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On July 20, 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 financial stability risks, (2) sustainable finance and climate-related financial risks, (3) regulatory developments in banking and insurance, (4) regulatory and supervisory cooperation in capital markets, (5) operational resilience and digital finance, and (6) anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT).”
The statement acknowledged that the Russia/Ukraine conflict, as well as “inflationary pressures”, exposes “a series of downside risks to financial markets both in the EU and in the U.S.” The statement notes that financial markets have so far proven to be “resilient” and stressed that “[i]nternational cooperation in monitoring and mitigating financial stability risks remains essential in the current global environment in light of the negative impacts on global energy and commodities markets.” During the Forum, participants also discussed recent developments related to digital finance and crypto-assets, including so-called stablecoins, as well as potential central bank digital currencies. Additionally, participants discussed various issues related to third-party providers; climate-related financial risks and challenges, including sustainability reporting standards; the transition away from LIBOR; and progress made in strengthening their respective AML/CFT frameworks.
On June 30, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen discussed stablecoin risks during a meeting of principals representing the President’s Working Group (PWG) on Financial Markets in addition to the OCC, FDIC, and the CFPB, where she reiterated her call for a regulatory framework for stablecoins. Participants discussed developments since the release of a stablecoin report issued by the PWG, OCC, and FDIC last November (covered by InfoBytes here). The report noted that stablecoins may be more widely used in the future as a means of payment, which Yellen said at the time could increase “risks to users and the broader system.” The report also recommended that Congress promptly enact legislation to address the risks of payment stablecoins and ensure that payment stablecoins and payment stablecoin arrangements are subject to consistent and comprehensive federal oversight.
According to Treasury’s readout, Yellen “emphasized how recent events have underscored the urgent need to ensure that stablecoin arrangements are subject to a federal framework on a consistent and comprehensive basis” and “highlighted the need to continue to constructively engage in serious legislative efforts to promptly put in place a regulatory framework for stablecoins that would address current and future risks, such as those related to runs, safety and soundness, consumer protection, the payment system, and the concentration of economic power, while complementing existing authorities with respect to market integrity, investor protection, and illicit finance.” She also “commended the steps that individual agencies have taken within the scope of their mandates and authorities.”
On June 8, NYDFS released new regulatory guidance on the issuance of U.S. dollar-backed stablecoins, establishing criteria for regulated virtual currency companies seeking to issue stablecoins in the state. The guidance outlines baseline criteria for USD-backed stablecoins, including that: (i) a “stablecoin must be fully backed by a Reserve of assets,” such that the Reserve’s market value “is at least equal to the nominal value of all outstanding units of the stablecoin as of the end of each business day”; (ii) stablecoin issuers “must adopt clear, conspicuous redemption policies, approved in advance by [NYDFS] in writing, that confer on any lawful holder of the stablecoin a right to redeem units of the stablecoin from the Issuer in a timely fashion at par for the U.S. dollar”; (iii) Reserve assets must be segregated from an issuer’s proprietary assets and “held in custody with U.S. state or federally chartered depository institutions and/or asset custodians”; (iv) a Reserve must consist of specific assets subject to NYDFS-approved overcollateralization requirements and restrictions; and (v) a Reserve must undergo an examination of its management’s assertions at least once a month by a licensed certified public accountant.
NYDFS emphasized that these criteria are not the only requirements it may impose when issuing stablecoins, and informed regulated entities that it will also consider a range of potential risks prior to granting a regulated entity authorization to issue stablecoins. This includes risk related to “cybersecurity and information technology; network design and maintenance and related technology and operational considerations; Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money-laundering  and sanctions compliance; consumer protection; safety and soundness of the issuing entity; and the stability/integrity of the payment system, as applicable.” Additional requirements may be imposed on regulated entities to address any of these risks.
NYDFS noted that the regulatory guidance is not applicable to USD-backed stablecoins listed, but not issued, by regulated entities, and stated it “does expect regulated entities that list USD-backed stablecoins to consider this guidance when submitting a request for coin issuance or seeking approval for a coin self-certification policy.”
On April 27, acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael J. Hsu issued a statement regarding stablecoin standards after appearing before the Artificial Intelligence and the Economy: Charting a Path for Responsible and Inclusive AI symposium hosted by the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Institute of Standards and Technology, FinRegLab, and the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence. According to Hsu, the internet has “technical foundations” that “provide for an open, royalty-free network.” He further noted that “[t]hose foundations did not emerge on their own. They were developed by standard setting bodies like IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) and W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), which had representatives with differing perspectives, a shared public interest ethos, and a strong leader committed to the vision of an open and inclusive internet.” Hsu further stated that stablecoins do not have “shared standards and are not interoperable.” However, to make stablecoins “open and inclusive,” Hsu said that he believed that “a standard setting initiative similar to that undertaken by IETF and W3C needs to be established, with representatives not just from crypto/Web3 firms, but also from academia and government.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, Hsu discussed stablecoin policy considerations earlier this month in remarks before the Institute of International Economic Law at Georgetown University Law Center, calling for the establishment of an “intentional architecture” for stablecoins developed through principles of “[s]tability, interoperability and separability,” as well as “core values” of “privacy, security, and preventing illicit finance.”
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 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 February 8, Under Secretary for Domestic Finance Nellie Liang testified before the House Financial Services Committee that more must be done to clearly and consistently regulate stablecoins. Stablecoins’ “exponential growth” heightens “the urgency of ensuring that an appropriate regulatory framework is in place,” Liang stressed, adding that the value of stablecoins has grown over the last two years from roughly $5 billion in 2020 to approximately $175 billion today.
Liang encouraged lawmakers to consider two additional issues as they create policy: (i) regulations for “intermediaries” in the digital asset markets, including traditional financial actors such as banks and investment companies, as well as stablecoin issuers, custodial wallet providers, and digital asset exchanges; and (ii) potential systemic risk that may result from the build-up of leverage against digital assets, which “can play a key role in catalyzing and accelerating financial instability.” Liang compared the second issue to the 2007-2008 financial crisis. To address this risk, Liang stated that the Biden Administration is examining the role that leverage plays in the digital asset market, as well as the implications that leverage may have on the rest of the financial system. She also reiterated concerns raised in the President’s Working Group (PWG) on Financial Markets’ report on stablecoins (covered by InfoBytes here), which emphasized that stablecoins may be more widely used in the future as a means of payment and could increase “risks to users and the broader system.” Liang stressed that “[w]hile Treasury and the PWG fully support efforts by state and federal agencies to use existing authorities in support of their statutory mandates, we do not believe existing authorities provide a sufficient basis for comprehensive and consistent oversight of stablecoins.”
On January 13, acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael J. Hsu spoke before the British American Business Transatlantic Finance Forum’s Executive Roundtable to discuss stablecoins and other crypto-assets regulations. In his remarks, Hsu described stablecoins as “the oxygen of the crypto ecosystem,” noting that they help link cryptocurrencies to fiat currencies. Hsu noted that crypto has “gone mainstream,” providing the example that “[s]ixteen percent of U.S. adults say that they have owned, traded or used some form of cryptocurrency.” In discussing the underbanked and minorities interested in crypto, Hsu quoted a survey finding that “37 percent of the underbanked indicated that they own cryptocurrency, compared to 10 percent of the fully banked.” Hsu argued that banking regulations are designed to mitigate run risks for stablecoins, stating that “[s]tablecoin issuers subject to bank regulation would give holders of those stablecoins confidence that those coins were as reliable and ‘money good’ as bank deposits,” and that “[s]trong, targeted federal regulation of money and banking can help establish a solid foundation for the economy enabling healthy innovation and growth.” While Hsu expressed his excitement for “the pace of innovation in crypto,” he warned that “a careful approach is warranted,” as a result of the “lack of standards and controls in the crypto space.” Hsu also expressed that “bank regulation would give credibility to the ‘stable’ part of stablecoins,” and stressed the need for a coordinated and collaborative regulatory approach “with regards to large crypto intermediaries, which are increasingly operating globally and across a wide range of activities.”
On November 1, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets (PWG), with the FDIC and the OCC (collectively, “agencies”), released a report on stablecoins, which are a kind of digital asset intended to maintain a stable value relative to the U.S. dollar. The report noted that stablecoins may be more widely used in the future as a means of payment, which Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen said could increase “risks to users and the broader system.” Additionally, Secretary Yellen considers current stablecoin oversight to be “inconsistent and fragmented.” Among other things, the report discussed gaps in regulatory authority to reduce these risks. The report recommended that Congress promptly enact legislation to address the risks of payment stablecoins and ensure that payment stablecoins and payment stablecoin arrangements are subject to consistent and comprehensive federal oversight and to “increase transparency into key aspects of stablecoin arrangements and to ensure that stablecoins function in both normal times and in stressed market conditions.” According to the announcement, “[s]uch legislation would complement existing authorities with respect to market integrity, investor protection, and illicit finance, and would address key concerns,” including: (i) risks to stablecoin users and stablecoin runs; (ii) payment system risk; and (iii) systemic risk and concentration of economic power.
While Congress examines legislation on stablecoin, the report recommended that the Financial Stability Oversight Council consider steps for addressing risks, such as “the designation of certain activities conducted within stablecoin arrangements as, or as likely to become, systemically important payment, clearing, and settlement (PCS) activities,” which would be subject to an examination and enforcement framework. The report also recommended that stablecoin issuers “comply with activities restrictions that limit affiliation with commercial entities,” to maintain the separation of banking and commerce. Additionally, the report discussed that, in addition to existing AML/CFT regulations, stablecoin arrangements and activities may implicate the jurisdiction of the SEC and/or CFTC. Therefore, to prevent misuse of stablecoins and other digital assets, the announcement noted that Treasury “will continue leading efforts at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to encourage countries to implement international AML/CFT standards and pursue more resources to support supervision of domestic AML/CFT regulations.”
The same day, Treasury released a fact sheet on the PWG report, which clarified, among other things, the purpose of the report, risks posed by stablecoins, and the agencies’ recommendations. In a statement released by OCC acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael J. Hsu, he emphasized his support for the recommendations highlighted in the report pointing out that, “[s]tablecoins need federal prudential supervision to grow and evolve safely.” In a statement released by CFPB Director Rohit Chopra, he noted that though the CFPB was not a member of the PWG, the Bureau “will be taking several steps related to this market,” such as the CFPB’s orders to six large U.S. technology companies seeking information and data on their payment system business practices (covered by InfoBytes here), among other things.