Payments Executive Brief Issue 14
Download a PDF of this brief here.
Bitcoin’s market cap is larger than the economies of some of the world’s smaller nations. The prices of popular cryptocurrencies continue to soar to new heights. Meanwhile, several financial institutions and tech giants announced significant digital asset initiatives.
These new developments signal a shift in attitudes toward digital currencies. Digital assets are moving into the mainstream, and this means community banks need to understand what cryptocurrencies are and the impact of virtual currencies on their institutions and customers.
Cryptocurrencies have been around for years with little market traction until recently. While estimates show only 8 percent of Americans own cryptocurrency, 81 percent are familiar with it, and recent developments are bolstering market awareness and adoption.
Cryptocurrency is gaining ground with your customers. 40 percent of Americans who have heard of cryptocurrency believe it will be widely accepted as a payment type in the next 10 years. What’s more, 35 percent of Millennials familiar with crypto assets report having purchased them in the past year. Your competitors are embracing cryptocurrency.
PayPal recently announced that it will support cryptocurrency transactions. JPMorgan Chase created its own digital currency, JPM Coin. Notably, Visa also launched the Coinbase Visa debit card, which allows customers to spend digital assets anywhere Visa is accepted and in nine different cryptocurrencies. With all this activity, community banks should consider the impact of cryptocurrency on their payments strategy.
Around the globe, central banks are considering digital currency. Overall, the International Monetary Fund estimates more than 50 countries are researching or developing a central bank digital currency. For example, China trialed its DC/EP (digital currency/electronic payments) in three cities, and the Bahamas and Cambodia successfully launched central bank digital currencies.
The Federal Reserve is exploring different forms of a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston is collaborating with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to investigate the potential of a digital dollar.
Cryptocurrencies can seem mysterious and even controversial, but they are here to stay. Community banks can capitalize on cryptocurrency developments and should also consider its risks.
5 Steps Community Banks Can Take Today to Prepare for Increased Cryptocurrency Use
Educate yourself and your team on cryptocurrency. While the impact on community financial institutions is currently limited, community banks should stay informed on digital assets. A knowledgeable team is a prepared team. Use ICBA resources to provide relevant background to your board, leadership, and employees. Stay tuned for future related educational content from ICBA.
Conduct your due diligence. With the rise in popularity of cryptocurrencies, chances are your customers are buying them with their bank accounts. Community banks need to monitor accounts for cryptocurrency activity. Engage your risk and compliance officers to establish a process to track and assess crypto asset activities and associated risks.
Monitor regulatory and legislative developments. As cryptocurrencies gain wider acceptance, they have caught the attention of regulators and legislators. More guidance and oversight will emerge requiring additional due diligence, ongoing monitoring, or additional controls to appropriately manage and control risk. For example, the IRS recently released guidance explaining that virtual currency is treated as property for federal income tax purposes. (See sidebar for additional developments.)
Firm up your own long-term digital payments strategy. Cryptocurrencies are part of a larger trend of digital transformation taking place across the financial services industry. Community banks can be best prepared for the shift by examining their digital strategy, including updating any systems to adapt and handle change. A helpful starting point is ICBA’s interactive assessment tool and guide to determine if your tools and solutions are keeping pace with evolving customer demand.
We want to hear from you! Let us know about your experience with cryptocurrencies at your bank. How are you educating your account holders? Do you have any tips to share? Tell us how ICBA can better equip you to respond to this new dynamic.
In 2019, when Facebook announced its plans to introduce a global digital currency, Libra, the move prompted opposition from world leaders and scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers. As cryptocurrencies become more commonplace, regulatory bodies are now responding with more clarity and rules in a previously legally gray area.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) The DOJ issued “Cryptocurrency: An Enforcement Framework” in October 2020 to address the increasing prevalence of cryptocurrencies. The framework is divided into three sections: 1) a comprehensive overview of the emerging threats and enforcement challenges of cryptocurrencies; 2) a summary of key laws and regulatory and enforcement partners, notably citing the DOJ’s relationship with FinCEN, OFAC, OCC, SEC, IRS, and others in addressing cryptocurrency activities; and 3) an outline of the DOJ’s current enforcement challenges and potential response strategies.
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) Recognizing that the financial markets are increasingly becoming digitized, the OCC offered guidance in July 2020 to national banks and federal savings associations expanding the authority for banks to provide safekeeping services to include custodial services of cryptocurrencies. In doing so, the regulatory policy enhances banks’ long history of safekeeping assets and ability to serve their customers’ needs.
The Federal Reserve & Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) The Federal Reserve and FinCEN are considering broadening the definition of money in its “Travel Rule” to include cryptocurrency to ensure the rule applies to domestic and cross-border transactions.