Skip to main content
Menu Icon Menu Icon

InfoBytes Blog

Financial Services Law Insights and Observations
Section Content

Upcoming Events


Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter for news affecting the financial services industry.

  • District Court recognizes CFTC authority to regulate virtual currency as commodities


    On March 6, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York granted the CFTC’s request for preliminary injunction against defendants alleged to have misappropriated investor money through a cryptocurrency trading scam, holding that the CFTC has the authority to regulate virtual currency as commodities. The decision additionally defined virtual currency as a “commodity” within the meaning of the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) and gave the CFTC jurisdiction to pursue fraudulent activities involving virtual currency even if the fraud does not directly involve the sale of futures or derivative contracts. However, the court noted that the “jurisdictional authority of CFTC to regulate virtual currencies as commodities does not preclude other agencies from exercising their regulatory power when virtual currencies function differently than derivative commodities.” Under the terms of the order, the defendants are restrained and enjoined until further order of the court from participating in fraudulent behavior related to the swap or sale of any commodity, and must, among other things, provide the CFTC with access to business records and a written account of financial documents.

    Find continuing InfoBytes coverage on virtual currency oversight here.

    Fintech Virtual Currency Courts CFTC Cryptocurrency Commodity Exchange Act

    Share page with AddThis
  • New York Fed says fintech companies improved lending efficiency in mortgage market


    The Federal Reserve Bank of New York (New York Fed) released a February 2018 Staff Report titled, “The Role of Technology in Mortgage Lending,” which concludes that technological innovation by fintech mortgage lenders has improved the efficiency of lending in the U.S. mortgage market. In the report, the New York Fed defines a fintech mortgage lending model as one that features “an end-to-end online mortgage application platform and centralized mortgage underwriting and processing augmented by automation.” The report uses quantitative analysis to study the effects of technological innovation in the U.S. mortgage market by identifying several areas of friction in traditional lending and examining whether fintech lending improves them. Among other things, the report finds that, without increasing risk, fintech lenders (i) process mortgages more quickly; (ii) respond more elastically to fluctuations in demand; and (iii) increase borrowers’ propensity to refinance. However, the report notes that there is little evidence that fintech lending is more effective than traditional lending at providing financially constrained borrowers access to credit.

    Lending Federal Reserve Bank of New York Mortgages Fintech

    Share page with AddThis
  • Texas State Securities Board issues order halting unregistered cryptocurrency trading operation


    On February 26, the Texas State Securities Board (Board) issued an emergency cease and desist order (order) to an unregistered cryptocurrency trading operation for allegedly targeting investors through fraudulent and materially misleading online advertisements and offering unregistered securities for sale. According to the order, the company purportedly—in addition to intentionally seeking to mislead the public by promoting high-return investment opportunities—failed to disclose risks associated with cryptocurrency mining, promised investors it would comply with “all relevant laws and regulations,” and claimed that its fund directors were regulated by the Cayman Islands. The Board further asserted the company failed to disclose the true identities of its Code of Ethics Association members responsible for “contract law, due diligence and corporate law,” and instead, created the impression it was associated with attorneys and judges, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Under the terms of the order, the company, among other things, is prohibited from engaging in the sale of securities in the state until the security is registered with the SEC or exempt from registration under the Texas Securities Act, and cannot act as a securities dealer until it complies with the same.

    Securities State Issues Cryptocurrency Enforcement SEC Fintech

    Share page with AddThis
  • Basel Committee on Banking Supervision publishes final guidance examining the implications of fintech on the banking industry


    On February 19, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS), the primary global standard setter for the prudential regulation of banks, released its final report, “Sound Practices: Implications of fintech developments for banks and bank supervisors.” The report—issued after BCBS’ consideration of comments received in response to its August 2017 consultative document of the same name (see previous InfoBytes coverage on the August consultative document here)—provides BCBS’ current assessment of how fintech may shape the banking industry in the near term. The report summarizes BCBS’ analysis of historical research, data compiled from surveys of BCBS members’ frameworks and practices, and other industry feedback, and provides several key considerations for banks and bank supervisors in this space.

    The report identifies a common theme across various scenarios: the emergence of fintech may make it increasingly difficult for banks to maintain their existing operating models due to changes in technology and customer expectations. The BCBS stressed that as a result of the “rapidly changing” nature of banks’ risks and activities due to fintech developments, the rules governing these risks may need to evolve. Accordingly, the BCBS recognized that “it should first contribute to a common understanding of risks and opportunities associated with fintech in the banking sector by describing observed practices before engaging in the determination of the need for any defined requirements or technical recommendations.” It further acknowledged that “fintech-related issues cut across various sectors with jurisdiction-specific institutional and supervisory arrangements that remain outside the scope of its bank-specific mandate.”

    Additionally, the current report identifies five forward-looking scenarios describing the potential impact of fintech on banks:

    • “The better bank: modernisation and digitisation of incumbent players”;
    • “The new bank: replacement of incumbents by challenger banks”;
    • “The distributed bank: fragmentation of financial services among specialised fintech firms and incumbent banks”;
    • “The relegated bank: incumbent banks become commoditised service providers and customer relationships are owned by new intermediaries”; and
    • “The disintermediated bank: banks have become irrelevant as customers interact directly with individual financial service providers.”

    With this issuance, revised to reflect the feedback BCBS received on its August consultative paper, BCBS has provided several “sound practices” for banks and bank supervisors to consider, along with its final ten key implications of fintech, as well as ten key considerations. Some notable considerations include:

    • Banks should have appropriate, effective governance structures and risk management processes to address key risks that may arise due to fintech developments, which may include staff development processes to ensure bank personnel are appropriately trained to manage fintech risks, as well as the development of risk management processes compliant with portions of the BCBS’s Principles for sound management of operational risk that relate to fintech developments.
    • Banks should implement effective IT and other risk management processes to address the risks and implications of using new enabling technologies. Bank supervisors should also “enhance safety and soundness by ensuring that banks adopt such risk management processes and control environments.”
    • Bank supervisors should understand the implications of the growing use of third parties, via outsourcing and/or partnerships, and maintain appropriate due diligence processes, which should “set out the responsibilities of each party, agreed service levels and audit rights” when contracting with third-party service providers.
    • Bank supervisors should communicate and coordinate with public authorities responsible for the oversight of fintech-related regulatory functions that are outside the purview of prudential supervision, including safeguarding data privacy, cybersecurity, consumer protection, and complying with anti-money laundering requirements. The recommendation removes the phrase “whether or not the service is provided by a bank or fintech firms,” which was contained in the August consultative document.
    • Bank supervisors should coordinate global cooperation between banking supervisors when fintech firms expand cross-border operations to enhance global safety and soundness by engaging in appropriate supervisory coordination and information-sharing. Recently, on February 19, the U.S. Commodity and Futures Trading Commission and the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority signed an agreement outlining a commitment to collaborate and support each regulator’s efforts to encourage responsible fintech innovation; monitor development and trends; and obtain more effective and efficient regulation and oversight of the market. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.)
    • The report stresses the importance of collaboration between bank regulators, specifically in jurisdictions where non-bank unregulated firms are providing services previously conducted by banks. The BCBS further notes that bank supervisors should review existing supervisory frameworks to consider whether potential new innovative business models can evolve in a manner that has appropriate banking oversight but does not unduly hamper innovation.

    Fintech Basel Committee U.K. CFTC

    Share page with AddThis
  • CFTC announces collaboration agreement with U.K. fintech team


    On February 19, the U.S. Commodity and Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) released the Cooperation Arrangement on Financial Technology Innovation (Agreement). The Agreement outlines a commitment to collaborate and support each regulator’s efforts to encourage responsible fintech innovation; monitor development and trends; and obtain more effective and efficient regulation and oversight of the market. The Agreement specifies how program officials with LabCFTC in the U.S. and FCA Innovate in the U.K. will collaborate to share information, provide regulatory support to fintech businesses, and refer fintech businesses that wish to operate in the other jurisdiction to each other. In the announcement for the Agreement, CFTC Chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo stated, “we believe that by collaborating with the best-in-class FCA FinTech team, the CFTC can contribute to the growing awareness of the critical role of regulators in 21st century digital markets.”

    Fintech CFTC UK

    Share page with AddThis
  • CFTC offers large reward to “pump-and-dump” scheme whistleblowers


    On February 15, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) issued a Consumer Protection Advisory on virtual currency “pump-and-dump” schemes, which offers eligible whistleblowers between 10 and 30 percent of enforcement actions of $1 million or more, which result from the shared information. The notice cautions consumers against falling for the fraudulent “pump-and-dump” schemes, which capitalize on consumers’ fear of missing the potentially lucrative—yet volatile—cryptocurrency market. The advisory warns consumers that many of the perpetrators of these schemes use social media to promote false news reports and create fake urgency for consumers to buy the cryptocurrency immediately. Then, after the price reaches a certain level, the schemers sell their virtual currency and the price begins to fall.

    Fintech Virtual Currency CFTC Bitcoin Cryptocurrency Whistleblower Enforcement

    Share page with AddThis
  • NYDFS issues policies and procedures reminder to virtual currency companies

    State Issues

    On February 7, the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) issued a guidance document reminding virtual currency entities (VC entities) licensed by the state or chartered as limited purpose trust companies that they are required to have policies and procedures in place to guard against fraud, and that they should be particularly vigilant concerning efforts at market manipulation. The guidance requires VC entities to implement written policies that will (i) identify and assess fraud-related areas of risk, including market manipulation; (ii) provide procedures and controls to protect against identified risks; (iii) allocate risk monitoring responsibilities; (iv) periodically evaluate and revise risk monitoring processes to “ensure continuing effectiveness” and “compliance with all applicable laws and regulations; and (v) “provide for the effective investigation of fraud and other wrongdoing.” NYDFS also requires VC entities to submit incident reports detailing any identified wrongdoing, follow-up reports outlining any material developments, measures taken or to be taken concerning the developments, and a statement outlining any changes to the VC entity’s operations to prevent repeat occurrences.

    State Issues NYDFS Fraud Cryptocurrency Virtual Currency Fintech

    Share page with AddThis
  • SEC exams to focus on ICOs, cybersecurity, and AML programs


    On February 7, the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) released its 2018 Examination Priorities, which includes cryptocurrency and Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) for the first time. According to the document, the OCIE’s 2018 priorities reflect “certain practices, products, and services that OCIE believes may present potentially heightened risk to investors and/or the integrity of the U.S. capital markets.” The document highlights five themes:

    • Retail Investors. Among other retail investor priorities, OCIE states it will focus on high-risk products, including cryptocurrency and ICO markets due to their rapid growth. Exams in this area will review whether there are adequate controls and safeguards to protect against theft and whether appropriate disclosures about the risks associated with the investments are given to investors.
    • Compliance and Risks in Critical Market Infrastructure. OCIE will look at important participants in the market structure, including clearing agencies, national securities exchanges, transfer agents, and entities under Regulation SCI.
    • Review of Other Regulatory Bodies. OCIE intends to review the operations and controls of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB).
    • Cybersecurity. OCIE notes that the scope and severity of cybersecurity risks have increased dramatically. According to the document, examinations will continue to focus on, among other things, data loss prevention, governance and risk assessment, and vendor management.
    • AML Programs. Anti-money laundering (AML) program examinations will focus on whether the regulated entities are “appropriately adapting their AML programs to address their obligations.” More specifically, OCIE will look at whether entities are filing accurate Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) and performing appropriate customer due diligence reviews.

    Securities Initial Coin Offerings Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Anti-Money Laundering Fintech SARs Financial Crimes

    Share page with AddThis
  • 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

    Share page with AddThis
  • Seven state regulators agree to streamline money service licensing process for fintech companies


    On February 6, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) announced that financial regulators from seven states have agreed to a multi-state compact that will offer a streamlined licensing process for money services businesses (MSB), including fintech firms. The seven states initially participating in the MSB licensing agreement are Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Texas and Washington. The CSBS expects other states to join the compact. According to the CSBS, “[i]f one state reviews key elements of state licensing for a money transmitter—IT, cybersecurity, business plan, background check, and compliance with the federal Bank Secrecy Act—then other participating states agree to accept the findings.” CSBS noted that the agreement is the first step in efforts undertaken by state regulators to create an integrated system for licensing and supervising fintech companies across all 50 states.

    The announcement of the MSB licensing agreement follows a May 2017 CSBS policy statement, which established the 50-state goal, and—as previously covered by InfoBytes—is a part of previously announced “Vision 2020” initiatives designed to modernize and streamline the state regulatory system to be capable of supporting business innovation while still protecting the rights of consumers.

    Fintech State Issues State Regulators Licensing CSBS Money Service / Money Transmitters Compliance Bank Secrecy Act

    Share page with AddThis