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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

OCC calls for modernization of financial regulatory perimeter as fintechs/crypto firms increase

Federal Issues OCC Fintech Cryptocurrency Bank Regulatory Bank Supervision

Federal Issues

On November 16, acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael J. Hsu told attendees at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia’s Fifth Annual Fintech Conference that the federal banking agencies are “approaching crypto activities very carefully and with a high degree of caution” and “expect banks to do the same.” Hsu pointed out what while changes to the financial regulatory perimeter generally occur as a response to crises and failures, regulatory agencies need to take proactive modernization measures given the astounding growth and expansion of fintechs and cryptocurrencies. Hsu highlighted several important questions that agencies must consider, including whether fintech and crypto firms will start to function like banks and whether bringing them into the bank regulatory perimeter would be the proper solution. He also stated that regulatory agencies must consider whether the risks faced by banks and fintech/crypto firms are the same and, subsequently, whether agencies need to modernize or maintain their status quo. Hsu focused on two specific areas of concern: (i) synthetic banking, or fintechs, operating outside the bank regulatory perimeter but that offer a range of services, including extending various forms of credit and offering interest on cash held in accounts (emphasizing the importance of fintech-bank partnerships); and (ii) the fragmented supervision of universal crypto firms, where Hsu asserted that gaps in supervision are driven by the fact that crypto firms are not subject to comprehensive consolidated supervision.

Hsu announced that the agencies will soon issue a statement conveying results from a recent interagency “crypto sprint,” and that the OCC will also provide clarity on its recently concluded review of crypto-related interpretive letters. Hsu explained that “safety and soundness is paramount” when banks engage in crypto activities and that the agencies’ clarifications “should not be interpreted as a green light or a solid red light, but rather as reflective of a disciplined, deliberative, and diligent approach to a novel and risky area.”

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