- SEC chairman Gary Gensler comes from MIT, where he taught a cryptocurrency course.
- Now, his agency might be in charge of regulating the volatile and often murky crypto market.
- Gensler is a rarity in Washington: he understands the technology he’s trying to rein in.
Washington has historically been in short supply of lawmakers and enforcers who actually understand the technology they’re seeking to regulate.
Gary Gensler is among those changing that.
He’s the new chairman of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, an agency that might also be responsible for creating rules in the volatile and wildly popular crypto space.
But before joining in April, he taught blockchain technology at MIT — he can quote Satoshi Nakamoto, the mysterious Bitcoin creator, from memory, Bloomberg reported.
So he’s not against the burgeoning $1.6 trillion crypto world, but he’s also called it the “Wild West.” The once-niche decentralized currency has plunged into the mainstream in recent years, worrying regulators like Gensler who want to throw up guard rails to protect customers from fraud, scams, and market manipulation — a reality that some crypto fanatics aren’t too keen on.
MIT professor, former CFTC chair, and ex-Goldman Sachs partner
Gensler, 63, has a background in blockchain technology and financial policy, has years of government service under his belt, and spent 18 years at Goldman Sachs, where he became a partner in the Mergers and Acquisitions department.
In 2002, Gensler — a progressive — helped create the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which became a defining piece of legislation to protect investors from corporate fraud following high-profile scandals like those involving Enron.
President Obama appointed him to chair the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) in 2009, and he served until 2014.
Then, Gensler, a graduate of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, started teaching at MIT in 2018, including a course called Blockchain and Money — meaning he’s interested in cryptocurrencies but has said that doesn’t mean he’s against protecting investors.
What does Gensler want to do?
For one, he asked Congress to pass a law allowing the SEC to monitor all crypto exchanges, and he’s open to possibly green-lighting a Bitcoin-focused ETF.
Gensler told Bloomberg this month that digital currencies could be a boon for economic progress, but only if they have robust regulation. He likened it to the auto industry going mainstream when traffic lights and speed limits were introduced.
The SEC is currently eyeing how to rein in multiple areas of the crypto space, including stablecoins, lending platforms, and decentralized finance, or DeFi, he told the outlet.
There’s disagreement on Capitol Hill about who should police crypto
Right now, there isn’t a specific government agency whose job it is to monitor crypto-related happenings. And before crypto regulation is assigned to the SEC or the CFTC, law enforcers need to agree on what cryptotokens are.
Are they commodities? Investments? In 2018, Gensler said they’re both.
“I know that’s not an answer that a lot of people like, but that’s kind of where we are right now,” he said in an MIT blog post in 2018.
Bitcoin, the most popular cryptocurrency, is a commodity thanks to the Commodity Exchange Act. But thousands of others, like ether, don’t have an official designation — however, Gensler thinks they’re securities, which would mean he and the SEC would police the digital assets.
Some don’t agree with that though.
CFTC Republican Commissioner, Brian Quintenz, said earlier this month that the SEC “has no authority over pure commodities or their trading venues, whether those commodities are wheat, gold, oil….or #crypto assets.”
Former CFTC head and Republican Christopher Giancarlo said something similar.
“Only one US regulatory agency has experience regulating markets for #Bitcoin & #Crypto and it is not @SECGov,” he tweeted. “It is @CFTC.”