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Path of Crypto Regulation Is ‘Clear as Mud’: Norm Champ

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Securities industry regulators continue to issue warnings about cryptocurrencies as the prices swing up and down, with one former regulator stating that regulators have to get on the same page to create certainty for investors and market participants.

Norm Champ, the former head of the SEC’s Division of Investment Management, said in a recent CNBC interview that, as it stands now, regulators’ inability to agree on what cryptocurrencies are is creating “uncertainty” for investors and market participants.

“The U.S. Treasury has said that they are currency or money, so you have to comply with money transfer regulations,” Champ said. “The Internal Revenue Service has ruled them as property. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has ruled they are commodities, and the Securities and Exchange Commission has put out a report suggesting that certain tokens—tokens that are above the cryptocurrency level – are securities and they’ve put out hints that they may consider the entire token universe as securities.”

Four regulators “with four different interpretations,” Champ said. “Things are clear as mud.”

U.S. regulators need to “convene with practitioners and the industry and get everyone together in Washington to talk about what the right regulatory approach is going forward,” Champ added. “Where we are with the fractured approach of for regulators is not the right approach for anyone—it’s not the right result for investor protection or the right result for the cryptocurrency market. We need a lot more certainty.”

The North American Securities Administrators Association warned investors Thursday to “go beyond the hype” and tread cautiously with investments involving cryptocurrency.

“The recent wild price fluctuations and speculation in cryptocurrency-related investments can easily tempt unsuspecting investors to rush into an investment they may not fully understand,” Joe Borg, NASAA’s president and Alabama securities regulator, said in releasing the alert. “Cryptocurrencies and investments tied to them are high-risk products with an unproven track record and high price volatility. Combined with a high risk of fraud, investing in cryptocurrencies is not for the faint of heart.”

NASAA recently listed initial coin offerings and cryptocurrency-related investment products as emerging investor threats for 2018.

Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton, along with SEC Commissioners Kara Stein and Michael Piwowar, issued a statement the same day applauding NASAA’s warning.

NASAA’s statement “recognizes that cryptocurrencies, while touted as replacements for traditional currencies, lack many important characteristics of traditional currencies, including sovereign backing and responsibility, and now are being promoted more as investment opportunities than efficient mediums for exchange,” the SEC officials said. 

As NASAA also reminds investors, “when they are offered and sold securities they are entitled to the benefits of state and federal securities laws, and that sellers and other market participants must follow these laws,” the SEC officials added. “Unfortunately, it is clear that many promoters of ICOs and others participating in the cryptocurrency-related investment markets are not following these laws.”

The SEC and state securities regulators “are pursuing violations,” the officials continued, “but we again caution you that, if you lose money, there is a substantial risk that our efforts will not result in a recovery of your investment.”

Clayton issued his own cryptocurrency warning on Dec. 11, urging investors to “ask questions and demand clear answers” if they choose to invest in cryptocurrencies.

— Check out What Exactly Is Bitcoin Good For? A Theory on ThinkAdvisor.


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