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On May 25, Senators Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), along with several other bipartisan Senators, announced the creation of the U.S. Senate Financial Innovation Caucus to highlight “responsible innovation in the United States financial system, and how financial technologies can improve markets to be more inclusive, safe and prosperous for all Americans.” The Senate will use the caucus “to discuss domestic and global financial technology issues, and to launch legislation to empower innovators, protect consumers and guide regulators, while driving U.S. financial leadership on the international stage.” The press release notes that the caucus is timely because of the “growing regulatory focus on digital assets,” which includes efforts by the Federal Reserve Board, SEC, and other foreign governments to create digital currencies. The caucus will focus on critical issues pertaining to the future of banking and U.S. competitiveness on the global stage, including: (i) distributed ledger technology (blockchain); (ii) artificial intelligence and machine learning; (iii) data management; (iv) consumer protection; (v) anti-money laundering; (vi) faster payments; (vii) central bank digital currencies; and (viii) financial inclusion and opportunity for all.
On May 24, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard spoke at the Consensus by CoinDesk 2021 Conference about the Fed’s exploration of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) and cross-border payments. Brainard noted that a CBDC may address concerns regarding the lack of federal deposit insurance and banking supervision for nonbank issuers of digital assets, and that “new forms of private money may introduce counterparty risk into the payments system in new ways that could lead to consumer protection threats or, at large scale, broader financial stability risks.” She highlighted that “introducing a safe and accessible central bank money to households and businesses in digital payments systems. . .would reduce counterparty risk and the associated consumer protection and financial stability risks.” Brainard noted that a Fed-backed digital currency could cause payment transactions to be cheaper, faster, and more efficient by improving processes for sending and receiving money internationally, encouraging private-sector competition in retail payments, and increasing financial inclusion.
Brainard discussed how CBDCs could affect central banks’ ability to manage the economy, saying a digital dollar would need to be designed with safeguards to “protect against disintermediation of banks and to preserve monetary policy transmission more broadly.” She cautioned that the design should complement, not replace, existing currency and bank deposits and emphasized the need for regulators to work together “to ensure that banks are appropriately identifying, monitoring, and managing risks associated with digital assets.”
As previously covered by InfoBytes, last week Chairman Jerome Powell stated that an important step in engaging the public about CBDCs involves “publishing [a] paper this summer to lay out the Fed’s current thinking on digital payments, with a particular focus on the benefits and risks associated with CBDC in the U.S. context.”
On May 20, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell released a video message outlining the potential use of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) in the U.S. payment system. Powell discussed how “the rise of distributed ledger technology, which offers a new approach to recording ownership of assets, has allowed for the creation of a range of new financial products and services—including cryptocurrencies,” which may carry potential risks to those users and to the broader financial system. Powell highlighted that the Fed is contemplating whether and how a U.S. CBDC would impact the domestic payments system, emphasizing that CBDCs “could serve as a complement to, and not a replacement of, cash and current private-sector digital forms of the dollar.” Powell also noted that, as part of the Fed’s ongoing efforts in exploring the potential benefits and risks of CBDCs from a variety of angles, the Fed will begin broader consideration of the creation of a U.S. CBDC by issuing a discussion paper and requesting public comment on benefits and risks. Powell stated he expects the Fed to play a leading role in developing international standards for CBDCs by “engaging actively with central banks in other jurisdictions as well as regulators and supervisors here in the United States throughout that process.”
On July 17, the U.S. Treasury Department issued a joint statement on the EU - U.S. Financial Regulatory Forum, which met virtually on July 14 and 15 and included participants from Treasury, the Federal Reserve Board, CFTC, FDIC, SEC, and OCC. Forum participants discussed six key themes: (i) potential financial stability implications and economic responses to the Covid-19 pandemic; (ii) capital market supervisory and regulatory cooperation, including cross-border supervision; (iii) “multilateral and bilateral engagement in banking and insurance,” including “cross-border resolution of systemic banks” and Volcker Rule implementation; (iv) approaches to anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism financing and remittances; (v) the regulation and supervision of digital finance and financial innovation, such as “digital operational resilience and developments in crypto-assets, so-called stablecoins, and central bank digital currencies”; and (vi) sustainable finance developments. EU and U.S. participants recognized the importance of communicating mutual supervisory and regulatory concerns to “support financial stability, investor protection, market integrity, and a level playing field.”
On February 5, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard spoke at the “Symposium on the Future of Payments” to discuss benefits and risks associated with the digitalization of payments and currency. Noting that some of the new players in this space are outside financial regulatory guardrails and offer new currencies that “could pose challenges in areas such as illicit finance, privacy, financial stability, and monetary policy transmission,” Brainard stressed the importance of assessing new approaches and redrawing existing parameters. Emphasizing, however, that no federal agency has broad authority over the payments systems, Brainard stated that Congress should review how retail payments are regulated in the U.S., given the growth in ways that money is able to move around without the need for a financial intermediary. Banking agencies may oversee nonbank payments “to the extent there is a bank nexus” or bank affiliation, Brainard noted, however, she cautioned that “this oversight will be quite limited to the extent that nonbank players reduce or eliminate the nexus to banks, such as when technology firms develop payments services connected to digital wallets rather than bank accounts and rely on digital currencies rather than sovereign currencies as the means of exchange.” According to Brainard, “a review of the nation’s oversight framework for retail payment systems could be helpful to identify important gaps.”
Among other topics, Brainard stated that the Fed is currently reviewing nearly 200 comment letters concerning the proposed FedNow Service announced last summer, which would “facilitate end-to-end faster payment services, increase competition, and ensure equitable and ubiquitous access to banks of all sizes nationwide.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Brainard also discussed the possibility of creating a central bank digital currency (CBDC). While noting that the “prospect for rapid adoption of global stablecoin payment systems has intensified calls for central banks to issue digital currencies in order to maintain the sovereign currency as the anchor of the nation’s payment systems,” Brainard stressed the importance of taking into account private sector innovations and considering whether adding a new form of central bank liability would improve the payment system and reduce operational vulnerabilities from a safety and resilience perspective. She noted that the Fed is “conducting research and experimentation related to distributed ledger technologies and their potential use case for digital currencies, including the potential for a CBDC.”
On May 15, Federal Reserve Board Governor Lael Brainard spoke at a digital currency conference sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco to discuss how digital innovations may impact the financial system, specifically in the areas of payments, clearing, and settlement. Brainard discussed, among other things, the importance of understanding the impact these innovations may have on (i) investor and consumer protection issues, and (ii) cryptocurrency and distributed ledger technology governance, particularly with respect to Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering concerns. In addition, Brainard commented on the inherent risks and challenges surrounding the concept of a central bank digital currency, and noted that at this time, “there is no compelling demonstrated need for a Fed-issued digital currency [because] [m]ost consumers and businesses in the U.S. already make retail payments electronically using debit and credit cards, payment applications, and the automated clearinghouse network. Moreover, people are finding easy ways to make digital payments directly to other people through a variety of mobile apps.” Brainard noted, however, that the Federal Reserve is monitoring these technological developments as “digital tokens for wholesale payments and some aspects of distributed ledger technology—the key technologies underlying cryptocurrencies—may hold promise for strengthening traditional financial instruments and markets” in the coming years.