On November 23, the OCC issued Interpretive Letter 1179, which clarified and expanded on prior interpretive letters concerning bank engagements in cryptocurrency activities. Interpretive Letter 1179 also addressed the OCC’s authority to charter national trust banks. According to the OCC, national banks and federal savings associations may engage in certain cryptocurrency activities discussed in Interpretive Letters 1170, 1172, and 1174, provided a bank is able to “demonstrate, to the satisfaction of its supervisory office, that it has controls in place to conduct the activity in a safe and sound manner.” Legally permissible activities include those pertaining to (i) cryptocurrency custody services; (ii) the holding of dollar deposits to serve as “reserves backing stablecoin in certain circumstances”; (iii) acting “as nodes on an independent node verification network” to verify customer payments; and (iv) bank engagements with distributed ledger technology to facilitate payment transactions for certain stablecoin activities. A bank intending to engage in such activities must first notify its supervisory office and should not engage in any activity until it receives permission. Supervisory offices must assess whether a bank’s risk management systems and controls are sufficiently adequate for engagement in such activities. “Today’s letter reaffirms the primacy of safety and soundness. Providing this clarity will help ensure that these cryptocurrency, distributed ledger, and stablecoin activities will be conducted by national banks and federal savings associations in a safe and sound manner,” acting Comptroller Michael Hsu stated in an agency press release. “Because many of these technologies and products present novel risks, banks must be able to demonstrate that they have appropriate risk management systems and controls in place to conduct them safely. This will provide assurance that crypto-asset activities taking place inside of the federal regulatory perimeter are being conducted responsibly.”

The Interpretive Letter also addressed OCC standards for chartering national bank trusts, as previously discussed in Interpretive Letter 1176. The OCC reiterated that it “retains discretion to determine if an applicant’s activities that are considered trust or fiduciary activities under state law are considered trust or fiduciary activities for purposes of applicable federal law.” The OCC further emphasized that the OCC’s chartering authority does not expand or modify current responsibilities under 12. C.F.R. Part 9 for national banks that have already been granted fiduciary powers, and that “national banks currently conducting activities in a non-fiduciary capacity that are not subject to Part 9 have not, and will not, become subject to 12 C.F.R. Part 9 because of the letter.”