The International Token Classification by ITSA: A Guidance Tool for the Global Token Markets

As a guidance tool for the global token markets, the ITC framework is designed by the International Token Standardization Association (ITSA) to provide clarity and transparency on a token’s characteristics in multiple dimensions. This can be particularly helpful for token issuers, investors, regulators and public authorities, and as a common point of reference for an exchange of thought. Token users of any kind will be able to grasp a classified token’s properties within seconds by checking its ITC codes.

Authors: Maximilian Bruckner, Constantin Ketz, Christian Viehof, Philipp Sandner

A holistic framework for token classification

The International Token Classification (ITC) is a holistic standard framework for the classification of DLT- and blockchain-based cryptographic tokens according to their inherent characteristics. This framework is based on a flexible and adaptable approach to classify cryptographic DLT-based tokens based on the design of multiple modular dimensions, which allow describing different aspects of a cryptographic token in a multi-level structure. For an in-depth explanation of the ITC as well as our classification rules, please refer to the official ITC Framework Documentation Guidelines, published by ITSA in March 2021.

Figure 1: Dimension Overview

All ITC dimensions are grouped into dimensional groups for improved oversight. In version 1.0, the ITC features four dimension groups (Level 1) with six dimensions (Level 2) that allow the classification of a token from an economic, technological, legal, and regulatory point of view. Future updates of the ITC will extend the framework even further horizontally, by adding new dimensions within each dimension group, as well as vertically, by breaking down each dimension in more detail on lower levels. By design, every dimension (Level 2) is divided into categories (Level 3), which can be further subdivided into subcategories (Level 4), classes (Level 5), subclasses (Level 6), groups (Level 7), and also subgroups (Level 8). In figure 1, you can see a visualization of the dimension groups and their lower levels, which are designed to be mutually exclusive and mutually exhaustive.

The ITC Code structure is a classificatory path from level 1 to the lowest level possible

The framework assigns a unique ITC Code to each level segment. The ITC Code is composed of the individual level segment code of the respective level segment in focus combined with level segment codes for each higher-ranking level segment, and thus represents a classificatory path from level 1 to the lowest classification level possible (see Figure 2). The assignment of ITC Codes allows for easy identification, integration, and operationalization of level segments and the tokens captured by them.

Based on this approach, an ITC Code always allows for re-tracing to higher-ranking level segments and thus for re-aggregation of tokens where necessary.

Figure 2: A classificatory path from Level 1 to Level 8

Dimension Overview

Dimensions represent the cornerstone of the ITC. Grouped into four thematic groups, dimensions are designed to shed light on relevant characteristics of tokens. As such, dimensions themselves are not designed to be mutually exclusive or collectively exhaustive, even though the new dimensions will be added with every further update to create an exhaustive and complete image of a token. The six existing dimensions provide a holistic, yet expandable snapshot of a token’s major economic, technological, legal, and regulatory characteristics.

Economic Purpose

This dimension describes the reason for a token’s creation from the issuer’s perspective. The dimension currently contains three major categories: Payment Tokens (EEP21), Utility Tokens (EEP22), and Investment Tokens (EEP23). Payment Tokens are defined as tokens that are primarily created for use as a means of payment, not limited to a specific environment. The category of Utility Tokens (EEP22) comprises all types of tokens that are created to provide any sort of utility within a predefined environment, such as the settlement of transaction fees, governance, or access to an environment. The category of Investment Token represents cryptographic tokens that serve as a means of investment to the token holder (incl. trading, hedging, and/or speculation). The ITC subcategories of Investment Tokens have been aligned with the classification of financial instruments according to ISO Standard 10962 for improved transparency and interoperability.

Issuer Industry

The Issuer Industry Dimension forms part of the Economic Dimensions Group and describes the industry that the issuer of a token is active in. The dimension is based on the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), but has been streamlined on the category level and extended on the subcategory and class levels to cater better to the characteristics of the current token landscape as well as important industry trends. This includes decentralized finance, internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and interoperability.

Technological Setup

The Technological Setup Dimension forms part of the Technological Dimensions Group and describes how a token is implemented and deployed. The dimension is split into two major categories: Ledger-Native Tokens (TTS41) and Application Layer Tokens (TTS42). Ledger-Native Tokens form an integral part of a distributed ledger and are implemented by a distributed ledger protocol, and Application Layer Tokens are implemented by an application layer protocol on top of a distributed ledger.

Legal Claim

The Legal Claim Dimension forms part of the Legal Dimensions Group and describes the type of legal claim that a cryptographic token does entitle its holder to. The dimension features three categories: No-Claim Tokens (LLC31), Relative Rights Tokens (LLC32), and Absolute Rights Tokens (LLC33). While a No-Claim Token does not entitle its holder to any other right than to the token itself, a Relative Rights Token provides certain rights against at least one natural or legal counterparty (e.g. the entitlement to interest and principal to be paid by the issuer of a Debt Token (EEP23DT), or the specified right to access a certain platform run by a third party in case of an Access Token (EEP22NT01)). An Absolute Rights Token, as the third category, provides its owner with a right that is not dependent on any third party but exists independently from any counterparty. For instance, ownership rights in intellectual property are an absolute right, which could be managed through an Absolute Rights Token in the future.

Issuer Type

The Issuer Type Dimension forms part of the Legal Dimensions Group and describes the nature of the issuer of a token. On the category level, the dimension is divided into issuers represented by a Legal Entity (LIT61) and Entities without legal personality (LIT62). The first category (Legal Entity) is further split up into Private Sector Legal Entities (LIT61PV) in the form of public and private companies, associations, foundations, or partnerships, as well as Public Sector Legal Entities (LIT61PC) that capture central banks, ministries or government agencies. The second category (Entities without Legal Personality) captures all issuers of tokens that are not clearly identifiable or tangible.

Figure 3: Legal Dimensions of the ITC

Regulatory Status EU

The Dimension Regulatory Status EU forms part of the Regulatory Dimensions Group and provides information on the potential classification of a token according to the European Commission’s proposal for a Regulation on Markets in Crypto Assets (MiCA, EU Regulation Proposal COM/2020/593 final). The dimension differentiates on category level between tokens which are in scope (REU51) and out of scope of MiCA (REU52), and within those tokens that are in scope of MiCA between the subcategories Asset-Referenced Tokens (REU51AR), E-Money Tokens (REU51EM), as well as Utility Tokens (REU51UT) and other tokens that are in scope of the regulation (REU51ZZ). Finally, the framework splits up both Asset-Referenced Tokens and E-Money Tokens into classes concerning a token’s significance as well as authorization of the issuer.

It is important to note that the classification of a token according to a dimension of the Regulatory Dimension Group never represents an official classification and/or ruling by the respective competent market authorities. Hence, a classification of a token according to Regulatory Dimensions is to be understood as a mere indication of a potential classification of a token based on the research and analysis of ITSA concerning the regulatory landscape and the nature of the token. Acknowledging this limitation, the classification according to the MiCa dimension allows for testing of the regulatory framework before it comes into force, and provides a point of reference for fruitful discussions and the exchange of thought around the proposed European regulatory framework.

Collaborate with ITSA!

As we are well aware of the subjectivity of each framework and its existing biases, we would also like to invite all readers to provide their feedback on our approach and/or to join the ITC Working Group to develop the next ITC update together with us. Just like all other standardization projects of the International Token Standardization Association (ITSA) e.V., the International Token Classification (ITC) framework will be updated and developed further regularly. Therefore, we would highly appreciate external feedback or suggestions on new Dimensions to be added or new ecosystem trends to be incorporated. Finally, we are always looking for partners that are interested to classify new sets of tokens together with us, either as part of a research project, an academic thesis, or any other viable cooperative setting. You can find contact details in the remarks section of this article.

Remarks

If you like this article, we would be happy if you forward it to your colleagues or share it on social networks. More information about the International Token Standardization Association can be found on the Internet, on Twitter, or 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

Maximilian Bruckner is Executive Director at the International Token Standardization Association (ITSA) e.V., working to create the world’s largest token database including a classification framework and unique token identifiers and locators. He has a strong international background with significant time spent in Spain, South Africa, and Canada. Currently pursuing studies at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, you can contact him via maximilian.bruckner@itsa.global and connect on LinkedIn if you would like to further discuss ITSA or have any other open questions.

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 a 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 LinkedIn.

Christian Viehof is an Executive Director at the International Token Standardization Association (ITSA) e.V., working to create the world’s largest token database including a classification framework and unique token identifiers and locators. He completed his Bachelor in Economics at the University of Bonn, the Hong Kong University, and the London School of Economics and Political Science with a focus on Behavioral Economics and Finance. Currently pursuing his Master of Finance at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, you can contact him via christian.viehof@itsa.global and connect with him on Linkedin, if you would like to further discuss ITSA e.V. or have any open questions.

About ITSA

ITSA e.V. aims at promoting the development and implementation of comprehensive market standards for blockchain- and DLT-based cryptographic tokens. To increase transparency and safety on global token markets, ITSA e.V. assigns a unique and fork-resilient identifier (the ITIN) to each token and classifies the token according to our International Token Classification Framework (ITC). This data is then entered into the TOKENBASE. It is our vision to create the world’s largest DLT token database and see our market standards be implemented across the world. Our working groups are actively driving the development and progress of both the ITIN and the ITC.

  • The International Token Identification Number (ITIN) is a 9-digit alphanumeric technical identifier for both fungible and non-fungible DLT-based tokens. Thanks to its underlying Uniform Token Locator (UTL), ITIN presents a unique and fork-resilient identification of tokens. The ITIN also allows for the connecting and matching of other media and data to the token, such as legal contracts or price data, and increases safety and operational transparency when handling these tokens.
  • The International Token Classification (ITC) is a multi-dimensional, expandable framework for the classification of tokens. Current dimensions include technological, economic, legal, and regulatory dimensions with multiple sub-dimensions. By mid-2021, there will be at least two new dimensions added, including a tax dimension. So far, our classification framework has been applied to 99% of the token market according to the market capitalization of classified tokens.
  • ITSA’s Tokenbase currently holds data on over 4000 tokens. Tokenbase is a holistic database for the analysis of tokens and combines our identification and classification data with market and blockchain data from external providers.

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International Token Standardization Association

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