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Brian Brooks, Crypto-Friendly Bank Regulator, Expected to Step Down This Week: Report

The Acting OCC head will reportedly end his brief tenure running the federal banking regulator by the end of the week.

Jan 12, 2021 at 7:24 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 10:54 a.m. UTC

The acting head of the U.S. federal banking regulator is reportedly stepping down this week.

Brian Brooks, who is currently leading the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), will leave the federal agency within the next few days, Politico’s Victoria Guida reported Tuesday.

Brooks was named Acting Comptroller last summer after first joining the agency in March. He was nominated to serve a full term by President Donald Trump. However, with Trump’s loss in the November presidential election and the Democratic Party retaking the Senate earlier this month thanks to the results of the runoff election in the state of Georgia, it appears more likely President-elect Joe Biden will nominate his own choice to run the agency.

In an email, OCC Deputy Comptroller for Public Affairs Bryan Hubbard “refused to confirm such rumors.”

Brooks, the former general counsel at Coinbase, has had a major impact on the OCC’s crypto approach during his brief tenure. During his term, the OCC published several interpretive letters or made statements announcing that banks can provide services to issuers of stablecoins, partner with crypto custodians, conduct payments using stablecoins and operate nodes on blockchain networks. 

Possibly his most far-reaching impact came from his push for fintech startups – like crypto companies – to secure national banking charters, allowing them to operate throughout the country without needing to apply for each state’s money transmitters license. 

To date, BitPay, Paxos and Anchorage have filed for these charters.

However, the crypto-friendly regulator drew backlash from members of Congress, six of whom wrote an open letter after the election asking Brooks to focus on economic relief during the COVID-19 pandemic rather than crypto regulations. 

Rep. Maxine Waters, the chair of the Financial Services Committee, went a step further, asking Biden to rescind all of the OCC’s crypto-related guidance as part of a broader effort to revoke the rules implemented under Trump’s tenure. 

Brooks has been an advocate for a digital dollar and the crypto space more broadly, and likened decentralized finance (DeFi) to self-driving cars in an opinion piece in the Financial Times Tuesday morning. 

These “self-driving banks,” as Brooks put it, could create money market interest rates algorithmically, replacing human committees, and could enable broker-less trades. They could also increase liquidity risks or create asset volatility. 

He advocated for a national regulatory approach rather than a patchwork, state-by-state approach, though he noted Congress might have to update legislation to fully allow for the OCC to oversee this sector’s growth.

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