The development of the field of information technologies contributed to the emergence of digital assets. This term is defined differently therefore causing the misrepresentation of information and terminological confusion. That is why we first need to sort out the existing definitions and identify the difference.
In the wide sense, a digital asset is any electronic resource that has value, in particular, images, files, videos, accounts, etc. The term “cryptocurrency” that emerged with the development of blockchain is often used to define digital assets.
So what is a digital asset? According to the definition formed while researching the essence of the term “digital asset” in the economic and legal aspects, it is “an information resource derivative of the right to a value and circulating in the distributed ledger in the form of a unique identifier”. The concept contains the following components:
· Economic characterized by having a unique identifier in the financial field;
· Legal that characterizes an asset as “derivative of the right” in the legal field;
· Information, which is represented by an information resource of a distributed ledger;
· Value that characterizes the “value” of a digital asset in the field of tangible and intangible benefits.
It is incorrect to equate the terms “digital asset” and “cryptocurrency”. Let’s look at the unique features that differentiate digital assets from cryptocurrencies:
· Cryptocurrencies are limited in terms of supply, whereas digital assets can, in theory, be created infinitely (Buntinx, 2017);
· Cryptocurrencies are characterized by complete decentralization (Arianova T., 2018);
· Cryptocurrencies are not backed by real assets, whereas digital assets contain property rights;
· Cryptocurrencies are limited in the areas of their application, whereas digital assets are not.
· Essentially, a digital asset is a digital copy of a real asset. That is why the ownership of a digital asset is confirmed and can always be checked by the property right to it recorded in the blockchain.
· A digital asset functions based on a protocol and has the mechanisms for restoring access and guaranteeing the security of a real asset.
The main issue is the absence of clear criteria for classifying a token as a digital asset. Because of that, some states have developed special tests to determine the features of digital assets. For example, the Howey Test, Maltese Financial Instrument Test, Guidelines of the Swiss regulatory body (FINMA) for evaluating ICOs (Initial Coin Offering), the Digital Asset Test from Simcord and others.
The Howey Test is used within the legal system of the USA and is now being applied in the field of ICOs. The test analyzes the main characteristics of a token for correspondence to the features of securities. The Howey Test defines a transaction as an investment contract if “an individual invests money in a joint venture and must wait for profit exclusively from the actions of a promoter or a third party”. Thus, if the United States Securities Commission defines an asset as a security, the profit from which depends exclusively on a third party, the token falls under regulation of the Commission as a security.
The financial regulator of Malta also developed a test that defines the features of a digital asset. First, the test determines whether an asset is a virtual one (or a utility token). Such token does not have its own value and can’t exist outside of its blockchain platform or be exchanged for other assets. If it is already circulating on an exchange, a second stage of analysis takes place ¾ determining the correspondence of the financial asset’s definition to the European legislation.
In the FINMA Guidelines, tokens are classified as a) payment tokens; b) utility tokens; c) asset tokens.
The Digital Asset Test from Simcord is the most relevant one that accounts for all aspects and allows determining the level of correspondence of a blockchain token to the features of a digital asset. The methodology of the test includes a questionnaire that tests the features of a blockchain token in accordance with specific criteria, as well as a mathematical formalization of the process.
Therefore, the ambiguity of the concept of a digital asset causes the need to develop the tools and criteria to test the correspondence of a resource to the category of a digital asset. The methodology of the Digital Asset Test allows establishing the level of correspondence of a blockchain token to the features of a digital asset in the most effective way.