China’s ban of initial coin offerings (ICOs) this week has raised questions on whether other jurisdictions will do the same, and on how viable the vehicle is for SMEs to raise finance.
The Chinese government banned ICOs on Monday (September 4), effectively cutting about 40% of the ICO market out, while last month in the US the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) began moves towards regulating ICOs.
In China 65 ICOs raised closed to $400 million over the year to July, according to Chinese news agency Xinhua.
Statistics by CoinSchedule, a cryptocurrency tracking site, show that to September 7 over $2.1 billion has been raised in 139 ICOs, up from just 46 valued collectively at $96m last year. The biggest ICO last year was $16m raised by a company called Waves.
So far this year four ICOs have each topped $100m, with the highest – Filecoin – having raised $257m. The majority of ICO funds – 44% - have been to raise funding for infrastructure, followed by data storage (13.5%) and trading and investing (10%).
In June, ICO funding hit over $550 million and it was the first month ever that it surpassed angel and seed VC funding.
Meanwhile Russia’s central bank said it won’t allow (for now) the trading of cryptocurrencies on official exchanges, nor the use of their technology for clearing and settlement infrastructure.
Despite this a Russian Blockchain venture fund, FinShi Capital said on Wednesday that it plans to will invest in ICO-related projects worth up to $1bn.
The fund aims that it has already raised $1.3m in a pre-ICO campaign, and aims to generate another $50m in an ICO in October.
'SARB offers no protection'
South Africa’s Reserve Bank also weighed in. It said as cryptocurrencies are not guaranteed by the Reserve Bank, there would be “no recourse or protection to consumers thereof”.
The Reserve Bank’s position on virtual currencies is set out in the Position Paper on Virtual Currencies issued in 2014, the bank recently established a dedicated fintech programme to increase focus and assist the existing working groups to research and analyse technology innovations in the financial services industry.
Part of the review is aimed at assessing the impact on cross border financial flows and stability of the financial system.
'Only temporary setback'
Despite this Bitcoin Foundation executive director Llew Claasen (pictured above) told SA tech publication Ventureburn that he reckons China’s ban is only a temporary setback for startups looking to raise capital through ICOs.
Claasen admitted that while there are people that are “darn right scamming” and those that are listing utility tokens as if they were securities, regulators should not place an outright ban on ICOs.
Where there is a clear expectation that those participating in the ICO will gain a share of the profits and be able to have a say in the governance of the company, the ICO can be described as essentially an initial public offering (IPO), he added.
However he said regulators should allow utility tokens to be raised - those where users can become part of a network by buying tokens but where they don’t necessarily profit from the tokens themselves.
It will however be hard to convince regulators. In the end more jurisdictions are likely to clamp down on what many believe is merely a massive casino game.
The sooner regulators get on top of things and issue clear guidelines - the better for real SMEs looking to raise cash.
Timm is a South African who writes on small business in emerging economies. Follow Small Business Insight on Twitter at @Smallbinsight and on Facebook.
Stephen Timm is a