Thursday, September 14, 2017

The SEC, ICOs and roaches

In a statement straight out of the Ministry of Public Enlightenment, a member of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's (SEC) division of enforcement "compared those seeking to leverage the blockchain use case improperly to cockroaches."

To be specific, SEC Enforcement Division co-director Steven Peikin said "roaches kind of crawl out of the woodwork and try to scam money off of investors."

Of course, he should know.

According to the Anne Frank Guide, this type of language was a key feature of nazi propaganda: "Jews are described everywhere as a threat to Germany and the German way of life that had to be dealt with quickly and harshly. They were even compared to rats and cockroaches."

The issue is this: it is impossible for Mr. Peikin to know which ICOs are scams unless he can look into the hearts of ICO issuers to determine their true motivation. He knows this. We know this. He must, then, actually be referring to all ICOs. This is the same type of  discriminatory attitude used to categorize all Black men as "thugs."

This is also a prejudicial statement from a person in a position to not only influence, but to actually carry out enforcement actions against ICO issuers. My hope is that legal counsel for those so accused would point to this single statement as justification for dismissing, or at least questioning, any charges brought by the SEC.

One wonders why the SEC did not use the same language to describe the traders at Goldman Sachs, fined more that $5 Billion in connection with its sale of residential mortgage backed securities, or Wells Fargo when they set up a special sales office to steer risky subprime loans to residents in Prince George's County, Baltimore city and other predominantly black communities, or Standard and Poor's when issuing fraudulent credit ratings on residential mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations. (Talk about insects....)

We know why Mr. Peikin and the SEC Enforcement Division made no such statements. After all, employees at these large financial institutions are friends, fellow church and synagogue members, colleagues and, most importantly, potential employers.

This is exactly why ICOs are so necessary and why they are popular. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

What's Going On with Bitcoin Now? Brendan Cody, Impact Investing Intern, George Washington University

The meteoric rise of cryptocurrencies supported by the blockchain has regulatory agencies, financial institutions and central banks around the globe asking the same question: What in the world is going on here?











(Illustration by Jacques Barkhuizen, Chief Information Officer - Distribution & Digital at Barclays) 
Applications in finance, data storage, cybersecurity, and government merit the attention blockchain technology has received. As of last week, Bitcoin (the first and most notable cryptocurrency) approached $5,000, up +600% on the year compared to a 20% return for the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the same time. (Bitcoin has since returned to the more mundane level of $4,470 as of 9/5/17) Other cryptocurrencies ,including Litecoin and Ethereum, have seen a similar pattern of rise, retreat and rise.

Governments and financiers acted decisively in the past month in an attempt to seemingly make up for lost time. The Securities and Exchange Commission issued new regulations on the proliferation of Initial Coin Offerings (see: the American Banker Newspaper BankThink section - SEC takes jab at startups while leaving the big banks alone at https://www.americanbanker.com/opinion/sec-takes-jab-at-startups-while-leaving-the-big-banks-alone). Chinese regulators issued an outright ban on ICOs. Additionally, central governments in Russia, Estonia and Thailand have been studying blockchain. Russia and Thailand may create their own cryptocurrencies while Estonia is studying the potential to secure records and government data on the blockchain. New regulations foreshadow further actions as policymakers pay closer attention. (For our take on what should be done at this stage in the development of these new financial technologies, see: Why we need a Global ICO Census and Databasehttps://www.linkedin.com/pulse/global-ico-census-database-william-michael-cunningham-am-mba)

Furthermore, six of the world’s largest financial institutions announced the development
of a cryptocurrency to improve “record-keeping and transparency” of financial transactions. This
“utility settlement coin” is intended to speed transaction and asset transfer times while maintaining privacy and security. If executed correctly, this could lower transaction costs and time without sacrificing quality. The coin is still in development, with a projected launch date at the end of 2018. (NOTE: Picture at left not necessarily reflective of the author's opinion.)

Wall Street has also taken notice, with fifty hedge funds (including one backed by Mark
Cuban) now exclusively focusing on cryptocurrency investing. Institutional finance’s interest in
cryptocurrencies will only increase, with a Blockchain Electronically Traded Fund coming online soon and increased access for retail investors.

The myriad potential uses of blockchain and increased interest from financial institutions
might prolong the rally in asset prices for the foreseeable future. (Already, bitcoin shows signs of recovering from the Chinese Government's sudden policy shift.) Bitcoin’s volatility may keep
some investors away amid a distinct possibility of a pullback, but for buy-and-hold investors
with a long-term outlook, there is still great value in cryptocurrencies. When compared to bonds
at historically low and even negative yields and equities at high valuations, cryptocurrencies
present value for risk tolerant investors unmatched by other asset classes.

Edited by William Michael Cunningham

Saturday, September 2, 2017

HR 3441, the Save Local Business Act and Black Unemployment

Eight years after the Great Recession, many in the country still struggle economically. While we continue to look forward positively with respect to the future, we need economic policy initiatives that promote growth and fuel our entrepreneurial spirit. Technology has allowed many more people to work for themselves and build economic security. This is even truer for the African American community, which has traditionally been locked out of opportunities in corporate America, but for whom, as the chart below shows, is starting to see some modest improvement. Economic independence is one key to our future.
There are many pathways to achieving the American dream. Some of these pathways lead to entrepreneurship and to the use of empowering and flexible business models, such as franchising and the shared economy.

Recent economic policy initiatives may serve to block the door to opportunity. Specifically, federal and state efforts to expand the definition of a “joint employer” beyond the traditional legal definition of “direct and immediate” control may reduce opportunities for the Black franchisor and for Black creatives in the sharing economy. 

Let me explain.

Under the newly expanded definitions, employers who possess “indirect” or “unexercised reserved” control might be considered a “joint employer”.  The uncertainty that business owners feel over this matter might limit the ability of an employer to provide critical support for employees, like worker training and development, apprenticeship programs, corporate social responsibility programs, and guidance on compliance. For instance, if I own a franchise and the corporate entity offers tuition assistance, it could be determined that the corporate office has indirect control over my employees. Additionally, If I have a contract with Google, which requires I offer paid vacation to my employees, those employees might be considered indirect employees of Google. This designation could have any number of confusing and negative consequences, including tax and liability. In the absence of clarity, employers are considering whether to refrain from offering these critical programs altogether.
In what has become a rarity in American politics, a bipartisan effort is underway to clarify this problem.  HR 3441, the Save Local Business Act, is designed to clarify the new standard and allow business owners to have more certainty going forward.


Our economic analysis suggests this law is needed to maintain the progress as evidenced by the chart and to continue to propel the employment gains we have seen in the Black community.