Initial Coin Offering
A Legal Work Plan
Switzerland is currently in the midst of the global crypto-finance boom and Swiss-related Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) are attracting worldwide attention. The high volume of ICOs held in Switzerland (as illustrated by the graphs below) suggests a fintechfriendly legal environment. Switzerland is an attractive jurisdiction for innovators to conduct an ICO.
However, ICO founders, issuers and operators as well as banks that offer services in connection with ICOs are well-advised to thoroughly check each ICO project in advance for compliance with financial market and securities regulations as well as the respective tax implications resulting from such an endeavor.
In this context, this publication presents a general step plan detailing in a chronological order the envisaged legal work relating to the implementation of an ICO project.
We estimate the realistic time horizon for a legally compliant ICO to be ranging between 9 and 12 months given that an ICO regularly challenges different legal disciplines. This includes corporate and contractual law with regard to the set-up of the token issuer, the fund flow and the legal establishment of the token itself as well as regulatory and tax law with regard to the issuance and trading of tokens.
Baker McKenzie Zurich offers its clients legal services anticipating a multitude of legal challenges in a complex environment. Our interdisciplinary professionals work with the support of an international project management team in a cost-efficient manner.
In addition to traditional settlement methods, we also offer innovative fee models that reduce the entrepreneurial risk for our clients.
Top 15 national ICO markets in the world
All time ICO volume by country
Russian Federation United States Switzerland Singapore Israel
United Kingdom Gibraltar France Lithuania Serbia Estonia Australia Spain Argentina
$980'004'024 $811'282'744 $514'775'825 $313'182'830 $167'370'000 $131'041'953 $117'480'000 $78'050'000 $54'050'000 $53'070'000 $34'717'899 $30'500'000 $26'660'000 $26'290'000 $24'990'000
Source: icowatchlist.com/statistics (as of June 2018)
Global ICO volume per month
$2'000'000'000 $1'800'000'000 $1'600'000'000 $1'400'000'000 $1'200'000'000 $1'000'000'000
$800'000'000 $600'000'000 $400'000'000 $200'000'000
$0 Apr May June July Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar 17 17 17 17 17 17 17 17 17 18 18 18
Source: www.coinist.io (as of June 2018)
This publication presents a work plan describing in a chronological order the legal work typically required in connection with ICOs and illustrates the usual work products to be developed in this context. The work plan is divided into the following six phases:
The first phase focuses on information gathering and the mutual clarification of the tokenomics.
2. STRUCTURING 3. AUTHORITIES
The second phase concentrates on the tax and corporate structure.
The third phase mainly deals with regulatory pre-approval from relevant authorities.
4. LEGAL DOCUMENTATION
5. ROADSHOW 2-3 months 6. ICO
The fourth phase entails drafting and execution of legal documents and the implementation of the envisaged legal structure.
The fifth phase focuses on continued legal support and guidance on compliance issues during the ICO roadshow.
The sixth phase involves the launch of the ICO and the collection of funds. Hereby we focus on the operational realization of the previously developed concept.
Please note that the technical implementation is not part of this work plan.
Legal Focus No. Steps 1.1 Questionnaire
Initial description of ICO project and involved parties
Clarification of ICO project
1.3 Cost estimate Setting out the cost framework
1.4 Engagement Defining the scope of work and the
conditions of our engagement
Duration: 2-3 weeks
Work Products Engagement letter Slide deck on project summary
The main focus of the first phase lies on the clarification and specification of the planned ICO project. It is essential to understand the business case, the underlying technology, and the tokenomics of the ICO project in order to be able to identify the initial red flags. This will allow the design of a legal structure fitting the needs of the project from the start. As a general rule, it is essential to identify the following:
Identification of legal entities and persons involved (founder, token issuer, token seller, trading participants): name, address, email, website
Name of token
Target ICO market participants (geographical distribution of investors)
Cryptocurrencies (or legal tender) to finance ICO
Determination of business model (platform, project financing, cryptocurrency, investment vehicle, altruistic vs. profit-oriented)
Key features of service
Which market participants (investors) does the ICO target?
Restrictions relating to investors
Underlying Technology New or existing technologies used Technology Partner
Type of Token
There is no generally recognized classification of tokens. The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority FINMA has determined the following categorization based on the underlying economic function of a token:
Payment Token used as means of payment (money, value transfer).
Utility Token provide access to a digital application or service on a blockchainbased infrastructure.
Asset Token represent assets such as ownership in physical assets, shares in companies or claims. Asset token enable effects, including tangible assets, to be traded on the blockchain.
Hybrid Token combine more than one of the aforementioned token types due to a combination of their feature.
Areas of legal focus
Jurisdiction and applicable law
Acceptance of public deposits
Liability questions/indemnification strategies/insurance options
Withholding tax issues, transfer pricing, applicable double taxation agreement (DBA)
US securities law
Legal Focus No. Steps 2.1 Corporate/
Description Design legal structure
Duration: 1-2 months Work Products
Determine tax residence
Assessment of applicable
regulations and identification of
Allocation and registration of IP
Slide deck on proposed legal structure and legal steps
Transfer price study, if deemed necessary
The main focus of the second phase lies on the legal structuring of the planned ICO project and the issuing entity. A clear legal structure is the essential backbone of every successful ICO. We qualify an ICO as successful if the envisaged funds can be collected, these collected funds can be used as required and none of the ICO participant, in particular the founders, are facing the threat of civil and criminal sanctions, especially in the U.S.
The legal entity type of the token issuer has to be determined carefully. In the past, the Swiss foundation was regularly used. The foundation has certain advantages, but also challenges regarding profit-oriented projects when it comes to the use of funds. Regularly, the remuneration of the ICO participants providing services to the foundation and the consideration paid by the latter for IP raises various legal and tax challenges. In such cases, different legal entities connected by a tax streamlined contractual network might provide a suitable solution. However, traditional legal entity types like the limited liability company and the company limited by shares offer more flexibility and simpler procedures for the acceptance of new shareholders and the transfer of ownership.
The issuance of a token may trigger various tax consequences. Depending on the token type, the main focus is on profit tax, value added tax and possibly withholding tax. The tax consequences mainly depend on the tax residence of the token issuer and other relevant ICO participants.
Whether an ICO falls within the scope of Swiss financial market regulation has to be determined carefully in each individual case, as the answer to this question depends on the functionalities and rights of the offered token.
It can be essential to obtain a no enforcement action letter from the competent market supervisory authorities to prevent regulatory enforcement procedures that may be initiated a few years after the ICO project.
2.4 Intellectual Property (IP)
The early patenting or copyright treatment of IP enables effective protection against unjustified interference by third parties and facilitates its recognition on the balance sheet.
As part of an initial analysis, current and future IP is evaluated for their protection worthiness and, if necessary, appropriate registration procedures are initiated.
Legal Focus No. Steps 3.1 FINMA
Description No enforcement action letter
Duration: 2-3 months Work Products
Federal and Cantonal tax rulings
3.2 Commercial Pre-approval of corporate
FINMA no enforcement action letter
Pre-approval(s) of commercial registry
The main focus of the third phase lies on clearance of the entire legal implementation of the ICO by the competent Swiss authorities. Of course, depending on the ICO structure, foreign authorities might also have to be involved. It is often vital to get preapproval(s)/no enforcement action letter from authorities before implementing an ICO.
The two relevant authorities relating to ICOs performed out of Switzerland are the Swiss Financial
4. Legal Documentation
Market Supervisory Authority and the tax authorities. In addition, we recommend to get pre-approval by the competent Swiss commercial registry before setting up any legal entities.
While FINMA will determine which regulatory framework is applicable to the token, the tax authorities will assess the tax consequences of the token issuance, the use of the collected funds and of the transfer of tokens.
Legal Focus No. Steps 4.1 Corporate/
Due diligence with focus on preexisting relevant legal entities and contracts; draft legal documents; prepare/review white paper (prospectus in case of securities offerings)
Due diligence with focus on preexisting legal entities; coordination of KYC obligations; prepare/review white paper (prospectus in case of securities offerings)
Due diligence with focus on existing IP rights; prepare documentation for registration/transfer of IP
Duration: 2-3 months
Work Products DD Report White paper or prospectus Legal documentation
The forth phase deals with the preparation of the legal structure and its implementation after all rulings and no enforcement action letters have been received.
Of course, it is possible to start with the drafting of the relevant legal documents like corporate deeds, contracts and the white paper or prospectus (in case of securities offering) before the filing of the tax ruling(s) and the pre-approval request(s) addressed to the competent commercial registry in order to meet the proposed timing.
However, the execution and publication of such documentation is regularly subject to the approval of the competent authorities. Otherwise, there might be a risk that the ICO project is jeopardized.
Legal Focus No. Steps 5.1 Corporate/
Additional general legal advice, in particular in response to investors questions
Supervision of road show documentation
Additional advice on registration and licensing of IP, in particular in response to investors questions
Duration: 2 months
Work Products Continued legal advice
When issuing an asset token incorrect statements regarding future sales and earnings of the token issuer during a roadshow may form a basis for liability. In the context of securities offerings, the white paper/full-fledged prospectus published is the cornerstone of investor communication and expectation management.
During the fifth phase we therefore offer the possibility of subjecting all communication with investors to a legal review in order to avoid statements which could possibly give rise to liability.
6. ICO Fundraising
Legal Focus No. Steps
5.1 Corporate/ Contract
Description Signing of remaining documents
Completion of registrations
Duration: 2-3 months
Work Products Continued legal advice
After successful completion of the structuring, the sixth and final phase constitutes the effective performance of the ICO through which tokens are issued for the agreed consideration.
Based on the previous preparatory work, the collected funds will be immediately available for operational usage.
Baker McKenzie's diverse and international team remains at the disposition should any post-ICO legal questions arise.
Baker McKenzie helps clients overcome the challenges of competing in the global economy.
We solve complex legal problems across borders and practice areas. Our unique culture, developed over 65 years, enables our 13,000 people to understand local markets and navigate multiple jurisdictions, working together as trusted colleagues and friends to instill confidence in our clients.
For further information on ICOs in Switzerland, please contact our Zurich cryptofinance team:
Dr. Matthias Courvoisier Partner +41 44 384 13 40 matthias.courvoisier @bakermckenzie.com
Dr. Manuel Meyer Partner +41 44 384 14 65 manuel.meyer @bakermckenzie.com
Dr. Ansgar Schott Partner +41 44 384 12 51 ansgar.schott @bakermckenzie.com
Dr. Yves Mauchle Associate +41 44 384 14 12 yves.mauchle @bakermckenzie.com
2018 Baker McKenzie. All rights reserved. Baker & McKenzie International is a global law firm with member law firms around the world. In accordance with the common terminology used in professional service organizations, reference to a "partner" means a person who is a partner or equivalent in such a law firm. Similarly, reference to an "office" means an office of any such law firm. This may qualify as "Attorney Advertising" requiring notice in some jurisdictions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.