Securities or No? Big Crypto Firms Join Forces to Rate Cryptocurrency Projects

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Some of the most popular companies in the cryptoeconomy have banded together to create an organization that will assess and rate top cryptocurrency projects on the likelihood of these projects being securities per U.S. federal securities laws.

That organization, the Crypto Rating Council (CRC), counts exchange operators like Bittrex, Coinbase, Kraken, and Poloniex-backers Circle among its first members, as well as the firms of Anchorage, DRW Cumberland, Genesis, and Grayscale Investments.


So why the need for such a body?

The so-called Howey Test, which is a test devised by the U.S. Supreme Court to determine if a given asset is a security, commonly leads to “judgment calls, inconsistent results, and … disagreement among legal experts,” the CRC said on the Frequently Asked Questions section of its new website.

Accordingly, the organization’s rating system — which runs from 1 to 5, with 5 indicating an asset bears the hallmarks of a security and 1 meaning the opposite — is being hailed by members as a “compliance tool” that will help bring consistency to their respective asset review processes.

“The CRC will publish a simple rating for most assets it reviews to indicate the results of its analysis as a reference for operators, developers, and the public,” the organization said.

With that said, the ratings are utterly non-binding and have been made without involvement from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). So, while clarity is the professed goal, the only thing the CRC has ultimately made more clear is what its members think about the legal status of top cryptocurrencies in America.

“The score does not reflect a legal conclusion and is no indication of qualitative value of an asset or suitability for investment or any other purpose,” the CRC said of its ratings.

How the First Scores Look

Don’t expect any surprises when it comes to bitcoin (BTC). The oldest cryptocurrency, which has long been held up by various stakeholders as a standard for decentralized projects, received a 1 rating from the CRC.

Other projects the body deemed to have “few or no characteristics consistent with treatment as a security” included DeFi’s darling Dai stablecoin, the popular Monero (XMR) privacy cryptocurrency, and Litecoin (LTC).

The 2 rating was given to the next rung of projects that the CRC deemed to seem mostly decentralized according to its framework. These projects included Ethereum (ETH), Zcash (ZEC), Numeraire (NMR), ChainLink (LINK), and the fledgling proof-of-stake project Algorand (ALGO).

Getting on up there according to the group were projects like Augur (3.75), EOS (3.75), Stellar (3.75), Tezos (3.75), and XRP (4). The highest inaugural scores were given to Polymath (4.5) and Maker (4.5).

Notably, the SEC announced just hours after these ratings were released that, the team behind the EOS launch, had settled charges and would pay a $24 million civil penalty for its year-long ICO being an unregistered security offering.

The Commission said the securities status only applied to the “IOU” ERC20 token that was issued during the sale rather than the current EOS cryptocurrency, which lives on EOS now rather than Ethereum.

Are Exchanges Listing Securities?

One question that immediately started buzzing through the ecosystem on the heels of the announcement of the CRC was why would exchanges like Coinbase take chances on assets like XRP that appear to bear considerable resemblances to a security in the U.S.?

One possibility is that the group’s members consider “security status is binary,” according to Jake Chervinsky, the General Counsel of DeFi lending project Compound Finance. In other words, anything less than a 5 rating would be fair game accordingly.

But even if the already rated cryptocurrencies later end up being cleared as “not securities” per the SEC, the CRC rating system can lead to future conflicts of interest, e.g. member exchanges being charitable in their ratings because they stand to gain from trade volume.

But there’s a silver lining here, according to Blockchain chief executive officer and president Marco Santori. In a Twitter thread on the CRC announcement, Santori said the effort was suspect in some ways but was also a positive attempt at self-regulation in an industry that needs more regulatory clarity in general.

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William M. Peaster is a professional writer and editor who specializes in the Ethereum, Dai, and Bitcoin beats in the cryptoeconomy. He's appeared in Blockonomi, Binance Academy, Bitsonline, and more. He enjoys tracking smart contracts, DAOs, dApps, and the Lightning Network. He's learning Solidity, too! Contact him on Telegram at @wmpeaster

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