Skip to main content

Big risks in ICO market: flawed token valuations, unclear regulations, heightened hacker attention and congested networks

A lack of fundamental valuation and the due diligence process by potential investors is leading to extreme volatility of the initial coin offering (ICO) market, according to new research published by EY. The research also found that in some cases ICO investors are contributing capital at an average rate of over US$300,000 per second.

The EY research, which studied 372 ICOs around the world, also found that the offerings raised US$3.7b[1] in funds, twice the volume of VC investments in blockchain projects. Furthermore, the US is leading the race with the highest volume of ICOs originating from the country (over US$1b). Russia and China follow, with each over US$300m.

Guru Malladi, Partner, Advisory Services, EY India said, “Many upcoming ventures are focusing on initial coin offerings (ICO) to raise funds for their projects, however, there is a risk of having the market swamped with quantity over quality of investments. Therefore, ICOs have been facing strict regulatory scrutiny in many countries. This is because ICOs allow the companies to raise large capital without going through the same kind of scrutiny that they might face while approaching venture capital investors, thereby increasing the risk to investor’s money. These high-risk investments and the complexity of ICOs need to be managed well to ensure their credibility as a means of raising capital for companies, entrepreneurs and investors alike.”

Utility tokens

One of the key findings from the EY research is that there may be no business need for many of the utility tokens being offered. Utility tokens are essentially a form of application-specific currency that blend the technology features of blockchains with a speculative component for investors where the tokens’ value will rise as usage increases.

In most cases, however, there is no need for an application-specific exchange token. Indeed, for companies that record their revenues and expenses in dollars or euros, settling intercompany liabilities with a volatile specialized currency adds complexity and risk without significant benefits. The core technologies and benefits of blockchain technologies can be applied to business operations without having to use proprietary digital currencies.

Valuations based on FOMO

Unlike initial public offerings (IPO) in the stock market, ICOs are sold into the market before a business around the solution exists. While some very promising companies have managed to IPO prior to having profits, they almost always have revenues and customers on which it is possible to build valuation models.

The typical ICO has no customers, no revenue and in most cases, no working product. Often the only foundation for the ICO is a white paper that describes the planned technology and a small piece of software that governs how the tokens are issued and managed. Valuations based solely on a white paper are always going to be risky and extremely speculative.

Congested networks

The research also analyzed more than 110 ICOs that have raised 87% of all funds so far. More than 70% were on the Ethereum platform, a public blockchain. It is not only the main platform for ICO, it also hosts a myriad of other distributed applications including the popular Cyrptokitties marketplace.

The result has been network congestion as traders and business operations compete for limited transaction slots. In the long-run, the Ethereum road map builds out a greater capacity for trading and transactions, according to the EY research. In the near-term, network congestion could pose an additional risk to investors.

Security and regulation

Investors face two other significant risks the research finds. The first is regulatory: different countries have varying levels of regulatory strictness for ICOs, leaving vulnerabilities in the market. As a result, those looking to conduct illegal activity with an offering could move to jurisdictions where regulators take a light touch approach toward ICOs.

The second risk is theft from hacking: more than 10% of ICO funds are lost or stolen in hacker attacks (almost US$400m). Hackers benefit from the hype, irreversibility of blockchain-based transactions and basic coding errors that, had the ICO been carefully reviewed by experienced developers and cybersecurity analysts, could have been avoided.

Funds are misappropriated via substituting project wallet addresses (phishing, site hacking), accessing private keys and stealing funds from wallets, or hacking stock exchanges and wallets; all on top of indirect losses caused by high reputational risks for project founders.

Guru Malladi added: “Blockchain technology has the potential to streamline and accelerate business processes, increase cybersecurity and reduce or eliminate the roles of trusted intermediaries. Blockchain has many more uses beyond just currency — for example, in financial services, transferring equities or other financial instruments in blockchain environments with potentially faster settlement at lower costs and in the automotive sector, blockchain hosting all-inclusive records of an automotive ecosystem, wherein ownership, financing, registration, insurance and service transactions could all be tracked together. The key impact of blockchain technologies is powerful decentralization and consensus. However, the debate remains with currency usage itself, which began with the rise of blockchain in the first place. Once new standards are in place that are accepted by all participants/stakeholders, the protection of investors and users alike has a greater chance of success.”

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Cloud Computing powering India’s priority of ‘Digital-first country’

By: Sunil Mahale, India MD and VP, Nutanix
Digital transformation has been recognized as being vital to the growth of our nation. This transformation has enjoyed the unanimous approval and contribution from all stake holders including enterprises, MSMEs, government bodies and citizens. But this level of adoption in a country with a population of over a billion people would need a robust technology base that is capable to collecting and distributing vital data seamlessly.
Digital India envisions creating high speed digital highways, that will impact commerce and create a digital footprint for every individual. Technologies based on mobility, analytics, Internet of things and most importantly, cloud technologies are the building blocks for the digital India missionThere is a growing need to manage huge volumes of data, and making them readily available to public through digital cloud services. Cloud has a pivotal role in enabling this change.
While Data centers have become crucial to th…

RevStart launches its RevItUp Incubation Programme

Underlining its vision of creating a nurturing ecosystem for start-ups to grow in, RevStart, a co-working and incubation centre, has announced the launch of its RevItUp Incubation Programme. The 12-week long programme will be held at RevStart Incubation Centre in Noida from July 1, 2018 onwards. As part of the programme, RevStart will select five high potential start-ups from the ed-tech sector, AI, Consumer Internet, Sustainability, as well as for-profit social impact companies to assist them with developing their business, along with connecting them to global mentors across industries and sectors. In addition, start-ups selected for the programme will receive INR 5 lakh to Rs. 25 lakhs worth of cash and benefits, while RevStart will get an equity stake in the ventures.
The RevItUp Incubation Programme has been created to enhance the founding team’s industry, product, and company building knowledge and capabilities through a world-class curriculum. The programme will focus on tailor…

Insurtech startup Kruzr raises $1.3 Million from Saama Capital and Better Capital

InsurTech startup Kruzr has raised 1.3 Million USD (Rs. 9.5 Cr) for its seed round led by Saama Capital with participation from Better Capital. Kruzr is a preventive motor insurance technology which helps insurance companies personalize policy premiums & improve their risk model by delivering an engaging preventative driving assistant to their customers. Kruzr is founded by Pallav Singh, Ayan, and Jasmeet Singh Sethi.

Kruzr blends the power of voice technology and artificial intelligence in its personal driving assistant that helps drivers minimize mobile distractions, drowsy driving, speeding and external risks like weather and accident-prone zones. In pilots with insurers, Kruzr managed to cut down distracted driving by 80%. Kruzr is working with motor insurance companies in Europe, UK and India to bring its technology to their customers to prevent accidents & improve claims.

“Road accidents cause over 1.3 million deaths globally every year, and motor insurance companies los…