ASIC’s ICO guidance a welcome signpost for Australia’s regulatory environment

The release of the Australian securities regulator’s guidance framework for initial coin offerings (ICOs) 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 28 September, 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.

In addition, 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,” Ms Szetho said.

“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, ICOs are 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.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

FinTech Australia also welcomed ASIC’s launch of a consumer-facing publication on ICOs on their MoneySmart website in a move aimed to ensure investors can make better informed decisions when it comes to participating in speculative investments such as initial coin offerings.