BLOCKCHAIN—OCC says banks, thrifts may engage in specified stablecoin-related activities - 05 October 2020

In an interpretative letter, the agency said that national banks and thrifts may receive deposits from stablecoin issuers, including deposits that constitute reserves for a stablecoin associated with hosted wallets, and may also engage in any activity incidental to receiving these deposits.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has issued an interpretive letter clarifying the authority of national banks and federal savings associations to hold reserves for customers who issue certain stablecoins—cryptocurrency backed by an asset such as a fiat currency, including U.S. dollars or other foreign currency. According to the OCC, national banks and federal savings associations may accept deposits held as reserves for customers issuing stablecoins if the coins are held in hosted wallets. Acting Comptroller of the Currency Brian P. Brooks said the letter, which responds to questions regarding the application of stablecoin-related bank activities, "provides greater regulatory certainty for banks within the federal banking system to provide those client services in a safe and sound manner."

Authority to receive deposits. The OCC acknowledged that some stablecoin issuers may desire to place assets in a reserve account with a national bank to provide assurance that the issuer has sufficient assets backing the stablecoin. Since national banks are expressly authorized to receive deposits and may provide permissible banking services to any lawful business, including cryptocurrency businesses, national banks may receive deposits from stablecoin issuers, including deposits that constitute reserves for a stablecoin associated with hosted wallets, the letter said. This authority applies to thrifts as well.

Contractual agreements. A bank or thrift may also enter into appropriate contractual agreements with a stablecoin issuer governing the terms and conditions of the services being provided, the OCC said. These agreements may include contractual restrictions or requirements with respect to the assets held in the reserve account.

Compliance with laws and regulations. The OCC pointed out that, as with other deposit products, a national bank or thrift that accepts reserve accounts should be aware of the laws and regulations relating to deposit insurance coverage. A bank or thrift should therefore provide accurate and appropriate disclosures regarding deposit insurance coverage and ensure that its deposit activities comply with applicable laws and regulations, including those relating to the Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering. A bank or thrift must also identify and verify the beneficial owners of legal entity customers opening accounts and comply with applicable federal securities laws.

Risk factors. In addition, a bank or thrift should consider all relevant risk factors, including liquidity risk and compliance risk, before entering into any agreement or relationship with a stablecoin issuer, the letter said. The OCC cautioned that "reserves associated with stablecoins could entail significant liquidity risks" and, therefore, "[t]he OCC expects all banks to manage liquidity risk with sophistication equal to the risks undertaken and complexity of exposures."

Scope of interpretation. The OCC emphasized that its opinion does not address the authority to support stablecoin transactions involving un-hosted wallets but, rather, only addresses the use of stablecoin backed on a one-to-one basis by a single fiat currency where the bank verifies on a daily basis that reserve account balances are always equal to or greater than the number of the issuer’s outstanding stablecoins.



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