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  • Market regulators discuss cryptocurrency oversight gaps during Senate Banking Committee hearing


    On February 6, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing entitled, “Virtual Currencies: The Oversight Role of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission” to discuss the need for unified measures to close regulatory gaps in the cryptocurrency space. Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, opened the hearing by briefly discussing the rise in interest in virtual currencies among Americans, as well as investor education and enforcement efforts undertaken by the SEC and the CFTC. Crapo commented that he was interested in learning how regulators plan to safeguard investors. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), ranking member of the Committee, spoke about the importance of pursuing “the unique enforcement of regulatory demands posed by virtual currencies.”

    SEC Chairman Jay Clayton commented in prepared remarks that the SEC does not want to “undermine the fostering of innovation through our capital markets,” but cautioned that there are significant risks for investors when they participate in an entity’s initial coin offering (a method used to raise capital through decentralized autonomous organizations or other forms of distributed ledgers or blockchain technology) or buy and sell cryptocurrency with firms that are not compliant with securities laws. Speaking before the Committee, Clayton stated that the SEC has some oversight power in this space but supported collaborating with Congress and states on new regulations for cryptocurrency firms. “We should all come together, the federal banking regulators, CFTC, the SEC—there are states involved as well—and have a coordinated plan for dealing with the virtual currency trading market,” Clayton stressed.

    In prepared remarks, CFTC Chairman Chris Giancarlo discussed different approaches to regulating distributed ledger technologies and virtual currencies. “‘Do no harm’ was unquestionably the right approach to development of the internet. Similarly, I believe that ‘do no harm’ is the right overarching approach for distributed ledger technology,” Giancarlo said. “Virtual currencies, however, likely require more attentive regulatory oversight in key areas, especially to the extent that retail investors are attracted to this space.” 

    Giancarlo referenced a joint op-ed in which the two chairmen discussed whether the “historic approach to the regulation of currency transactions is appropriate for the cryptocurrency markets,” and offered support for “policy efforts to revisit these frameworks and ensure they are effective and efficient for the digital era.” The chairmen also agreed that the lack of a clear definition for what cryptocurrencies are has contributed to regulatory challenges, but stressed that their agencies would continue to bring enforcement actions against fraudsters. Both the SEC and CFTC have joined a virtual currency working group formed by the Treasury Department—which also includes the Federal Reserve and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network—to discuss cryptocurrency jurisdiction among the agencies and understand where the gaps exist.

    See here for additional InfoBytes coverage on initial coin offerings and virtual currency.

    Fintech Virtual Currency Cryptocurrency Distributed Ledger SEC CFTC Senate Banking Committee

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  • House passes HMDA relief for small banks

    Federal Issues

    On January 18, by a vote of 243-184, the House passed H.R. 2954, to amend HMDA to exempt low-volume mortgage lenders from certain disclosure requirements. If enacted, the bill would exempt depository institutions from maintenance of records and disclosure requirements if, (i) for closed-end mortgage loans, “the depository institution originated less than 500 closed-end mortgage loans in each of the 2 preceding calendar years”; and (ii) for open-end lines of credit, “the depository institution originated less than 500 open-end lines of credit in each of the 2 preceding calendar years.” On January 19, the bill was received in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

    Federal Issues U.S. House Federal Legislation HMDA CFPB Senate Banking Committee Mortgages

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  • Senate Banking Committee: The impact of cryptocurrency in AML/BSA enforcement

    Financial Crimes

    On January 17, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a second hearing with witnesses from the Treasury and Justice departments to further address the need to modernize and reform the Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) regime. The hearing, entitled “Combating Money Laundering and Other Forms of Illicit Finance: Administration Perspectives on Reforming and Strengthening BSA Enforcement,” follows a January 9 hearing before the same Committee on related issues (see previous InfoBytes coverage here). Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, opened the hearing by stating the need to understand the government’s position on “strengthening enforcement and protecting the integrity of the U.S. financial system in a new technological era,” while also recognizing the challenges technology creates for law enforcement. A primary topic of interest to the Committee was “the rise of cryptocurrencies and their potential to facilitate sanctions evasion and perhaps, other crimes.”

    The first witness, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, Sigal Mandelker (testimony), noted that money laundering related to cryptocurrencies is “an area of high focus” for Treasury, and highlighted actions taken by Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), such as the release of guidance announcing that “virtual currency exchangers and administrators” are subject to regulations under the BSA. Regulated entities, Mandelker stated, are required to file suspicious activity reports (SARs) and are subject to FinCEN and IRS examinations and enforcement actions. Mandelker further commented that Treasury is “aggressively tackling” illicit financing entering the U.S. system and elsewhere, and stressed that other countries face consequences if they fail to have an AML/Combating the Financing of Terrorism regime that meets Treasury standards.

    The second witness, DOJ acting deputy assistant attorney general M. Kendall Day (testimony), informed the Committee of the recent hiring of a digital currency counsel who is responsible for ensuring prosecutors are up-to-date on the latest money-laundering threats in the digital currency field. Day also commented on recent DOJ prosecutions in this space, and emphasized the need for enhanced information sharing for law enforcement, including the benefit of deriving information from SARs.

    Financial Crimes Senate Banking Committee Department of Treasury DOJ Anti-Money Laundering Bank Secrecy Act Fintech Cryptocurrency Virtual Currency FinCEN SARs Enforcement

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  • Senate Banking Committee: Sharpen the focus of AML/BSA enforcement and oversight

    Financial Crimes

    On January 9, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing entitled, “Combating Money Laundering and Other Forms of Illicit Finance: Opportunities to Reform and Strengthen BSA Enforcement” to discuss anti-money laundering and Bank Secrecy Act (AML/BSA) enforcement and compliance. Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) opened the hearing by stating that Congress and financial regulators must examine and address “decades-old” Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering requirements in order “to sharpen the focus, sustainability and enforcement of a modernized, more efficient U.S. counter-threat-finance architecture.” During the hearing, the Committee stressed the need to move towards a more targeted, strengthened AML framework so that banks, law enforcement, and regulators can focus on specific threats such as the financing of terrorism and sanctions evasions.

    The three witnesses offered numerous insights related to reforming AML/BSA enforcement and regulatory structures, including: (i) establishing an approach that would utilize and track intelligence and analysis rather than focusing primarily on quantifiable metrics; (ii) increasing inter-agency coordination and improving information sharing between financial institutions and regulators, and among financial institutions themselves; (iii) recognizing the importance of law enforcement participation, specifically related to the sharing of suspicious activity reports; (iv) encouraging the participation of entities outside of the banking sector, such as persons involved in real estate or those acting as proxies for financial system access; (v) supporting beneficial ownership legislation for companies formed in the United States; and (v) understanding the ways in which financial institutions are addressing the anonymity of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. The witnesses were:

    • Mr. Dennis Lormel, President and CEO, DML Associates and former Chief, FBI Financial Crimes Program (testimony);
    • Mr. Greg Baer, President, The Clearing House Association (testimony); and
    • Ms. Heather Lowe, Legal Counsel and Director of Government Affairs, Global Financial Integrity (testimony).

    Financial Crimes Senate Banking Committee Anti-Money Laundering Bank Secrecy Act SARs Cryptocurrency Virtual Currency Blockchain

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  • Senate Banking Committee Approves Financial Regulatory Relief Bill

    Federal Issues

    On December 5, the Senate Banking Committee approved bill S. 2155, Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, which would alter certain financial regulations under the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. While not as sweeping as previous legislative relief proposals (see previous InfoBytes coverage on House Financial CHOICE Act of 2017), the bill was introduced and passed the Committee with bipartisan support. The bill’s highlights include, among other things:

    • Consumer Access to Credit. The bill deems mortgage loans held in portfolios by insured institutions with less than $10 billion in assets to be “qualified mortgages” under TILA, and removes the three-day waiting period for TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosures if the second credit offer is a lower rate. The bill also instructs the CFPB to provide “clearer, authoritative guidance” on certain issues such as the applicability of TRID to mortgage assumptions and construction-to-permanent loans. Additionally, the bill eases appraisal requirements on certain mortgage loans and exempts small depository institutions with low mortgage originations from certain HMDA disclosure requirements.
    • Regulatory Relief for Certain Institutions. The bill exempts community banks from Section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act if they have, “[i] less than $10 billion in total consolidated assets, and [ii] total trading assets and trading liabilities that are not more than five percent of total consolidated assets” – effectively allowing for exempt banks to engage in the trading of, or holding ownership interests in, hedge funds or private equity funds. Additionally, the bill raises the threshold of the Federal Reserve’s Small Bank Holding Company Policy Statement and the qualification for certain banks to have an 18-month examination cycle from $1 billion to $3 billion.
    • Protections for Consumers. Included in an adopted “manager’s amendment,” the bill requires credit bureaus to provide consumers unlimited free security freezes and unfreezes. The bill also limits certain medical debt information that can be included on veterans’ credit reports.
    • Changes for Bank Holding Companies. The bill raises the threshold for applying enhanced prudential standards from $50 billion to $250 billion.

    The bill now moves to the Senate, which is not expected to take up the package before the end of this year.

    Federal Issues Senate Banking Committee Dodd-Frank Federal Legislation TILA RESPA TRID Federal Reserve OCC FDIC Mortgages HMDA Credit Reporting Agency

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  • OFAC Imposes Additional North Korean Sanctions; Senate Banking Committee Hearing Discusses Multi-Department Efforts

    Financial Crimes

    On September 26, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced it was imposing sanctions on an additional eight North Korean banks and 26 individuals connected to North Korean financial networks across the globe. The individuals sanctioned are North Korean nationals who represent North Korean banks operating in China, Russia, Libya, and the UAE, and have been designated “in response to North Korea’s ongoing development of weapons of mass destruction and continued violations of United Nations Security Council Resolutions.” OFAC’s action complements the United Nations Security Council’s resolution UNSCR 2375, adopted September 11, 2017. As a result, property or interests in property of the designated persons within U.S. jurisdictions are blocked.

    These actions closely follow President Trump’s recent issuance of sanctions targeting individuals, companies, and financial institutions that finance or facilitate trade with North Korea. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.)

    Additionally, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs (Committee) held an open session hearing on September 28 entitled “Evaluating Sanction Enforcement and Policy Options on North Korea: Administration Perspectives.” Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) opened the hearing to stress that “[m]any Members of Congress, including on this committee, have a keen interest in knowing more about how and when enforcement of these new measures will occur, wondering if last week’s executive order and earlier UN sanctions will be sufficient to achieve U.S. policy goals.” Sen. Crapo also mentioned the Committee’s legislative efforts to “maximize pressure against North Korea.”

    The September 28 hearing—a video of which can be accessed here—included testimony from the following witnesses concerning North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program and the need to curtail the country’s access to revenue, trade, and financial systems.

    • The Honorable Sigal Madelker, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes, U.S. Department of the Treasury (testimony)
    • Ms. Susan A. Thornton, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, U.S. Department of State (testimony)

    Financial Crimes Sanctions OFAC Department of Treasury Senate Banking Committee Department of State

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  • SEC Chairman Releases Statement Discussing Internal Cybersecurity Assessment, Announces EDGAR Vulnerability May Have Led to Illicit Gain

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On September 20, the SEC released a statement issued by Chairman Jay Clayton regarding the Commission’s approach to cybersecurity and its impact on market participants. Topics discussed in the statement, which is part of the SEC’s ongoing assessment of its cybersecurity risk profile, include:

    • the collection and use of data by the SEC;
    • the management of, and responses to, internal cybersecurity risks;
    •  the integration and incorporation of cybersecurity considerations into the SEC’s supervision of regulated entities;
    • coordinated efforts with other regulations to identify and mitigate risk; and
    • oversight and enforcement efforts related to cybersecurity activities.

    The Chairman also discussed the SEC’s discovery in August that a 2016 security incident involving a software vulnerability within the Commission’s EDGAR system “may have provided the basis for illicit gain through trading” by providing access to nonpublic information. However, the SEC also stated its belief that “the intrusion did not result in the unauthorized access to personally identifiable information, jeopardize the operations of the Commission, or result in systemic risk.” According to the SEC, the vulnerability was patched promptly after discovery, and the SEC commenced an internal investigation, which is ongoing.

    Chairman Clayton is scheduled to testify before the Senate Banking Committee on September 26 at a hearing titled, “Oversight of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.”

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security SEC Senate Banking Committee EDGAR Data Breach

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  • Senate Banking Committee’s Fintech Hearing Discusses Regulatory Challenges and Innovation Risks


    On September 12, the full Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing entitled “Examining the Fintech Landscape” to discuss topics concerning fintech innovation and the regulatory landscape. Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) opened the hearing by asserting that while fintech firms provide “new and innovative products and services in areas such as marketplace lending, digital payments and currencies, wealth management, insurance and more . . . [u]ncertainty remains around questions like data security and the proper regulatory treatment to ensure consumers and the financial system are safeguarded.” Sen. Crapo said that he welcomes the opportunity to learn more about fintech innovations, the impact on the financial system, and the current regulatory approach to this sector.

    Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), ranking member of the Committee, also released an opening statement in which he called for the need to “improve federal oversight of data collection and data security,” especially in light of the recent credit reporting data breach. (See previous InfoBytes summary here.) Sen. Brown noted that he is interested in understanding “how Congress can encourage fintech innovation to make it easier for community banks to serve their customers, comply with important safety and soundness and anti-money laundering rules.”

    The three witnesses offered numerous insights related to the fintech industry, including (i) the need to manage risk without stifling fintech innovation; (ii) the importance of creating consistent standards and a regulatory framework; (iii) the need to clearly outline the definition of fintech firms and digital lenders; (iv) challenges when using algorithms and alternative data to assess creditworthiness; and (v) concerns regarding state preemption in the fintech space. The witnesses also answered questions concerning the concept of utilizing a regulatory sandbox to allow fintech firms to operate on a limited basis to test new ideas, and offered support for an innovation office, which would help fintech firms and regulators understand the emerging landscape.

    • Mr. Lawrance Evans, Director, Financial Markets, U.S. Government Accountability Office (testimony);
    • Mr. Eric Turner, Research Analysis, S&P Global Market Intelligence (testimony); and
    • Mr. Frank Pasquale, Professor of Law, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law (testimony).

    Fintech Federal Issues Senate Banking Committee Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Data Collection / Aggregation

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  • Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs to Hold Fintech Hearing


    On September 12, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs will hold an open session hearing entitled “Examining the Fintech Landscape.” The hearing will feature witnesses from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, S&P Global Market Intelligence, and the University of Maryland School of Law. The hearing will take place at 10:00 am EDT and be made available via webcast.

    Fintech Federal Issues Senate Banking Committee

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  • House Votes to Repeal CFPB Arbitration Rule

    Federal Issues

    On July 25, the House voted along party lines to strike down the CFPB’s final arbitration rule by a vote of 231 to 190, exercising its authority under the Congressional Review Act to overturn a new agency rule within 60 days of its publication. H.J. Res. 111, sponsored by Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Pa.), invalidates the recently adopted rule that prohibits the use of mandatory pre-dispute arbitration clauses in certain contracts for consumer financial products and services. A similar measure was introduced by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). A date for the Senate vote has not yet been set.

    American Bankers Association. President and CEO Rob Nichols applauded the action: “Today’s action is critical to ensuring the Bureau doesn’t provide trial lawyers with a regulatory windfall at consumers’ expense. In class-action lawsuits, the spoils go overwhelmingly—and sometimes exclusively—to a small group of highly motivated trial lawyers who specialize in filing a large volume of often frivolous litigation.”

    Consumer Bankers Association. President and CEO Richard Hunt supported the action: “Consumers' access to arbitration, which has long provided a faster, more cost-effective, and higher recovery alternative to class action lawsuits, should not be undermined by a harmful rule resulting from an incomplete study by the CFPB. The Bureau's own study shows the average consumer receives $5,400 in cash relief when using arbitration and just $32 through a class action suit.”

    U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In a key vote letter sent to the House before Tuesday’s vote, the Chamber of Commerce stated, “Even though this regulation is directed at financial firms, the CFPB’s rule impacts businesses of all types that the Bureau believes touch consumer finance – even mobile telephone service providers and website operators.” Furthermore, the CFPB “decided to issue a regulation that interferes with freedom of contract, imposes new burdensome regulations, hurts consumers, and rewards class action lawyers. Congress should assert its prerogatives and overturn this illegitimate rule.”

    Federal Issues Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Arbitration CFPB Senate Banking Committee Congressional Review Act

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