US Bank Regulator OCC Asks for Public Input on Cryptocurrency Use in Financial Sector

A federal banking regulator is seeking public input on how cryptocurrencies interact with the national banking system and financial institutions.

AccessTimeIconJun 4, 2020 at 8:56 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 8:48 a.m. UTC
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One of the federal bank regulators in the U.S., and the only one that charters national banks, is seeking public input on how it regulates new technologies and digital banking activities, including cryptocurrencies and blockchain tools.

In an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking published Thursday, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) said it was reviewing its regulations around digital bank activities to ensure that these regulations “continue to evolve with developments in the industry.”

The notice, one of two published Thursday, was signed by Acting Comptroller of the Currency Brian Brooks, the former chief legal officer of Coinbase who took office at OCC last week. 

In an emailed statement, OCC spokesperson Bryan Hubbard said:

“The request for stakeholder comment is part of the OCC’s commitment to responsible innovation and aligned with our understanding that banks must be able to evolve to meet the needs of the consumers, businesses, and communities that rely on them. Our role is to ensure there is a clear, supportive regulatory framework for banks to do so. The request for comments helps ensure we hear from stakeholders of all kinds on those important issues.”

The notice specifically asked what sort of cryptocurrency-related activities banks and other financial institutions are currently engaged in, and what activities customers engage in that impact banks.

It also asked: 

“What are the barriers or obstacles, if any, to further adoption of crypto-related activities in the banking industry? Are there specific activities that should be addressed in regulatory guidance, including regulations?”

Separately from crypto assets specifically, the notice asked about the use of distributed ledger technology (DLT) in banking activities and – as with the crypto-related activities section – asked if there are any specific issues that need to be clarified.

“What new payments technologies and processes should the OCC be aware of and what are the potential implications of these technologies and processes for the banking industry? How are new payments technologies and processes facilitated or hindered by existing regulatory frameworks?” the filing said.

The notice also briefly addressed Brooks’ suggestion that his office could issue a national charter for cryptocurrency exchanges, which would essentially allow it to bypass the state-by-state framework that right now requires companies to secure 50 money services business (MSB) registrations to operate nationwide.

“The OCC is not seeking comment on its authority to issue a special purpose national bank charter,” it said.

In a statement, Blockchain Association Executive Director Kristin Smith said, “It’s heartening to see a top banking regulator understand the power of cryptocurrency. The notice today indicates that Acting Comptroller Brooks is serious about modernizing banking regulations so that innovators can bring new solutions to the legacy financial system.”

Individuals interested in providing public comment can email, mail, hand-deliver, fax or file feedback online, with comments due by Aug. 3, 2020.

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