What the SEC lawsuit against Coinbase means for advisors

  • August 24, 2023
Advisors will likely face more stringent compliance requirements as a result of the SEC's actions and may need to reassess their compliance programs to adequately address the unique risks associated with digital assets.

On Tuesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a lawsuit against cryptocurrency giant Coinbase, alleging that the company operated as an unregistered securities exchange, broker and clearing agency. This development could have a distinct impact on the investment advising landscape, most significantly for advisors managing and providing guidance on digital assets. Investment advisors must understand what this means for their business and clients.

The lawsuit demonstrates that the SEC is taking a firm stance on bringing digital asset companies into compliance with traditional financial regulatory structures. For advisors, this suggests they can no longer ignore the growing influence of digital assets and must be prepared for the inevitable evolution of regulatory scrutiny in their dealings with cryptocurrency-related investments.


In light of the SEC’s lawsuit, investment advisors will need to be extra diligent regarding cryptocurrency investments. There’s now a heightened risk of specific crypto-asset platforms or products being scrutinized, potentially putting client investments at risk. To protect their clients and their business, advisors must thoroughly assess cryptocurrency companies’ registration status, compliance protocols and transparency of operations before recommending their clients invest.

Another ripple effect of the lawsuit could be a shift in client interest and demand for crypto-related investments. Some investors may become wary of the associated legal uncertainties and potential risks and prefer to steer clear of such investments. On the other hand, clients may view the increased scrutiny as a sign of maturing regulatory oversight and could consider it a positive development, bolstering their interest in digital assets.

It’s crucial for advisors to stay informed about these shifts in client interest and be prepared to adapt to the changing landscape, offering informed advice and guidance to clients based on the latest developments.


Advisors will likely face more stringent compliance requirements as a result of the SEC’s actions. They may need to reassess their compliance programs to adequately address the unique risks associated with digital assets.

This could include increased staff training, updated risk disclosures, and more rigorous record keeping and reporting. Staying ahead of these requirements and ensuring compliance will be essential for investment advisors to protect their businesses and clients.

Finally, the SEC’s Coinbase lawsuit could signal increased legal risks for investment advisors. As regulatory expectations around crypto assets become more evident, there could be an elevated risk of legal action if advisors fail to meet these expectations professionally. This lawsuit could be a precursor to more enforcement actions in crypto, extending beyond exchanges to other service providers, including investment advisors.


While these challenges may seem daunting, there could also be potential opportunities for investment advisors. As the regulatory framework around digital assets becomes more apparent, it could lead to increased institutional adoption. This could create more opportunities for advisors who deeply understand the regulatory landscape and the digital asset market.

The SEC’s lawsuit against Coinbase is a watershed moment for the digital asset industry, signaling the increasing convergence of cryptocurrency and traditional finance regulation. It presents both challenges and opportunities for investment advisors, who must now take a proactive and informed approach to navigate this evolving landscape.

Regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome, the message is clear: The era of regulatory ambiguity for digital assets is ending. Investment advisors must stay informed, adapt, and be prepared to offer the best possible guidance to their clients in this new era of digital asset investing.

[More: Coinbase crackdown widens as states push to halt staking product]

Steve Larsen is founder of Defi Steward, where he helps investment advisors safely manage digital assets for their clients, and co-founder of the Certified Digital Asset Advisor designation.

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