ISIN, FIGI or ITIN — What identifier to use for DLT-based cryptographic tokens?

With the rise of cryptocurrencies and security tokens, the Association of National Numbering Agencies (ANNA), administering the International Securities Identification Number (ISIN), and the Object Management Group (OMG), maintaining the Financial Instrument Global Identifier (FIGI), are also expanding their business from the identification of traditional financial instruments to the one of DLT-based tokens. Yet, there are some important differences to ITSA’s International Token Identification Number (ITIN) to be considered, when choosing the right token identifier to work with.

Authors: Thomas Faber, Constantin Ketz, Philipp Sandner

Identifying or differentiating DLT- and blockchain-based cryptographic tokens may confront market players with ambiguity and uncertainty. This is often caused by coincidentally similar token names or ticker symbols, but also by intentionally created confusion as part of scams. Sometimes different tokens carry the same ticker symbol across exchanges (e.g. Bitcoin Gold and the now inactive project BitGem, which were both using BTG). Sometimes one and the same token carries different ticker symbols across exchanges (e.g. Bitcoin, which is to be found under XBT or BTC). Sometimes a token is renamed but the old ticker symbol is kept, and sometimes a token receives a new ticker symbol while still keeping its old name (e.g. Bitcoin Cash, which was first to be found under BCC and is now listed under BCH since the nowadays inactive project BitConnect was already using BCC before). In short, dealing with cryptographic tokens, and especially trading them on different exchanges, can be a real mess. The immanent lack of transparency combined with fast market developments creates high operational risks for all parties involved.

In order to increase transparency and safety, the International Token Standardization Association (ITSA) e.V. has developed the International Token Identification Number (ITIN) as a unique identifier for DLT-based cryptographic tokens. Just like the International Securities Identification Number (ISIN) that is administered by the Association of National Numbering Agencies (ANNA) or the Financial Instrument Global Identifier (FIGI) that is maintained by the Object Management Group (OMG) with Bloomberg as Registration Authority, ITSA’s ITIN serves as a non-ambiguous means of identification for an individual asset. Yet, while both, ISIN and FIGI, are originally designed to identify traditional financial instruments, and are only recently extending in scope towards certain DLT-based tokens relevant for capital markets, ITIN has been designed with the sole purpose of identifying all DLT-based cryptographic tokens, regardless of their status as security, their fungibility or tradability. So while ISIN and FIGI will probably mainly focus on major cryptocurrencies and especially security tokens, ITIN also covers non-fungible tokens that are not intended to be traded on capital markets, including tokenized intellectual property, industrial goods, real estate, art, vehicles or machinery. With the advancement of the Internet of Things (IoT), and autonomous machine-to-machine (m2m) payments or interactions, the identification of such tokens will become very important for the real economy, representing a key differentiator of ITIN with respect to a full coverage of all token types in contrast to ISIN/FIGI that only capture a smaller subset of tokens.

While for instance, prominent Unpegged Payment Tokens (International Token Classification [ITC] Code: EEP21U) like Bitcoin (ITIN: TP3B-248N-Q ) or Litecoin (ITIN: 7NUE-XEJD-X) will most probably not only be covered by ITIN but also by ISIN/FIGI due to the fact that they are highly volatile and thus have become of interest to traditional investors and traders, Pegged Payment Tokens also known as stablecoins (ITC Code: EEP21P) like Tether (ITIN: 2XGX-SUDG-H), or TrueUSD (ITIN: UHXQ-REGX-J) will most probably not be covered by ISIN/FIGI, due to their non-volatile character. ITIN, however, will also cover such stablecoins regardless of their mechanism (tokenization of e-money, 1-on-1 fiat-backing ensured by a custodian, demand and supply algorithms, etc.) and thus represents the token identifier of choice, when dealing with token-based payment processing or transaction settlement (e.g. Delivery-vs.-Payment [DvP]) in the growing token economy.

In addition, while FIGI and ISIN will probably continue to focus mainly on the identification of traditional financial instruments, ITIN captures the tokenization of such traditional financial instruments on different blockchains. For instance, if a security like the publicly listed Apple stock (with existing ISIN and FIGI) is tokenized on the Ethereum, EOS, and Stellar blockchains, three new and distinct security tokens are created, but the issuance of a new ISIN or FIGI for each Apple stock security token on chain is not a given — especially not in case of a frequent and ongoing tokenization of traditional financial instruments or securities as consequence of a growing decentralized financial industry. Yet, ITINs will be assigned proactively for the identification of these respective security tokens, and will be referring back to the Apple stock by referencing its respective ISIN/FIGI. Hence, ITIN is also designed to complement ISIN/FIGI in the financial sphere, building a bridge between the traditional and new financial world through a pairing of ITIN with already existing traditional identifiers where necessary.

Conclusion

In sum, ITIN is the one identifier that captures the whole DLT-based token universe. In contrast, ISIN/FIGI cover traditional financial instruments and securities while probably also expanding to a growing but relatively small subset of DLT-based cryptographic tokens, which are classified as financial instruments and/or securities, or have become relevant to capital markets (incl. security tokens and major cryptocurrencies). The future majority of DLT-based cryptographic tokens, originating from an increasing tokenization of individual assets into non-fungible tokens that are not intended to be traded on capital markets, will not be covered by ISIN/FIGI though. This leaves ITIN as the prominent identifier to be used in a growing token economy, allowing for the integration of IoT and m2m applications at large scale.

Remarks

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Thomas Faber is a research fellow at the Frankfurt School Blockchain Center and a project manager at the International Token Standardization Association (ITSA). He holds a B.Sc. degree in Management, Philosophy & Economics as well as a M.Sc. degree in Management with a focus on digital business models from the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management. You can contact him via email or LinkedIn.

Constantin Ketz is co-initiator and vice chairman of the International Token Standardization Association (ITSA). Next to his research on token markets and the applications of Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) in the financial industry at the Frankfurt School Blockchain Center (FSBC), he works as consultant for DLT and financial technology solutions with a focus on debt capital markets and asset securitization. Mr. Ketz holds a B.Sc. in Economics from the University of Mannheim as well as a Master in European Public Affairs from Maastricht University and the European Institute of Public Administration (EIPA). You can contact him via email or via LinkedIn.

Prof. Dr. Philipp Sandner is head of the Frankfurt School Blockchain Center (FSBC) at the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management. In 2018, he was ranked as one of the “Top 30” economists by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), a major newspaper in Germany. Further, he belongs to the “Top 40 under 40” — a ranking by the German business magazine Capital. The expertise of Prof. Sandner in particular includes blockchain technology, crypto assets, distributed ledger technology (DLT), Euro-on-Ledger, initial coin offerings (ICOs), security tokens (STOs), digital transformation and entrepreneurship. You can contact him via mail, via LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.

The International Token Standardization Association (ITSA) is a not for profit organization working on holistic market standards for the global token economy.