The Big Interview

EXCLUSIVE: Regretful Ian Balina admits: “I do worry about the SEC”

Cryptocurrency influencers have been a hot topic in the past week; the SEC issued fines to the likes of Floyd Mayweather and DJ Khaled, leaving Ian Balina and others nervous about upcoming regulatory action

Ian Balina is debatably one of the biggest names in the cryptocurrency space, his ICO reviews captivated the attention of thousands during last year’s ICO revolution, but he also came under intense scrutiny from his peers over his promotion of particular projects at the height of cryptocurrency’s bull market.

The former analytics evangelist at IBM stumbled into the cryptocurrency space in 2017, hopping on the bandwagon when the likes of Ethereum rallied from under $10 all the way to $1,300 in the space of a year.

Balina brought a unique style of ‘token metric’ analysis to the cryptocurrency markets, undertaking comprehensive reviews of emerging ICOs and blockchain projects and publishing his findings on a public spreadsheet.

His findings became steeped in controversy after it emerged that he was being paid by various projects, which could have suggested a conflict of interest in his findings. Balina subsequently removed his spreadsheet, citing that “too many people followed the advice blindly” as a primary reason.

SEC clamps down on crypto influencers

Twelve months on, and the cryptocurrency space has seen a radical transformation, regulators now have a more prominent position while the transparency of influencers remains a hot topic.

Last week, the SEC charged Floyd Mayweather and DJ Khaled over their ‘unlawful promotion’ of ICOs, a decision that has left many of the influencers in the space nervous over the regulator’s next move.

“Investors should be sceptical of investment advice posted to social media platforms, and should not make decisions based on celebrity endorsements,” says Enforcement Division co-director Steven Peikin. “Social media influencers are often paid promoters, not investment professionals, and the securities they’re touting, regardless of whether they are issued using traditional certificates or on the blockchain, could be frauds.”

Speaking to Coin Rivet while on his Crypto World Tour in Cairo, Egypt, Balina says: “I definitely do worry [about the SEC], but I think I’m good. I have a securities lawyer who I speak with often. I now have a transparency page where I list everything.

“The difference with Mayweather and Khaled was they got paid by an ICO, and they didn’t disclose, I have always disclosed.

“I posted my Blockfolio every single day including my advisory tokens. I even had my lawyer reach out to the SEC last year, so I’ve made a good faith effort towards this. I’m not as concerned as other influencers out there.”

There have been rumours suggesting that Balina deleted his Twitter feed in order to avoid retrospective action from the SEC, but he was quick to deny the rumours, asserting: “I don’t delete Twitter feeds. I don’t delete tweets at all.”

Balina revealed that he had received death threats from aggrieved investors who have lost capital after “blindly” following his ICO reviews, adding: “I don’t want people to be blindly investing. It’s fine when people are making money, but when they are losing money they need to find someone to blame. That’s when all of the death threats come to me.”

When asked if he felt regret over promoting coins and tokens at the height of their value, Balina issued an honest response, stating that he felt “empathy” towards investors who had bought into projects at inflated prices.

“I empathise with them,” he admits. “That’s one of the reasons I took down my spreadsheets as people were blindly investing on there without doing their own research and to me the spreadsheet was just a tool to show my own research.”

ICOs next on the agenda for the SEC

The SEC isn’t limiting the crackdown to influencers who tout unregistered initial coin offerings, they are also coming down on the projects themselves, with AirFox and Paragon being ordered to refund customers and register their projects as securities over the past few weeks.

In light of recent events, Balina adds: “After all the new guidance the SEC has been putting out I think it’s a big change for anybody involved in this space, from the ICO companies, to advisors to investors to everyone.”

Asked if regulation is a positive step for the space or could it halt innovation he explains: “It’s both, it’s cleaning up the space, trying to protect investors, for example the AirToken refund and the Paragon refund, it’s something that’s definitely good for investors who lost a ton of money. But it’s potentially slowing down innovation as well.”

What’s next for Ian Balina?

It’s been a turbulent year for the 30-year-old cryptocurrency analyst, not only has he faced the brunt of abuse from frustrated investors, he was also ‘hacked’ in April with reported losses coming in at around $2 million.

But against all the odds, Balina continues to persevere, he now advises for cryptocurrency projects including Kucoin, Resistance, Nucleus Vision and Pareto Network.

Speaking about Kucoin, he explains an “updated platform” will launch in 2019, with “brand-new features” including “stop-limit orders and fiat gateways to Bitcoin.”

“They are definitely making strides.” he added. “People can purchase via credit cards for crypto from over 100 countries.”

Balina predicts that the next bull-market is not too far away, claiming that the market will cycle back around after the first quarter in 2019 “after all the ETF deadlines are passed.”

Nasdaq has recently confirmed the upcoming launch of Bitcoin Futures, but Balina believes that while institutional investment will help drive adoption, it will be “another wave of retail investors” that will act as a catalyst for the next bull-market.

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