Stellar, a nonprofit decentralized financial network, and the Luxembourg House of Financial Technology (LHoFT), the country’s dedicated fintech platform, have published a joint report on Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs).
According to the report, organizations have raised over $1.8 billion through ICOs since January 2017. As this popular new fundraising method provides a simple and fast method to acquire serious funding, there has been “tremendous momentum” growing around ICO launches among new businesses in the blockchain industry, the report said.
On the other hand, the report also detailed that there are high risks associated with ICO investments. Since there is still a lack of regulation and control surrounding the industry, Stellar and LHoFT compared the current ICO sphere to the “Wild West” — a term that has become rather popular of late in reference to ICOs.
“ICOs raise issues for consumer protection, combating money laundering, and other regulatory compliance goals. Complications may arise from several sources, including the mechanism through which ICOs are conducted, the teams spearheading ICOs, the identities of contributors to ICOs, the quantity of money that is raised, the validity of ICOs’ technology and processes, marketing claims, and the impact that ICOs have on the greater cryptocurrency markets. All these factors must be scrutinized so that the heralded benefits of ICOs are balanced against market and legal risks as the model matures and gains broader acceptance,” the report states.
LHoFT and Stellar addressed both the upsides and the downsides of ICO fundraising. Organizations launching ICOs benefit from a built-in customer base, a committed group of customers that will stay with the product or service until it officially launches. Furthermore, according to the report, the fundraising method has positive effects on the network, can target global investors (or donors) in a non-discriminatory manner while providing a fast and easy fundraising mechanism. Additionally, retail investors are keen on participating in ICOs, and open-source projects can benefit from the fundraising method too.
Similarly, investors can benefit from the high liquidity of the tokens (sold during ICOs), in addition to being able to sell them through cryptocurrency exchanges or over-the-counter (OTC) transactions, which would allow the investors to transfer the tokens easily without the authorization of the token issuer (the organization launching the ICO).
Token holders are often offered bonuses, such as “gift cards” or “licenses” that will incentivize them to support the growth and the development of the project. ICO investors also benefit from the lack of “geo-lock” — they can invest in the project no matter the location (unless specified otherwise). Most importantly, ICOs have a high potential for big gains.
On the other hand, there are plenty of risks associated with ICOs, according to the report. Firstly, ICOs lack the formal process for auditing the organizations.The writers of the study highlighted a potential problem with smart contracts: If the contract is not programmed correctly, it could lead to unexpected transfers without the authorization of the token owner. Some tokens are not based on any fundamental value, thus, may facilitate bubbles and Ponzi schemes.
Furthermore, Stellar and LHoFT emphasized the issue of “investor education” — some investors are not informed well enough about an ICO project before investing in it. The report also detailed security problems, such as phishing scams and the loss of private keys, which can result in the investors losing their tokens.
As with most cryptocurrencies, tokens also tend to be volatile. According to the report, ICO cashouts may create price distortions on the market. Furthermore, the market can be subjected to manipulation, such as the “Whales” method, in which the token issuer organization holds back a percentage of the tokens and distributes them between the team members. Both investors and organizations can experience network lag during popular ICOs, while some token distribution mechanisms can cause unpredicted difficulties for both parties.
The lack of regulations within the ICO space presents various problems for both the investors and the organizations, such as being subject to the financial regulations of multiple jurisdictions. The anonymous nature of the cryptocurrency sphere can result in many of the investors being seen only as pseudonyms, which could cause issues for law enforcement and regulators. Since there is uncertainty about the taxation of tokens, both investors and organizations could face legal issues, such as tax evasion charges. Furthermore, the report discusses that there is an increasing concern that ICOs can be used by criminals for money laundering or terrorist financing purposes.