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Anchorage Becomes First OCC-Approved National Crypto Bank

Coindesk | Nikhilesh De and Ian Allison | Jan 13, 2021

Nathan Mccauley - Anchorage Becomes First OCC-Approved National Crypto BankThe crypto industry has its first federally chartered bank: Anchorage.

Crypto custodian Anchorage has secured conditional approval for a national trust charter from the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), making it the first national “digital asset bank” in the U.S.

The safekeeping, management and trading of digital assets have been regulatory stumbling blocks for large financial institutions – but those obstacles are gradually being removed. The OCC, a part of the Treasury Department charged with keeping banks safe but also competitive, has now issued three interpretative letters that lay the groundwork for banks to custody crypto, participate in blockchain networks and become payment providers using the tech.

“In granting this charter, the OCC applied the same rigorous review and standards applied to all charter applications,” the bank regulator said in a statement. “By bringing this applicant into the federal banking system, the bank and industry will benefit from the OCC’s extensive supervisory experience and expertise.”

See:  OCC says Federally regulated banks can use stablecoins to conduct payments and other activities

“We are a national bank. The only difference is our business line, that we’re doing crypto assets versus doing other assets,” Anchorage President Diogo Mónica said in an interview. “The benefit of having a federally chartered bank is that it preempts all the state laws. The clarity of being regulated by the oldest regulator for banks in the United States … sends a very clear message.”

Acting OCC chief Brian Brooks, speaking at a public event earlier Wednesday, expressed his belief that banks and financial services more broadly will transition to being blockchain-based.

Anchorage’s trust company unit first applied for a national charter from the OCC last November, and it joins Kraken and Avanti in being crypto-native banks, although the latter two are special-purpose depository institutions organized under Wyoming state law. Fellow crypto startups BitPay and Paxos have also applied for federal charters through the OCC.

The new bank is being ushered in under the auspices of Acting Comptroller of the Currency Brian Brooks, who’s headed up the regulator since this past summer. It’s the capstone to a multi-month effort to bring the crypto industry closer to the traditional banking world.

See:  OCC says Federally regulated banks can use stablecoins to conduct payments and other activities

“We’ve had a dual banking system in this country for 150 years. There are many, many banks chartered by the states out there because it’s the right business model for what they’re focused on,” Brooks told CoinDesk in June. “If you’re focused on the local and regional business, it makes sense to have a state charter. If you’re focused on a national business, it probably makes more sense to have a national charter.”

The advantages are clear: rather than require companies to apply for 49 state money transmitter licenses piecemeal, a national charter will allow businesses to operate throughout the country at once. It also lets Anchorage develop new services, Mónica and co-founder Nathan McCauley told CoinDesk.

“It means that there’s a crypto-native company that offers crypto services like lending, staking and now it’s allowed to actually be connected directly to the core of the financial system,” Mónica said. “We can go out and do all sorts of businesses, wrapped assets that financial institutions can do today, but backed by crypto assets.”

Out the door

The news comes as Brooks is rumored to be planning his departure from the federal regulator later this week. While Brooks has been nominated to serve a full term heading up the agency by President Donald Trump, it is expected that incoming President Joe Biden will pull the nomination.

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There is already legislator pushback against many of the letters Brooks has overseen, with Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the chair of the House Financial Services Committee, asking Biden to ensure his nominees revoke many Trump-era rules and regulations, including all of the OCC’s recent crypto guidance.

A federal charter is one issue that would be more difficult for Brooks’ successor to overturn.

It’s unclear who Biden will tap to lead the OCC. The President-elect has announced he will nominate former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen to be Treasury Secretary. The Senate Finance Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for her on Jan. 19, a day before Biden is sworn in.

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