The National Futures Association (“NFA”) recently proposed an interpretive notice updating disclosure requirements for its members engaged in virtual currency (i.e. cryptocurrency) activities. Self-Regulatory Organizations are increasingly interested in their members’ activities in the emerging virtual currency market, with the NFA’s notice following on the heels of a FINRA Regulatory Notice encouraging its members to self-report their virtual currency activities. (See here for detail on FINRA’s notice).
The apparent catalyst for the NFA’s recent proposal was the launch of bitcoin futures by the CME and CBOE Futures Exchange in December 2017. Concerned that the growth of the market has attracted investors that may not fully appreciate the substantial risk of loss that may rise from trading virtual currencies, and the NFA’s limited regulatory oversight authority, the NFA developed the enhanced disclosure requirements for members.
According to the NFA’s interpretive notice, virtual currencies and virtual currency derivatives have a variety of unique and potentially significant risks. These risks include price volatility, valuation and liquidity sourcing issues as a result of the decentralized and opaque spot market, unregulated intermediaries and custodians, an uncertain regulatory landscape, and security of assets due to nascent technology. The proposed disclosures are intended to educate and warn customers of these unique risks.
As outlined, a member would have different disclosure requirements based upon its registration status, and virtual currency activities.
Futures Commission Merchants (“FCM”) and Introducing Brokers (“IB”)
Under the notice, FCMs and IBs engaged in virtual currency derivatives activities must provide both the NFA’s Investor Advisory Futures on Virtual Currencies Including Bitcoin, and the CFTC’s Customer Advisory Understanding the Risk of Virtual Currency Trading to any customer that is engaged, or intends to engage in, virtual currency derivative trading with or through the FCM or IB.
FCMs and IBs engaging in activities with customers or counterparties involving spot virtual currencies must provide customers and counterparties the standardized disclosure language outlined in the notice.
Commodity Pool Operators (“CPO”) and Commodity Trading Advisors (“CTA”)
CPOs and CTAs are required to draft and provide robust disclosures related to the risks of virtual currencies and virtual currency derivatives. To help ensure this, the notice provides guidelines of risks that a CPO/CTA must address, but the NFA cautions that the guidelines are not exhaustive, and members should tailor their disclosures to address the specific risks associated with the particular activity they intend to engage in.
For a CPO/CTA engaged in virtual currency transactions, it must provide not only standardized language outlined in the notice, but additional disclosures in their offering documents or promotional materials that address the following areas:
- Unique features of virtual currencies
- Price volatility
- Valuation and liquidity
- Opaque spot market
- Virtual currency exchanges, intermediaries and custodians
- Regulatory landscape
- Transaction fees
Finally, any CPO/CTA engaged in any manner in activities with customers or counterparties involving spot virtual currencies not outlined in the notice must provide an additional standardized risk disclosure.
The guidance will take effect in 10 days unless the CFTC initiates a review. The full text of the proposed interpretive notice can be found here.