Investment based crowdfunding and crypto assets – Challenges ahead

Crowdfunding Regulation

With the aim to overcome existing divergences in national frameworks on crowdfunding, in October 2020 the EU has adopted and published the long awaited final text of the Regulation on crowdfunding service providers (Regulation (EU) 2020/1503), the European Crowdfunding Service Provider Regulation “ECSPR”). The ECSPR provides a level-playing field for crowdfunding platforms in the EU, by introducing a harmonized set of rules that will be enable European crowdfunding service providers (CSPs) to explore the full potential of the EU single market.

The ECSPR covers two main types of practices used by crowdfunding platforms:

  1. Facilitation of granting loans (lending based crowdfunding)
  2. Placement of transferable securities within the meaning of Art. 4 para. 1 Nr. 44 MiFID II and/or instruments admitted for crowdfunding purposes that basically refer to shares in private limited companies that are not subject to restrictions that would effectively prevent them from being transferred (investment based crowdfunding)

Offers of financial instruments, either transferable securities or above-described instruments admitted for crowdfunding purposes under national law, of a single project owner whose total consideration is not exceeding 5.000.000 EUR will be eligible to be treated as crowdfunding offers and thereby will be exempted from more onerous requirements stipulated by EU and national rules on securities prospectus and securities issuing requirements.

The ECSPR will start to apply as of 10 November 2021. Crowdfunding service providers operating already under national regimes are provided with a 12-month transitional period within which they will have to ensure compliance with new rules.

Given that the ECSPR is primarily aimed to regulate crowdfunding service providers, the exact scope of application of the investment based crowdfunding in respective EU Member State can only be assessed based on relevant provisions of national law that implement MiFID II definition of transferable securities and define instruments that may fall under the definition of instruments admitted for crowdfunding purposes.

Investment based crowdfunding with crypto-assets – the new frontier?

In the wake of the ever increasing use of crypto-assets for fund raising, the legitimate question that can be raised is whether the crypto-assets can also be used for the purposes of fund raising in accordance with the new regime on investment based crowdfunding under the ECSPR.

Currently, most EU Member States do not stipulate de jure the possibility of issuing transferable securities via DLT or similar technology. However, majority of supervisory authorities across the EU tend to assess the legal status of each crypto-asset on a case by case basis by assessing its features based on various criteria like the level of standardization, tradability on financial markets etc.

  • Debt securities

In relation to crypto-assets with features of debt financial instruments (bonds, derivatives etc.) most supervisory authorities in the EU have taken pragmatic approach by assessing their legal status on a case by case basis and by treating them in accordance with applicable rules on issuance of financial instruments within the meaning of MiFID II. Nevertheless, there are also certain potential impediments to the issuance of debt transferable securities in tokenized form. These are particularly related to requirements under CSDR (e.g. requirement for transferable securities to be registered with CSD in book-entry form) as well as potential obstacles in national legislation like requirement for transferable securities to be represented in the form of a global certificate in physical form.

  • Equity securities

In addition to above mentioned challenges to tokenization of debt securities, the issuing of equity securities in tokenized form (in their literal meaning) has been prevented in most EU Member States due to open legal questions arising from company law that is barely harmonized at the EU level. Therefore, the possibility of using the new crowdfunding regulatory framework for the issuance and placement of equity based transferable securities depends largely on provisions of company law and securities law at national level. The recently published German Act on Electronic Securities (eWpG), which has for the first time allowed the issuing of securities in Germany in electronic or even crypto-form, is also one good example of how the issuing of tokenized shares can hardly be enabled by amendments of securities legislation. Due to related company law issues, German legislator has decided to make new provisions of eWpG solely applicable to debt instruments and units in investment funds, by leaving companies shares out of the scope of its application for the time being.

  • Reform of the MiFID II definition of financial instruments

With the intention to overcome the regulatory uncertainty around the application of MiFID II framework to crypto assets with features of financial instruments the European Commission has proposed in September 2020 a Directive that shall, among other, amend the MiFID II definition of financial instruments.

The new definition will be covering all types of financial instruments under MiFID II (including transferable securities) issued via DLT or similar technology as well. Due to the fact that MiFID II is a Directive, the revised definition will still need to be implemented into national law and currently significant divergences exist in national definitions of financial instruments across the EU. Last but not least, previously mentioned company law issues that prevent issuance of tokenized shares in many EU Member States and new laws on issuance of crypto-securities that fall short of covering all types of financial instruments in certain Member States (like in Germany) will represent challenges that will still need to be addressed. Until the new regime based on the expanded MIFID II definition becomes operational prospective the issuers of security tokens will still need to rely on national laws and the wide interpretative discretion of national supervisory authorities.

  • Instruments admitted for crowdfunding purposes

Looking into the issuing of instruments admitted for crowdfunding purposes (shares in private limited companies) in tokenized form, the picture doesn’t seems to be brighter either. The ECSPR stipulates explicitly that its definition and scope of application in relation to admitted instruments for crowdfunding purposes applies without prejudice to requirements under national laws that govern their transferability, such as the requirement for the transfer to be authenticated by a notary. To that end, EU Member States have a final say when it comes to deciding whether shares in private companies will be eligible to be used for crowdfunding purposes under the new regime. There is a fairly big chance that certain Member States will exclude shares in private limited companies from the scope of application of the new regime at national level by stipulating gold-platting provisions in national law. For instance, heavily criticized national transposition law in Germany, which was published in March this year, stipulates such an exclusion that will prevent shares in private limited companies of being used for crowdfunding offers under the new regime. Despite the fact that such measure would most probably just result in incorporation of fund raising SPVs in other EU jurisdiction (whose shares can still be offered on crowdfunding platforms anywhere in the EU) it cannot be excluded that some other EU Member State will follow similar approach.

Conclusion

Against the backdrop of everything mentioned above, it is fair to conclude that prospective fund raisers intending to leverage the new regime on crowdfunding as a less onerous regulatory framework comparing to regime under Prospectus Regulation will still largely need to ensure compliance with national laws in respective Member States from where they are intending to operate / set up an SPV for fund raising. The proposed EU Regulation on markets in crypto-assets (MiCAR) doesn’t seem to provide any further clarity to this topic either, because its scope of application will be limited solely to crypto assets that do not qualify as financial instruments under the MiFID II framework.

Therefore, despite the fact that the ECSPR has achieved significant progress in harmonization of rules on crowdfunding in the EU, there are still many challenges ahead that will need to be addressed before the crowdfunding as an alternative finance model starts to leverage DLT and crypto-assets in full capacity.


The EU regulatory framework on outsourcing – where are we now?

In recent years, in pursuit of cost reduction and efficiency improvement financial institutions around the globe have been increasingly interested in outsourcing their business activities to other institutions and specialised service providers. From asset management, where delegation of certain functions was a standard practice since decades, to small payment companies relying on specialised regulatory compliance service providers, there is almost no area of the financial services sector nowadays that has remained immune to the ever-increasing use of outsourcing arrangements. Moreover, rapid digitisation of the financial service sector, featured by more frequent use of cloud technology and specialised providers of IT-related services to financial institutions has just added more complexity into the game which immediately triggered the attention of financial regulators in the European Union.

ESA’s Guidance Framework

In attempt to bridge these gaps (to the certain extent) the European Supervisory Authorities (ESAs), European Banking Authority (EBA), European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA and European Insurance and Occupational Pension Authority (EIOPA) have issued guidelines on outsourcing arrangements that stipulate standards and requirements that financial institutions under their respective supervisory remit need to fulfil when entering into outsourcing arrangements.

These include:

  • EBA Guidelines on outsourcing arrangements (EBA/GL/2019/02), see our explanation thereof here
  • ESMA Guidelines on outsourcing to cloud service providers (ESMA50-164-4285), see our blog post thereof here.
  • EIOPA Guidelines on outsourcing to cloud service providers (EIOPA-BoS-20-002)

What applies to whom?

Whereas EBA Guidelines apply to all types of outsourcing arrangements that financial institutions under its supervisory remit enter into, ESMA and EIOPA Guidelines are focused solely on one specific type of outsourcing arrangements that has attracted much of regulatory scrutiny lately, outsourcing to cloud service providers.

Outlook

It is unquestionable that ESA’s Guidance framework on outsourcing has provided a valuable set of standards and requirements that financial institutions can follow when ensuring compliance with applicable requirements on outsourcing they may be a subject to under applicable sector specific pieces of EU and national legislation. However, there are small divergences between ESA’s Guidelines and such lack of full alignment brings financial institutions that find themselves under the supervisory remit of more than one European Supervisory Authority in front of significant challenges. Furthermore, given that ESMA and EIOPA Guidelines apply solely to outsourcing to cloud service providers, there is a great number of standard outsourcing arrangements that will still need to be structured in accordance with high-level regulatory requirements on outsourcing stipulated by applicable EU legislation that frequently falls short of providing clear guidance for financial institutions.

Nevertheless, the process of harmonization of rules on outsourcing and operational resilience of financial institutions in general seems to be far from over. As part of its Digital Finance Package published on 24 September 2020, the EU Commission has published a proposal for Regulation on digital operational resilience for the financial sector (commonly known as Digital Operational Resilience Act “DORA”) that aims to harmonize EU regulatory requirements on digital operational resilience in financial services. In the same vein, beside requirements on management of ICT risks, DORA aims to bring certain requirements on outsourcing arrangements, onto a legislative footing. Despite the fact that DORA may harmonize a number of questions related to outsourcing arrangements until it becomes operational (which from today’s point of view is hard to expect before 2023) financial institutions will have to ensure compliance with requirements on outsourcing in accordance with ESA’s Guidelines and applicable sector specific pieces of EU and national legislation.

Langsam wird es ernst: Die neue Mantelverordnung zum Wertpapierinstitutsgesetz

In wenigen Wochen, nämlich am 26. Juni 2021, wird das neue Wertpapierinstitutsgesetz („WpIG“) in Kraft treten. Durch das WpIG wurde ein eigenes Aufsichtsregime für Wertpapierfirmen geschaffen und sog. kleine und mittlere Wertpapierinstitute aus dem Aufsichtsregime des Kreditwesengesetzes („KWG“) herausgelöst. Letzteres wird in Zukunft nur noch für bankenähnliche, sog. große Wertpapierfirmen, gelten. Das neue WpIG haben wir bereits hier und hier ausführlich vorgestellt.

Anfang Mai diesen Jahres hat die Bundesanstalt für Finanzdienstleistungsaufsicht („BaFin“) ihre Konsultation zur Mantelverordnung zum WpIG veröffentlicht. Darin hat sie Entwürfe der

  • Wertpapierinstituts-Prüfungsberichtsverordnung („WpI-PrüfbV),
  • Wertpapierinstituts-Vergütungsverordnung („WpI-VergV“),
  • Wertpapierinstituts-Inhaberkontrollverordnung („WpI-IKV“) und der
  • Wertpapierinstituts-Anzeigenverordnung („WpI-AnzV“)

zur Ergänzung und Vervollständigung des neuen Aufsichtsregimes des WpIG veröffentlicht. Bis Ende Mai konnten Stellungnahmen dazu abgegeben werden. Im Folgenden stellen wir die einzelnen Verordnungen im Überblick vor.

Die Wertpapierinstituts-Prüfungsberichtsverordnung

Die WpI-PrüfbV regelt den Gegenstand und den Zeitpunkt der Prüfung des externen Wirtschaftsprüfers, denen sich die verpflichteten Wertpapierinstitute unterziehen müssen, sowie den Inhalt und die Form der vom externen Prüfer anzufertigenden Prüfungsberichte. Damit werden die §§ 77 ff WpIG konkretisiert. Die WpI-PrüfbV wird nur für kleine und mittlere Wertpapierinstitute gelten. Große Wertpapierinstitute werden weiterhin der nach dem KWG ergangenen Prüfungsverordnung (PrüfbV) unterliegen.

Die Wertpapierinstituts-Vergütungsverordnung

Die WpI-VergV wird die Artikel 30 bis 34 der Richtlinie EU 2019/2034 über die Beaufsichtigung von Wertpapierfirmen („IFD“) umsetzen. Inhaltlich orientiert sie sich an der nach dem KWG erlassenen Instituts-Vergütungsverordnung, ist aber in ihrem Umfang deutlich schlanker.

Nach § 3 der WpI-VergV trägt die Geschäftsleitung die Verantwortung für die angemessene Ausgestaltung der Vergütungssysteme. Es werden Kriterien vorgegeben, wann von einer angemessenen Ausgestaltung des Vergütungssystems auszugehen ist (§ 5 WpI-VergV). Die Vergütungsstrategie und die Vergütungssysteme des Wertpapierinstituts müssen auf die Erreichung der Ziele ausgerichtet sein, die in den Geschäfts-und Risikostrategien des Instituts niedergelegt sind (§ 4 WpI-VergV). Damit sollen Fehlanreize verhindert werden. Entsprechend der Instituts-Vergütungsverordnung sind insbesondere auch die Anforderungen an die variable Vergütung detailliert geregelt (§ 6 WpI-VergV). Die Grundsätze zum Vergütungssystem sind vom Institut schriftlich niederzulegen und zu dokumentieren (§ 9 WpI-VergV).

Zudem sieht die WpI-VergV vor, dass das Wertpapierinstitut darauf hinwirkt, dass bestehende Verträge mit den Mitarbeiterinnen und Mitarbeitern, die mit den Vorgaben der WpI-VergV nicht vereinbar sind, angepasst werden (§ 12 WpI-VergV). Schließlich werden auch die Aufgaben des Vergütungskontrollausschusses und die Offenlegungspflichten in Bezug auf die Vergütung geregelt (§§ 13, 14 WpI-VergV).

Die WpI-VergV wird nur für mittlere Wertpapierinstitute gelten. Für kleine Wertpapierinstitute sieht das WpIG eine entsprechende Befreiung vor. Große Wertpapierinstitute unterliegen weiterhin der Instituts-Vergütungsverordnung nach dem KWG.

Die Wertpapierinstituts-Inhaberkontrollverordnung

Die WpI-IKV regelt, welche Informationen und Unterlagen bei einer im Rahmen des Erlaubnisverfahrens bzw. sonstigen Inhaberkontrolle eines Wertpapierinstituts bei der BaFin einzureichen sind. Inhaltlich orientiert sie sich an der Inhaberkontrollverordnung des KWG, ist aber wesentlich schlanker, da die Inhaberkontrolle bei Wertpapierfirmen seit einiger Zeit EU-weit einheitlich (Delegierte Verordnung (EU) 2017/1946) geregelt ist; so konkretisiert die WpI-IKV zum Teil (lediglich) die Vorgaben der Delegierten Verordnung (§ 6 WpI-IKV). Die WpI-IKV gilt für kleine, mittlere und große Wertpapierinstitute.

Die Wertpapierinstituts-Anzeigenverordnung

Die WpI-AnzV orientiert sich inhaltlich an der Anzeigeverordnung nach dem KWG (AnzV). Sie konkretisiert die Anzeigepflichten nach §§ 64 ff WpIG und verweist auf entsprechend zu verwendende Formulare, die sich im Anhang der WpI-AnzV befinden. Je nach konkreter Anzeigepflicht ist danach zu unterscheiden, ob z.B. alle Wertpapierinstitute verpflichtet sind (§ 64 WpIG), nur große Wertpapierinstitute (§ 65 WpIG), nur kleine und mittlere Wertpapierinstitute (§ 66 WpIG) oder die Geschäftsleiter eines Wertpapierinstituts (§ 67 WpIG). Die WpI-AnzV gilt deshalb, je noch konkreter Anzeigepflicht, für kleine, mittlere und große Wertpapierinstitute.

Fazit Die Mantelverordnung soll zusammen mit dem WpIG, also am 26. Juni 2021 in Kraft treten. Das neue Aufsichtsregime für Wertpapierfirmen nimmt damit nun endgültig konkrete Gestalt an. Durch die Mantelverordnung kann das WpIG nunmehr auch gut in der Praxis umgesetzt werden und den Besonderheiten der Wertpapierinstitute bzw. der von ihnen ausgehenden Risiken wird passgenau Rechnung getragen.