The threat of S.E.C. scrutiny already had scuttled plans by Coinbase, the largest U.S.-based cryptocurrency exchange, to launch a loan product.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has reached a $100 million settlement with BlockFi Lending over registration failures, the first since the regulator warned last fall that it would take action against cryptocurrency firms offering loan products that failed to register them as securities or to register themselves as investment companies.
“Today’s settlement makes clear that crypto markets must comply with time-tested securities laws, such as the Securities Act of 1933 and the Investment Company Act of 1940,” the S.E.C.’s chair, Gary Gensler, said in a statement on Monday.
Since March 2019, BlockFi, based in New Jersey, has been offering customers a chance to lend the company digital assets and earn interest on those loans, the commission said. Regulators said the program was essentially an investment contract, in which customers lent their money with the promise they would be repaid more at a later time. BlockFi should have registered them as securities and should have registered itself as an investment company, the S.E.C. found.
While the settlement was the first of its kind, the threat of S.E.C. scrutiny already had scuttled plans by Coinbase, the largest U.S.-based cryptocurrency exchange, to launch a similar loan product. Coinbase executives argued that its new product should not count as a security, but they canceled their plans for an interest-generating Lend product in September
BlockFi’s chief executive, Zac Prince, said that the settlement was a step forward.
“Today’s milestone is yet another example of our pioneering efforts in securing regulatory clarity for the broader industry and our clients, just as we did for our first product — the crypto-backed loan,” Mr. Prince said in a statement.
BlockFi was preparing to offer a new version of its loan product called BlockFi Yield, which would adhere to S.E.C. rules, Mr. Prince said.
“We intend for BlockFi Yield to be a new, S.E.C.-registered, crypto interest-bearing security, which will allow clients to earn interest on their crypto assets,” he said.
The company said existing customers of its current loan product, BlockFi Interest Accounts, would be able to keep their outstanding loans going and would earn interest as usual, but they would not be able to add to their positions. The company also said it would stop offering that product to new U.S. customers. BlockFi has 60 days to meet the S.E.C.’s registration requirements. Half of the $100 million settlement will go to the S.E.C., while the other half will go to 32 states where regulators had brought similar charges against BlockFi, the commission said.