The Office of Comptroller of Currency Clarifies Guidelines for Cryptocurrencies

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The Office of Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) recently published a letter clarifying the guidelines for national banks and federal savings associations to provide and hold cryptocurrencies for their customers.

Interestingly, although the digital currency Bitcoin was formally launched in 2009, the OCC announcement stated, “(t)he OCC has recognized the importance of digital assets and the authority of both national and state banks to provide safekeeping for those assets since 1998.”  In the letter released publicly on July 22nd, the OCC clarified that providing cryptocurrency custody services is a modern form of traditional banking activities related to custody services. The crypto custody service could also extend past the holding of unique cryptographic keys that are associated with cryptocurrency.

The acting Comptroller of Currency, Brian P. Brooks stated “From safe-deposit boxes to virtual vaults, we must ensure banks can meet the financial services needs of their customers today. This opinion clarifies that banks can continue satisfying their customers’ needs for safeguarding their most valuable assets, which today for tens of millions of Americans includes cryptocurrency.”

In the letter the OCC also stated that as financial markets are increasingly becoming digitized, banks and other financial service providers need to leverage new technology and adapt to serve to their customers’ changing needs. By adapting with the digitization, banks can continue to fulfill their intermediary function of providing lending, payment, and depository services to all customers.

The letter reaffirms the OCC’s position that “national banks can provide banking services to any lawful business they choose, including cryptocurrency businesses, so long as they effectively manage the risk and comply with applicable law.” The clarification is significant for the crypto marketplace, as it provides for the banking sector to potentially facilitate wider adoption of digital currencies.  

As a side note to this story, the state of Wyoming, which is very crypto-friendly, has announced they are speeding up their internal regulatory efforts, which were already underway before the OCC announcement dropped, to allow banks in that state to accept and provide safekeeping for customers’ cryptocurrencies.