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CANADIAN SECURITIES ADMINISTRATORS ISSUE GUIDANCE REGARDING CRYPTOCURRENCY OFFERINGS

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CANADIAN SECURITIES ADMINISTRATORS ISSUE GUIDANCE REGARDING CRYPTOCURRENCY OFFERINGS

 By Tracy L. Hooey, Daniel Fuke and Bradley Freelan

On August 24, 2017, the staff of the Canadian Securities Administrators other than Saskatchewan (CSA) published CSA Staff Notice 46-307 Cryptocurrency Offerings (the Staff Notice) in response to increased activity within the distributed ledger technology or “blockchain” industry. The Staff Notice provides guidance regarding the application of Canadian securities laws to businesses operating in that industry, in particular those undertaking initial “coin” or “token” offerings (ICOs), exchanges on which those coins, tokens and cryptocurrencies are traded and investment funds that invest in such assets.

The Staff Notice provides that in the CSA’s view many coins, tokens and cryptocurrencies fall within the definition of “securities” under Canadian securities laws. An offering of such tokens would therefore require a prospectus or exemption from prospectus requirements and businesses supporting and operating ancillary to such tokens could be subject to registration requirements. The Staff Notice also provides that such products may also be derivatives and subject to the derivatives laws adopted by the Canadian securities regulatory authorities.

The Staff Notice confirms speculation among industry participants and advisors that Canadian regulators would take this approach, which is similar to the positions articulated by the United States Securities & Exchange Commission and securities regulators in Singapore.

With respect to ICOs, the Staff Notice provides that, from the CSA’s perspective, many of the ICOs completed to date involved the sale of securities and that securities laws in Canada will apply if the person or company selling the securities is conducting business from within Canada or there are Canadian investors in the tokens.

The CSA are aware of businesses marketing their tokens as software products and taking the position that the tokens are not subject to securities laws.  It appears to be the CSA’s view, however, that in many cases, when the totality of the offering or arrangement is considered, the tokens should properly be considered securities.  In assessing whether or not securities laws apply, the Staff Notice states that the CSA will consider substance over form and apply a purposive interpretation to the law with the objective of investor protection in mind.

In determining whether or not a token is a security, the Staff Notice states that Canadian regulators will consider each ICO on a case-by-case basis and apply the test articulated in the Supreme Court of Canada case, Pacific Coast Coin Exchange v. Ontario Securities Commission. In applying such test, the Canadian regulators would consider whether the ICO involves: i an investment of money, ii in a common enterprise, iii with the expectation of profit, iv to come significantly from the efforts of others.

The Staff Notice provides two examples that would likely result in different conclusions by Canadian regulators with respect to an offering of tokens.  In the CSA’s view, tokens purchased for the purpose of playing video games on a platform may not be considered to be securities.  Conversely, tokens whose value is tied to the future profits or success of a business would likely be considered to be securities.

The Staff Notice gives no additional guidance with respect to the relevance of any additional factors in assessing whether a coin or token is a security, such as: i the utility of the token and whether or not the token can be used outside the platform or can be exchanged for, or used to create, other tokens or instruments that the Canadian regulators would consider a security, ii the consumptive nature of the token and what happens to the token when it is used or “burned up”, iii the marketing of the ICO, iv the representations provided in respect of, or the development post-ICO of, a secondary market for trading the tokens and any encoding on the protocol proposed to limit or preclude the development of a secondary market for trading the tokens, v the monetary policy underlying the tokens, vi the maturity of the technology, service or platform at the time of the ICO, vii the tax treatment of the proceeds of the ICO, and viii the voting or control rights in respect of the technology, service, platform or business. This lack of additional guidance is perhaps understandable given the relatively early stages of this industry.

The Staff Notice goes on to highlight the securities law requirements that apply in the event that the tokens are considered to be securities, namely prospectus and registration requirements.

With respect to cryptocurrency exchanges, the Staff Notice cautioned that a platform that facilitates trades in tokens that are securities may be an “exchange” or a “marketplace” under Canadian securities laws and accordingly would be subject to the robust regulations applicable to securities marketplaces. To date, no cryptocurrency exchange has been recognized in Canada.

As discussed above with respect to ICOs, whether a particular token is or is not a security becomes a gating consideration for the launch or operation of a cryptocurrency exchange seeking to list or facilitate trades in such a token. Presumably, if an exchange were to list and trade only cryptocurrencies and tokens that are not securities, it would avoid the application of securities laws in this area. Without being able to precisely determine what is or is not a security, however, determining which assets to list would be difficult for a cryptocurrency exchange.

With respect to funds that wish to invest in cryptocurrency as an asset class, a pool of assets invested in cryptocurrencies on behalf of investors may be considered an “investment fund” under Canadian securities laws regardless of whether the investments are securities or not. The Staff Notice provided several cautionary reminders about the Canadian securities laws applicable to investment funds, including that access to retail investors will be limited, due diligence will be required regarding the exchanges on which the assets trade and, considering the nascent nature of these exchanges, valuations may be difficult.

An entity that acts as manager of any such fund would be required to be registered as an investment fund manager and, depending on how the fund is marketed and sold, the involvement of a registered dealer may be required.

Whether a registered advisor would be required to be engaged is a more interesting question because the requirement for registration as an advisor is based on being in the business of providing advice in respect of securities. Similar to ICOs and exchanges, then, whether a coin or token is or is not a security is a gating issue on this point as well.

The Staff Notice also reminds readers that an investment fund’s assets are required to be held by a custodian that meets certain prescribed requirements. Given that cryptocurrencies and tokens are typically held in online “wallets”, it is unclear whether traditional fund custodians such as banks and trust companies are practically equipped to meet the custodial needs of such funds.

Because the question of whether a particular cryptocurrency or token is or is not a security is central to the application of securities laws to the blockchain industry, it is helpful for industry participants and advisors to know that Canadian regulators are considering the question. Further guidance on how the CSA might apply the test laid out in the Pacific Coast Coin Exchange to assess some of the common characteristics of a token would be a helpful next step. In the meantime, the Staff Notice encourages businesses operating in the industry to contact their local regulators in order to discuss the specifics of that business and how it can best comply with applicable securities laws.

Finance

ISO 20022 migration: full speed ahead despite recent delays, says new Deutsche Bank paper

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ISO 20022 migration: full speed ahead despite recent delays, says new Deutsche Bank paper 1

Today, Deutsche Bank has released the third installment in its “Guide to ISO 20022 migration series, which offers a comprehensive update on the industry shift to the de facto global standard for financial messaging: ISO 20022. This paper comes at a critical time for the ISO 20022 migration, with a number of changes to existing timelines and strategies from SWIFT and the world’s major market infrastructures having been announced this year.

The paper explores the latest developments, including SWIFT’s year-long postponement of the migration in the correspondent banking space. The decision meets industry calls for a delay and also provides ample time to build the new central Transaction Management Platform (TMP) – a core feature of SWIFT’s new strategy that will allow the industry to move away from point-to-point messaging and towards central transaction processing.

It also details the wave of action that has been seen by market infrastructures around the world – with many, including the ECB, EBA CLEARING and the Bank of England, announcing revised migration approaches.

“Now more than ever, with shifting timelines and strained resources, it is vital that banks and corporates alike do not view the ISO 20022 migration as just another project that can be put on the back burner,” says Christian Westerhaus, Head of Cash Products, Cash Management, Deutsche Bank. “The delays in the correspondent banking space, and across several market infrastructures, should not be seen as an opportunity for banks to take their foot off the pedal. The journey to ISO 20022 is still moving ahead at speed – and internal projects need to reflect this.”

The Guide also highlights the implementation issues on the migration journey ahead – most notably surrounding interoperability between market infrastructures, usage guidelines and messaging formats. This is achieved through a series of deep dives, case studies, and points of attention drawn from Deutsche Bank’s internal analysis.

 “As this year has proved, nothing is set in stone, “says Paula Roels, Head of Market Infrastructure & Industry Initiatives, Deutsche Bank. “The ISO 20022 migration involves a lot of moving parts and keeping abreast of the latest developments is critical for banks and corporates alike. As the deadlines near, and the ISO 20022 story develops, this series of guides will continue to highlight key points for consideration over the coming years.”

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The Psychology Behind a Strong Security Culture in the Financial Sector

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The Psychology Behind a Strong Security Culture in the Financial Sector 2

By Javvad Malik, Security Awareness Advocate at KnowBe4

Banks and financial industries are quite literally where the money is, positioning them as prominent targets for cybercriminals worldwide. Unfortunately, regardless of investments made in the latest technologies, the Achilles heel of these institutions is their employees. Often times, a human blunder is found to be a contributing factor of a security breach, if not the direct source. Indeed, in the 2020 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, miscellaneous errors were found vying closely with web application attacks for the top cause of breaches affecting the financial and insurance sector. A secretary may forward an email to the wrong recipient or a system administrator may misconfigure firewall settings. Perhaps, a user clicks on a malicious link. Whatever the case, the outcome is equally dire.

Having grown acutely aware of the role that people play in cybersecurity, business leaders are scrambling to establish a strong security culture within their own organisations. In fact, for many leaders across the globe, realising a strong security culture is of increasing importance, not solely for fear of a breach, but as fundamental to the overall success of their organisations – be it to create customer trust or enhance brand value. Yet, the term lacks a universal definition, and its interpretation varies depending on the individual. In one survey of 1,161 IT decision makers, 758 unique definitions were offered, falling into five distinct categories. While all important, these categories taken apart only feature one aspect of the wider notion of security culture.

With an incomplete understanding of the term, many organisations find themselves inadvertently overconfident in their actual capabilities to fend off cyberthreats. This speaks to the importance of building a single, clear and common definition from which organisations can learn from one another, benchmark their standing and construct a comprehensive security programme.

Defining Security Culture: The Seven Dimensions

In an effort to measure security culture through an objective, scientific method, the term can be broken down into seven key dimensions:

  • Attitudes: Formed over time and through experiences, attitudes are learned opinions reflecting the preferences an individual has in favour or against security protocols and issues.
  • Behaviours: The physical actions and decisions that employees make which impact the security of an organisation.
  • Cognition: The understanding, knowledge and awareness of security threats and issues.
  • Communication: Channels adopted to share relevant security-related information in a timely manner, while encouraging and supporting employees as they tackle security issues.
  • Compliance: Written security policies and the extent that employees adhere to them.
  • Norms: Unwritten rules of conduct in an organisation.
  • Responsibilities: The extent to which employees recognise their role in sustaining or endangering their company’s security.

All of these dimensions are inextricably interlinked; should one falter so too would the others.

The Bearing of Banks and Financial Institutions

Collecting data from over 120,000 employees in 1,107 organisations across 24 countries, KnowBe4’s ‘Security Culture Report 2020’ found that the banking and financial sectors were among the best performers on the security culture front, with a score of 76 out of a 100. This comes as no surprise seeing as they manage highly confidential data and have thus adopted a long tradition of risk management as well as extensive regulatory oversight.

Indeed, the security culture posture is reflected in the sector’s well-oiled communication channels. As cyberthreats constantly and rapidly evolve, it is crucial that effective communication processes are implemented. This allows employees to receive accurate and relevant information with ease; having an impact on the organisation’s ability to prevent as well as respond to a security breach. In IBM’s 2020 Cost of a Data Breach study, the average reported response time to detect a data breach is 207 days with an additional 73 days to resolve the situation. This is in comparison to the financial industry’s 177 and 56 days.

Moreover, with better communication follows better attitude – both banking and financial services scored 80 and 79 in this department, respectively. Good communication is integral to facilitating collaboration between departments and offering a reminder that security is not achieved solely within the IT department; rather, it is a team effort. It is also a means of boosting morale and inspiring greater employee engagement. As earlier mentioned, attitudes are evaluations, or learned opinions. Therefore, by keeping employees informed as well as motivated, they are more likely to view security best practices favourably, adopting them voluntarily.

Predictably, the industry ticks the box on compliance as well. The hefty fines issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the past year alone, including Capital One’s $80 million penalty, probably play a part in keeping financial institutions on their toes.

Nevertheless, there continues to be room for improvement. As it stands, the overall score of 76 is within the ‘moderate’ classification, falling a long way short of the desired 90-100 range. So, what needs fixing?

Towards Achieving Excellence

There is often the misconception that banks and financial institutions are well-versed in security-related information due to their extensive exposure to the cyber domain. However, as the cognition score demonstrates, this is not the case – dawdling in the low 70s. This illustrates an urgent need for improved security awareness programmes within the sector. More importantly, employees should be trained to understand how this knowledge is applied. This can be achieved through practical exercises such as simulated phishing, for example. In addition, training should be tailored to the learning styles as well as the needs of each individual. In other words, a bank clerk would need a completely different curriculum to IT staff working on the backend of servers.

By building on cognition, financial institutions can instigate a sense of responsibility among employees as they begin to recognise the impact that their behaviour might have on the company. In cybersecurity, success is achieved when breaches are avoided. In a way, this negative result removes the incentive that typically keeps employees engaged with an outcome. Training methods need to take this into consideration.

Then there are norms and behaviours, found to have strong correlations with one another. Norms are the compass from which individuals refer to when making decisions and negotiating everyday activities. The key is recognising that norms have two facets, one social and the other personal. The former is informed by social interactions, while the latter is grounded in the individual’s values. For instance, an accountant may connect to the VPN when working outside of the office to avoid disciplinary measures, as opposed to believing it is the right thing to do. Organisations should aim to internalise norms to generate consistent adherence to best practices irrespective of any immediate external pressures. When these norms improve, behavioural changes will reform in tandem.

Building a robust security culture is no easy task. However, the unrelenting efforts of cybercriminals to infiltrate our systems obliges us to press on. While financial institutions are leading the way for other industries, much still needs to be done. Fortunately, every step counts -every improvement made in one dimension has a domino effect in others.

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Has lockdown marked the end of cash as we know it?

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Has lockdown marked the end of cash as we know it? 3

By James Booth, VP of Payment Partnerships EMEA, PPRO

Since the start of the pandemic, businesses around the world have drastically changed their operations to protect employees and customers. One significant shift has been the discouragement of the use of cash in favour of digital and contactless payment methods. On the surface, moving away from cash seems like the safe, obvious thing to do to curb the spread of the virus. But, the idea of being propelled towards an innovative, digital-first, cashless society is also compelling.

Has cashless gone viral?

Recent months have forced the world online, leading to a surge in e-commerce with UK online sales seeing a rise of 168% in May and steady growth ever since. In fact, PPRO’s transaction engine, has seen online purchases across the globe increase dramatically in 2020: purchases of women’s clothing are up 311%, food and beverage by 285%, and healthcare and cosmetics by 160%.

Alongside a shift to online shopping, a recent report revealed 7.4 million in the UK are now living an almost cashless life – claiming changing payment habits has left Britons better prepared for life in lockdown. In fact, according to recent research from PPRO, 45% of UK consumers think cash will be a thing of the past in just five years. And this UK figure reflects a global trend. For example, 46% of Americans have turned to cashless payments in the wake of COVID-19. And in Italy, the volume of cashless transactions has skyrocketed by more than 80%.

More choice than ever before

Whilst the pandemic and restrictions surrounding cash have certainly accelerated the UK towards a cashless society, the proliferation of local payment methods (LPMs) in the UK, such as PayPal, Klarna and digital wallets, have also been a key driver. Today, 31% of UK consumers report they are confident using mobile wallets, such as Apple Pay. Those in Generation Z are particularly keen, with 68% expressing confidence using them[1].

As LPM usage continues to accelerate, the use of credit and debit cards are likely to decline in the coming years. Whilst older generations show an affinity with plastic, younger consumers feel less secure around its usage. 96% of Baby Boomers and Generation X confirmed they feel confident using credit/debit cards, compared to just 75% of Generation Z[2].

Does social distancing mean financial exclusion?

As we hurtle into a digital age, leaving cash in the rearview, there are ramifications of going completely cashless to consider. We must take into consideration how removing cash could disenfranchise over a quarter of our society; 26% of the global population doesn’t have a traditional bank account. Across Latin America, 38% of shoppers are unbanked, and nearly 1 in 5 online transactions are completed with cash. While in Africa and the Middle East, only 50% of consumers are banked in the traditional sense, and 12% have access to a credit card. Even here in the UK, approximately 1.3 million UK adults are classed as unbanked, exposing the large number of consumers affected by any ban on cash.

Even when shopping online – many consumers rely on cash-based payments. At the checkout page, consumers are provided with a barcode for their order. They take this barcode (either printed or on their mobile device) to a local convenience store or bank and pay in cash. At that point, the goods are shipped.

There are also older generations to consider. Following the closure of one in eight banks and cashpoints during Coronavirus, the government faced calls to act swiftly to protect access to cash, as pensioners struggled to access their savings. Despite the direction society is headed, there are a significant number of older people that still rely on cash – they have grown up using it. With an estimated two million people in the UK relying on cash for day to day spending, it is important that it does not disappear in its entirety.

Supporting the transition away from cash

Cashless protocols not only restrict access to goods and services for consumers but also limit revenue opportunity for merchants. While 2020 has provided the global economy with one great reason to reduce the acceptance of cash, the payments industry has billions of reasons to offer multiple options that cater to the needs of every kind of shopper around the world.

Whilst it seems younger generations are driving LPM adoption, it is important that older generations aren’t forgotten. If online shops fail to offer a variety of preferred payment methods, consumers will not hesitate to shop elsewhere. With 44% of consumers reporting they would stop a purchase online if their favourite payment method wasn’t available – this is something merchants need to address to attract and retain loyal customers.

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