Big banks have long held precious objects on behalf of their customers—from jewels in safe-deposit boxes to shares of stock. Now, thanks to a new policy by a federal banking regulator, they will be able to hold cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin too.
The news is significant because regulatory uncertainty has until now led major banks to avoid Bitcoin. What’s more, the bylaws of many big investment funds, including pension funds, oblige them to park clients’ money only with federally chartered banks. As the research group Coin Center notes, this amounts to a de facto ban on cryptocurrency.
The OCC letter also opens the door for banks to offer more exotic services such as “staking”—a form of proxy voting for certain cryptocurrencies—and crypto lending. Such activity is tiny in the context of the broader financial system, but has become increasingly important in the crypto industry.