Amid the rise of digital currency services, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published a cautionary tale on December 30, 2020, discussing a recent settlement with BitGo, Inc. (BitGo), a California-based technology company that facilitates digital currency transactions and provides non-custodial digital wallet management services. BitGo settled for $98,830 after the company faced, at a maximum, a $53 million civil penalty for 183 apparent violations of multiple US sanctions programs.
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) issued Interpretive Letter 1174 on January 4, 2021, clarifying the authority of national banks and federal savings associations to buy, sell, and issue stablecoins and participate in independent node verification networks (INVNs) in order to conduct payment activities and other bank-permissible functions.
The President’s Working Group (PWG), a federal interagency working group of financial regulators established by Executive Order in 1988, has issued a statement outlining key regulatory and supervisory considerations related to stablecoins and digital payment systems. Beginning with a declaration that the United States encourages responsible payments innovation, the statement outlines various high-level regulatory principles that participants in stablecoin arrangements need to account for. The statement may be interpreted as a sign of what is to come in terms of federal regulation and supervision of stablecoins and other digital assets in the new year.
As reported on the Privacy & Information Security Law Blog, on December 21, 2020, the European Data Protection Board released its 2021-2023 Strategy. This post reviews the four main pillars of the EDPB strategic objectives through 2023 and key actions to help achieve those objectives.
Newly-proposed federal legislation would require all issuers of stablecoins and certain other digital asset companies to obtain a bank charter as a condition to operation. Referred to as the Stablecoin Tethering and Bank Licensing Enforcement (STABLE) Act, the draft legislation is intended to shift certain digital currency activities into the regulated banking framework.
On November 19, 2020, IMVU, Inc. (“IMVU”) received no-action relief from the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) confirming that the Division of Corporate Finance will not recommend enforcement action against IMVU for selling its digital asset, VCOIN. IMVU intends to issue and sell VCOIN for immediate use within its online three-dimensional avatar-based social community, “IMVU.” IMVU will supply an unlimited number of VCOIN at a fixed price of $0.004 per VCOIN to replace its current system of providing in-platform “credits” for participants to use to purchase virtual goods and services within the platform.
Only a few states have issued guidance on the sales tax treatment of digital currency transactions. On November 2, 2020, Kansas joined this group, with Notice 20-04, Sales Tax Requirements Concerning Digital Currency Under the Retailers’ Sales and Compensating Tax Acts (the “Notice”), issued by the Kansas Department of Revenue (the “Department”).
The Wyoming Division of Banking issued a No-Action Letter (NAL) in October 2020 in response to a request from a Wyoming-chartered public trust company seeking the Division of Banking’s position on the ability of the company to custody digital assets as well as hold itself out as a “qualified custodian.” The NAL prompted the Staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission to issue a public statement seeking public comment on matters concerning the definition of “qualified custodian” under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (the “Advisers Act”) and Rule 206(4)-2 thereunder (the “Custody Rule”).
Wyoming recently awarded its second special-purpose depository institution (SPDI) charter to Avanti Bank. Kraken was the first institution to receive the newly created SPDI charter in September. As Wyoming had likely hoped when it passed a flurry of blockchain legislation, it appears that it is starting to take hold as a digital-asset-friendly banking state. The state has now chartered two new banks in less than two months; before September, the last newly chartered bank in Wyoming was approved over a decade ago.
Recently, a group of central bankers issued a report entitled “Central Bank Digital Currencies: Foundational Principles and Core Features.” Released on October 9, 2020, the report lays out common foundational principles and core features of a central bank digital currency, or CBDC. It is a joint product of the Bank of Canada, European Central Bank, Bank of Japan, Swedish Riksbank, Swiss National Bank, Bank of England, the US Federal Reserve and the Bank for International Settlements.