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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

SEC opens crypto assets office

Securities Digital Assets Federal Issues Cryptocurrency Stablecoins Virtual Currency SEC Fintech


On September 8, SEC Chair Gary Gensler issued remarks before the Practising Law Institute to discuss cryptocurrency tokens and corresponding SEC regulation. During his remarks, Gensler stated his view that the “vast majority” of cryptocurrency tokens on the market are securities that are subject to SEC regulation. As a result, investors in cryptocurrencies “deserve disclosure to help them sort between the investments that they think will flourish and those that they think will flounder,” and that the law requires such protections. Gensler, also addressed stablecoins, which he also concluded raised significant policy issues. Gensler pointed out that depending on their attributes, stablecoins “may be shares of a money market fund or another kind of security,” and therefore require registration and deserve investor protections. Finally, addressing crypto intermediaries, Gensler noted that they are either engaging “in the business of effecting transactions in crypto security tokens for the account of others, which makes them brokers, or engage in the business of buying and selling crypto security tokens for their own account, which makes them dealers.” He warned that because crypto intermediaries often commingle other functions with a market, investors are inherently exposed to conflicts of interest and risks. To address this, Gensler noted that he encouraged SEC staff to collaborate “with intermediaries to ensure they register each of their functions—exchange, broker-dealer, custodial functions, and the like—which could result in disaggregating their functions into separate legal entities to mitigate conflicts of interest and enhance investor protection.” Gensler noted that legislation should be crafted in a way that maintains the SEC’s oversight of crypto security tokens, and added that these kind of assets make up most of the digital assets that are currently traded.

The same week, the SEC announced it is establishing an Office of Crypto Assets and an Office of Industrial Applications and Services to the Division of Corporation Finance’s Disclosure Review Program (DRP), which “has long had offices to review company filings by issuers.” According to the SEC, the offices will join the seven existing offices that provide focused review of issuer filings to continue the SEC’s efforts in promoting capital formation and protecting investors. The Office of Crypto Assets will permit “the DRP to better focus its resources and expertise to address the unique and evolving filing review issues related to crypto assets.”