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On April 8, acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael J. Hsu discussed stablecoin policy considerations in remarks before the Institute of International Economic Law at Georgetown University Law Center. Hsu called for the establishment of an “intentional architecture” for stablecoins developed along the principles of “[s]tability, interoperability and separability,” as well as “core values” of “privacy, security, and preventing illicit finance.” According to Hsu, one way to mitigate blockchain-related risks would be to “require that blockchain-based activities, such as stablecoin issuance, be conducted in a standalone bank-chartered entity, separate from any other insured depository institution  subsidiary and other regulated affiliates.” Hsu also emphasized the need to evaluate whether stablecoin issuers should be required “to comply with a fixed set of safety and soundness-like requirements (as is the case with banks)” or be allowed to pick from a range of licensing options.
Additionally, Hsu raised the question about how separable stablecoin issuers should be. “Blockchain-based money holds the promise of being ‘always on,’ irreversible, programmable, and settling in real-time,” he explained. “With these benefits, however, come risks, especially if commingled with traditional banking and finance.” Specifically, Hsu cited concerns that a bank’s existing measures for managing liquidity risks associated with traditional payments “may not be effective for blockchain-based payments,” which could conceivably accumulate over a weekend and “outstrip a bank’s available liquidity resources.” Hsu also raised concerns related to the current “lack of interoperability” should stablecoins expand from trading to payments, and stressed that “[i]n the long run, interoperability between stablecoins and with the dollar—including a [central bank digital currency]—would help ensure openness and inclusion.” He added that this “would also help facilitate broader use of the U.S. dollar—not a particular corporate-backed stablecoin—as the base currency for trade and finance in a blockchain-based digital future.”
On March 22, Treasury Under Secretary for Domestic Finance Nellie Liang spoke before the National Association for Business Economics on topics related to stablecoins and a possible central bank digital currency (CBDC). As instructed by President Biden’s Executive Order on digital assets (covered by InfoBytes here), Liang announced that Treasury will partner with other agencies in the coming months to produce a series of reports and recommendations focusing on (i) the future of money and payment systems, with a discussion of CBDCs; (ii) financial stability risks and regulatory gaps posed by digital assets; (iii) the use of digital assets for illicit finance and associated national security risks; and (iv) international engagement supporting global principles and standards for digital assets and CBDCs. “Regulatory policy for new financial products may need to evolve, but should follow ‘same risk, same regulation,’ in the sense that regulations should be based on risks of the activity rather than the technology itself,” Liang stressed, adding that Treasury’s work will “complement” other agency efforts such as the Federal Reserve Board’s recent discussion paper which emphasized that any CBDC should ensure users’ privacy, have an intermediated model, be transferable, and prevent illicit finance (covered by InfoBytes here).
On March 9, President Biden issued an Executive Order (E.O.) on digital assets outlining the first “whole-of-government” strategy to coordinate a comprehensive approach for ensuring responsible innovation in digital assets policy. (See also White House fact sheet here.) The White House highlighted that “non-state issued digital assets reached a combined market capitalization of $3 trillion” last November (up from $14 billion five years ago) and noted that many countries are currently exploring, or in certain cases introducing, central bank digital currencies (CBDC). The Executive Order on Ensuring Responsible Development of Digital Assets stressed that “we must take strong steps to reduce the risks that digital assets could pose to consumers, investors, and business protections,” and mitigate “illicit finance and national security risks posed by misuse of digital assets,” including money laundering, cybercrime and ransomware, terrorism and proliferation financing, and sanctions evasion. The E.O. cautioned that future digital assets systems must also promote high standards for transparency, privacy, and security.
The E.O. outlined several principal policy objectives, including that:
- Federal agencies are directed to coordinate policy recommendations to address the growth in the digital asset sector.
- Federal agencies are directed to explore the need for a potential U.S. CBDC. Treasury, along with heads of other relevant agencies, are ordered to submit “a report on the future of money and payment systems, including the conditions that drive broad adoption of digital assets; the extent to which technological innovation may influence these outcomes; and the implications for the United States financial system, the modernization of and changes to payment systems, economic growth, financial inclusion, and national security.” The Federal Reserve Board is also encouraged to continue researching, developing, and assessing efforts for a CBDC, including developing a broad government action plan for a potential launch. The E.O. also directed an assessment of whether legislative changes would be necessary in order to issue a CBDC.
- The Secretary of the Treasury will work with relevant agencies to produce a report on the future of money and payment systems, which will include implications for economic growth, financial growth and inclusion, national security, and the extent to which technological innovation may influence these areas. The approach to digital asset innovation must also address the risk of disparate impact, the E.O. stressed, adding that any approach should ensure equitable access to safe and affordable financial services.
- The Attorney General, FTC, and CFPB are “encouraged to consider what, if any, effects the growth of digital assets could have on competition policy.” The agencies are also “encouraged to consider the extent to which privacy or consumer protection measures within their respective jurisdictions may be used to protect users of digital assets and whether additional measures may be needed.” Additional federal agencies are also encouraged to consider the need for investor and market protections.
- The Financial Stability Oversight Council and Treasury are directed to identify and mitigate systemic financial risks posed by digital assets and develop policy recommendations to fill any regulatory gaps.
- Federal agencies are directed to work with allies and partners to ensure international frameworks, capabilities, and partnerships are aligned and responsive to risks posed by the illicit use of digital assets. Agencies should also explore “the extent to which technological innovation may impact such activities,” and explore “opportunities to mitigate these risks through regulation, supervision, public‑private engagement, oversight, and law enforcement.”
- Federal agencies are directed to establish a framework for interagency international engagement with foreign counterparts to adopt global principles and standards for how digital assets are used and transacted, and to promote digital asset and CBDC technology development.
CFPB Director Rohit Chopra and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen issued statements following Biden’s announcement. “Today’s Executive Order recognizes that the dramatic growth in digital asset markets has created profound implications for financial stability, consumer protection, national security, and energy demand,” Chopra said. “The [CFPB] is committed to working to promote competition and innovation, while also reducing the risks that digital assets could pose to our safety and security. We must make sure Americans in all financial markets are protected against errors, theft, or fraud.” Yellen stated that in addition to partnering with interagency colleagues to produce a report on the future of money and payment systems, Treasury will also work with international partners to promote robust cross-border standards and a level playing field. “As we take on this important work, we’ll be guided by consumer and investor protection groups, market participants, and other leading experts. Treasury will work to promote a fairer, more inclusive, and more efficient financial system, while building on our ongoing work to counter illicit finance, and prevent risks to financial stability and national security,” she said.
Treasury also recently announced that the Financial Literacy and Education Commission (led by Yellen and Chopra and comprised of the heads of 21 federal agencies and entities, including the OCC, Fed, FDIC, SEC, FTC, and HUD, among others) is forming a new subgroup on digital asset financial education to analyze the impact of digital assets on consumer and investor protections. “History has shown that, without adequate safeguards, forms of private money have the potential to pose risks to consumers and the financial system,” U.S. Under Secretary of the Treasury for Domestic Finance Nellie Liang said.
On March 1 and 2, EU and U.S. participants, including officials from the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve Board, CFTC, FDIC, SEC, and OCC, participated in the U.S. – EU Joint Financial Regulatory Forum to continue their ongoing financial regulatory dialogue. Matters discussed focused on six themes: “(1) market developments and current assessment of financial stability risks, (2) operational resilience and digital finance, (3) sustainable finance and climate-related financial risks, (4) regulatory and supervisory cooperation in capital markets, (5) multilateral and bilateral engagement in banking and insurance, and (6) anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT).”
While acknowledging that both the U.S. and EU are “experiencing robust economic recoveries,” participants warned that significant uncertainty and risks are created by the current geopolitical situation, as well as challenges stemming from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, high energy prices, and supply-chain bottlenecks. “[C]ooperative international engagement to mitigate financial stability risks remains essential,” participants stressed. During the meeting, participants also discussed recent developments related to crypto-assets, digital finance, and so-called stablecoins, as well as the potential for a central bank digital currency, and “acknowledged the importance of ongoing international work on digital finance and recognized the benefits of greater international supervisory cooperation with a view to promote responsible innovation globally.”
In addition, participants discussed various topics, including those related to third-party providers; climate-related financial risks and challenges, including sustainability reporting standards; the transition from LIBOR; and progress made in strengthening their respective AML/CFT frameworks.
On January 20, the Federal Reserve Board published a discussion paper, Money and Payments: The U.S. Dollar in the Age of Digital Transformation, which calls for public comments on questions related to the possibility of a U.S. central bank digital currency, or CBDC. “The introduction of a CBDC would represent a highly significant innovation in American money,” the Fed said, although the agency noted that it “does not intend to proceed with issuance of a CBDC without clear support from the executive branch and from Congress, ideally in the form of a specific authorizing law.” The paper examines the pros and cons of a potential CBDC and outlines a series of potential benefits, including faster payment options between countries. Among the various CBDC structures the Fed is considering is an intermediated model through which the private sector would facilitate the management of CBDC holdings and payments through accounts or digital wallets. Potential intermediaries could include commercial banks and regulated nonbank financial service providers. Such a model “would facilitate the use of the private sector’s existing privacy and identity-management frameworks; leverage the private sector’s ability to innovate; and reduce the prospects for destabilizing disruptions to the well-functioning U.S. financial system,” the Fed said. Additionally, a potential CBDC would also need to be readily transferable between customers of different intermediaries and must be designed to comply with rules regulating money laundering and the financing of terrorism (including the identification of persons accessing CBDC).
While a CBDC could improve cross-border payments and increase financial inclusion, the Fed warned that a CBDC may also yield potential negative effects, including affecting monetary policy implementation and interest rate control, as well as illicit finance controls and operational resilience. Consumer privacy could also be a concern, the Fed stated, noting that “any CBDC would need to strike an appropriate balance between safeguarding consumer privacy rights and affording the transparency necessary to deter criminal activity,” as the infrastructure of a CBDC could create opportunities for hackers since it would “potentially have more entry points than existing payment services.” The CBDC model under consideration would have intermediaries leverage exiting tools to address privacy concerns.
Feedback on the paper will be received through May 20.
On September 29 and 30, EU and U.S. participants, including officials from the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve Board, CFTC, FDIC, SEC, and OCC, participated in the U.S. – EU Joint Financial Regulatory Forum to continue their ongoing financial regulatory dialogue. Matters discussed focused on six different themes: “(1) market developments and current assessment of financial stability risks, (2) sustainable finance, (3) multilateral and bilateral engagement in banking and insurance, (4) regulatory and supervisory cooperation in capital markets, (5) financial innovation, and (6) anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT).”
While acknowledging that both the EU and U.S. are experiencing “robust economic recoveries,” participants cautioned that the uncertainty around the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic outlook has not dissipated. “[C]ooperative international engagement to mitigate financial stability risks remains essential,” participants warned. Participants also explored issues concerning climate-related challenges for the financial sector and mandates for addressing climate-related financial risks, and touched upon the EU’s strategy for financing its transition to a sustainable economy. Regarding financial innovation, participants discussed potential central bank digital currencies and exchanged views on topics such as new types of digital payments, crypto-assets, and stablecoins, with all participants recognizing the “benefits of greater international supervisory cooperation” and “promot[ing] responsible innovation globally.” In addition, participants discussed progress made in strengthening their respective AML/CFT frameworks, “exchanged views on the opportunities and challenges arising from financial innovation in the AML/CFT area and explored potential areas for enhanced cooperation to combat money laundering and terrorist financing bilaterally and in the framework of [the Financial Action Task Force].”
On June 24, the U.S. Treasury Department provided an overview of recent meetings of the U.S.-UK Financial Innovation Partnership (FIP) where Regulatory and Commercial Pillars participants exchanged views on “topics of mutual interest in the U.S. and UK FinTech ecosystems and [sought to] deepen ties between U.S. and UK financial authorities.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FIP was created in 2019 as a way to expand bilateral financial services collaborative efforts, study emerging fintech innovation trends, and share information and expertise on regulatory practices. The first meeting of the FIP took place in August 2020 (covered by InfoBytes here). Topics discussed in the most recent meeting included digital payments, central bank digital currencies, regulatory and supervisory technology, innovative financial service testing, and the upcoming U.S.-UK Financial Regulatory Working Group meeting. Participants acknowledged “the continued importance of the ongoing partnership on global financial innovation as an integral component of U.S.-UK financial services cooperation.”
On June 16, Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee Maxine Waters (D-CA) announced the organization of the “Digital Assets Working Group of Democratic Members” to develop “legislation and policy solutions” on issues emerging in the digital asset space, including those related to (i) the regulation of cryptocurrency; (ii) the use of blockchain and distributed ledger technology; and (iii) the potential development of a U.S. central bank digital currency (see InfoBytes coverage on matters related to a CBDC here). During the first hearing held by the Task Force on Financial Technology, Waters stated that the working group will “focus on making sure there is responsible innovation in the cryptocurrency and digital asset space,” noting that “[a]s cryptocurrencies, central bank digital currencies and other digital assets enter the mainstream, the Committee will look at how digital assets have begun to enter many aspects of our lives—from payments to investments to remittances—and consider how to devise legislation to support responsible innovation that protects consumers and investors while promoting greater financial inclusion.”
On June 9, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Policy held a hearing titled “Building A Stronger Financial System: Opportunities of a Central Bank Digital Currency” to discuss the potential opportunities of a central bank digital currency (CBDC). Among the issues discussed at the hearing were protecting consumer privacy and security, financial inclusion, and the Federal Reserve’s authority.
The Honorable J. Christopher Giancarlo, Senior Counsel at Willkie Farr & Gallagher, was a witness on behalf of the Digital Dollar Project (DDP). The digital dollar, proposed by the Fed, would be distributed through the two-tiered banking system and operated alongside physical currency and commercial bank money. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) asked how a CBDC should be designed, implemented, and regulated to reduce the risk of fraud and ensure privacy. Giancarlo, who stated he is not convinced of the need for CBDC, but believed in the need to examine this issue, said the DDP convened a privacy subcommittee which addressed four principles: (i) economic privacy; (ii) security; (iii) inclusion; and (iv) sufficient transparency to provide settlement and payment certainty. When Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) questioned witness Dr. Neha Narula, Director of the Digital Currency Initiative at MIT, on security risks associated with cryptocurrencies, she responded that, with respect to ransomware attacks, the issue is that valuable data has not been properly secured, and suggested that a CBDC could have built-in safeguards. She also believed that open source software is critical for security.
Subcommittee Chairwoman Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) suggested that banks use “abusive” practices and that the crypto industry has promised a better and more inclusive financial system, which reduces cost and improves quality. When Warren asked if a well-designed CBDC could help people who are poorly served by the current financial system, Narula emphasized the importance of designing a CBDC with a focus on accessibility and reducing barriers to access.
Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) argued that Americans should not be subject to excessive fees to access their own money. He also noted that a CBDC may work with a solution he has proposed, called No-Fee Accounts, which would be available to every American and backed by the Fed. As previously covered by InfoBytes, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard noted in a speech 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.” Ranking Member Pat Toomey (R-PA) expressed his concerns around the Fed’s position in retail banking services and was doubtful that the Fed would provide high quality customer service, while Ranking Member John Kennedy (R-LA) questioned if it is appropriate for the federal government to get entangled in the credit markets by way of a CBDC.
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.
- John R. Coleman to discuss “CFPB update” at the MBA Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "State licensing and NMLS challenges" at MBA’s Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Fair lending and equal opportunity laws” at the MBA Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss “Contemplating the boundaries of UDAAP” at the MBA Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Steven vonBerg to speak at closing “super session“ on compliance topics at MBA Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Buckley Webcast: Fifth Circuit muddles CFPB’s plans to use in-house judges in enforcement proceedings
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss “Understanding the ESG impact on compliance” at the ABA’s Regulatory Compliance Conference