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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Fed vice chair discusses regulating financial innovation

Bank Regulatory Federal Issues Digital Assets Cryptocurrency Stablecoins Federal Reserve Supervision Fintech

On October 12, Federal Reserve Vice Chair for Supervision Michael S. Barr delivered remarks at D.C. Fintech Week in a speech titled Managing the Promise and Risk of Financial Innovation. Barr’s remarks focused on financial innovation supported by new technologies, or fintech. Among other things, Barr discussed supporting innovation with appropriate regulation, striking the right balance for crypto-asset activity, regulating stablecoins, recognizing the risks of tokenizing bank liabilities, advancing customer autonomy, and providing public sector support for payment innovation. Barr noted that cryptoassets’ rapid growth, in market capitalization and activity outside and inside supervised banks requires oversight, including safeguards to ensure that crypto service providers are subject to similar regulations as other financial services providers. Barr stated that “[t]he same type of activity should be regulated in the same way,” and this remains the case “even when the activity may look different from the typical activities we regulate, or when it involves an exciting new technology or a new way to provide traditional financial services.” He also disclosed that there are additional types of crypto asset-related activities where the Fed may need to provide guidance to the banking sector in the future. Barr noted that since “crypto assets have proved to be so volatile, they are unlikely to grow into money substitutes and become a viable means to pay for transactions.” He also warned banks seeking to experiment with these new technologies that they should only do so "in a controlled and limited manner.” Regarding the risks of tokenizing bank liabilities, Barr expressed concerns, stating that banks’ crypto-asset-related activities pose “novel risks,” and said that stablecoins could eventually pose a risk to financial stability and that regulators need to put in guardrails before their adoption is more widespread. Barr also acknowledged that not all tokenization arrangements are the same. He stated that potential designs “range from issuance of tokens on private, controlled networks to facilitate payments within or among banks, to proposals that explore issuance of freely circulating tokens on open, permissionless networks.”