Last week, I attended the Chamber of Digital Commerce’s annual Blockchain Summit, held at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. Although there are hundreds of blockchain conferences to choose from these days, the Chamber’s summit stood out because of its focus on policy and regulation, and because of the current and former regulators and legislators that attended and shared their views. A number of technologists, entrepreneurs, lawyers and bureaucrats spoke as well.
Notably – as indicated by the title of this post – the Blockchain Summit took itself a little more seriously this year. One speaker quipped that there were more suits and less hoodies at the Summit this year, a testament to the maturing industry and increased legitimization of digital currencies and blockchain technology.
Here are the highlights:
Support for a Cryptocurrency SRO: In one of the keynote addresses, CFTC Commissioner Brian Quintenz expressed his support, again, for a self-regulatory organization (SRO) to police and set guidelines for the cryptocurrency industry (much like the National Futures Association polices the futures industry and FINRA policies the securities industry). Days later, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (founders of the bitcoin exchange Gemini) outlined a proposal for the so-called Virtual Commodity Association, an industry-sponsored SRO for the U.S. virtual currency industry, which would include virtual currency exchanges and custodians as its members. Quintenz subsequently went on record as supporting this idea (or one like it). Judging by the amount of applause he received at the Summit on this topic, it is safe to say that the industry supports this idea as well – and this is not the last we’ll be hearing of this idea.
Industry-Led Guidance for ICOs Coming Soon: At a panel on token issuances and initial coin offerings (ICOs), the participants discussed an initiative by the Chamber of Digital Commerce called the Token Alliance. In the coming weeks, the Token Alliance expects to issue “community-driven best practices and standards for the responsible issuance of tokens,” which will be welcome guidance for blockchain companies considering an ICO. Although this guidance will not have the weight of law, it may help industry participants understand what steps their peers are taking to comply with securities regulations, and also serve as a compendium for lawmakers and regulators if and when they decide to set forth any bright line rules related to ICOs.
Members of Congress Push Back on Over-Regulation: Two members of the Congressional Blockchain Caucus (launched just over a year ago) – Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) and Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN) – gave keynote addresses at the Summit. Notably, Rep. Emmer argued against regulatory overreach in the blockchain industry, and encouraged the U.S. to consider the Japanese model, in which only one regulatory body has jurisdiction over digital currencies, rather than the “dozen or so [U.S.] agencies that are all trying to grab for a piece of the jurisdiction…” Similarly, Rep. Schweikert warned that too many rules and regulations in the blockchain space could obstruct innovation. He is particularly focused on the taxation of digital currency transactions, and recently introduced a bill along with Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) that would exempt small purchases paid for with digital currency from taxation.
Blockchain Entrepreneurs Give a Glimpse into the Future: Finally, it is worth noting the entrepreneurs and innovators that spoke at the Summit were an impressive group. They covered topics ranging from supply chain management (specifically, how to make the champagne supply chain more efficient), enterprise blockchain, cross-exchange digital currency transactions, digital identity, smart contracts, artificial intelligence applications of blockchain technology, and more. While digital currencies tend to get more attention than the underlying blockchain technology, it was clear from the DC Blockchain Summit that going forward, the real star of the show will be the technology itself – and the myriad applications that these innovators are conceiving.
I am looking forward to attending the DC Blockchain Summit again next year, and curious to see how the conversation changes in that 12-month period!