Fed says limits on banking activities will apply regardless of insurance status
On January 27, the Federal Reserve Board issued a policy statement providing guidelines on how the agency evaluates requests from supervised uninsured and insured banks seeking to engage in novel activities, such as those involving crypto assets. Recognizing that in recent years the Fed has received numerous inquiries, notifications, and proposals from banks seeking to engage in new or unprecedented activities, the Fed clarified that when evaluating such inquiries, uninsured and insured banks supervised by the Fed would be subject to the same limitations that are currently imposed on OCC-supervised national banks, including crypto-asset-related activities. According to a board memo published the same day, the Fed said it “will presumptively exercise its authority to limit state member banks to engaging as principal in only those activities that are permissible for national banks—in each case, subject to the terms, conditions, and limitations placed on national banks with respect to the activity—unless those activities are permissible for state banks by federal law.” This “equal treatment” is intended to “promote a level playing field and limit regulatory arbitrage,” the Fed said.
The Fed reiterated that banks must be able to ensure that any activities they plan to engage in are permitted by law and conducted in a safe and sound manner. A bank should implement risk management processes, internal controls, and information systems that are “appropriate and adequate for the nature, scope, and risks of its activities,” the Fed noted. The Fed, however, explained that the policy statement does “not prohibit a state member bank, or prospective applicant, from providing safekeeping services, in a custodial capacity, for crypto-assets if conducted in a safe and sound manner and in compliance with consumer, anti-money laundering, and anti-terrorist financing laws.”
The policy statement was issued the same day the Fed denied a request from a Wyoming-based digital asset firm to become a member of the Federal Reserve System. The Fed explained that the firm—a special purpose depository institution chartered by the state of Wyoming that “proposed to engage in novel and untested crypto activities that include issuing a crypto asset on open, public and/or decentralized networks…“ presented significant safety and soundness risks.” Additionally, the Fed determined that the digital asset firm’s risk management framework failed to sufficiently address heighted risk concerns, including its ability to mitigate money laundering and terrorism financing risks.