All About Security Tokens Landscape, With The Founder Of Polymath
Security tokens are an intriguing development,
that function as a bridge between blockchain networks and legacy financial assets. Following the rapid and blessed decline of the ICO, security tokens – particularly the security token offering (STO) – have started gathering momentum among financial institutions, service providers and regulators.
To understand STO's betters, I recently sat with Trevor Koverko, founder of Polymath who offers a look at the current state, and future, of security tokens. In 2017, Trevor wanted to tokenize a private equity fund he was running, but found it hard to do for an existing financial security, especially on the technical and legal side. This drove him to launch a security token launchpad for himself and other STO projects. He grew to raise around 60 million USD in funding.
YV: Can you provide some context on the ST-20 security token standard, for the audience that may be unfamiliar with what exactly a security token is and how they function?
TK: If you look at how important the standardisation of ERC-20 was for Ethereum, it's clear that security tokens similarly need a common set of functions that we all agree upon. Even the NYSE had to standardize its tech stack before it could truly scale. Built into the ST20 standard are transfer restrictions such that only authorized individuals can buy, sell, and hold the token. There are features that restrict trading for a defined period of time, or that limit the number of shares any one individual can hold.
YV: What do you view as the current stage of the security token market?
TK: I believed STO's would overtake ICO's, but didn't expect adoption to happen so fast.
The infrastructure needed to support things like institutional-grade custody, licensed security token exchanges, and regulatory clarity is progressing faster than I could have imagined. Many players are creating tools for this ecosystem. 2019 is on pace to be a pivotal year for security tokens.
YV: What can security tokens add to financial assets?
TK: One of several things that security tokens bring to the table, is that they unlock liquidity. LP shares, startup equity and even fine art are all typically illiquid assets. STO's have the potential to unlock this value. They can make small, private non-liquid securities more accessible for everyone.
The technology is open and transparent, so international trading becomes trivial. It’s open 24/7. It’s the concept of a global, national agnostic market that never closes. It’s faster and cheaper to make trades. It’s the idea that security tokens are programmable, whereas many legacy stocks are not. You can command security tokens to do things like automating corporate governance, proxy voting and dividends — all perfectly documented on the immutable blockchain
YV: What regulatory progress is being made with security tokens?
TK: STO's are simply securities. They live in an upgraded format than a traditional security, but they are still a security.
We are fortunate that financial securities have very clear definitions, with enormous bodies of case law and precedents behind them, that tell us what the SEC considers a security. So, you have to follow all the registration forms, secondary trading rules, and for most offering types, investors need to be accredited. The beauty of the blockchain is that code can automate a lot of those rules.
YV: Is there a specific financial asset that you think will initially emerge from the rest with STO's?
TK: We are very bullish on the ownership of funds tokenizing – think LP shares, REIT units and so on. I’m seeing many people choose real estate as a first mover, and I tend to agree.
However, I like to take inspiration from other decentralized projects that have reached scale -for example with Ethereum. I noticed the team didn’t choose which vertices to attack first – instead they opened it up for the world, and let the market decide how to use it. It was community driven. Like Ethereum, we are going to see a lot of small companies that need the money, or struggle to raise capital traditionally turn to STO. But once bigger, well-funded projects see the possible benefits of tokenization, they won’t be far behind.
YV: Ethereum is also very developer-driven. How can more developers be drawn into the STO market?
TK: An active and engaged community of developers isn't just important for decentralized projects, it literally is the project.
That is what made Ethereum an unstoppable force, the 30k plus of volunteer crypto engineers that self-organized within dozens of meetups globally. Without an army of talented, open-source developers, it hard to make consistent progress in this rapidly evolving ecosystem. It's important to incentivize for-profit developers to build products on top of your platform.
They are expensive and elusive compared to other professions, and the 2017 bull market certainly did cause some dislocation in terms of scarcity of talent and salary expectations. However, 2018 caused the crypto labor market to clear and now is a great time to be aggressive building a deep technical bench of senior engineers.
YV: How do you view the role of broker-dealers, and other service providers, evolving in the STO market?
TK: The thing about security tokens is that it’s not necessarily anything new. Securities laws have an enormous amount of precedents and established case law to guide issuers. Security tokens aren’t looking to skirt regulations; they are looking to embrace and follow regulations in this new environment.
KYC, AML, accreditation attestations, secondary trading restrictions, broker-dealers – these are all things we had to think about during the architecture phase of our company. While security tokens offer hope for the crypto market, is it important to do your own consideration before investing or participating in any type of funding, especially in the crypto market.
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Yoav Vilner Contributor