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Crypto Compliance or Overreach? SEC's Kraken Crusade Sparks Industry Debate

source-logo  financemagnates.com 21 November 2023 17:45, UTC

In a significant development, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has charged Payward Inc. and Payward Ventures Inc., collectively known as Kraken, for operating its crypto trading platform as an unregistered securities exchange, broker, dealer, and clearing agency. The SEC alleges that Kraken has unlawfully facilitated the buying and selling of crypto asset securities, amassing hundreds of millions of dollars in violation of securities laws.

According to the SEC's complaint, Kraken's unconventional blend of functions—acting as an exchange, broker, dealer, and clearing agency—has been executed without the required registration with the Commission. This lack of registration has left investors without essential protections, including SEC inspection, recordkeeping oversight, and safeguards against conflicts of interest.

The complaint outlines specific actions by Kraken, asserting that the platform provides a marketplace for securities trading, executes transactions for its customers, engages in buying and selling securities for its own account, and acts as an intermediary in settling transactions in crypto asset securities. The SEC also raises concerns about Kraken's business practices, deficient internal controls, and questionable recordkeeping, emphasizing potential risks for its customers.

“…incorrect as a matter of law, false as a matter of fact, and disastrous as a matter of policy”: Kraken Responds Defiantly

In response to the SEC's charges, Kraken released a statement vehemently disputing the allegations. The company asserts its intention to vigorously defend its position in court, emphasizing that the SEC's complaint contains no accusations of fraud, market manipulation, customer losses due to security breaches, or breaches of fiduciary duty.

Today, the SEC filed a complaint alleging that Kraken operates as an unregistered national securities exchange, broker, and clearing house. We disagree with their claims and plan to vigorously defend our position. https://t.co/a0C4wzBo3f

— Kraken Exchange (@krakenfx) November 21, 2023

Kraken's statement underscores that the SEC's case hinges on a technical argument, asserting that the platform requires special securities licenses due to the nature of the digital assets it supports. Kraken rejects this premise as legally incorrect, factually false, and detrimental to the broader regulatory landscape.

Legal Precedent and Congressional Action

Kraken draws attention to a previous case where the SEC's attempt to categorize digital assets as securities transactions was rejected by the Federal Court for the Southern District of New York. The statement argues that the SEC's current case against Kraken is destined to fail for the same reasons—failure to satisfy legal tests and misalignment with the economic reality of digital asset transactions.

Furthermore, Kraken emphasizes the absence of a regulatory framework provided by the SEC for digital asset transactions, stating that the agency's demand for compliance is unsupported by existing laws and regulations. The company points out that congressional action is underway, with bipartisan bills in progress to establish clear registration and oversight frameworks for centralized trading platforms.

Kraken Founder Lambasts SEC Amidst Legal Battle

Jesse Powell, co-founder of Kraken, launched a scathing attack on the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) after the regulatory body filed a lawsuit against the cryptocurrency exchange, alleging securities law violations. Powell referred to the SEC as "USA's top decel" in a post on X (formerly Twitter), a term used in tech circles to insult someone impeding progress. He claimed the SEC, dissatisfied with the $30 million settlement in February, is now seeking further action against Kraken.

Message is clear: $30m buys you about 10 months before the SEC comes around to extort you again. Lawyers can do a lot with $30m but the SEC knows that a real fight will likely cost $100m+, and valuable time. If you can't afford it, get your crypto company out of the US warzone.

— Jesse Powell (@jespow) November 21, 2023

Powell's posts on social media emphasized the SEC's persistent pursuit of regulatory action against Kraken, despite the earlier settlement. He questioned the SEC's motives and stated, "Now they're back for seconds?" The co-founder warned other crypto companies about the challenges of operating in the "US warzone," suggesting that leaving the U.S. could be a strategic move to avoid costly legal battles.

Potential Harm to U.S. Crypto Market

As regulatory scrutiny intensifies, the actions of the SEC might inadvertently drive investors away from the already turbulent U.S. crypto market and toward more stable jurisdictions.

Impact on Investor Confidence

The SEC's persistent legal actions against Kraken, despite a previous settlement, could undermine investor confidence in the U.S. crypto market. Investors may perceive regulatory uncertainty and continuous legal challenges as obstacles to the growth and stability of the market, potentially leading them to explore alternative jurisdictions for crypto investments.

Global Competition and Innovation

As regulatory authorities worldwide grapple with how to approach cryptocurrencies, some jurisdictions are adopting more accommodative frameworks to attract crypto businesses and investors. The SEC's stringent stance and legal actions against prominent players like Kraken may prompt crypto companies to consider relocating to jurisdictions with clearer and more favorable regulatory environments. This shift could result in a loss of innovation and economic benefits for the U.S. as crypto firms seek friendlier regulatory climates.

Impact on Market Dynamics

The ongoing legal battle might contribute to the perception that the U.S. is falling behind in embracing the transformative potential of blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Investors seeking a more predictable regulatory landscape may divert their funds to markets where regulatory clarity and support for innovation are more evident, potentially affecting the dynamics of the U.S. crypto market.

Investor Flight to Stable Jurisdictions

The cryptocurrency market operates on a global scale, allowing investors to choose from a variety of jurisdictions for their crypto activities. If the U.S. continues to face regulatory challenges and legal uncertainties, investors may opt for jurisdictions that are perceived as more stable and crypto-friendly. This could lead to a flight of capital from the U.S. market, impacting its competitiveness in the evolving crypto landscape.

Need for Regulatory Clarity

The SEC's actions highlight the urgent need for regulatory clarity and a comprehensive framework for cryptocurrencies in the U.S. A more transparent and accommodating regulatory approach could foster innovation, attract investment, and position the U.S. as a leader in the rapidly growing crypto industry.


The SEC's legal actions against Kraken have broader implications for the U.S. crypto market. Striking a balance between investor protection and fostering innovation is crucial for the sustainable growth of the crypto ecosystem. Regulatory authorities must work collaboratively with industry participants to develop frameworks that address risks while providing the clarity necessary for investors to confidently engage in the dynamic world of cryptocurrencies. Failure to do so may result in investors seeking refuge in jurisdictions perceived as more welcoming to the crypto industry, potentially hampering the growth of the U.S. market.