Cryptocurrency trading firm Coinbase has entered into talks with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission about registering as a licensed broker-dealer firm and electronic trading venue, The Wall Street Journalreported on Friday, April 6, 2018.
The move comes just as U.S. regulators have begun clarifying their stance on virtual currencies. Testifying before the Senate on February 6, 2018, SEC chairman Jay Clayton made it clear that he considered all initial coin offering (ICO) tokens to be securities.
While it is likely that regulatory laws surrounding ICOs will only be settled in court (perhaps even the Supreme Court), if ICO tokens are legally classified as securities, any exchange that wants to list those tokens needs to either register as a national securities exchange or operate under an exemption and set itself up as an alternative trading system (ATS).
As the SEC spelled out in its statement on March 7, 2018, any entity that wants to become an ATS needs to register with the SEC as a broker-dealer and become a member of a self-regulating organization (SRO), such as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). “An ATS must comply with the federal securities laws and its SRO's rules and file a Form ATS with the SEC,” the statement reads.
In a possible lead-up to its plans on becoming an ATS, on March 26, 2018, San Francisco-based Coinbase announced it was adding support for ERC20 into all its trading platforms. ERC20 is the Ethereum technical standard that the majority of ICO tokens are based on. “This paves the way for supporting ERC20 assets across Coinbase products in the future, though we aren’t announcing support for any specific assets or features at this time,” Coinbase said in a blog post.
Coinbase is not alone in making moves toward becoming an ATS. Recently, mobile payment app company Circle acquired Poloniex, another U.S.-based exchange, with plans to “clean up” the exchange. A slide that was initially leaked from a Circle presentation stated, “Circle has briefed the SEC on the transaction and indicated that upon closing that we will begin the process of registering the new entity with the SEC and FINRA as a Broker/Dealer and in turn as a licensed ATS…”
On March 7, 2018, Bittrex has also said that it is in communication with the SEC, stating on its website “... we look forward to continuing our proactive dialogue with the SEC and other regulators on how to build a secure, fully-regulated environment for blockchain that encourages innovation and economic growth.”