Everything You Need to Know About Cryptocurrency Regulation (Right Now)

NEO Global Capital Interview

If you’re reading this, chances are you have experience or are interested in trading or investing in cryptocurrency assets such as NEO Global Capital

Chances are pretty high that a majority of our readers have invested a number anywhere between $100 to $10,000 in a mixture of assets such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, and NEO. There’s also slim minority that has taken a walk on the wild side and invested in ICOs – some getting lucky, the bulk getting burnt.

Your decisions were likely fueled by news and impulse, and since your risk was relatively low, it didn’t take much convincing to place your orders

But what happens when that $100 to $10,000 figure is multiplied by 100x to 1,000x, in some cases 10,000x. And it’s your full-time job. And it’s not your money. The landscape changes a bit.

Cryptocurrency funds have a unique task ahead of them that involves navigating through a noisy and clamorous environment to get access to high-quality deal flows and investment targets. The stakes are much higher and reputation starts to matter.

CoinCentral connected with the team behind one of the world’s leading blockchain investment firms, NEO Global Capital, at their inaugural Boston meetup. The event featured heavy hitting figures from organizations such as Arrington XRP Capital, Pantera Capital, Block72, and, of course, NEO Global Capital.

The NEO Global Capital Fund I has a high-octane diverse portfolio of blockchain projects such as OntologyBluzelleZilliqa, Trinity, Mainframe, and Top.

The following interview provides some serious insights into the mechanics behind running an international blockchain fund, especially in the bear market that is 2018, from NGC Founding Partner Roger Lim.

Enjoy!


Can you tell us a bit more about what gives you a sense of a good investment opportunity? What specific traits are you looking for in the team, in the idea, in the technology?

NGC’s founding team has been involved in the blockchain industry since its early days, so we are fortunate to have worked alongside some of the early adopters of the technology. With time comes a better understanding of what industries are most in need of a digital overhaul, as well as where decentralized technologies will have the greatest impact, so our experience has certainly played to our advantage.

As such, we’ve developed a strong sense of which sectors will benefit most from blockchain; what stands out in terms of a projects founding team; and whether an idea is innovative and disruptive versus one that is similar to something that already exists and can really only offer incremental improvement.

That being said, NEO Global Capital has a well-rounded portfolio of investments, and we hope to continue supporting a variety of industries, including identity solutions; gaming; online content streaming; the financial services industry (i.e. banking, financing, payments, and exchanges); and so on.

We will also continue to invest in public chains, as well as privacy and security projects because we see them as strong examples of addressing a specific problem. Overall, it’s important to look at how competitive the market is for whatever that project is trying to solve.

Perhaps most importantly, we place a heavy emphasis on the strength of the team at the heart of a project: Does this project have strong leadership? What is their experience? Do they have high success rates from previous projects? A strong team is often the best indicator of whether or a not a project will succeed.

Could you tell us a bit about the fund’s relationship with NEO?

Our affiliation with NEO is a strategic one that allows NGC to fulfill its position as a leading investment firm. While NEO Global Capital is a fully independent entity, we are long-term believers in NEO and have created a dedicated fund aimed at fostering the growth of the NEO Smart Economy ecosystem. Through strategic capital deployment, project incubation, and utilizing all of our available resources, we believe that we can help accelerate the growth of the overall crypto market.

The NGC Fund I seems to be a newer fund compared to the NEO Eco Fund. Can you explain what are the differences between the two funds, in terms of objectives and potential investment targets?

The NGC Fund I is our for-profit fund, where we invest in the most promising and innovative projects related to blockchain. Our wider interest is in advancing the industry, so we invest in projects that have strong use cases and can help drive the mainstream adoption of blockchain.

Our second fund is the NEO Eco Fund and our goal here is to promote the growth of the NEO Smart Economy ecosystem. In alignment with our belief in NEO, we occasionally invest in projects that would specifically benefit from NEO’s infrastructure.

Overall, the goal of both funds is to help startups create lasting competitive advantages in an industry that’s become very crowded, very quickly.

NEO Global Capital

What kinds of short-term targets and goals do you typically agree with a startup firm once you have decided to invest? How do you go about agreeing on these targets?

Goals, objectives, and targets differ depending on the type of projects we are supporting. If it’s a public chain, for example, we would work with the project to identify gaps in the technical team, the roadmap, and milestones in advance of the mainnet launch. We are generous with our time for each of our investees; we want them to succeed, and if they wish to tap on the experience of any of our partners or reach out to our network, they have the full backing and support of the firm.

It tends to be typical that venture funds require a founding team to have a longer-term target that the company should be sold within a set period of time. Is it any different with NGC? What kind of timeframe do you work to for long term goals, and how do you define long term goals?

In general, token investments achieve liquidity a lot faster on exchanges than equity investments (months rather than years). Nevertheless, at NEO Global Capital we want all our investees to succeed whether we make a token or equity investment. We still hold tokens of many of our investments and we continue to work with them and expect them to continue their growth, development and to achieve the key business objectives over the coming years.

Are there any advantages to operating a cryptocurrency fund in a bear market?

In a way, bitcoin’s dramatic rise last year has solidified the blockchain industry: there is now an interest in blockchain and cryptocurrency that did not exist previously. As we move away from the crypto mania that ensued, the benefit of operating our crypto fund in a bear market is that most projects now come with good intentions.

This is not to say we have completely eliminated bad actors, but there were certainly more projects and players that emerged in the market at its peak when there was a greater opportunity for quick wins. Likewise, the current market allows investors to spend time researching, understanding a new technology or problem a project may solve — in a bull market, investors may act from a fear of missing out.

In addition to good valuations, the current market has produced stronger projects with experienced leadership teams, compelling use cases, and cutting-edge tech. We believe that the competitiveness of the market has not decreased in any way.

What separates a high-quality investment fund from a low-quality one?

A high-quality investment fund is one that makes educated and thoughtful investment decisions. One thing we are very proud of at NEO Global Capital is that our founding team comes from a varied background of crypto investment, traditional financial markets, emerging technologies, and mergers and acquisitions.

We would say that the best investment funds are those that are able to marry their crypto-specific knowledge with experience from more traditional verticals, thereby taking a more well-rounded and considered approach to investment.

A major component for any investor in the ICO space is access to deal flow. What gives NEO Global Capital an advantage here? Do you have any advice for smaller retail investors?

A strong reputation for helping projects post-investment is important and also entices more founders and entrepreneurs to want to work with us. We not only work closely with, but we welcome other funds to work with us to share deals, insights, and expertise. We strongly believe in collaboration and that a variety among blockchain investors (geographical expertise, background, and networks) brings diverse experience and immense benefits to a project.

As for retail investors, As Warren Buffet once said, “never invest in something you don’t understand” so definitely do your research, understand what you are investing in; and diversification is important. Cryptos are highly volatile and therefore risky, weigh up the risks before diving in.

Looking out on the wider market which is becoming very crowded. From the ICOs that have been completed so far in 2018, which ones stand out to you as being unique or otherwise interesting opportunities?

We think all the projects we have invested in have innovative teams and unique solutions to today’s problems within the industry. Ontology, for example, provides a solution to digital identity; Certik solves security problems in blockchain with formal verification; Hadron helps enterprises like NASA outsource their computation tasks with a large user and device population so that these tasks are done efficiently and timely. All hugely ambitious projects making immense progress and we look forward to supporting them in the future.

How does the NEO Global Capital team reach an agreement over which projects to invest in, or not?

While there are no hard and fast rules, a strong product, an effective business plan, and an ambitious, goal-orientated founding team would certainly be the cornerstone of what we consider a promising venture. Each of NEO Global Capital’s partners understands that investors are interested in seeing and investing in projects that are both unique and impactful, so we are often in agreement when it comes to whether to invest or not.

In your view, what is the outlook for the overall price of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies over the next 12 months? What are the crunch points that may end up turning the markets in one direction or another?

If I had to hazard a guess – I would say bitcoin could see new highs over the next 12-18 months. As regulations, standards, and infrastructure become more mature, I expect the market to react positively.

What would be your single best piece advice for any founders of an ICO or blockchain startup?

As the blockchain space becomes increasingly noisy, a recommendation we always make to founders and entrepreneurs is to consider whether or not they really need blockchain. Focus on the problem you are trying to solve and decide if blockchain is truly the solution.

What is the outlook for NEO Global Capital as we move to the end of 2018 and beyond?

Our primary interest lies in advancing the industry of blockchain towards mainstream adoption, so as we move towards the end of 2018, we will continue to strive towards that goal by investing in the most innovative projects; sponsoring higher education initiatives; and facilitating conversation between industry leaders and business professionals that will address what the industry needs, where exactly the market stands, and what steps can be taken in the New Year to advance the industry as a whole.

In line with this, we’ve recently invested in several key blockchain-focused initiatives in higher education: most recently at Berkeley and the National University of Singapore. We also held our inaugural meetup in Boston to discuss project funding and development, best investment practices, and emerging industry trends. We plan to do more of this as we wrap up the year, and hopefully into 2019.


This article by Alex Moskov was previously published on Coincentral.com

About the Author:

Alex Moskov is the Editor-in-Chief of CoinCentral. Alex also advises blockchain startups, enterprise organizations, and ICOs on content strategy, marketing, and business development. He also regrets not buying more Bitcoin back in 2012, just like you.

Well into the second half of 2018 and it’s been a white-knuckle roller coaster ride for most. With Ether shedding 44 percent of its value in just two weeks and the media speaking of a Bitcoin bubble, is it possible to lose faith in crypto but remain bullish on blockchain? Apparently; if continued corporate statements like the UBS blockchain endorsement are anything to go by. But can you really separate cryptocurrency and blockchain?

UBS Bullish on Blockchain, Bearish on Bitcoin

CEO of Swiss investment banking giant UBS, Sergio Ermotti, came out with a bold claim recently. He said that blockchain was “almost a must” for business. UBS blockchain support is nothing new, however. Neither is their stance that cryptocurrencies are risky and will probably never become mainstream currencies.

UBS CEO Sergio ErmottiYet, when it comes to blockchain, UBS changes their point of view. The bank believes that blockchain technology can help companies become more efficient and reduce their operating costs across the board, from healthcare to finance. This implies a separation between cryptocurrencies and the technology that they run on.

But is it possible to separate the two? Furthermore, since the original vision of Satoshi was to send peer-to-peer electronic payments without the need for a middleman, UBS blockchain support could be misplaced.

Disrupt or Be Disrupted

“While we are doubtful cryptocurrencies will ever become a mainstream means of exchange, the underlying technology, blockchain, is likely to have a significant impact in industries ranging from finance to manufacturing, health care, and utilities,” UBS wrote in October of 2017.

Adding that, “Just as [the] internet has transformed our lives with email, e-commerce, or smartphone apps, we believe blockchain as an infrastructure technology can power future disruptive technologies through distributive ledgers, smart contracts, tokens or identity management.”

So, what about cutting out the middleman? The centralized authority taking its fees? UBS blockchain research does acknowledge a certain level of risk, although they limit this to technological shortcomings and an uncertainty as to which application will benefit the industry most. They fail to mention whether digital currencies will threaten fiat ones, or if central authorities will be cut out of the loop.

In fact, within the financial sector, UBS predicts that blockchain technology will have irreversible and positive effects. And UBS blockchain support doesn’t stop at words. The bank is also investing in research into distributed ledgers and smart contracts in its business model.

UBS currently holds a number of blockchain patents. Yet, despite Ermotti’s bullish stance, their blockchain activities are dwarfed by other large banks and credit card companies. The list includes American Express, BBVA, Mizuho Financial Group, Goldman Sachs, BNP, and Bank of America (who’s buying up blockchain patents like they’re expecting a war). Is this a bid to disrupt or be disrupted? Or a defensive maneuver to protect themselves against blockchain innovation?

Blockchain and Bitcoin Are One and the Same

Plenty of people criticize Ermotti’s point of view, seeing it as a convenient way of taking a politically acceptable view and a safe position. Leaving the door open without scaring away existing clients. Others believe that more than just convenient, it misses the point completely. After all, blockchain and cryptocurrency are one and the same.

Consider the Bitcoin network for a moment. The way it was created requires miners to believe that the value of the Bitcoin they are rewarded will increase over time (or at least, not decrease in value). Otherwise, there is no incentive or rational reason to invest in expensive mining equipment, electricity, and time.

Bitcoin mining company, Bitmain would benefit from an IPO

So, for those like UBS that are skeptical on Bitcoin, but busy singing the praises of blockchain, they may not fully understand. In an interview with Malta’s Steve Tendon, a member of the country’s Blockchain Taskforce and author of Malta’s National Blockchain Strategy, he expressed his concern with viewpoints such as the UBS blockchain one.

He argued that many regulators and institutions tried to draw a distinction between blockchain and cryptocurrencies, viewing crypto as a bad thing because of its criminal associations and scams, but blockchain as a positive technology with infinite possibilities.

“There is no way you can have a smart contract platform that is as sophisticated as the one that Ethereum has implemented today (but there will be others in the future) unless you also have a cryptocurrency that is being used to “pay” for the computation. So the distinction between cryptocurrency and blockchains are really artificial: they are just two aspects of the same coin,” he said.

Final Thoughts

Ermotti and the UBS team may be making headlines with their views on the transformative technology. Calling blockchain “crucial and disruptive” is all well and good. But frowning on Bitcoin at the same time may just be missing a trick.


This article by Christina Comben was previously published on Coincentral.com

About the Author:

Christina is a B2B writer and MBA, specializing in fintech, cybersecurity, blockchain, and other geeky areas. When she’s not at her computer, you’ll find her surfing, traveling, or relaxing with a glass of wine.

Written by Gary Ross

This article was originally published on UpCounsel.

Cryptocurrency

The meteoric rise of cryptocurrencies has taken the world by storm. Innovators, investors, users, and governments are scrambling to wrap their heads around cryptocurrency and the blockchain technology that they rely upon. The emergence of a new market and business model has created great opportunities for participants, but it also carries significant risk.

Cryptocurrencies present an inherently unique challenge to governments because of their new technology, cross-jurisdictional nature, and frequent lack of transparency. Governments are struggling to develop new ways to regulate cryptocurrencies, adapt existing regulations, and identify fraudulent schemes. Cryptocurrencies and their regulations are evolving before our eyes, and this article will provide a brief background on cryptocurrencies and an overview of where cryptocurrency regulations currently stand.

What are cryptocurrencies?

Cryptocurrency is, by any other name, a currency—a medium of exchange used to purchase goods and services. Or, as some have suggested, cryptocurrency is a “peer-to-peer version of electronic cash.” However, this currency has two qualities that distinguish it from traditional bills and coins.

First, cryptocurrency is a virtual currency that is created through cryptography (i.e. coding) and developed by mathematical formulas through a process called hashing. Second, unlike traditional bills and coins that are printed and minted by governments around the world, cryptocurrency is not tied to any one government, and thus is not secured by any government entity. The fact that cryptocurrencies are not secured by a government authority has led to concerns from critics that this is the second coming of Tulipmania, because we are ascribing value to an otherwise valueless item. However, the potential for cryptocurrencies as a medium of exchange remains enormous.

What is blockchain?

Blockchain is the technology at the heart of most cryptocurrencies, and explaining the technology in detail would require a blog post of its own. What is important to know is that blockchain is a record of peer-to-peer transactions categorized into blocks on a distributed ledger. Despite the obtuse terminology, blockchain functions similarly to a local bank authorizing and recording a transaction, but instead of only one party holding the entire ledger book, the transactions are recorded communally by member nodes, with each node being a computer in a peer-to-peer distributed network.

The blockchain can confirm a transaction within minutes, removing errors that exist when trying to reconcile and audit separate ledgers and transactions. Whenever a transaction takes place, the miners on the blockchain develop a new hash and digital signature to update the ledger and create a new “block.” This block, or recorded transaction, is time-stamped and encrypted and will remain on the blockchain for life.

lockchain is the technology at the heart of most cryptocurrencies

Regulation in the US – Utility Tokens v. Investment Tokens

In the United States, there has been no federal regulation of cryptocurrencies. Instead, cryptocurrencies are often grouped into two non-binding categories: (1) investment tokens that fall under the purview of already existing U.S. securities laws like the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and (2) utility tokens, which remain largely unregulated (for now).

Security Tokens

Whether the tokens being offered in connection with a particular cryptocurrency are security tokens is decided on a case-by-case basis that even experienced securities lawyers can disagree upon. Tokens are usually analyzed under the four-part Howey Test below to see if the token is in fact a security. Securities must meet the following criteria:

  1. An investment of money
  2. In a common enterprise
  3. With an expectation of profits
  4. Predominantly from the efforts of others

Each characteristic of the token is analyzed against this framework to see if the cryptocurrency is in reality functioning as a new-age security. If it is, then regulators treat it as such, and cryptocurrencies must then be registered and handled with all of the same disclosures and precautions as any other security sold in the United States or to U.S. investors.

Utility Tokens

Cryptocurrencies can also be categorized as non-security utility tokens. These tokens purport to offer intrinsic utility and value, and are typically instrumental in powering the blockchain technology. These tokens function more like commodities than securities, and while they may act like currency in a fully functional network, they also have other values.

However, having a utility token with a properly formed and functioning network does not preclude said token from being labeled a security by the SEC. In In the Matter of Munchee, Inc., a purported utility token with a non-functioning network was labeled a security by the SEC. While labeling a token without a functioning network as a security – as it has no present utility – is not unexpected, the SEC also concluded that: “even if [Munchee] tokens had a practical use at the time of the offering, it would not preclude the token from being a security.”

After analyzing the Munchee Tokens under the Howey test, the SEC concluded that they were investment contracts because purchasers of the tokens had an expectation of profits predominantly from the efforts of Munchee and its staff. The SEC further concluded that Munchee had primed such expectations through its marketing efforts.

While this new case does not eliminate the distinction between utility and security tokens, it does caution that, when deciding whether a given token is a security, the SEC will look beyond utility at the character of the instrument, and base their conclusion based on the terms of the offer, the plan of distribution, and the economic inducements held out by the token issuer.

State Regulation

So far only the state of New York has issued any kind of regulation specifically regarding cryptocurrencies: the BitLicense. The BitLicense is New York’s attempt to control cryptocurrencies within its borders by requiring cryptocurrency businesses to register and comply with several different disclosure and financial obligations. The regulation has been divisive, and many businesses have rallied against its high costs. While a few companies have applied for and received the license, most other companies have simply left the state or stopped offering services to its residents.

Regulation Abroad – The Ever-Shifting Jurisdictional Question

The United States is not the only country grappling with how best to regulate cryptocurrencies. Many cryptocurrency businesses face daunting questions regarding in which jurisdictions to form and to do business in. In the end, the question is quite difficult and fact-specific, requiring communication between legal counsel in different jurisdictions and taking into account nebulous and piecemeal country-by-country regulations. It is impossible to do a detailed analysis without knowing how a country’s existing securities laws, financial regulations, and banking regulations will operate (or will be adapted to operate) with cryptocurrencies. The fact that cryptocurrency-specific regulations are still developing does little to add clarity, and makes the analysis even more challenging. Yet a few global trends are noticeable:

Suspending Cryptocurrencies

Some notable countries, like China, and South Korea, have suspended cryptocurrencies. These countries have cited the risk of fraud and the lack of adequate oversight in suspending cryptocurrencies and their exchanges, forcing cryptocurrency companies and exchanges to relocate.

Regulating Cryptocurrencies

Other countries, like Japan and Australia, have adopted disclosure and regulatory measures, or have companies register with the applicable government authority. Several countries have also tried to implement disclosure or registration regulatory regimes when it comes to cryptocurrencies, but such regimes are cumbersome and expensive to fledging companies.

Cryptocurrencies as Commodities

On the other hand, Switzerland and Singapore, two of the countries at the forefront of the cryptocurrency market, have simply stated that cryptocurrencies are assets not currency, and that they will treat them as such under existing regulations.

Conclusion

Ultimately, cryptocurrency regulation remains in its infancy. Piecemeal regulation has already begun around the world as governments enact new regulations to control and legitimize cryptocurrencies, fold cryptocurrencies into existing regulations, or ban them outright. These splintered attempts at controlling a global phenomenon will keep the cryptocurrency market volatile, and pose a challenge to innovators, investors, and users. They will continue to work in the cryptocurrency space while pushing for legislation and regulation that will remove ambiguity and legitimize cryptocurrencies. At the same time, they must grapple with the possibility that new regulations may be confusing, detrimental, or have negative inadvertent effects.


This article was previously posted on Upcounsel.com

About the Author:

Experienced corporate & securities attorney eager to help you and your business reach its goals. My services range from fund formation and capital raising (e.g. Reg D offerings, crowdfunding) to contract negotiation and compliance with securities and other regulations. I have extensive experience with cryptocurrency and non-U.S. companies.

Prior to co-founding my firm, I worked in the law firms of Sidley Austin, Alston & Bird, and Holland & Knight. From 2009 to 2012, I served in the U.S. Department of the Treasury, where I oversaw financial agents engaged by Treasury to provide asset management and other services relating to the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

 

 

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