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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Democrats ask OCC to rescind crypto guidance

Federal Issues Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Digital Assets Cryptocurrency U.S. Senate Bank Regulatory OCC FDIC Federal Reserve

Federal Issues

On August 10, four U.S. Democratic Senators sent a letter to acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael Hsu urging the OCC to rescind November 2021 guidance permitting national banks to engage in certain cryptocurrency activities. According to the letter, the Senators “are concerned that the OCC’s actions on crypto may have exposed the banking system to unnecessary risk, and ask that [Hsu] withdraw existing interpretive letters that have permitted banks to engage in certain crypto-related activities.” The letter noted that the OCC unilaterally released interpretive letters related to cryptocurrencies in July 2020 (Interpretive Letter 1170), October 2020 (Interpretive Letter 1172), and January 2021 (Interpretive Letter 1174). In the letters, the Senators noted, the OCC determined that banks were permitted to engage in certain crypto-related activities, which include, among other things: (i) “providing cryptocurrency custody service for customers”; (ii) “holding deposits that serve as reserves for certain stablecoins”; and (iii) “operating independent node verification networks [] and stablecoins for payment activities.” The Senators argued that the letters “granted banks unfettered opportunity to engage in certain crypto activities and remain problematic” after the OCC issued another interpretive letter (Interpretive Letter 1179) under Hsu attempting to limit the risks posed by the policies set forth in the earlier letters. The Senators asked Hsu to provide information so that they can “better understand banks’ exposure to the crypto market” by August 24. The Senators also urged Hsu to work with the Fed and FDIC on replacing his agency’s existing crypto guidance with a more “comprehensive approach.”

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