The Road to the Promised ICO Land Runs Past the Valley of Regulation

The UK Treasury Select Committee recently published a much anticipated report on “crypto-assets”. The bottom line? Regulation is recommended and may be part of the Chancellor’s Autumn statement.

That’s it really. The long and the short. You can stop reading now. Recommending regulation was not unexpected and the report simply amplifies that established position. What was perhaps more interesting was the breadth of analysis the Committee undertook. The report goes into considerable detail analysing the strengths and weaknesses of cryptocurrencies. The overall tone and treatment by the Committee was supportive of crypto-assets and the associated technologies, provided they were solving “real-world” problems. Their concerns centred on what regulation could achieve to improve investor confidence and experience.


The report starts by clarifying the Committee’s definition as to why they describe cryptocurrencies as “crypto-assets”. The Committee explains that there are no cryptocurrencies that function as currency, i.e., they do not act as a medium of exchange, due to their volatility are not a particularly good store of value and are not used as a unit of account. A subtle distinction, but critical to the understanding and treatment of such investments for the purposes of, e.g., taxation. The distinction provided by the Committee follows a similar assessment under the SEC rules in America.

The Committee’s Considerations

1. Volatility and stability:

Although argument was heard that price volatility has decreased over time, it was noted that volatility rates were much higher than FIAT currencies. The causes for this were attributed to market sentiment and speculative use cases, as crypto-assets are not tied to consumption, future demand, assets or commodities in the same way as FIAT currencies. A situation further exacerbated by long blockchain settlement times during which exchanges can fluctuate significantly. Furthermore, crypto-asset markets, due to their relatively low trading volumes and small market capitalisation, are vulnerable to manipulation, but such markets currently fall outside market abuse rules. In and of themselves such crypto-assets are not stable, but when viewed from the perspective of the whole payments market there is negligible impact on financial stability.

2. Security:

The report focused on storage, insurance and hacking. There is no collective deposit scheme to compensate investors and individual exchanges do not maintain such arrangements. Loss, due to hacking, loss of access to accounts and the impossibility of recovery, due to the cryptographic elements of the technology, are also causes for concern. As such the investment risks are higher and not suitable for retail investors.

3. Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs):

The FCA warns that ICOs present significant risks to investors. The FCA’s remit does not include crypto-asset regulation, as such there is little it can do to protect individuals from fraud or loss. The position arises as ICOs generally do not promise financial returns but offer access to services. However, investors clearly expected some form of financial return as they likely wanted to sell the tokens for a profit in the future. The development of ICOs has exposed a regulatory loophole that is being used, by some, to the detriment of ordinary investors. On this point the Committee recommended that ICOs be brought within the scope of the Regulated Activities Order (RAO) as a matter of urgency.

4. (Anti-)Criminality:

The relative anonymity and absence of regulation can facilitate the sale and purchase of illicit goods and services, as well as launder the proceeds of crime. However, the National Crime Agency reported that the scale of use of crypto-assets for money laundering is low. There are initiatives underway in the EU that will mean crypto-assets fall within the Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive (AML) and, therefore, require Know Your Client (KY) processes to be undertaken.

5. Regulation:

At present crypto-assets are generally not within the scope of FCA regulation as they do not meet the relevant criteria under the Regulated Activities Order nor qualify as funds or e-money under the Payment Services Directive 2 or E-Money Regulation 2009. However, whether FCA Regulation would apply to an ICO depends on how it is structured and what the token represents, e.g., if a token were to represent a transferable security then it would be within the FCAs regulatory ambit.

In Conclusion

The report states that “[T]he current ambiguity surrounding the Government’s and the regulators’ positions is clearly not sustainable.” Inaction must turn to action. The direction of evolution of digital currencies will come under increasing regulation: (1) in the immediate term KYC and AML and (2) in the medium term, most likely, within the RAO.

Some may be concerned that regulation would have an adverse impact on entrepreneurialism and innovation. But consider if ICOs were regulated, as IPOs are. They become mainstream, risk managed, acceptable investments. The playing field is levelled, those with genuine and robust business plans will have access to the widest possible range of investors who are able to invest with confidence, earlier investment stages from seed, angels and venture caps will accelerate development, ancillary services will develop to support such enterprises. Solutions will be stronger, commercially robust and more likely to be widely adopted.

Farewell the wild ICO west, hello brave new world?

Welcome to our New Website

aGenium is proud to announce the launch of our new website. On behalf of everyone here at aGenium – welcome! We hope that the new page will help you to get to know more about aGenium, its philosophy and, most importantly, our people – the core of who we are and why we do what we do.

Get in touch

If you would like to know more, have a question, or want an informal chat about your business and ideas, you can get in touch through the contact form, an email or connect through our LinkedIn page. We want to hear from you!

Take the leap

Perhaps you believe you can make a difference, but are unsure how, maybe you have a passion for law or technology and efficiency, and want to be part of a team committed to finding a better way? If yes, please use the Careers page form to get in touch and send your CV for consideration.

We hope you enjoy exploring the new site!

Lithuania: Land of (Crypto-Techno) Opportunity

The week-long Pillar Unconference 2018 was a deep “mine” of information expertly “blockchained” together.

Puns aside, it was a great success and my thanks go to David Siegel and the Pillar Project team for a well (un)organised and (un)executed (un)event. I can’t help my(un)self. Ok, enough. I will provide my thoughts on the event, technologies discussed and current challenges in this area elsewhere. Here I want to provide my thoughts on the setting of Unconference: Lithuania.

I was surprised to find such a strong and passionate community of technologists and programmers that are rapidly developing blockchain and other software solutions, delivering them locally as well as to the wider community across Europe and the world. Whilst at the same time attracting leading technology and cutting edge software development companies. The level of activity and creativity to solve disparate technological and service shortcomings is exceptional and very exciting. There are many examples, but a couple that stood out were the teams at Cryptodus and Dealoyal. In commerce, Cryptodus are actively building smart contract solutions on the NEM platform to solve a variety of data record, supply chain and regulatory issues, whilst for consumers, Dealoyal are harmonising fragmented loyalty programmes to simplify and democratise rewards.

So what is it about Lithuania that has produced such a creative technology community?

  1. Macro view: as part of the EU, Lithuania is a stable, advanced economy, with borderless access across 28, maybe soon 27, countries. As such it has an immediate potential market and workforce of 500 million people.
  2. Micro view: Lithuania is politically stable, if socially conservative, with a growing economy, a young workforce, with a high level of technical education, particularly around software and scientific instrument engineering.
  3. National view: the climate is pleasant with warm summers and cold, yet snowy, winters. A central part of the Lithuanian lifestyle is nature; forests, lakes, fresh air and outdoor activities are enjoyed by all. Vilnius is directly connected to the other Baltic countries as well as air connected to the major capitals of Europe and beyond.
  4. Local view: modern Lithuania is young and westward looking, young Lithuanian’s are keen entrepreneurs with the spirit, ambition and will to try something new in the full knowledge that, as is the case in tech, failure is a very real prospect.
  5. Individual view: though passionate in the pursuit of delivering new ideas, products and solutions, Lithuanian’s value the quality of life and seem infinitely able to balance their ambition and work with their personal life: the much sought work:life balance.

All of which makes Lithuania a true destination, for work, for entrepreneurs, for tech, for tourism, for life.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am married to a Lithuanian lady, but the charm of the wonderful people, beautiful scenery and rich culture of Lithuania is undeniable.

Data: Lifeblood of the Modern Organisation

A never-ending source of fascination is the power of reinvention demanded of modern organisations in the face of relentless technological evolution. One role, not new but certainly gaining greater exposure and prominence, is the “Chief Data Officer” or CDO.

A great article on CDOs was recently shared by Adam Ciperski, Director of Customer Success, Americas at Qlik. The article was an infographic by Raconteur that charted the rising demand for CDOs, link here. I recommend it as a great reference for understanding the current role and responsibilities of CDOs. However, after reading the article, it seemed that the typical CDO skill set omitted one key element.

Recent legal events, e.g., GDPR, prompted me to consider what an organisation needs for a modern, technology driven, approach to governance, data, efficiency, opportunities and risk. Why? Because understanding what an organisation genuinely needs, as opposed to what it perceives it needs, is not always obvious and titles not always determinative. So, is there a need for the CDO role to evolve? If so, how should it do so? And what skills should a future CDO have?

Although “Data” lies at the heart of the title, it is not the management of data that lies at the heart of the role, but the understanding of data, i.e., (i) what it says (analysis, not analytics), (ii) what it means (interpretation, not assumption) and (iii) what can be done (solution, not acquiescence). This is the critical distinction.

Consider, for example, the consequences of poor data handling in the case of GDPR, fines up to 4% of annual worldwide turnover or €20m. Not to mention decimation of public trust and vilification by the media. The obligations required by GDPR are that you must, by law, (i) protect the data of data subjects, clearly an issue of management and security, but also (ii) protect the rights of data subjects, which means you must be able to act based on an understanding of your data. For example, do you hold any data related to a data subject? If so, what is that data? Can you identify all the data points, throughout all your technology platforms and disparate databases, that relate to the data subject? Knowing what data you hold, can you legitimately process that data, i.e., do you have the necessary consents? What about “associated” or “indirect” data subject data?

Here you have, in one example, a minefield of data issues underpinned by the need to understand data. One may conclude two principles from this analysis: (i) GDPR (and other regulatory requirements), quite literally, makes data a matter of law and (ii) as data is dumb (it has no idea what it is) the mission critical responsibility of a CDO must be to derive, or deploy the tools to derive, that “data understanding”.

Similar conclusions may be reached if you consider strategic planning, wasted costs and efficiency, risk mitigation or even litigation preparedness. Each case requires that you “know what you know”.

The CDO is in a unique position to take on an organisation’s vision and use their understanding of the data to create the road map to achieve or prevent, in the case of GDPR, that outcome. The role of a CDO is, therefore, a hybrid of multiple functions and skill sets: business, efficiency, technology, but also law. It is a very small overlap on a Venn diagram to identify people with skills in all these disciplines. It comes as no surprise that CDO’s hail from a variety of different backgrounds; a case of people fitting the role or the role fitting the people? But few, if any, seem to have law as part of their skills base. One idea is that organisations look to the non-executive director market for multi-skilled personnel that can execute such a role or provide complementary expertise to the CDO.

The CDO’s role will, as organisations have always, continue to evolve, change and adapt to find their fit in their organisation. Be mindful to (i) not get hung up on titles or preconceptions as these will lead you down unnecessary paths and distract you from your destination, (ii) define what is right for a CDO for your organisation, personalise the role to maximise the benefit for your organisation and (iii) explore alternative, even disruptive, skill sets.

As Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

I encourage all organisations to reflect on their needs, discuss what it is you want to achieve and be prepared to disrupt yourself. New perspectives can lead to new understandings.