U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Wednesday to explore government oversight of cryptocurrencies and whether the Federal Reserve should create a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC).
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the effort would “promote a fairer, more inclusive, and more efficient financial system” while countering illicit finance and preventing risks to financial stability and national security.
Under the executive order, the Treasury Department along with other federal agencies will study the impact of cryptocurrency on financial stability and national security.
Brian Deese and Jake Sullivan, Biden’s top economic and national security advisers, respectively, said the order establishes the first comprehensive federal digital assets strategy for the United States.
“That will help position the U.S. to keep playing a leading role in the innovation and governance of the digital assets ecosystem at home and abroad, in a way that protects consumers, is consistent with our democratic values and advances U.S. global competitiveness,” Deese and Sullivan said Wednesday in a joint statement.
Lawmakers and administration officials have both vocalized their concerns that cryptocurrency may be used by Russian civilians to avoid sanctions due to the invasion of Ukraine.
The Biden administration has argued that Russia won’t be able to make up for the loss of U.S. and European business by turning to cryptocurrency. Officials said Biden’s executive order had been in the works for months before Russia’s Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine last month.
Daleep Singh, a deputy national security and economic adviser to Biden, told CNN on Wednesday that “crypto’s really not a workaround for our sanctions.”
Roughly 40 million people in the U.S., roughly 16% of the adult population, have invested in cryptocurrencies. And 43% of men age 18–29 have put their money into cryptocurrency.
Coinbase, the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the United States, said the company had not seen a recent surge in sanctions evasion activity.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said last week that “many participants in the cryptocurrency networks are subjected to anti-money laundering sanctions” and that the industry is not “completely one where things can be evaded.”
As for the Federal Reserve getting involved with digital assets, the central bank issued a paper in January that said a digital currency “would best serve the needs” of the country through a model in which banks or payment firms create accounts or digital wallets.
Some participants in digital currency welcome the idea of more government involvement with crypto.
Adam Zarazinski, CEO of Inca Digital, a crypto data company that does work for several federal agencies, said the order presents the opportunity to provide “new approaches to finance.”
“The U.S. has an interest in growing financial innovation,” Zarazinksi said. He added that China and Russia were looking at crypto and building their own currency. More than 100 countries have begun or are piloting their own digital sovereign currency, according to the White House.
Katherine Dowling, general counsel for Bitwise Asset Management, a cryptocurrency asset management firm, said an executive order that provides more legal clarity on government oversight would be “a long term positive for crypto.”
But Hilary Allen, a financial regulation professor at American University, cautioned against moving too fast to embrace cryptocurrencies.
“I think crypto is a place where we should be putting the brakes on this innovation until it’s better understood,” she said. “As crypto becomes more integrated into our financial system it creates vulnerabilities not just to those who are investing in crypto but for everybody who participates in our economy.”
On Tuesday, the Treasury Department said its financial literacy arm would work to develop consumer-friendly materials to help people “make informed choices about digital assets.”
“History has shown that, without adequate safeguards, forms of private money have the potential to pose risks to consumers and the financial system,” said Nellie Liang, undersecretary for domestic finance.
Bitcoin and cryptocurrency related stocks got a boost Wednesday following Biden’s executive order.
The price of Bitcoin was up 9.8% at $42,211, according to Coindesk. Shares in cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase Global surged 9.3% in midday trading, while online brokerage Robinhood Markets rose 4.5%.
Riot Blockchain, which focuses on cryptocurrency mining, jumped 11.5%. Digital payments platforms also rose. PayPal added 4.9% and Block climbed 10.55%.
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