Swiss Financial Supervisor Publishes Guidelines To Support ICOs

Francisco Memoria
  • Switzerland's financial watchdog recently published guidelines to support ICOs in the country
  • Guidelines define three different ICO categories to help entrepreneurs
  • Regulator will regulate ICOs under anti-money laundering laws and as securities

Switzerland’s financial supervisor, the Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA), recently published guidelines in support of initial coin offerings (ICOs). The regulator’s guidelines reveal it will treat some tokens as securities.

Through a press release, FINMA revealed it has been witnessing a substantial rise in the number of ICOs launching in Switzerland, which led to a spike in inquiries it’s been receiving about applicable regulations. The press release starts by clarifying financial market laws and regulations aren’t applicable to all ICOs. As such, the applicability of regulations to blockchain-based tokens will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

FINMA’s guidelines reveal the organization will focus on the economic purpose of the tokens ICOs will issue, as well as on the “underlying purpose of the tokens and whether they are already tradeable or transferable.”

Taking this into account, FINMA outlined three different ICO categories, based on the purpose of their underlying tokens. These categories include “Payment ICOs,” “Utility ICOs,” and “Asset ICOs.”

Payment ICOs would issue payment tokens, which are only to be used as a payment method. Utility tokens, issued in Utility ICOs, are “tokens which are intended to provide digital access to an application or service.” Asset tokens, issued in Asset ICOs, represent participation in a company or earning stream, or “an entitlement to dividends or interest payments.”

These guidelines are set to help entrepreneurs know when they will have to apply anti-money laundering and securities laws. Payment ICOs will have to comply with anti-money laundering (AML) regulations, while Utility ICOs will quality as securities if their tokens “function solely or partially as an investment in economic terms.” 

FINMA CEO Mark Branson commented the organization’s move, stating:

“Our balanced approach to handling ICO projects and enquiries allows legitimate innovators to navigate the regulatory landscape and so launch their projects in a way consistent with our laws protecting investors and the integrity of the financial system.”

Mark Branson

FINMA will see asset tokens, issued in Asset ICOs, as securities, as these represent participations in companies or earning streams, or an entitlement to dividends or interest payments.

The regulator further recognized hybrids can exist, meaning one ICO can be included in more than one of the above categories. According to the Financial Times, Oliver Bussmann, president of the Crypto Valley association in the canton of Zug, predicted FINMA’s guidelines will increase the number of Switzerland-based ICOs. He said:

“It’s about establishing a sustainable business in Switzerland – and not just about raising capital and moving on. If you remove uncertainty, it attracts more business.”

Oliver Bussmann

Tax Deadline Approaching for Crypto Investors: Interview With BitTaxer President Brennan Snow

Avi Rosten

Brennan snow card.png

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Unfortunately, the same can be said for the world of crypto. While 2017 and 2018 saw investors make unparalleled gains (and losses) - taxes now have to be calculated, and for those in the US, the tax deadline is rapidly approaching.

We spoke with Brennan Snow, president and co-founder of BitTaxer - a company that makes it easy to file your crypto taxes. With a degree in Information Systems Security, Brennan has been working in the proprietary software space for over 13 years in corporate and startup environments, before he noticed the lack of tax resources for crypto investors. We talked about why he started BitTaxer, tax regulation and the IRS, and whether more states will start accepting taxes in crypto.

When did you found BitTaxer and why?  

We founded BitTaxer in late 2017, and into early 2018. Being crypto traders ourselves, my partner Wes and I looked at the market at the time and saw only a few viable options available, and were not happy with what was available. Each we felt lacked an intuitive workflow. We also felt that no one was doing a good job addressing the entire scope of the tax code in the US, as it seemed only Capital Gains and Losses (trade implications) were being focused on in the competitive apps we reviewed. Lastly, we found that all of the apps appeared to be geared toward individual users, instead of tax professionals. When we reviewed the available data, and found that only 600 or so people filed crypto taxes in 2016, we knew we had to do something to help those tax professionals, who account for over 60% of aggregate tax returns filed in the US, as it was our sense that they were not being served by the available offerings in the market. This was the onus for creating BitTaxer; to create an easier way to do things for individuals, and to create a tool suitable for tax professionals.

Do you imagine the IRS will start 'cracking down' on crypto traders?

I think we've already begun to see the writing on the wall in this regard in the US. With Gemini and Coinbase each providing data to the IRS relative to accounts that meet a certain threshold of activity, I think it takes very little imagination to picture that threshold being revised down to provide the ability to scrutinize a larger set of users. Since the exchanges appear to be willing in their cooperation with the authorities, I suspect this effort is being spent as a precursor to some activity planned subsequent to the filing deadline.

Do you think exchanges are making it easy enough for users to calculate their taxes?

This is a very tricky question to answer. The short answer is no, for the following reason(s). I think that exchanges are in kind of a tough spot. While they can, and some already have, started to provide tax information via their reporting tools, that information is only useful in a vacuum.  If users have traded on other exchanges beyond the one which provides the report for them, then the report provided by the exchange will no longer be of value, as the statistics will no longer have proper cost basis tracking. In order to support this properly/accurately, exchanges would essentially have to provide import/integration support for competitive exchanges, to allow users to import their history from those other locations, and this is something I don't see happening anytime soon for obvious reasons. I don't see exchanges easily/willfully giving oxygen to their competitors, as it works against their interest.

Do you think the US has introduced sensible laws regarding cryptocurrency taxes?  

While we try not to get too involved in the politics of legislative matters that pertain to our space, I can say that I think things are moving in the right direction.  As it stands currently, I think it's going to be tough to convince people to transact using cryptocurrency when each purchase made can have a capital gains implication. On the flip side, there was some clarity given in the 2018 tax bill as it pertains to like-kind exchanges and malicious losses, and lawmakers are beginning to introduce more legislation in the congress as they begin to understand the utility and potential in the cryptocurrency market. It seems a bit Byzantine as it stands currently, but having seen incrementalism at play in our government over the course of my lifetime, the fact that it remains a topic of conversation among legislators is encouraging.

Do you think more states will allow you to pay taxes with Bitcoin, like Ohio has done?  

I think Ohio will be an interesting case study that a lot of other States will be looking at. As making payment in cryptocurrency is still a taxable event, I suspect that there will be quite a few people for whom this benefits (the taxable event triggers a loss), and quite a few who end up with a gain they owe tax on in the subsequent year. I think the decreased volatility we've seen since around April 2018 (with a few exceptions) makes it a more viable option for municipalities, as they have less to be concerned with in terms of rapid depreciation of their tax revenues, as I'm sure this has to have been a concern for others in the past. All the same, I think it's an amazing step toward greater adoption and recognition, so the optimist in me would love to see that take place.

What’s on your roadmap for 2019?  

2018 has been such an amazing year for us at BitTaxer. Our community has grown exponentially, we've made some extraordinary partnerships, and we've gotten tremendous feedback from our community. I think the rest of 2019 will find us working to develop some of that feedback we received, working to integrate more exchanges into our offering, and finding new ways to add value for our community.