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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Treasury discusses future of digital assets, says CBDC may take years

Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues Digital Assets Department of Treasury CBDC Cryptocurrency Fintech

Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

On September 23, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Under Secretary for Domestic Finance Nellie Liang discussed ways in which digital assets could alter the future of money and payments in the U.S. Speaking at the Brookings Institution, Liang highlighted recommendations presented in an agency report released earlier in September as part of President Biden’s Executive Order on Ensuring Responsible Development in Digital Assets (covered by InfoBytes here). The report, Crypto-assets: Implications for Consumers, Investors, and Businesses, outlined several significant areas of concern, including “frequent instances of operational failures, market manipulation, frauds, thefts, and scams.” The report advised federal agencies, including the CFPB, SEC, CFTC, and DOJ, to (i) continue to aggressively pursue enforcement actions focused on the crypto-asset sector; (ii) clarify existing authorities to ensure they are appropriately applied to crypto-assets; (iii) coordinate efforts to increase compliance; and (iv) take collaborative measures to improve the quality of information about crypto-assets for consumers, investors, and businesses.

Liang also commented on the potential benefits of adopting a U.S. central bank digital currency (CBDC), “such as preserving the uniformity of the currency, or providing a base for further innovation,” but warned that further research and development on the technology needed to support such a currency may take years. “There are many important design choices that would require additional consideration,” Liang said, stating, for example, “a retail CBDC would be broadly available to the public, while a wholesale CBDC would be limited to banks and other financial institutions.” Liang said Treasury plans to lead an inter-agency working group to advance further work on a possible CBDC and “consider the implications of CBDC in areas such as financial inclusion, national security and privacy.”

Liang also discussed other recommendations made in the report related to the possible establishment of a federal regulatory framework for nonbank providers of payment services. “A federal framework could provide a common floor for minimum financial resource requirements and other standards that may exist at the state level,” Liang pointed out. “It also would complement existing federal [anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism] obligations and consumer protection requirements that apply to nonbank payment providers,” and “could work in conjunction with a U.S. CBDC or with instant payment systems.” She also commented on Treasury’s work to develop a faster, cheaper cross-border international payment system and noted the agency will consider potential risks, such as privacy and human rights considerations.

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