CFTC vs. SEC in the backdrop of Senate’s bipartisan crypto proposal

August 04, 2022 12:51 PM AEST | By Ankit Sethi
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  • The CFTC and the SEC are two different regulatory agencies in the US under different legislations
  • The proposed Senate bill, which has bipartisan support, can give more powers to the CFTC
  • The SEC had recently begun insider trading proceedings against one Ishan Wahi and accomplices

What is a cryptocurrency? Is it a digital currency that uses blockchain tech, or is it like a listed stock of some company, or is it a precious commodity like gold?

No two regulators around the world seem to have an identical definition of the term cryptocurrency. A few definitions can even be in contradiction to each other. The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has not used the word ‘commodity’ while answering the question “what are crypto assets” on its website. By contrast, under the Income Tax Act of Canada, cryptos are considered a commodity.

The definition debate aside, a new debate can erupt over which is the apt regulatory authority to oversee the cryptoverse in any jurisdiction. A bipartisan proposal in the US, if it comes to fruition, can give more powers to the CFTC than to the SEC.


The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, usually dubbed the CFTC, is the regulator that focuses on the regulatory oversight of the United States’ derivative market. This includes futures contracts, swaps, options, and other complicated financial products. The legislation ruling the CFTC was enacted in 1974. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has a different mandate.

The SEC is also an independent agency, which dates back to 1934 (following the market crash of 1929) and oversees the functioning of capital markets in the US. The SEC can be understood as the agency responsible for overall fairness and transparency in the US capital market with investor protection as its primary objective.

The CFTC is a later addition to the regulatory oversight landscape in the US, and it is centered on more complex products, for example, oil futures. The SEC is much larger in personnel strength. It is always said that common regulatory interests exist between the CFTC and the SEC, which is why a memorandum of understanding exists between the two agencies to further cooperation.

CFTC crypto bill

The new bill proposes to have powers divided between the SEC and the CFTC, with more inclination towards the latter. This reflects in Bitcoin and Ethereum, the two of the biggest cryptos, coming under the CFTC purview in the event the bill becomes a reality. Cryptocurrency facilitating platforms like Coinbase and Binance would also need to register with the CFTC.

What happens in coming days is a matter of speculation as of now. However, there are murmurs that stakeholders of the crypto world would like to see more powers in the hands of the CFTC than the SEC.

Bitcoin share in total market cap

Data provided by CoinMarketCap.coms

Bottom line

Recently, the SEC initiated an insider trading proceeding against some Coinbase officials. This was followed by the agency terming one crypto platform a Ponzi scheme and charging its officials for their roles in the fraud. Will the bipartisan bill give more powers to the CFTC? How will this change the present scene? How will be cryptoassets classified and divided? All this will become clear with time.

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