CFTC seeks bigger role in U.S. efforts to oversee crypto trading

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The head of Wall Street’s top derivatives regulator urged lawmakers to give his agency more authority and a bigger budget to oversee trading in the fast-growing cryptocurrency market.

Rostin Behnam, chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), speaks during a Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. The top Democrats and Republicans on the committee last month sent a letter to the CFTC calling for the regulator to take a more active role in overseeing cryptocurrencies.
Rostin Behnam, chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), speaks during a Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S. Photo by Bloomberg Mercury

Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Rostin Behnam said on Wednesday that an increase of at least a $100 million to the regulator’s annual budget of about $300 million could be needed for the added responsibilities. The CFTC’s current role of policing derivatives based on Bitcoin and Ether and investigating fraud or manipulation in underlying crypto markets positions the agency to take on a bigger role, Behnam said.

“We know market structure, we know surveillance, we know enforcement,” Behnam told members of the Senate Agriculture Committee during a hearing on crypto assets. “We are a few steps ahead and ready to run with this if that is what this committee and Congress desires.”

The CFTC chief recommended Congress consider giving the agency more authorities to regulate crypto assets on which derivatives are based — beyond its current enforcement powers. Senator Debbie Stabenow, who chairs the panel, said an expanded role for the regulator might be necessary. She has previously said that the largest coins, Bitcoin and Ether, are considered commodities. Those two cryptocurrencies combined account for about 60% of the $2 trillion digital-asset market.

The CFTC’s push comes as Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler has garnered attention for taking an aggressive approach to the asset class, suggesting that most coins fall under his agency’s rules. Behnam told the panel that the CFTC could work with the SEC to share oversight, just as it does with derivatives. “There are a large number of coins” that would fall under the swaps regulator’s jurisdiction, Behnam added.

–By Allyson Versprille and Robert Schmidt (Bloomberg Mercury)

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