In Her Own Words: Here's What Janet Yellen Has Said About Bitcoin

Janet Yellen wasn’t a fan of bitcoin when she ran the Fed. Her views as Treasury Secretary may shape crypto regulation over the next four years.

AccessTimeIconNov 24, 2020 at 6:08 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 10:34 a.m. UTC

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen could become the next U.S. Treasury Secretary. 

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that President-elect Joe Biden plans to nominate Yellen in the coming days, positioning the longtime economist to succeed current Secretary Steven Mnuchin if approved by the U.S. Senate. While Yellen hasn’t said a lot about bitcoin, she is clearly familiar with the cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, and spoke about both while she was still in office at the Fed.

Here’s what she said.

Personal views on bitcoin

  • October 2015: “We do not interpret bitcoin’s popularity as having a relationship with the public’s view of the Federal Reserve’s conduct of monetary policy.” 
  • December 2017: “It is not a stable store of value and it doesn’t constitute legal tender. It is a highly speculative asset.”
  • October 2018: “I will just say outright I am not a fan, and let me tell you why. I know there are hundreds of cryptocurrencies and maybe something is coming down the line that is more appealing but I think first of all, very few transactions [that] are actually handled by bitcoin, and many of those do take place on bitcoin are illegal, illicit transactions.”

Bitcoin and regulation

  • February 2014: “The Fed doesn’t have authority to supervise or regulate bitcoin in any way.”
  • October 2015: Yellen said the U.S.’ financial regulators should not “stifle innovation.”
  • December 2017: “... [T]he Fed doesn’t really play any role, any regulatory role with respect to bitcoin other than assuring that banking organizations that we do supervise are attentive that they’re appropriately managing any interactions they have with participants in that market, and appropriately monitoring anti-money laundering [and] Bank Secrecy Act responsibilities that they have.”

Blockchain

  • September 2016: "[Blockchain] could have very significant implications for the payments system and the conduct of business."
  • January 2017: "[Blockchain] is a very important, new technology that could have implications for the way in which transactions are handled throughout the financial system."

It’s unclear how Yellen might approach crypto regulations, or if they’ll even be a priority. However, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), Federal Reserve, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) all either work closely with the Treasury Department or are bureaus within the department. 

Razvan Suprovici, founder of crypto gifting service Biterica, gifted $20 in bitcoin to Yellen after her 2018 remarks, though at the time she said she hadn’t looked into the gift. If she kept the funds, they would be worth about $60 at press time.

And there was also Bitcoin Sign Guy, who flashed a “buy bitcoin” note behind Yellen while she was testifying before a congressional subcommittee in 2017.

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