U.S. Treasury launches campaign to educate public about crypto risks

FILE PHOTO: Representations of the virtual currency Bitcoin and Ethereum stand on a motherboard in this picture illustration

By Hannah Lang

(Reuters) - The U.S. Treasury Department is launching an initiative to raise awareness about the risks of investing in cryptocurrencies as the digital asset moves from the fringes of the financial system to the mainstream, a top official said.

The Treasury’s Financial Literacy Education Commission will create educational materials and organize outreach to inform the public about how crypto assets work and how they differ from other forms of payment.

Populations that have limited access to mainstream financial services is a key group the Treasury will look to reach, Nellie Liang, Treasury undersecretary for domestic finance, said in an interview.

“We’re hearing more and more about investors and households who are purchasing crypto assets, and we recognize the complexity of how some of these assets operate,” Liang said.

"It felt like this is an area also where more education (and) more awareness could be helpful."

The initiative underscores growing concerns among regulators that crypto assets could pose risks to the financial system as they grow in popularity.

The value of cryptocurrencies surged past $3 trillion last year, with approximately 14% of Americans invested in digital assets as of 2021, according to University of Chicago research.

Companies like Crypto.com and FTX are helping to drive mainstream adoption with flashy marketing campaigns featuring celebrities and athletes, including at this year's Super Bowl.

The Treasury's education unit comprises 20 different agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Its chair, Gary Gensler, last year called the crypto industry the “wild west” of finance “rife with fraud, scams and abuse.” While the Biden administration and many lawmakers believe a regulatory framework is needed for digital assets, they have yet to agree on one.

While crypto does present risks, the Treasury is also conscious it could offer benefits, such as improving cross-border payments or bolstering financial inclusion, said Liang.

“We're just trying to raise awareness without trying to stamp out new technology and new innovation,” she said.

(Reporting by Hannah Lang in Washington; Editing by Michelle Price and Nick Zieminski)