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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Fed cautions banks regarding crypto risks

Bank Regulatory Federal Issues Digital Assets Federal Reserve Cryptocurrency Fintech

On February 10, Federal Reserve Board Governor Christopher J. Waller gave a speech on the cryptocurrency ecosystem and digital assets before attendees at the Global Interdependence Center Conference: Digital Money, Decentralized Finance, and the Puzzle of Crypto. Waller provided a broad overview of digital assets and digital ledger technologies and briefly discussed the use of smart contracts in peer-to-peer trading, as well as their potential to automate the execution of certain transactions in non-crypto-assets such as securities transactions. He also highlighted risks associated with another emerging technology—tokenization—which, he explained, “when combined with data vaults to securely store personal information, can be used to trade objects in a way that protects one’s identity from being exploited for profit.” Waller commented that these potential applications could also “lead to substantial productivity enhancements in other industries” beyond the crypto ecosystem.

Waller went on to express support for prudent innovation but expressed concerns about banks engaging in activities that expose them to a heightened risk of fraud, scams, and legal uncertainties. “As with any customer in any industry, a bank engaging with crypto customers would have to be very clear about the customers’ business models, risk-management systems, and corporate governance structures to ensure that the bank is not left holding the bag if there is a crypto meltdown,” Waller stated. “And banks considering engaging in crypto-asset-related activities face a critical task to meet the ‘know your customer’ and ‘anti-money laundering’ requirements, which they in no way are allowed to ignore.”