The Growth of Security Tokens in 2018
2018 was meant to be the year of security tokens. The number of projects seeking to launch security token offerings (STOs) would mushroom, we were told, and a string of accredited trading venues would emerge where these instruments could be exchanged. The release of two new reports into the STO market provides an opportunity to reflect on whether security tokens have lived up to the hype.
The Quest to Securitize the World
When the utility token craze took off in 2017, raising billions of dollars through initial coin offerings (ICOs), skeptics predicted that the mania couldn’t last. Many of these so-called utility tokens, it was claimed, were actually securities, and it was only a matter of time until a lettered agency such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission stepped in to call a halt to proceedings. In the event, the demise of the utility token has had less to do with enforcement, and more to do with market conditions that have made it virtually impossible for ICOs to raise funds. A string of underperforming ICOs, including several that were outright scams and others that simply failed to deliver, have blunted public appetite for this fundraising mechanism.
STOs have the potential to overcome several of the drawbacks to ICOs, including the regulatory uncertainty. Because security tokens represent a claim to an asset, such as equity, investors have a degree of reassurance that, in the event of the project faltering, they will have legal redress. This contrasts with utility tokens, which are sold on the understanding that they may be worth nothing and that holders have zero claim to any sort of assets. Two new reports from Hashgard and ICOrating.com provide an insight into the health of the nascent security token market.
STOs See Modest Growth in Q3
ICOrating.com reports that STOs saw a steady increase in interest during Q2 and Q3 of 2018. The share of projects offering a security token increased by a slender 1.66 percent in Q3 over the previous quarter, while the number of projects offering utility tokens decreased by 10 percent. One impediment to projects seeking to launch an STO is a shortage of platforms that are capable of listing their token. Until traditional cryptocurrency exchanges, including a number of Malta-based entities, receive approval to sell securities to accredited investors, a handful of platforms will hold sway.
Leading security trading platforms and frameworks include Tzero, Polymath, Swarm, Harbor, Securitize and Securrency. Different exchanges often use different token standards to facilitate the trading of security tokens. In the case of Polymath, for instance, it’s the ST20 protocol for Ethereum-based tokens. Startengine, meanwhile, has introduced its own ERC1450 standard for digital stock certificates. “To date, we have issued ERC1450 tokens to all 3,500 Startengine shareholders, and there are 165 more eligible companies that use Startengine Secure and are expected to be listed on the ERC1450 smart contract,” explained CEO Howard Marks.
2019 — the Real Year of Security Tokens?
Significant progress has been made over the last 10 months in developing security token standards, trading platforms, and obtaining regulatory approval. In terms of capital raised, however, STOs have yet to make any major headway. Singapore’s Blockchain Capital raised $10 million via STO, while other security token projects include high-tech investment fund Spice VC and incubator fund Science Blockchain. Many other aspiring STO projects are still waiting patiently for the SEC to approve their Reg A+ application that will enable them to sell security tokens to the public.
As a demand for utility tokens continues to decrease, expect to see security tokens outstrip them and become the preferred fundraising method for tokenized projects. From a building perspective, this year has recorded plenty of headway in the security token market. Predictions of 2018 being the year of the security token look to have been overstated however. It seems likelier that accolade will go to 2019 instead.