Oh Come On, CFTC…

Well this takes the whistleblowing cake: the Commodities & Futures Trading Commission is promoting its whistleblower program at a cryptocurrency conference in New York this week, complete with a booth in the hallway and free CFTC whistles handed out to attendees.

The event is Consensus 2019, a conference hosted by news website Coindesk to discuss all things cryptocurrency and blockchain. It’s a premier event for the crypto crowd, with scads of speakers who all look much more hip and and noveau than we staid and sober types who attend corporate compliance events.

Officially, Coindesk hypes its Consensus conference as “a big tent for the industry” with participants “ranging from enterprise consortia to cypher punks” — and apparently the CFTC too, prowling for whistleblowers.

These shots were snapped by one Martina Long, partner at a blockchain investment outfit called Primitive Ventures:


And a close-up of the CFTC whistleblower swag:


So many questions here. First, of course — the CFTC actually has money to pay for a booth? When did that happen? I’ve asked regulatory agencies to speak at conferences many times, and usually this crowd can’t even get budget approval for bus fare. Now there’s a booth?

Second, and more seriously — how does the showmanship of this booth square with the message regulatory agencies send to compliance officers, that they want to work with you rather than compete against you? Because this looks like competition to me.

To be fair to the CFTC, we don’t know whether its brochures or other materials at the booth encouraged would-be whistleblowers to try reporting their concerns to internal compliance officers first. Maybe the materials did. The CFTC gave a $1.5 million whistleblower award just last week, “enhanced” because the whistleblower first tried to bring his or her concerns to the company.

But the emphasis with this booth, emblazoned on the drapery and those freebie whistles, is very much, “Hey everyone! Give us a call with your tips!”

Is that wrong unto itself? Of course not. The cryptocurrency world has more scam jobs and get-rich-quick schemes than President Trump’s resume. I applaud the CFTC and other regulatory agencies for watching this field like hawks. Just today, the Securities & Exchange Commission busted NextBlock Global, a Canadian blockchain startup and its now-former CEO, for peddling bitcoin baloney while raising $16 million from suckers investors. Good for the SEC, and let’s hope we see more of that.

Still, the CFTC can’t portray itself as friend to the compliance officer, while carnival barking to financial industry workers about winning awards for bringing their concerns to the CFTC. As another compliance officer told me after looking at the photos: “Really tone deaf.”

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