Categorization of Smart Contracts by the European Securities and Markets Authority

Smart contracts, a groundbreaking technology first introduced on the Ethereum blockchain in 2015, have become the backbone of decentralized finance (DeFi). These self-executing contracts enable trustless and automated financial transactions within the blockchain ecosystem, eliminating the need for traditional intermediaries.

As smart contracts play an increasingly pivotal role in DeFi and the broader blockchain space, regulators and supervisors must gain a comprehensive understanding of their nuances to assess associated risks effectively. The European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) recognizes the importance of categorizing smart contracts to monitor their complexity and evaluate potential risks to investors and financial stability.

In this article, we delve into ESMA’s categorization of smart contracts and the evolving landscape of blockchain technology.

Categorizing Smart Contracts

ESMA has identified five distinct categories of smart contracts that provide a structured framework for understanding their various functions and applications:

  • Financial Smart Contracts: This category primarily serves to gather and redistribute funds, facilitating basic financial operations. It’s important to note that this category encompasses smart contracts used in activities like Ponzi schemes and lotteries, which involve fund gathering and redistribution.
  • Operational Smart Contracts: These contracts focus on execution and memory management, crucial for optimizing resource allocation and ensuring the efficient operation and performance of smart contracts. Efficient memory handling contributes to the effective execution of smart contracts.
  • Token Smart Contracts: Smart contracts in this category enable the creation, indexing, and dismissal of tokens. They are closely associated with managing Ethereum Request for Comments (ERC) standards, including the widely used ERC20 for fungible tokens and ERC721 for non-fungible tokens (NFTs), such as digital art and collectibles.
  • Wallet Smart Contracts: This category pertains to managing fees, sender accounts, balances, public access, requirements, and permission control. Wallet smart contracts simplify user interaction with the blockchain, making it easier for users to manage their digital assets.
  • Infrastructure Smart Contracts: These contracts handle various essential operations, including string data manipulation, Boolean values, signatures, encoding and decoding operations, Application Binary Interface (ABI) functionality, memory usage, sending operations, and payload handling. They form the foundational infrastructure for other smart contracts, enhancing interoperability and scalability in blockchain applications.

Evolution of Smart Contract Categories

The categorization of smart contracts has evolved over time, mirroring the changing landscape of blockchain technology and its applications. The following trends are notable:

Early Dominance of Financial Smart Contracts: During the initial wave of smart contract deployment, characterized by the ICO (Initial Coin Offering) boom between 2017 and 2018, financial smart contracts significantly dominated. This dominance can be attributed to the prevalence of ICOs, which led to a surge in financial contract deployment on the Ethereum blockchain.

Diverse Deployment in Later Phases: The second wave of smart contract deployment, from late 2020 to January 2023, saw a remarkable increase in the heterogeneity of smart contract categories. Notably, the token, operational, and infrastructure categories experienced significant growth. The token category’s rise was associated with the proliferation of token-related projects, while the growth in the operational and infrastructure categories reflected the diversification of the Ethereum ecosystem with the development of various decentralized applications (dApps) and protocols.

Steady Demand for Wallet Smart Contracts: Throughout both waves, the wallet category, responsible for managing and storing cryptocurrencies and tokens, exhibited a lower but relatively stable rate of deployment. This consistent demand highlights the ongoing need for secure storage and convenient access to digital assets within the Ethereum ecosystem.


ESMA’s categorization of smart contracts represents a significant step towards understanding and regulating the evolving world of blockchain technology. As blockchain technology and DeFi continue to grow and diversify, the role of smart contracts becomes increasingly critical. This evolving landscape reflects the adaptability and innovation of the Ethereum blockchain and the broader blockchain community. It is evident that smart contracts have moved beyond their initial financial use cases to play a pivotal role in various applications, from NFTs to resource optimization, shaping the future of blockchain technology and decentralized finance.