The European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) has today issued two statements on Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs): one on risks of ICOs for investors and one on the rules applicable to firms involved in ICOs.
ESMA has observed a rapid growth in ICOs globally and in Europe and is concerned that investors may be unaware of the high risks that they are taking when investing in ICOs. Additionally, ESMA is concerned that firms involved in ICOs may conduct their activities without complying with relevant applicable EU legislation.
For investors, ESMA is warning on the high risk of losing all of their invested capital as ICOs are very risky and highly speculative investments. The price of the coin or token is typically extremely volatile and investors may not be able to redeem them for a prolonged period. Another key risk stems from the fact that, depending on how they are structured, ICOs may fall outside of the scope of EU laws and regulations, in which case investors cannot benefit from the protection that these laws and regulations provide. ICOs are also vulnerable to the risk of fraud or money laundering.
For firms, ESMA noted that where ICOs qualify as financial instruments, it is likely that firms involved in ICOs conduct regulated investment activities, in which case they need to comply with the relevant legislation, including for example:
- the Prospectus Directive,
- the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID),
- the Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive (AIFMD); and
- the Fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive.
ESMA stresses that firms involved in ICOs should give careful consideration as to whether their activities constitute regulated activities. Any failure to comply with the applicable rules will constitute a breach.