Ian Simpson is head of marketing and communications at Lakeside Partners, an early-stage investment firm in Zug, Switzerland.
In this opinion piece, Simpson lays out why his country is poised to remain a hotbed of ICO activity for the time being, despite recent regulatory developments – and why it should not try to be the only hub.
Last week's news that the Swiss Financial Markets Supervisory Authority (FINMA) is investigating ICOs generated predictably sensational headlines around the world.
Business Insider went so far as to include the "terrorist" angle in its headline – gratuitously, in my opinion. Some were quick to lump the news together with other negative announcements from around the world.
But it would be wrong to assume that FINMA's statement – even coming at roughly the same time as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's announcement of charges against two ICOs – spells doom for the ICO market in Switzerland.
Those most closely involved in making ICOs happen in Switzerland are not at all naive about the possibility of scams. In a recent interview with online portal Finews, Luka Mueller of MME Legal made it clear that he was well aware of dubious tactics being used.
Moreover, the local blockchain community – far from rooting for each and every project that lands in Crypto Valley – is very focused on self-regulation. I have often been on hand to witness the hard questions and critical attitude during local meetups when teams from around the world show up to promote their ICO campaign.
Code of conduct
The Crypto Valley Association recently came out in favour of a code of conduct as a means to encourage the community to foster best practices and weed out scammers.
This is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the global blockchain community – peer-to-peer review and balance where no one central player needs to enforce or control things.
On a larger scale, this is one of the reasons why Switzerland is still one of the best places to conduct an ICO.
The country's legal and political system has been and will continue to be stable and predictable – and decentralised. The Swiss cantonal system with 26 semi-autonomous regions and rotating federal presidency provides a balanced framework, and a real-world example of the principles that power blockchain.
And even when politicians do get involved, it is in the spirit of "consensus-building." We recently hosted two of the seven Swiss Federal Councillors – Johann Schneider-Ammann (economic affairs) and Ueli Maurer (finance) at our offices in Zug. Both showed an openness to learn and try to understand the potential – and complexities – of blockchain and cryptocurrencies.
Leading the way
Another reason is that there is a wealth of experience and technical talent in Switzerland's Crypto Valley. What started with the founding of the Ethereum Foundation in Zug continues to grow and multiply.
At the ICO Summit in Zurich last month, nearly everyone in attendance was clear on the fact that regulations would come – as William Mougayar pointed out in his keynote speech – but with the hope that they recognize tokens as a completely new asset class. So, despite FINMA's announcement, the Swiss crypto/blockchain ecosystem still offers the most stable and promising conditions for ICOs.
For now, anyway.
Because Switzerland, like every other place, should not seek to have a monopoly. This would go against the very spirit of decentralization. Instead, it should focus on trying to lead the way forward so others, including the SEC, can learn from its example.
Swiss Alps image via Shutterstock