party constituted making loans for purposes of the California Financing Law (CFL). A number of payment providers and technology companies have been developing innovative payment options, including consumer financing options, that are facilitated by advances in technology and mobile connectivity. Some market participants have structured their products such that a license should generally not be required under state law. The CDBO’s actions, however, may require companies to revisit that analysis and consider their licensing obligations.
On December 3, 2019, the five federal banking agencies1 issued a joint statement (the “Joint Statement”) regarding the use of alternative data for credit underwriting. The Agencies highlighted potential benefits that may arise from the use of alternative data, including the ability to make faster and more accurate credit determinations and the potential to provide credit at a lower rate or to individuals or small businesses that would otherwise be unable to access it. While the Agencies issued approving language regarding the use of certain types of alternative data, they also cautioned that the use of alternative data may have consumer protection implications, including fair lending, prohibitions against unfair, deceptive or abuse acts or practices and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
On October 11, 2019, the leaders of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) (together, the Agencies) issued a joint statement highlighting the application of anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) obligations under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) to persons engaged in activities involving digital assets (Joint Statement). On the same day, the SEC filed an emergency action to halt a digital asset distribution, citing BSA/AML concerns.1
Under the revised Payment Services Directive (2015/2366) (PSD2), the European Banking Authority (EBA) and the European Commission were required to develop and adopt regulatory technical standards on strong customer authentication and common and secure open standards of communication. These regulatory technical standards were passed into EU law as Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2018/389 (the RTS), which entered into effect on September 14, 2019.
The RTS has direct effect on payment service providers (PSPs), including card issuers and acquirers, in all EU member states. However, certain EU member states, including the UK, have implemented transitional measures for a phased implementation of the rules in the context of card-based payments for e-commerce transactions.
This post discusses the requirements under the RTS for card issuers and acquirers to authenticate payment service users (PSUs), which is referred to as “strong customer authentication” (SCA).