New ICO guidance from Australia a welcome signpost for regulatory environment

Yesterday’s release of the Australian securities regulator’s guidance framework for initial coin offerings (ICOs) could be is an important step forward for startups looking to crowd-fund a project using digital currencies, and could help further worldwide regulatory discussions on the issue.

On September 28th, 2017 the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) released detailed information about the potential application of Australian corporations law to businesses that are considering raising funds through an ICO.

Danielle Szetho, CEO of Australia’s fintech industry association FinTech Australia, said ASIC’s announcement was recognition of the importance of ICOs as a mechanism for start-ups raising funds, she said:

“It spoke of the regulator’s willingness to adopt a collaborative approach towards working with the fintech community, who are looking to either assist or engage in crowd-funding through ICOs whilst also meeting their regulatory obligations.

“This is the clarification we have all been waiting for, and I feel it strikes a very good balance between helping start-ups looking to run an ICO in Australia while at the same time informing and protecting potential investors.”

“The guidance ASIC has released is a positive step to ensure a viable future for ICOs in Australia, and sits alongside other positive initiatives such as removing double taxation on digital currencies and driving international blockchain standards.”

Ms. Szetho said the fintech community approved of the approach taken by ASIC in its guidance, as the many examples provided made it clearer which regulations might apply to startups seeking to undertake an ICO from Australia or to market their ICO tokens to Australian investors.

According to Ms. Szetho, an ICO is a nuanced subject matter when it comes to regulatory provisions because they could potentially be classified as one of a variety of financial instruments, depending on how the tokens are designed. This made it more challenging for regulators to provide a holistic and consistent framework that encompassed how ICOs should be regulated.

Blockchain consultancy and marketing firm ICOPromo CEO Sergei Sergienko echoed these statements, saying the blockchain community in Australia was keen to continue working with ASIC on this to ensure that any regulation was in step with the current climate surrounding ICOs for start-ups across Asia Pacific, he said:

“It’s very commendable that ASIC is looking intently at ICOs and are taking a calm and measured approach to help provide guidance to interested parties in Australia.”

“This is certainly a welcome announcement as it shows the regulator is listening and are being proactive in taking a collaborative approach to working with the blockchain start-up community in Australia.”

Leigh Travers, CEO of blockchain technology company DigitalX, an ASX-listed company with offices in Perth and New York stated:

“We are pleased to see ASIC’s recognition of the important contribution ICOs can make to Australian businesses looking to raise funds and the new investment option that it make available to investors.

“We also see ASIC’s welcoming commentary to help innovative firms understand the framework as a further sign that Australia is leading the way in adopting a positive outlook towards Blockchain adoption.

“The general principle that ICOs utilizing the App Coin or Utility Coin model are only subject to general law and consumer law while ICOs that are securities needing to comply with the Corporations Act seems to be appropriate.

“The guidelines also show the need for more detailed consultation with industry to get the model right.”

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