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Understanding Security Tokens
Blockchain is one of the most rapidly growing digital technologies in recent history, and its revolutionary decentralized model is being adopted by a wide range of industries. With the total Security Token market crossing $1 Bn in total volumes in July 2021, the discussion around how security tokens can transform and enable access to otherwise inaccessible private markets has been growing. Security tokens are essentially digital contracts that are blockchain-based protocols embedded in the network for fractions of any existing asset, such as real estate, a car, or corporate stock.
When investors use security tokens, their ownership stake is recorded on the blockchain ledger. With their ability to demonstrate value, security tokens have the potential to disrupt traditional financial markets in favor of newer, more hybrid blockchain models. They combine the merits of blockchain technology and regulated securities market, offering a wide range of financial assets including fractional ownership opportunities which allow investors to trade even the most illiquid assets like private shares, real estate, art, and even esoteric assets like vintage cars.
Owing to these benefits, there has been increasing adoption of STO in both public and private markets, so much so that some expect it to even outperform the traditional markets in the next 5–10 years.
Evolution of STOs and their Growth
The idea of STOs evolved from Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) which serve as utility tokens distributed to raise capital from investors. ICOs may even involve the use of virtual assets that are yet to be built on the ecosystem. Since the launch of Ethereum in 2014, ICOs were successfully issued for several securities till 2016. However, with its success, the number of scams in the ICO market also increased with about 80% of the ICO projects deemed to be a fraud. These issues led to the development of STOs as they provide a shield of compliance, regulation, and tokenization to digital assets transactions.
The roots for STOs were set up in 2017, and it started to gain traction in 2018 with a total of 28 STOs raising a collective value of $442 Mn during the year. As per PWC’s 6th ICO/ STO report, over $4 Bn was raised through 380 token offerings in the year 2020. Tokenization of assets and the subsequent market for STOs is expected to witness exponential growth in the future, growing at a CAGR of 59% during the period 2019–2030.
How Do Security Tokens Work?
Making a security token entails reserving and naming your token symbol, developing a token that can enforce regulatory compliance through programming, and minting and distributing the token to investors. When an off-chain traditional financial asset is represented on-chain, it becomes a tokenized security. Tokenizing an existing share certificate is a good example. An issuer creates a security token that represents a claim to ownership in a company. The issuer then creates a whitelist of wallet addresses (typically Ethereum) of investors who are permitted to purchase stock in the company or invest in the concerned security. All individuals on the whitelist must demonstrate that they comply with the restrictions for that specific security.
If you try to trade a security token with a counterparty, the Issuer will check to see if they are whitelisted. If they are, the transaction is completed. If not, it will display an error message and you will be unable to complete the transaction. This is possible through smart contracts, or autonomous contracts on the Blockchain, which give the ability to be automated and transacted with little cost and in a short amount of time. Security tokens, in contrast to the majority of other crypto assets, are not bearer instruments. Because anyone who obtains your Bitcoin private key has the ability to spend your Bitcoin, it is a bearer instrument.
The security token is an electronic representation of the security rather than the security itself, hence cannot be stolen. No one can transfer a token to their wallet unless it is whitelisted; otherwise, they would have gone through KYC/AML and you would have known who they were. Hence, security tokens are well secured.
Types of Security Tokens and their Acceptability
· Equity Tokens — The ownership of an item, like corporate stock or debt, is represented by equity tokens.
· Asset-backed Tokens — This is a blockchain-based token that is linked to a tangible or intangible object of significant value.
· Utility Tokens — Utility tokens give users access to a product or service at a later time. Companies can utilize these to raise funds for blockchain project development.
· Debt Tokens — Debt tokens are the equivalent of a short-term loan with an interest rate based on the amount borrowed by the company. Example — Steem.
How are security tokens transforming the private markets?
Due to limited access, opaque pricing, intermediaries, high minimums of $100K+, limited liquidity choices, time-consuming and burdensome legalities, and other factors, non-institutional investors are unable to have easy and direct access to high-quality private market investment possibilities.
Security tokens allow investors to buy, sell, and swap rights to shares of private corporations using digital tokens, overcoming the problems in the secondary market for private equity. It’s critical that it records, issues, and validates sales all at once. This benefits both existing secondary market investors and makes secondary markets more accessible to a wider group of investors. It ensures transparent ownership and pricing.
A digital token would allow an investor to sell security far more readily than actual shares in a startup (which require notarial acts or intermediaries). We’re talking about a type of investment that combines the safety and security of reality — owing to a stable value represented by a real asset — with the investment simplicity of the blockchain world, which requires no notary deeds or lengthy processes to manage securities, but only a digital wallet! Investing in private markets is as easy as in public markets.
Benefits of Security Tokens
· Improves accessibility to real-world digitized assets
With a total of $256 Tn in real-world assets available globally, asset classes such as fine arts and real estate have numerous opportunities to open up trading spheres and be traded easily and quickly with STOs.
· Enabling Fractional ownership
Security tokens can be used to raise cash for large-scale investments. The value of a costly art collection can be split down into fractions and distributed to a large number of investors using security tokens. The security token investors would benefit from the increase in the value of art collectibles. People can build their portfolios without having to spend a big sum of money since security tokens allow investors to acquire fractions of fine art or collectibles. However, semantics, such as dividing the value into fractional ownership, must be addressed.
· Provides Increased Liquidity
Liquidity is determined by the number of traders (sellers and buyers) in a particular market. Accelerating transactions and fractional ownership through asset tokenization has the potential to increase liquidity by allowing more people to enter the investment space and buy/sell at higher volumes. Security tokens increase liquidity by making it easier to buy and sell in a market or underlying asset that is not available or difficult to buy or sell. Security token offerings are a win-win situation in terms of overall liquidity when it comes to asset classes that were illiquid in nature.
The status of a security token transaction can be tracked from start to finish, and all parties involved have access to an up-to-date golden source of truth on-chain. With an up-to-date record, it reduces record-keeping disputes and the need for parties to reconcile.
· Reduces Cost
Security tokens aim to eliminate intermediaries and simplify investing for investors. Chainiumu, a crowdfunding platform, was created with the sole purpose of connecting investors to investors without the use of go-betweens. In the long run, this will increase accountability and transparency. With an STO, businesses can enable investment through tokenization. Because smart contracts can embed trading restrictions into a token, the cost of an IPO or other securities trading can be significantly reduced.
Major projects in the STO space
BTG Pactual, Latin America’s third-largest investment bank, and Dalma Capital, a Dubai-based asset manager, announced plans to launch security token offerings on the Tezos blockchain in 2019. According to a press release, the banks hope to “address a deal pipeline of more than $1 Bn for existing and prospective token issuances.”
tZERO is a technology company whose mission is to democratize access to private capital markets. It is a subsidiary of Medici Ventures, Overstock.com, Inc.’s blockchain-focused wholly-owned subsidiary. tZero was created to provide more legitimacy and oversight to initial coin offerings (ICOs), as well as to allow businesses to create and issue tokenized assets for investors. tZero, unlike other decentralized blockchain platforms, has been designated as an alternative trading system (ATS) and is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).
The platform’s primary goal is to assist traditional financial securities in integrating with blockchain technology. Polymath is based on the fact that tangible assets are being drawn towards being a part of blockchain technology, which is primarily powered by its native token (Poly). Polymath is made up of four core layers that define token creation and adherence to the operating guidelines. These include the Protocol layer, Application layer, Legal layer, and Exchange layer.
In general, the protocol layer is in charge of all platform computation. The application layer, on the other hand, allows users to generate their security tokens. Those who want to create tokens on the forum can get help from the legal layer. Finally, the exchange layer functions more like a closed-end KYC/AML accreditation, providing users with instant liquidity for their assets.
Developments that needs to be catered in the long run
· Wider acceptability
STOs will take time to gain trust due to the poor reputation of ICOs in the market. To be accepted by the mass, major financial institutions must vouch for STOs. This would take some time, even with the security of regulatory requirements. The time has come to impose regulatory requirements that will act as an excellent first line of defense and protect investors.
· Integrating systems and requirements
Companies will be responsible for developing data transport protocols and interfaces, as well as writing and maintaining the existing system architecture. This may necessitate the use of specialized skill sets, which will increase costs in terms of both human resources and system enhancements to interface with SSTO-specific blockchain technologies.
A glimpse of the future
It is clear that significant changes are already taking place in the realm of finance and investing, and many of them have the potential to be beneficial. This is especially true for people who are enthusiastic about blockchain technology and the opportunities it provides. Security Tokens combine blockchain technology with the requirements of regulated securities markets to facilitate asset liquidity and financial accessibility. These tokens are regulated securities that are issued in the form of digital tokens in a blockchain ecosystem. Through automation and “smart contracts,” the blockchain environment promotes securities regulatory objectives of disclosure, fairness, and market integrity, as well as innovation and efficiency. The security token market cap increased by more than 500% in 2020, and the best is yet to come for security token offerings. Securities, which are traded financial assets such as equities, debt, and more, can become even more effective by employing blockchain as a foundation.
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