A U.S. BitLicense? OCC Acting Comptroller Sounds Open to It

By Eric A. Love and Hilda Li

In remarks delivered during a recent FinTech conference at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) Acting Comptroller Keith Noreika signaled that he is open to cryptocurrency companies applying for an OCC-issued FinTech charter.  According to the Acting Comptroller, part of the OCC’s role is to determine whether issuance of such a charter to cryptocurrency companies is consistent with the OCC’s “statutory obligations.”  He cautioned that, “just because you get in the door, doesn’t mean you get out the door on the other side with a charter.”  Video of the Acting Comptroller’s full remarks can be viewed here.

The remarks come as the OCC continues to consider whether it will issue a special purpose national bank charter to various kinds of FinTech companies, an issue that is the subject of pending legal challenges brought against the OCC by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors and the New York State Department of Financial Services.  In July 2017, the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) approved its “Uniform Regulation of Virtual-Currency Businesses Act” (the Act), which would require persons engaged in certain virtual currency business activities to obtain a license.  In some U.S. states, such persons are required to be licensed under the state’s existing money transmitter licensing law.  New York, however, has adopted a separate “BitLicense” regulation that applies to certain virtual currency business activities, and a number of states are considering a similarly tailored regulatory approach.  Moreover, many states may elect to adopt the Act, as recommended by the ULC.  Although regulatory regimes in other countries differ, Japan’s Financial Services Agency recently opted to issue licenses to eleven cryptocurrency exchanges.

Both the Acting Comptroller’s remarks and the Act represent notable developments in the push by many industry participants for greater uniformity and clarity regarding the regulatory treatment of cryptocurrency businesses in the U.S.  We will continue to monitor and report on future developments.

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