On April 17, 2018, the New York Attorney General’s Office (“OAG”) launched a Virtual Markets Integrity Initiative and sent letters to thirteen cryptoasset trading platforms requesting, through a questionnaire, disclosures on their operations, internal controls, and safeguards to protect customer assets.  The questionnaire focused on six major topic areas, including: 1) Ownership and Control, 2) Basic Operation and Fees, 3) Trading Policies and Procedures, 4) Outages and Other Suspensions of Trading, 5) Internal Controls, and 6) Privacy and Money Laundering.  The OAG characterized the initiative as a mechanism to “increase transparency and accountability” on “platforms used by consumers to trade virtual or ‘crypto’ currencies like bitcoin and ether.”  Notably, the thirteen trading platforms were only given two weeks to respond to the questionnaire.

While cryptoasset exchanges already face regulatory scrutiny from the SEC, the CFTC, and certain state regulators (including other agencies within New York), among others, the OAG determined  that their mandate to protect customers/ investors and ensure the fairness of New York’s financial markets necessitated further action.  Two of the targeted trading platforms –  Coinbase and Kraken – publicized markedly different responses to the OAG’s inquiries, the content of which sheds light on how some of the industry’s key players are approaching regulation; and perhaps, how regulators should be approaching some of the industry’s key players.

Last week, former CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler explained in remarks at M.I.T. that he believes the second and third most widely used virtual currencies—Ether and Ripple—may have been issued and traded in violation of securities regulations.  This comes on the heels of a crackdown on cryptocurrency-related securities by the SEC, which is particularly focused on initial coin offerings (ICOs).  For fund managers, we believe the increased regulatory pressure will be felt in some expected, and some not-so-expected, ways.

ICO enforcement is trending: The SEC’s Cyber Unit has ramped up enforcement pressure, issuing dozens of subpoenas and information requests to technology companies and advisers involved in the ICO market.  The requests have sought information about the structure for sales and pre-sales of ICOs.  This uptick in enforcement pressure isn’t surprising, especially given Chairman Clayton’s repeated warnings that participants in the ICO space are not complying with the required securities laws (for example, notably stating that he has yet to see an ICO that “doesn’t have a sufficient number of hallmarks of a security.”)  There are no signs the SEC will slow down its scrutiny of crypto-related assets.  The SEC has already indicated that it will devote significant resources to policing the ICO market.