On January 3, 2022, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (the “CFTC”) entered an order charging Blockratize, Inc. (d/b/a Polymarket.com) (“Polymarket”) with offering off-exchange binary options contracts and failing to register with the CFTC as a designated contract market or swap execution facility as required under the Commodity Exchange Act (the “CEA”). (In re Blockratize, Inc. d/b/a Polymarket.com, CFTC Docket No. 22-09 (Order Jan. 3, 2022)). The CFTC ordered Polymarket to cease and desist all such unregistered market making activities and issued a $1.4 million fine (which the order noted was reduced in light of Polymarket’s “substantial cooperation” with the investigation).
On December 17, 2021, the Financial Stability Oversight Council (“FSOC”) – a collaborative body formed under the Dodd-Frank Act composed of state and federal regulators and tasked with identifying risks and responding to emerging threats to financial stability – released its 2021 Annual Report (the “Report”). In the Report, the FSOC offered wide-ranging insight into what it perceived to be various vulnerabilities in the financial system and related regulatory concerns on topics ranging from climate-related financial risks, the real estate market, certain financial structures, data challenges, and cybersecurity. Notably, the FSOC additionally dedicated a section of the Report on the specific risks digital assets pose to the financial system, specifically, those involving stablecoins.
Stablecoins are digital assets designed to maintain a stable value by pegging the digital asset to a national currency or another reference asset (i.e., a commodity like gold, silver, or oil). Using reference assets to stabilize price, stablecoins seek to become the alternative payment mechanism to bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and have also been used to facilitate trading and lending of other digital assets. However, the FSOC, taking a systemic, wide view, is not without concern.
With new types of digital assets and related business on the rise, federal authorities have been busy investigating. Recently, the SEC, FinCEN and the CFTC have imposed some notable settlements involving cryptocurrency trading platforms for allegedly operating without appropriate approvals from financial regulatory authorities. This may be the start of…
The tide of regulation of cryptocurrency and blockchain could be turning in the United States. Following comments by newly-confirmed Treasury Secretary (and former Federal Reserve Chair) Janet Yellen describing Bitcoin as “inefficient” and “extremely volatile,” the price of the coin dropped 10% in 24 hours. During her confirmation hearings, Yellen…
Based on a recent regulatory statement, entities involved with cryptocurrency or digital assets should revisit their anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism obligations (AML/CFT) compliance under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA).
On October 11, the leaders of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a joint statement (the “Joint Statement”) regarding the application of the BSA to activities involving digital assets. The Joint Statement “reminds” those involved with such activities of their AML/CFT obligations and specifically calls out those entities that would be subject to such obligations: futures commission merchants and introducing brokers (regulated by the CFTC), money services businesses (regulated by FinCEN), and broker-dealers and mutual funds (regulated by the SEC).
Potentially indicating a key concern of the regulators going forward, the Joint Statement notes that the applicability of AML/CFT obligations is not dependent on the terminology surrounding the applicable assets, but rather the nature of the assets themselves: “Regardless of the label or terminology that market participants may use, or the level or type of technology employed, it is the facts and circumstances underlying an asset, activity or service, including its economic reality and use (whether intended or organically developed or repurposed), that determines the general categorization of an asset, the specific regulatory treatment of the activity involving the asset, and whether the persons involved are “financial institutions” for purposes of the BSA.” Thus, while market participants refer to digital assets in many different ways, how assets are referred to should not have a bearing on BSA compliance. By way of example, the Joint Statement offers that “something referred to as an ‘exchange’ in a market for digital assets may or may not also qualify as an ‘exchange’ as that term is used under the federal securities laws.”
Following the general statement, each leader provides additional comments, which should guide entities subject to each applicable regulator’s review. Heath Tarbert (Chairman, CFTC) notes that introducing brokers and futures commission merchants are required to report suspicious activity and implement reasonably-designed AML programs, regardless of whether the digital assets qualify as commodities or are used as derivatives. Kenneth A. Blanco (Director, FinCEN) advises those handling digital assets to review FinCEN’s May 2019 interpretive guidance, under which FinCEN makes clear that many digital asset activities would qualify a person as a money services business subject to AML/CFT obligations (unless the person is registered with and functionally regulated and examined by the SEC or CFTC, whereby they would be subject to the BSA obligations of those regulators). Jay Clayton (Chairman, SEC) reminds persons engaged in activities involving digital assets as securities that they remain subject to federal securities laws, but certain rules also apply regardless of whether the assets are securities, such as broker-dealer financial responsibility rules.
In remarks made at the Yahoo! All Markets Summit in New York, Heath Tarbert, Chairman of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), said that he believed the Ether cryptocurrency was a “commodity” and should be regulated under the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA). This statement follows the agency’s December 2018…
Following up on their recent introduction of the Token Taxonomy Act, Representatives Darren Soto (D-FL) and Warren Davidson (R-OH) have teamed up again to introduce a new slate of bipartisan bills related to virtual currency. The two new bills, H.R. 922 and H.R. 923, were introduced on January 30, 2019 and are cosponsored by Representatives Ted Budd (R-NC) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).
Recently at a conference in Dubai, Brian Quintenz, who is a Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Commissioner, expressed his personal opinion (rather than the views of the CFTC) on the conceptual challenges in applying the CFTC’s regulatory oversight to, and fostering accountability for, smart contracts that reside on decentralized blockchains. In particular, Quintenz conveyed his belief that smart contract developers could potentially be held liable for aiding and abetting activity that violates CFTC regulations through the use of a smart contract that they programmed, if they “could reasonably foresee, at the time they created the code, that it would likely be used by U.S. persons in a manner violative of CFTC regulations.”
At a high level, a smart contract is computer code encoded on a blockchain that is programmed to automate the execution of a transaction upon the occurrence of a triggering event. The CFTC regulates the U.S. derivatives markets and thus has oversight authority over futures and swaps markets, including derivatives on commodity cryptocurrencies. Among the many potential applications of smart contracts, Quintenz identified as a regulatory concern the ability of smart contracts to emulate traditional financial products, such as binary options or derivative contracts. For example, through a smart contract on a blockchain, one could bet on the outcome of a sporting event and, if the prediction is correct, the smart contract could be programmed to automatically settle the bet using a cryptocurrency transfer without the involvement of an intermediary. Applications such as this, Quintenz stated, resemble “prediction markets” and “event contracts,” which may fall within the CFTC’s purview and raise regulatory issues.