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SEC commissioner won't declare all tokens are "securities"

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce isn’t yet “willing to make a blanket statement that everything other than Bitcoin is a security,” she said on Wednesday at the Medici conference in Los Angeles.

Why it matters: SEC chairman Jay Clayton and Commissioner Mike Piowar have both said publicly they've yet to see any initial coin offerings that don't look like a security.

Peirce’s view on the topic are nuanced, acknowledging that “there’s incredible diversity in what’s out there,” including tokens that are like securities, money, and other things.

  • She raised the possibility that some tokens’ function can change over time. While they may be like securities when first issued (say, to fund a project), they may take on a different function later (say, once their underlying network is operational).
  • She also admitted that “if the promoter [of a token] is not involved anymore, to pursue that promoter doesn’t make sense”—and important aspect to consider given that many projects are designed to be decentralized and not depend on their original leader.

Peirce said she hopes further guidance will come from the SEC's corporation finance division rather than its enforcement unit, which has been increasingly going after ICO fraudsters.

  • She encouraged entrepreneurs creating and developing digital tokens to engage with the corporation finance division and share how they’re building these technologies. “I want us to be able to play that role but we can’t do that unless you tell us what you’re actually doing,” she said.

She also outlined a preference for a more hands-off approach to helping financial entrepreneurs than some regulatory bodies’ use of sandboxes.

  • “On a beach, you have a life guard…. but she’s not sitting with the sand castle builders,” Peirce explained. Her concern is that regulators may get too involved in the development of new technology and steer it themselves.