In a series of recent interviews (including with the American Bankers Association and a podcast with the ABA Banking Journal), Acting Comptroller of the Currency Brian Brooks discussed the Office of the Comptroller’s (OCC’s) plans to soon roll out another special purpose national bank (SPNB) charter specifically geared toward payments companies. This “payments charter” could be especially appealing for those companies looking for a national licensing platform for their payments business because it would provide federal preemption of state money transmitter licensing and related laws, which would eliminate the need to obtain a license to operate in each state.

The virtual currency Bitcoin has been a hot topic in FinReg for some time, but in recent weeks mainstream interest in Bitcoin has grown in light of the approaching “halving” or “halvening.” So what is the “halvening” and why does it matter from a regulatory perspective?

What Is Bitcoin?

First, a bit of background. Bitcoin is based on technology known as “blockchain.” As it relates to Bitcoin, blockchain is a publically available ledger that provides a permanent record of Bitcoin transactions. Each “block” constitutes a series of transaction records, which builds on the block before it. Taken together, these blocks form a permanent “chain” showing the entire history of Bitcoin.

Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic continue to monitor and address cryptoasset and distributed ledger technology activities. We recently posted on the guidance issued by the US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network on cryptocurrencies and in another post touched upon differences in the regulatory treatment of cryptoassets across jurisdictions. Today we report on two new developments relating to the treatment of cryptoassets by UK and US regulators.

In its continued efforts to learn what broker-dealers and their employees are doing in the digital asset space, FINRA has effectively reissued a regulatory notice requesting that broker-dealers keep FINRA apprised of their digital asset activities.

 Last July, FINRA issued Regulatory Notice 18-20 where it requested that broker-dealers notify their regulatory coordinators about their and their registered representatives’ digital asset activities. Although not an exhaustive list, some activities FINRA wants information about include the following:

On July 8, the staffs of the Division of Trading and Markets (TM) of the US Securities and Exchange Commission and of the Office of General Counsel of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. issued a joint statement on broker-dealer custody of digital assets that are also securities (Joint Statement). As explained in, and for purposes of, the Joint Statement, a “digital asset” refers to an asset that is issued and transferred using distributed ledger or blockchain technology, including, but not limited to, so-called “virtual currencies,” “coins,” and “tokens.” While all digital assets are not securities under the federal securities laws, a digital asset that is a security is referred to as a “digital asset security” in the Joint Statement. While the Joint Statement provides some insight on the issues under consideration by regulators regarding custody, it does not identify specific circumstances under which a broker-dealer could custody digital asset securities in a manner consistent with the financial responsibility rule applicable to broker-dealers.

We are always looking to identify good forums for keeping abreast of global fintech developments and trends. One such interesting platform was Cross-Border Fintech: Regulation & the Law 2019, held in London on June 6, where we heard some great insights into the current market trends in and the future of fintech. The conference was well attended, with representatives of many industry leaders, authorities, and industry bodies in attendance. The participation of many on the front lines of fintech from financial institutions, fintech startups, and industry bodies created a forum to share innovative ideas and trends that allowed participants—including us—to keep up with the latest innovation.

Practitioners, academics, and entrepreneurs joined SEC regulators at the 2019 FinTech Forum hosted by the SEC’s Strategic Hub for Innovation and Financial Technology (FinHub) on May 31 in Washington, DC. Panelists discussed a range of considerations on digital assets, including capital formation, trading and markets, investment management, and innovations in distributed ledger technology (DLT). In keeping with a positive trend that has emerged among the federal financial regulatory agencies, the forum demonstrated the SEC’s desire for industry engagement and the depth of its knowledge in the emerging technology.

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) recently issued guidance consolidating current FinCEN regulations, rulings, and guidance about cryptocurrencies and money services businesses (MSBs) under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). Along with the May 9 guidance, FinCEN issued an advisory to assist financial institutions in identifying and reporting suspicious activity or criminal use of cryptocurrencies.

In a recently published statement, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS) has raised concerns relating to the risks that crypto-assets pose to the global financial system. While it acknowledges that banks do not currently have significant exposure to crypto-assets, it warns that these assets are increasingly becoming a threat to financial stability.

These concerns are founded on the volatility, constant evolution, and lack of standardization of crypto-assets, which the BCBS believes exposes banks to liquidity, credit, operational, money laundering, legal, and reputational risks. It considers that crypto-assets should not be referred to as “cryptocurrencies,” given that they fall short of being currencies that are safe mediums of exchange.

The Joint Committee of the European Supervisory Authorities (the ESAs) issued a report on 7 January 2019 on the status of regulatory sandboxes and innovation hubs following consultations with national regulators across the European Union.

The report compares the innovation hubs and regulatory sandboxes established in 21 EU member states and three EEA states, flagging too that Hungary and Spain are in the process of establishing regulatory sandboxes.