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SEC Chairman Gensler Agrees With Predecessor: 'Every ICO Is a Security'

Gensler said he believes crypto trading platforms might already have securities listed.

Aug 3, 2021 at 4:41 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 1:34 p.m. UTC

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Gary Gensler said he believes the vast majority of crypto tokens and initial coin offerings (ICOs) violate U.S. securities laws.

In a speech at the Aspen Security Forum on Tuesday, Gensler said he agreed with Jay Clayton, his predecessor at the SEC, who once famously said that in his view, "every ICO I've seen is a security."

"Generally, folks buying these tokens are anticipating profits, and there’s a small group of entrepreneurs and technologists standing up and nurturing the projects," Gensler said in prepared remarks. "I believe we have a crypto market now where many tokens may be unregistered securities, without required disclosures or market oversight."

These tokens may allow markets to be manipulated, which in turn could harm investors, the regulator said.

Gensler reiterated earlier comments that stock tokens and "stable value tokens backed by securities" qualify as securities in his view, meaning they must be registered and their issuers must abide by existing federal law.

"A typical trading platform has more than 50 tokens on it. In fact, many have well in excess of 100 tokens. While each token's legal status depends on its own facts and circumstances, the probability is quite remote that, with 50 or 100 tokens, any given platform has zero securities," Gensler said.

Gensler also briefly hinted at how his agency might approach exchange-traded funds (ETFs). More than a dozen industry participants have filed applications to launch a bitcoin ETF over the past year.

Gensler noted that investment vehicles with exposure to crypto, including mutual funds, already exist. While Gensler didn't comment on the proposals themselves, he called out the importance of having investor protections codified into law.

"Given these important protections, I look forward to the staff’s review of such filings, particularly if those are limited to these CME-traded bitcoin futures," he said, referring to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

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