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.

As readers of our blog are aware, courts and regulators are playing catch-up when it comes to cryptocurrencies, and to interpreting existing laws and regulations as applied to these new and innovative offerings. One of these many important questions relates to whether virtual currencies are “commodities” within the meaning of the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) and subject to regulation by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). A recent ruling by a US district court in Massachusetts held that a virtual currency (My Big Coin) is a commodity within the meaning of the CEA and is therefore subject to the anti-fraud authority of the CFTC, even though there currently is no futures contract on My Big Coin. My Big Coin is a Las Vegas-based creator of software that purportedly allows for the anonymous exchange of currency.

It’s here. The Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation have released a proposed rule (Proposed Rule) that would make important modifications to Section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act, commonly known as “the Volcker Rule.” The Proposed Rule is intended to address the “complexity” of the Volcker Rule, which has created “compliance uncertainty” and, in the words of Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, to “allow firms to conduct appropriate activities without undue burden and without sacrificing safety and soundness.”

The remaining three agencies responsible for implementation of the Volcker Rule (Office of the Comptroller of Currency, the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission) are expected to release their proposals shortly. Other than agency-specific variations, the proposal released by each of the five agencies is expected to be the same. The comment period for the Proposed Rule will be 60 days from the date of publication of the proposal in the Federal Register.

Recent events in the cryptocurrency markets, including the wild swings in the trading prices of bitcoin, the growing incidence of initial coin offerings (ICOs) entailing the offer and sale of unregistered securities, and the launch of bitcoin futures trading, have encouraged the federal government to ratchet up its interest in virtual currencies. Not only have the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) made public announcements about virtual currencies and taken enforcement action against virtual currency companies or initial coin offerors in recent months, but Congress now is showing increased interest in bitcoin and other virtual currencies. A few very recent signals of heightened governmental interest in virtual currency are highlighted below:

  • The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs (Senate Banking Committee) held two hearings in January during which virtual currencies were discussed in connection with strengthening anti-money laundering (AML) laws
  • Reports indicate that the Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing in February to analyze the implications of cryptocurrencies. CFTC Chairman Christopher Giancarlo and SEC Chairman Jay Clayton will likely testify at the hearing
  • On January 19, Mr. Giancarlo called on the Futures and Derivatives Bar to “set the course for the future” of virtual currencies
  • In a January 22 speech, Mr. Clayton again cautioned market professionals and “gatekeepers” that they need to “do better” in their handling of ICOs, and said that the SEC staff will be on “high alert” for ICOs that may be “contrary to the spirit of our securities laws.”

In the closely watched case PHH Corporation v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has held that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB’s) structure is unconstitutional but that the constitutional flaw is remedied simply by striking the CFPB provision that authorizes the statute restricting the US president’s power to remove its director except “for cause.” In this manner, the court has allowed the CFPB to continue operating as it has done with minimal real changes: if the decision ultimately becomes final, the CFPB’s director will become subject to removal from office by and the direction of the president, as is the case with any other Executive Branch agency, such as the US Department of Justice or Department of the Treasury.

Having determined that the CFPB may continue operating, the court also addressed the appeal’s merits and remanded the case to the CFPB director for further action consistent with the opinion. The CFPB may seek review of the decision by the full DC Circuit or from the US Supreme Court.

On July 19, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a bureau within the US Department of the Treasury responsible for the Bank Secrecy Act, issued guidance in the form of frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding its recently adopted customer due diligence requirements (CDD Rule). The FAQs offer a condensed summary of the CDD Rule’s requirements, but FinCEN has missed an opportunity to address an ambiguity in the CDD Rule regarding its application to private investment vehicles.

Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Mark Warner (D-VA), along with Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD), introduced new legislation that would amend the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) to require the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to impose fees, increase civil penalties, mandate that FX swaps and FX forwards be treated as swaps (reversing the Treasury Determination), and tighten swap data reporting and capital requirements, among other new obligations.

Starting August 1, violations of financial regulations will come with higher civil money penalties (CMPs). The CMP increases are in response to the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Improvements Act of 2015 (the Act). The Act requires Executive Branch and independent agencies (Agencies) to make annual adjustments for inflation to CMP dollar amounts, as well as an initial “catch-up” adjustment based on a formula set forth in the Act. Although the Act was part of the contentious budget bill that was passed on October 30, 2015 (and that avoided a government shutdown), the Act did not receive much independent coverage, and the increases may be unexpected to businesses that are potentially subject to the increased penalties.

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the bureau of the US Department of the Treasury responsible for oversight and enforcement of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), has issued an interim final rule (Rule) that significantly increases the statutory penalties for various violations of the BSA and its applicable regulations. Prior to the Rule, FinCEN had not increased its civil money penalty (CMP) amounts for more than a decade, and in some cases, for several decades.

The increases are being issued in response to the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Improvements Act of 2015 (the Act). The Act requires Executive Branch and independent agencies to make annual adjustments for inflation to CMP dollar amounts, as well as an initial “catch-up” adjustment based on a formula set forth in the Act. Although the Act was part of the contentious budget bill that was passed in the early morning of October 30, 2015, and avoided a government shutdown, the Act did not receive much independent coverage, and the increases may be unexpected to some businesses subject to the BSA.

Last Friday, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a notice stating that, effective in less than 70 days (July 31), broker-dealers will no longer be able to engage in leveraged foreign exchange (forex or FX) business with persons other than “eligible contract participants” as defined in Section 1a(18) of the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA), including those that are dually registered with the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) as Futures Commission Merchants (FCMs). What this effectively means is that only standalone CFTC registered and National Futures Association (NFA) member FCMs or retail FX dealers, as well as certain banks, may serve as counterparties in retail forex transactions.