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Cryptocurrency classification

Cryptocurrencies operate based on consensus and cryptography and are managed in a decentralized manner. In this way, they are distinguished as a separate class of digital currency and differ from virtual currency, electronic money, and CBDC.

In turn, cryptocurrencies are divided into two types: tokens and coins. A description of the fundamentals of coins is given in the Coins section. Here we’ll examine the features of tokens and explain how they differ from coins and how different types of tokens differ from each other.

What cryptocurrency tokens are

Token is an internal currency, or unit of account, in a crypto project, which is built on a third-party blockchain. There are three ways to create tokens:

  1. Using a blockchain platform that allows you to create standardised tokens via a smart contract. The most widespread are:
    • Ethereum with ERC-20, ERC-223, ERC-777 token standards;
    • TRON with TRC-10 and TRC-20 standards;
    • NEO with NEP-5 standard.
  2. Using a blockchain platform that has token contracts, but no technical standard. The most widespread are:
    • EOS;
    • Cardano;
    • Waves.
  3. Via a protocol or overlay network working on top of a popular blockchain. The most notable are:
    • Omni Layer and Counterparty — over Bitcoin;
    • Simple Ledger Protocol — over Bitcoin Cash.

New tokens will circulate in a peer-to-peer payment system in parallel with the native coins of this third-party blockchain.

What does not count as a token

It may all seem simple at first. If a project has its own blockchain, then the project’s coins are issued in it. If a team first issued tokens on a third-party blockchain and then developed their own and migrated to it, then over time they will all be exchanged for coins. Once all the old units of account are burned, all the new ones will count as coins.

However, there are a few issues with this definition. Some financial regulators cloud the issue with their interpretations:

  • Swiss Financial Markets Authority (FINMA) counts all cryptocurrencies as tokens and divides them into three different types: utility, asset, and payment. The last type, payment token, is considered a coin in FINMA’s interpretation.
  • The UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) also counts all cryptocurrencies as tokens, but has different names for the three types: utility, security, and exchange. The last type, exchange token, is considered a coin in the FCA’s interpretation.

Of the most powerful regulators, only the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) hasn’t caused any confusion and has kept the mainstream definition of coins. The SEC divides tokens into two types: utility and security.

Types of tokens

Unlike regulators, members of the crypto community categorise tokens into the following types for the purposes of discussion:

  1. Utility tokens. They are designed to allow access to a service or functions of the project. They don’t promise users any financial returns, so regulators take no notice of them. Despite not being related to investments, they are speculated on exchanges just like other cryptocurrencies, but project teams aren’t responsible for them.
  2. Security tokens. They promise to distribute profit from activities or investment returns to buyers and holders. This means they attract the attention of regulators, sometimes leading to fines, court injunctions, or liquidation of tokens and projects. FINMA classifies these as asset tokens.
  3. Equity tokens. They promise buyers and holders the right to partial ownership and participation in running the project. Due to their investment attractiveness, these tokens also fall under regulators’ purview. The FCA and SEC consider them to be the same as tokenized securities, which must be registered.
  4. Asset tokens. They are backed by real assets, such as precious metals and stones, raw materials, and real estate. They can also be backed by manufactured products or property on a project’s balance sheet. The FCA and SEC classify these as security tokens.


Stablecoins can be considered the fifth type of token. They are also released on third-party blockchains, so despite the name, they are not technically coins. When there were half a dozen stablecoins with price pegged to the US dollar on the market, they were part of the asset tokens. Since 2019, their variety has increased, many new stablecoins have been provided with reserves of other hard currencies besides the US dollar.

Since fiat currencies and their baskets are a separate financial instrument, which is more resistant to market turmoil, they appear more stable than other assets (like securities, commodities). Moreover, traditional traders, brokers, and investment funds prefer to take profit in fiat. It’s more convenient for them to convert cryptocurrency into money that they’re already used to. In fact, stablecoins are suitable for use as digital cash, so they have become cramped as part of the asset type.

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