J. Christopher Giancarlo, the acting chairman of the CFTC, has diverged from other U.S. federal regulators, signaling he favors “regulatory sandboxes” in which fintech companies may experiment with new ideas. Unlike the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve, Mr. Giancarlo’s approach is to “do no harm” to early-stage technology such as blockchain, and is in line with proposals by regulators in the U.K. and Singapore, among other fintech hubs.
In a recent Bloomberg BNA article, Nikiforos Mathews, partner and global co-head of Derivatives at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, gives his take on the acting chairman’s position, noting that “I see a focus on trying to understand the technology and its potential benefits and fostering the advancement of the fintech sector in a way that it’s under the watchful eye of the regulators,” and suggesting that the agency may designate technology focused specialists to work with fintech innovators such that there is “breathing room” for growth and experimentation. “At the end of the day, with early regulatory involvement, regulators are going to understand the market better and put out smarter rules,” Mathews said.
The disruptive effects of blockchain technology on the financial system may take several years to materialize. Nevertheless, in preparation, regulators are increasingly focused on understanding potential uses of blockchain technology and considering related legal issues. Many regulators are already familiar with bitcoin, the popular virtual currency underpinned by blockchain technology. As discussed below, the bitcoin blockchain, which records and makes publicly available every transaction ever made in that virtual currency, is a “distributed ledger” created by a “consensus algorithm” that ensures that each local copy of the distributed ledger is identical to every other local copy. It is widely expected that such distributed ledger technology (“DLT”) will be used in the future to track the ownership of financial, legal, physical, electronic, and other types of assets and, as discussed below, to automate the performance of certain contracts.
The CFTC has begun to consider the implications of DLT with respect to the derivatives markets. For example, a meeting of the CFTC Technology Advisory Committee (the “TAC”) on February 23, 2016 featured a panel presentation, titled “Blockchain and the Potential Application of Distributed Ledger Technology to the Derivatives Markets.” In addition, CFTC Commissioner J. Christopher Giancarlo has recently given numerous speeches on the topic to various groups, including Markit Group and the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation. An overview of DLT is provided below, followed by a summary of certain points, including legal considerations, from the TAC meeting and Commissioner Giancarlo’s speeches. READ MORE