Initial Coin Offerings Emerge as FINRA Priority for 2018

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority wants to learn more about broker-dealers’ work with initial coin offerings, the self-regulatory organization’s leader said in a Jan. 8 letter on 2018 priorities.

FINRA aims to “deepen our understanding” of the red-hot digital fundraising tool for startups to get a better grasp of its opportunities and risks, president and chief executive officer Robert Cook said.

ICOs raised $3.7 billion in 2017, according to CoinSchedule, a tracker of the offerings. The haul came despite increased regulatory scrutiny of ICOs, which drew investor fraud cases and warnings from the Securities and Exchange Commission for the first time last year.

FINRA in 2018 will look into how firms handle transactions involving digital assets, including ICO tokens. Broker-dealers involved with ICOs offering or selling securities might face a FINRA review of their firms’ supervisory, compliance, and operational infrastructure mechanisms to ensure they are following federal securities laws and the organization’s rules.

“Digital assets (such as cryptocurrencies) and initial coin offerings (ICOs) have received significant media, public and regulatory attention in the past year,” FINRA’s 2018 Regulatory and Examination Priorities Letter said. “FINRA will closely monitor developments in this area.”

The organization also will focus on high-risk firms and brokers, operational and financial risks, and market regulation in 2018, according to its priorities letter, which it releases annually in January.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Ramonas in Washington at aramonas@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mike Ferullo at mferullo@bloomberglaw.com