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  • New York Attorney General issues Virtual Markets Integrity Report, following cryptocurrency integrity initiative

    Fintech

    On September 18, the New York Attorney General’s office announced the results of its Virtual Markets Integrity Initiative, a fact-finding inquiry into the policies and practices of platforms used by consumers to trade virtual or “crypto” currencies. As previously covered in InfoBytes, last April questionnaires were sent to 13 virtual asset trading platforms to solicit information on their operations, policies, internal controls, and safeguards to protect consumer assets. The resulting Virtual Markets Integrity Report finds that virtual asset trading platforms vary significantly in the comprehensiveness of their response to the risks facing the virtual markets, and presents three broad areas of concern: (i) the potential for conflicts of interest due to platforms engaging in various overlapping business lines that are not restricted or monitored in the same way as traditional trading environments; (ii) a lack of protection from abusive trading platforms and practices; and (iii) limited protections for customer funds, such as the insufficient availability of insurance for virtual asset losses and platforms that do not conduct any type of independent auditing of virtual assets. According to the report, the Attorney General’s office also referred three platforms to the New York Department of Financial Services for potential violations of the state’s virtual currency regulations.

    Fintech State Issues State Attorney General Virtual Currency Cryptocurrency NYDFS

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  • CFTC wins $1.1 million judgment in cryptocurrency fraud action

    Securities

    On August 23, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York entered final judgment in favor of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) in its suit against a cryptocurrency trading advice company and its owner (defendants) for allegedly misappropriating investor money through a cryptocurrency trading scam. As previously covered by InfoBytes in March, the court granted the CFTC’s request for a preliminary injunction, holding that the CFTC has the authority to regulate virtual currency as a “commodity” within the meaning of the Commodity Exchange Act and that the CFTC has jurisdiction to pursue fraudulent activities involving virtual currency even if the fraud does not directly involve the sale of futures or derivative contracts. The final judgment orders the defendants to pay over $1.1 million in restitution and civil money penalties and permanently enjoins them from engaging in future activities related to commodity interests and virtual currencies.

    Securities CFTC Virtual Currency Cryptocurrency Fraud

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  • CFTC advisory warns customers to research digital coins and tokens before purchasing

    Fintech

    On July 16, the CFTC issued an advisory to alert customers to exercise caution and conduct thorough research prior to purchasing virtual/digital coins or tokens. Specifically, customers are reminded (i) to conduct extensive due diligence on all “individuals and entities listed as affiliates of a digital coin or token offering”; (ii) to confirm whether the digital coins or tokens are securities and, if so, verify that the offering is registered with the SEC before investing in an Initial Coin Offering (ICO); (iii) to verify how the money will be utilized, if they can get it back, and what rights the digital coin or token provides; and (iv) that many ICOs are frauds.

    Fintech CFTC Cryptocurrency Virtual Currency Initial Coin Offerings

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  • Federal Reserve chair delivers semi-annual congressional testimony, discusses U.S. financial conditions and regulatory relief act

    Federal Issues

    On July 17, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testified before the Senate Banking Committee and spoke the next day before the House Financial Services Committee. In his semi-annual congressional testimony, Powell presented the Federal Reserve’s Monetary Policy Report, and discussed the current economic situation, job market, inflation levels, and the federal funds rate. Powell stressed, among other things, that interest rates and financial conditions remain favorable to growth and that the financial system remains in a good position to meet household and business credit needs. Chairman of the Committee, Senator Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, remarked in his opening statement that, while recent economic developments are encouraging, an effort should be made to focus on reviewing, improving, and tailoring regulations to be consistent with the recently passed Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act S.2155/P.L. 115-174 (the Act). During the hearing, Powell confirmed that the Fed plans to implement provisions of the Act as soon as possible. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) When questioned by Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, about the direction the Fed plans to take to address stress test concerns, Powell responded that the Fed is committed to using stress tests, particularly for the largest, most systemically important institutions, and that going forward, the Fed wants to strengthen the tests and make the process more transparent. Powell also indicated the Fed intends to “publish for public comment the range of factors [the Fed] can consider” when applying prudential standards. Powell also stated that he believes government-sponsored-enterprise reform would help the economy in the long term.

    When giving testimony to the House Financial Services Committee, Powell also commented that cryptocurrency does not currently impair the Fed’s work on monetary policy and that the Fed will not seek jurisdiction over cryptocurrency and instead will defer to the SEC’s oversight as well as Treasury’s lead to identify the right regulatory structure.

    Federal Issues Federal Reserve SEC Cryptocurrency Stress Test Consumer Finance S. 2155 Senate Banking Committee House Financial Services Committee

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  • Financial Stability Board publishes report discussing methods for monitoring crypto-asset risk

    Fintech

    On July 16, the Financial Stability Board (FSB) published a report, which asserts that, while “crypto-assets do not pose a material risk to global financial stability at this time,” there exists a need for “vigilant monitoring in light of the speed of developments and data gaps.” According to “Crypto-assets: Report to the G20 on work by the FSB and standard-setting bodies” (the Report), the FSB and the Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures (CPMI) have developed a framework to monitor and assess vulnerabilities in the financial system resulting from developments in the crypto-asset markets. As previously covered in InfoBytes, the FSB earlier released a letter to G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors in March noting that “[c]rypto-assets raise a host of issues around consumer and investor protection, as well as their use to shield illicit activity and for money laundering and terrorist financing.” The Report specifically discusses actions being undertaken by international regulatory bodies, including (i) the CPMI’s investigation into distributed ledger technologies and monitoring of payment innovations; (ii) the International Organization of Securities Commissions creation of an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) Consultative Network, development of a framework for members to use when dealing with investor-protection issues stemming from ICOs, and exploration into regulatory issues regarding crypto-assets platforms; and (iii) the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision’s assessment of the materiality of banks’ crypto-asset exposures, exploration of appropriate prudential treatment of those exposures, and monitoring of crypto-asset and other financial technology developments. The Financial Action Task Force is also working separately on a report to the G20 on crypto-asset concerns regarding money laundering and terrorist financing risks.

    Fintech Financial Stability Board Cryptocurrency Virtual Currency Initial Coin Offerings

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  • Bitcoin and ether not considered securities by SEC

    Securities

    On June 14, the Director of the SEC Division of Corporation Finance, William Hinman, stated that the SEC does not consider the cryptocurrencies bitcoin and ether to be securities. In his remarks at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit, Hinman emphasized a number of factors that are considered when assessing whether a cryptocurrency or ICO should be considered a security. These factors include, primarily, whether a third party drives the expectation of a return—the central test used by the Supreme Court in SEC v. W.J. Howey Co.. According to Hinman, bitcoin’s and ether’s networks are decentralized without a central third party controlling the enterprise and, thus, applying the disclosure rules of federal securities laws to these cryptocurrencies would add little value to the market. Hinman did note that whether something is considered a security is not static and emphasized that if a cryptocurrency were to be placed into a fund and interests were sold, the fund would be considered a security.

    Securities Virtual Currency Blockchain SEC Cryptocurrency

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  • CFTC, NASAA enter cryptocurrency, fraud information sharing partnership; CFTC releases virtual currency derivative guidance

    Securities

    On May 21, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced it had signed a mutual cooperation agreement with the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) to increase cooperation and information sharing on cryptocurrencies and other potential market fraud. The memorandum of understanding (MOU) is designed to “assist participants in enforcing the Commodity Exchange Act, which state securities regulators and state attorneys general are statutorily authorized to do alongside the CFTC,” leading to the possibility of additional enforcement actions brought under other areas of law. In order to receive the benefits—including investigative leads, whistleblower tips, complaints, and referrals provided to NASAA members by the CFTC—individual jurisdictions will be required to sign the MOU.

    The same day, the CFTC’s Division of Market Oversight and Division of Clearing and Risk (DCR) issued a joint staff advisory providing guidance on several enhancements to which CFTC-registered exchanges and clearinghouses should adhere when listing derivatives contracts based on virtual currencies. The advisory addresses the following five key areas for market participants: (i) “[e]nhanced market surveillance”; (ii) “[c]lose coordination with CFTC staff’; (iii) “[l]arge trader reporting”; (iv) “[o]utreach to member and market participants”; and (v) “Derivatives Clearing Organization risk management and governance.” According to the DCR director, the information provided is intended in part, “to aid market participants in their efforts to design risk management programs that address the new risks imposed by virtual currency products . . . [and] to help ensure that market participants follow appropriate governance processes with respect to the launch of these products.”

    Securities Fintech CFTC State Regulators Cryptocurrency Virtual Currency MOUs

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  • President Trump issues new Executive Order prohibiting the purchase of debt from the Venezuelan government

    Financial Crimes

    On May 21, President Trump issued an Executive Order (E.O.) prohibiting U.S. companies or individuals from buying debt or accounts receivable from the Venezuelan government “in light of the recent activities of the Maduro regime, including endemic economic mismanagement and public corruption at the expense of the Venezuelan people and their prosperity.” The sanctions specifically prohibit transactions related to the following: (i) “the purchase of debt owed to the Venezualan government, including accounts receivable;” (ii) debt pledged as collateral after May 21, including accounts receivable; and (iii) “the sale, transfer, assignment, or pledging as collateral by the Government of Venezuela of any equity interest in any entity in which the Government of Venezuela has a 50 percent or greater ownership interest.”

    The E.O., issued in conjunction with E.O. 13692, follows two prior E.O.s, which also targeted the Maduro regime—E.O. 13827, which prohibits U.S. persons from engaging in transactions that involve digital currency issued by, for, or on behalf of the Venezuelan government, and E.O. 13808, which prohibits transactions related to new debt, bonds, and dividend payments in conjunction with the Venezuelan government and the state-owned oil company. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here and here.). The E.O. took effect on May 21 at 12:30 p.m. EDT.

    See here for continuing InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Venezuela.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Executive Order Trump Venezuela Sanctions International Cryptocurrency

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  • Federal Reserve Governor discusses potential impact of digital innovations on the financial system

    Fintech

    On May 15, Federal Reserve Board Governor Lael Brainard spoke at a digital currency conference sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco to discuss how digital innovations may impact the financial system, specifically in the areas of payments, clearing, and settlement. Brainard discussed, among other things, the importance of understanding the impact these innovations may have on (i) investor and consumer protection issues, and (ii) cryptocurrency and distributed ledger technology governance, particularly with respect to Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering concerns. In addition, Brainard commented on the inherent risks and challenges surrounding the concept of a central bank digital currency, and noted that at this time, “there is no compelling demonstrated need for a Fed-issued digital currency [because] [m]ost consumers and businesses in the U.S. already make retail payments electronically using debit and credit cards, payment applications, and the automated clearinghouse network. Moreover, people are finding easy ways to make digital payments directly to other people through a variety of mobile apps.” Brainard noted, however, that the Federal Reserve is monitoring these technological developments as “digital tokens for wholesale payments and some aspects of distributed ledger technology—the key technologies underlying cryptocurrencies—may hold promise for strengthening traditional financial instruments and markets” in the coming years.

    Fintech Federal Reserve Cryptocurrency Distributed Ledger Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering

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  • Maryland expands scope of unfair and deceptive practices under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act, increases maximum civil penalties

    State Issues

    On May 15, the Maryland governor signed HB1634, the Financial Consumer Protection Act of 2018, which expands the definition of “unfair and deceptive trade practices” under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act (MPCA) to include “abusive” practices, and violations of the federal Military Lending Act (MLA) and Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The law also, among other things:

    • Civil Penalties. Increases the maximum civil penalties for certain consumer financial violations to $10,000 for the initial violation and $25,000 for subsequent violations
    • Debt Collection. Prohibits a person from engaging in unlicensed debt collection activity in violation of the Maryland Collection Agency Licensing Act or engaging in certain conduct in violation of the federal FDCPA.
    • Enforcement Funds. Requires the governor to appropriate at least $700,000 for the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and at least $300,000 to the Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation (OCFR) for certain enforcement activities.
    • Student Loan Ombudsman. Creates a Student Loan Ombudsman position within the OCFR and establishes specific duties for the role, including receiving, reviewing, and attempting to resolve complaints from student loan borrowers.
    • Required Studies. Requires the OCFR to conduct a study on Fintech regulation, including whether the commissioner has the statutory authority to regulate such firms. The law also requires the Maryland Financial Consumer Protection Commission (MFCPC) to conduct multiple studies, including studies on (i) cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings and (ii) the CFPB’s arbitration rule (repealed by a Congressional Review Act measure in November 2017).

    State Issues UDAAP SCRA Military Lending Act FDCPA Student Lending Arbitration Civil Money Penalties Fintech Cryptocurrency State Legislation

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