Initial coin offerings (“ICOs”) have garnered a significant amount of recent media attention. Regulatory authorities, legislators, and legal practitioners, among others, are all involved in the ongoing discussions as to how ICOs are to be defined and regulated. While such discussions merit their own in-depth exposition and analysis, this article highlights a simple, pragmatic approach to providing a possible pathway for at least a subset of ICO transactions to move forward in Taiwan.
In Taiwan, the Financial Supervisory Commission (the “FSC”) has the authority to regulate any ICO it considers to involve an offering of securities to the public. The FSC has not delineated any specific test for determining whether an ICO would be deemed to be a public offering of securities. It would likely look to Taiwan Supreme Court Criminal Judgment No. 104-Tai-Shang-3215 (“Judgment 3215”) for guidance. Judgment 3215 sets out a test for securities broader than that in the analogous US case SEC v. W. J. Howey & Co., 328 U.S. 293, 301 (1946) and its progeny. Pursuant to Judgment 3215, an ICO would likely be considered a public offering of securities if the tokens or other digital rights being offered (i) had a stated value, (ii) were being purchased for investment purposes, and (iii) were tradable.
In our opinion, it is highly likely that the FSC would consider an enterprise raising funds through an offering of transferable tokens or other digital rights entitling the holder thereof to future distributions of enterprise profit as an offering of securities subject to regulation. In our experience, most enterprises that would wish to carry out such a fundraising effort do not meet the regulatory requirements to conduct a public offering in Taiwan or, even if they did meet such requirements, would likely find compliance with such requirements and navigation of the approval process overly burdensome and thus not cost-effective.
Observers in Taiwan have proposed that, at least with respect to smaller fundraising efforts, the FSC should allow enterprises wishing to conduct an ICO to avail themselves of Taiwan’s already established crowdfunding channels. The FSC has given no indications as to its determination on this proposal, but we remain hopeful that the FSC will allow certain ICOs to be conducted under the rubric of crowdfunding. Such a move would provide startup blockchain enterprises in Taiwan an additional capital raising option.
Interestingly, the FSC never directly promulgated crowdfunding regulations. Instead, the FSC authorized the Taipei Exchange (the “TPEx”) to establish the Go Incubation Board for Startup and Acceleration Firms (the “GISA Board”) primarily to conduct equity crowdfunding activities. The board allows small and medium-sized startups to conduct online fundraising activities in a cost and time effective manner. The GISA Board does not facilitate secondary market transactions. The TPEx operates the GISA Board pursuant to rules approved by the FSC.
The GISA Board began accepting registration applications in 2013. Since then, ninety-one (91) companies have successfully registered and forty-seven (47) companies are currently in the process of registration. In total, companies on the GISA Board have raised approximately NT$6.3 billion (approximately US$206.5 million) in funds.
In 2015, the FSC approved additional TPEx regulations that allowed private companies to establish crowdfunding platforms separate from the GISA Board. To date, Masterlink Securities Corp. and First Securities have each established their own online equity crowdfunding platforms (the “Crowdfunding Platforms”).
Over recent years, regulations governing crowdfunding offerings, whether conducted on the GISA Board or through Crowdfunding Platforms, have been relaxed. Such changes have allowed more companies and investors an opportunity to participate in crowdfunding offerings. GISA Board companies are no longer subject to a maximum capital threshold, and the maximum capital threshold for companies on the Crowdfunding Platforms has been raised from NT$30,000,000 to NT$50,000,000. The maximum annual investment limit per company has also been increased from NT$15,000,000 to NT$30,000,000 on both the GISA Board and Crowdfunding Platforms.
Given the interest in blockchain technologies and ICOs demonstrated by the Taiwanese media and government agencies, we are hopeful that the FSC can and will distinguish ICOs that are, in essence, securities offerings from those that have attributes more akin to currency or other digital assets. If this distinction can be made, Taiwan’s increasingly robust crowdfunding channels may become open for use by blockchain startups as a viable funding alternative. We continue to monitor the crowdfunding and ICO space and will keep our clients informed as to any significant developments.
For more information, please contact Gregory Buxton at firstname.lastname@example.org.Written December 10, 2018 By Gregory A. Buxton, Ta Yen Wu.