Stock market principles needed in crypto world: SEC official

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The cryptocurrency trading marketplace could be improved by applying some of the principles from the stock market such as best execution and surveillance, a senior U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission official said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Jay Clayton testifies at a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on his nomination of to be chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S. on March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

While the cryptocurrency market is still evolving, it resembles a sort of “Wild West,” said Brett Redfearn, who heads SEC’s trading and markets division, and the regulator has a number of concerns it would like to see addressed.

Key among the SEC’s concerns are fraud, market manipulation, theft, cybersecurity, terrorist financing and money laundering, he said at a financial technology conference in New York held by the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation.

SEC Chairman Jay Clayton has said he generally considers initial coin offerings, or ICOs, to be securities offerings subject to certain regulatory requirements.

There are some 1,500 cryptocurrencies trading currently, and the SEC has repeatedly warned investors to exercise caution when considering getting involved in new ICOs, especially as many of the online crypto-trading platforms resemble highly regulated stock exchanges.

“There are no registered exchanges, there are no registered ATSs (Alternative Trading Venues) trading any of these products,” said Redfearn, a former JPMorgan Chase executive. “That is a very big concern for us,” he said, stressing that while the SEC does not want to stifle innovation, it has a duty to protect investors.

Redfearn also said the SEC’s enforcement division is “very busy” looking into the slew of recent ICOs.

The cryptocurrency market resembles the equities market in the 1990s when electronic trading venues known as ECNs (electronic trading networks) began popping up, with prices that were not always aligned with each other, he said. But rules evolved and the equities market has since become much more efficient.

“I’m not sure all of the rules would translate over, but there are certainly principles that exist in that space that we have to then apply in some respect to what’s happening with crypto-asset trading,” Redfearn said of the equities market.

Those principles include defining best execution, and protecting against fraud, market manipulation and theft, he said.

Reporting by John McCrank, editing by G Crosse