Wyoming continues to position itself as a business-friendly state most recently by passing groundbreaking blockchain legislation defining cryptocurrency coins or tokens as a whole new asset class separate from securities and commodities. While it is unlikely that Wyoming’s new statutes will impact the SEC’s view that most, if not all, cryptocurrencies, or at least those issued to investors or used for capital raising, are securities, or the CFTC’s view that cryptocurrencies that are used as a medium of exchange, are a commodity, Wyoming has done what federal lawmakers have not yet endeavored – created comprehensive blockchain legislation.
In March 2018, Wyoming passed five separate bills addressing securities, corporate, banking and tax matters which could entice cryptocurrency and blockchain businesses to locate within the state. The statutes are part of an initiative in Wyoming called ENDOW – Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming.
Wyoming House Bill 19 provides an exemption for virtual currency, including bitcoin and ethereum, used within Wyoming from money transmitter laws and regulations subject to providing certain specified verification authority to the Wyoming Secretary of State and Wyoming Banking Commissioner. The specified verification authority includes representations, warranties and undertakings by the issuer of “utility tokens” to confirm beneficial ownership of the token and to prevent unauthorized or fraudulent duplication of the token by third parties.
HB 19 defines a “virtual currency” as “any type of digital representation of value that: (i) is used as a medium of exchange, unit of account or store of value; and (ii) is not recognized as legal tender by the United States government.”
As a reminder, the CFTC has regulatory oversight over futures, options, and derivatives contracts on virtual currencies and has oversight to pursue claims of fraud or manipulation involving a virtual currency traded in interstate commerce. Beyond instances of fraud or manipulation, the CFTC generally does not oversee “spot” or cash market exchanges and transactions involving virtual currencies that do not utilize margin, leverage or financing. Rather, these “exchanges” are regulated as payment processors or money transmitters under state law.
However, despite the Wyoming state law exemption, businesses which issue or exchange these tokens would still be subject to FinCEN’s regulations and the requirements to comply with the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). The BSA requires virtual currency exchangers and administrators, including those businesses that issue a virtual currency in exchange for other virtual currencies, fiat currency or types of value, to complete anti-money laundering (AML), know your customer (KYC) and other procedures to combat the financing of terrorism and prevent or detect the abuse of virtual currency to facilitate cyber-crime, money laundering, terrorist financing, black market sales of illegal or illicit products and services and other high-tech crimes. For more on FinCEN and the BSA, see HERE.
Wyoming House Bill 70 removes utility tokens from specified securities and money transmission laws. In particular, any person that develops, sells or facilitates the exchange of an open blockchain utility token would not be required to comply with specified securities and money transmission laws subject to providing specified verification authority. The purpose of the statute is to make clear that utility tokens issued for non-investment purposes, are exempt from the Wyoming securities laws including registration and exemption provisions and broker-dealer registration requirements.
HB 70 defines an “open blockchain token” as a digital unit which is: (i) created (a) in response to the verification or collection of a specified number of transactions relating to a digital ledger or database, (b) by deploying computer code to a blockchain network that allows for the creation of digital tokens or other units, or (c) using any combination of (a) and (b); (ii) recorded in a digital ledger or database that is chronological, consensus-based, decentralized and mathematically verified, especially related to the supply of units and their distributions; and (iii) capable of being traded or transferred between persons without an intermediary or custodian of value.
HB 70 provides that the purpose of the token must be for “a consumptive purpose, which shall only be exchangeable for, or provided for the receipt of, goods, services or content, including rights of access to goods, services or content.”
Furthermore, HB 70 would not apply where the developer or seller of the token sold the token to the initial buyer as a financial investment. The requirement that the token not be an investment can only be satisfied if: (i) the developer or seller does not market the token as a financial investment; and (ii) at least one of the following is true: (a) the developer or seller reasonably believed that it sold the token for a consumptive purpose; (b) the token has a consumptive purpose that is available at the time of sale and can be used at or near the time of sale; (c) if the token does not have a consumptive purpose at the time of sale, the token is prevented from being resold until the consumptive purpose is available; or (d) the developer or seller takes other reasonable precautions to prevent the buyers from purchasing the token as a financial investment.
The SEC has been clear in numerous statements that it believes that tokens that are issued for the purpose of capital raising and an increase in value, are securities offerings that must comply with the federal securities laws. The SEC’s position relates to factors such as the method of issuance and sale of the tokens, use of proceeds, investment intent and expectation of profit, ability to increase value, whether the “utility” has been built out or established, and ability for secondary trading. The SEC has specifically not taken into account the ultimate utility value of the token, nor directly answered the oft asked question of whether a token that is issued in a securities offering, can then morph into a commodity or other asset class, not subject to the securities laws. It is my view, and the general view of the marketplace, that “utility tokens” can be sold in a “securities offering.”
Although the Wyoming statute attempts to address the investment intent, and even appears to attempt to address the SEC main criteria, I would suggest that issuers of any tokens should continue to comply with the federal securities laws until there is further guidance and certainty at the federal level.
SF 111 provides that virtual currency is not subject to taxation as “property” in Wyoming. That is, virtual currency would be treated as personal property, not subject to Wyoming property taxes. SF 111 amends a prior statute that exempted money and cash on hand, currency, gold, silver and related items by adding virtual currencies. Like HB 19, SF 111 defines a “virtual currency” as “any type of digital representation of value that: (i) is used as a medium of exchange, unit of account or store of value; and (ii) is not recognized as legal tender by the United States government.”
HB 101 allows for the maintenance of corporate records of Wyoming entities via blockchain that utilizes electronic keys, network signatures and digital receipts. In particular, the Act authorizes the use of electronic networks or databases for the creation or maintenance of corporate records, authorizes the use of a data address to identify shareholders, authorizes the acceptance of shareholder votes if signed by a network signature that corresponds to a data address and specifies the requirements for the use of electronic networks and databases. In addition, the Act requires the secretary of state to review and update its rules for consistency.
HB 126 allows the creation and use of “series LLC’s.” Delaware is well known for its series LLC statute. Series LLC have become popular in the blockchain space and accordingly it is thought that this will attract blockchain-based businesses.
Further Reading on DLT/Blockchain and ICOs
For a review of the 2014 case against BTC Trading Corp. for acting as an unlicensed broker-dealer for operating a bitcoin trading platform, see HERE.
For an introduction on distributed ledger technology, including a summary of FINRA’s Report on Distributed Ledger Technology and Implication of Blockchain for the Securities Industry, see HERE.
For a discussion on the Section 21(a) Report on the DAO investigation, statements by the Divisions of Corporation Finance and Enforcement related to the investigative report and the SEC’s Investor Bulletin on ICOs, see HERE.
For a summary of SEC Chief Accountant Wesley R. Bricker’s statements on ICOs and accounting implications, see HERE.
For an update on state-distributed ledger technology and blockchain regulations, see HERE.
For a summary of the SEC and NASAA statements on ICOs and updates on enforcement proceedings as of January 2018, see HERE.
For a summary of the SEC and CFTC joint statements on cryptocurrencies, including The Wall Street Journal op-ed article and information on the International Organization of Securities Commissions statement and warning on ICOs, see HERE.
For a review of the CFTC’s role and position on cryptocurrencies, see HERE.
For a summary of the SEC and CFTC testimony to the United States Senate Committee on Banking Housing and Urban Affairs hearing on “Virtual Currencies: The Oversight Role of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission,” see HERE.
To learn about SAFTs and the issues with the SAFT investment structure, see HERE.
To learn about the SEC’s position and concerns with crypto-related funds and ETFs, see HERE.
For more information on platforms that trade cryptocurrencies and more on the continued regulatory confusion in the space, see HERE.
For information on FinCEN’s role and requirements related to the cryptocurrency marketplace, including requirements for issuers of ICOs, see HERE.
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