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  • FinCEN director discusses approach to virtual currency and emerging technology

    Financial Crimes

    On August 9, FinCEN Director Kenneth A. Blanco delivered remarks at the 2018 Chicago-Kent Block (Legal) Tech Conference to discuss, among other things, the agency’s approach to virtual currency and its efforts to protect financial institutions from being exploited for illicit financing purposes as new financial technologies evolve and are adopted. Blanco commented that while innovation provides customers with greater access to financial services, it can also create opportunities for criminals or serve as a vehicle for fraud. Blanco discussed several areas of focus, such as (i) the regulation of virtual currency and initial coin offerings (ICOs), along with coordinated policy development and regulatory approaches done in conjunction with the SEC and CFTC; (ii) examination and supervision efforts designed to “proactively mitigate potential illicit finance risks associated with virtual currency”; (iii) anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regulatory compliance expectations for companies involved in ICOs or virtual currency transmissions; (iv) enforcement actions taken against companies that fail to implement effective programs; (v) the rise and importance of virtual currency suspicious activity report filings which help the agency identify and investigate illicit activity; and (vi) the development of an information sharing virtual currency-focused FinCEN Exchange program. Blanco emphasized that “individuals and entities engaged in the business of accepting and transmitting physical currency or convertible virtual currency from one person to another or to another location are money transmitters subject to the requirements” of the Bank Secrecy Act.

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Bank Secrecy Act Virtual Currency Anti-Money Laundering Combating the Financing of Terrorism SARs SEC CFTC Fintech Initial Coin Offerings

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  • Regulators create Global Financial Innovation Network

    Fintech

    On August 7, the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced the creation of the Global Financial Innovation Network (GFIN) in collaboration with 11 global financial regulators, including the CFPB. As set forth in the GFIN Consultation Document, the three major functions of the initiative are: (i) information sharing among regulators on topics including emerging technologies and business models; (ii) providing a forum for joint policy work; and (iii) instituting “cross-border trials” to create a testing environment for companies as they deal with global regulatory challenges. GFIN’s intention is to serve as an efficient way for innovative fintech firms to interact with regulators and promote transparency, and plans to explore the concept of a “global sandbox” to create opportunities for these firms to test new financial services and products such as artificial intelligence, distributed ledger technology, and initial coin offerings in multiple jurisdictions.

    In a press release issued the same day, the Bureau noted that the decision to join the group is a demonstration of its “commitment to promoting innovation by coordinating with state, federal and international regulators.” Acting Director Mick Mulvaney further commented, “We look forward to working closely with other regulatory authorities—whether in the United States or abroad—to facilitate innovation and promote regulatory best practices in consumer financial services.”

    The working group seeks multi-jurisdictional comments on the Consultation Document to assess feedback on its proposed mission, function, and priorities. U.S. persons can submit comments through the Bureau’s Office of Innovation or through the FCA and other regulators. Comments must be received by October 14.

    Fintech Financial Conduct Authority CFPB Regulatory Sandbox International

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  • Buckley Sandler Special Alert: OCC announces it will accept fintech charter applications, following the release of Treasury report on nonbank financial institutions

    Federal Issues

    On July 31, the OCC announced that nondepository financial technology firms engaged in one or more core banking functions may apply for a special purpose national bank (SPNB) charter. The announcement follows a report released the same day by the Treasury Department, which discusses a number of recommendations for creating a streamlined environment for regulating financial technology, and includes an endorsement of the OCC’s SPNB charter for fintech firms (fintech charter).

    * * *

    Click here to read the full special alert.

    If you have questions about the report or other related issues, please visit our Fintech practice page, or contact a Buckley Sandler attorney with whom you have worked in the past.

    Federal Issues Fintech OCC Department of Treasury CFPB Fintech Charter Non-Depository Institution Comptroller's Licensing Manual CSBS NYDFS Bank Holding Company Act Payday Rule

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  • FINRA seeks comments on fintech innovation in broker-dealer industry

    Fintech

    On July 30, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) issued a Special Notice seeking comment on how it can support fintech innovation consistent with its mission of investor protection and market integrity. According to FINRA, the comment request builds on its Innovation Outreach Initiative, which launched last year to assist FINRA in understanding fintech innovations and how those innovations affect the securities industry (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The Special Notice seeks general comments on FINRA’s rules or processes that could be “modified to better support fintech innovation without adversely affecting investor protection or market integrity,” and comments pointing to specific areas of fintech innovation that may need a greater focus by the organization. In addition to those comments, the notice also raises three specific topics for comment that have previously been flagged as potential areas of engagement through the Innovation Outreach Initiative: (i) data aggregation services; (ii) supervision as it relates to artificial intelligence; and (iii) the development of a taxonomy-based machine-readable rulebook. Comments are due by October 12.

    Fintech FINRA Federal Issues SEC Securities

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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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  • CFPB Succession: Kraninger testifies before Senate Banking Committee; Bureau nominates Paul Watkins to lead Office of Innovation

    Federal Issues

    On July 19, the Senate Banking Committee held a confirmation hearing for Kathy Kraninger on her nomination as permanent director of the CFPB. Prior to the hearing, the White House issued a fact sheet asserting that “Kraninger has the management skills and policy background necessary to reform and refocus the Bureau.” In her written testimony Kraninger shared four initial priorities: (i) the Bureau should be fair and transparent, utilize a cost benefit analysis to facilitate competition, and effectively use notice and comment rulemaking to ensure the proper balance of interests; (ii) the Bureau should work closely with other regulators and states to “take aggressive action against bad actors who break the rules by engaging in fraud and other illegal activities”; (iii) data collection will be limited to what is needed and required under the law and measures will be taken to ensure the protection of the data; and (iv) the Bureau will be held accountable to the public for its actions, including its expenditure of resources.

    Chairman of the Committee Senator Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, remarked in his opening statement that he hoped Kraninger “will be more accountable to senators on this Committee than Director Cordray was” but that he had “the utmost confidence that she is well-prepared to lead the Bureau in enforcing federal consumer financial laws and protecting consumers in the financial marketplace.” Conversely, Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., released a staff report prior to the hearing detailing Kraninger’s tenure at OMB and identifying her participation in several alleged management failures in the current administration.

    During the hearing, Kraninger received questions covering a range of topics, including whether she would appeal last month’s ruling by a federal judge in New York that the CFPB’s structure was unconstitutional. (See previous InfoBytes coverage on the ruling here.) Kraninger responded that constitutionality questions are “not for me in this position to answer.” However, Kraninger did comment that “Congress, through [the] Dodd-Frank Act, gave the Bureau incredible powers and incredible independence from both the president and the Congress in its structure. . . . My focus is on running the agency as Congress established it, but certainly working with members of Congress. I’m very open to changes in that structure that will make the agency more accountable and more transparent.” Kraninger also commended recent efforts by the OCC to encourage banks to make small-dollar loans, discussed plans to consult Bureau staff on the use of the disparate impact theory in enforcement, and stated she will seek to promote the agency’s regulatory views through formal rulemaking instead of through enforcement.

    On July 18, acting Director of the CFPB Mick Mulvaney announced the selection of Paul Watkins to lead the Bureau’s new Office of Innovation. The Office of Innovation—a recent addition to the Bureau—will focus on policies for facilitating innovation, engage with entrepreneurs and regulators, and review outdated or unnecessary regulations. Specifically, the Office of Innovation will replace what was previously known as Project Catalyst, which was—as previously discussed in InfoBytes—responsible for facilitating innovation in consumer financial services. Prior to joining the Bureau, Watkins worked for the Arizona Attorney General and helped launch the first state regulatory sandbox for fintech innovation. (See previous InfoBytes coverage on Arizona’s regulatory sandbox here.) Earlier in May, Mulvaney announced at a luncheon hosted by the Women in Housing & Finance that the Bureau is working to build its own regulatory sandbox program, and last year the agency took steps to make it easier for emerging technology companies to comply with federal rules by issuing its first “no action letter.”

    Federal Issues CFPB Succession Fintech Regulatory Sandbox Senate Banking Committee CFPB Enforcement

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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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  • NYDFS will continue to pursue litigation if OCC moves forward with fintech charter

    State Issues

    On June 6, New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) Superintendent, Maria T. Vullo, spoke to the Exchequer Club in Washington, DC, emphasizing, among other things, her opposition to the OCC’s proposal for a fintech charter. Vullo noted that the OCC has not actually finalized plans for the new charter and Comptroller, Joseph Otting, is expected to announce his views on the pending proposal soon. As previously covered by InfoBytes, two legal challenges, one by NYDFS and one by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, were recently dismissed in separate district courts for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and ripeness due to the fact that the OCC has not issued a fintech charter nor has it finalized its plans to issue one. In her speech, Vullo, acknowledged these lawsuits and her desire to continue the litigation “rather than accept the OCC’s lack of authority in the non-depository space and respect the states’ regulation of and consumer protections in this area.” Vullo noted that fintech, when done right, is a “very good thing” that can assist in bringing banking services to underserved customers. But she also stated that companies that use financial technology should not be granted “an exemption from the rules that banks and other financial institutions follow to manage risk and protect consumers.”

    Vullo also touched on (i) her support for the CFPB’s final rule on payday loans, vehicle title loans, and certain other high-cost installment loans; (ii) her concerns over the dismantling of the Bureau’s Office for Students; (iii) her opposition to the Department of Education’s position that only the federal government may oversee student loan servicers (see InfoBytes coverage here); and (iv) the potential risks with the unregulated virtual currency market.

    State Issues NYDFS OCC Fintech Fintech Charter

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  • CFPB Succession: Bureau asks court to stay payday rule litigation; Mulvaney: Bureau may resume PII collection; working on a fintech regulatory “sandbox”; will consider scale and frequency of violations in future actions

    Federal Issues

    On May 31, the CFPB filed a joint motion with two payday loan trade groups, requesting a stay of litigation pending the Bureau’s reconsideration of its final rule on payday loans, vehicle title loans, and certain other high-cost installment loans (Rule) and requesting a stay of the compliance date—currently set for August 19, 2019 for most substantive sections—of the Rule until 445 days after final judgment in the litigation. The motion argues that the stay is necessary for the duration of the rulemaking process because “the rulemaking process may result in repeal or revisions of the [Rule] and thereby moot or otherwise resolve this litigation.”  As previously covered by InfoBytes, on April 9, the payday loan trade groups filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas asking the court to set aside the Rule because, among other reasons, the CFPB is unconstitutional and the Bureau’s rulemaking failed to comply with the Administrative Procedure Act. The Bureau announced its intention to reconsider the Rule in January, and reiterated that intent in its Spring 2018 rulemaking agenda.   

    Additionally, acting Director of the CFPB, Mick Mulvaney, reportedly lifted the ban on the Bureau’s collection of personally identifiable information after an independent review concluded that “externally facing Bureau systems appear to be well-secured.” The ban was initially announced in December 2017, soon after Mulvaney began his acting role.

    On May 29, Mulvaney stated in response to a question at a luncheon hosted by the Women in Housing & Finance that the CFPB is working closely with the U.S. Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) on developing a regulatory “sandbox” for fintech companies—which would provide targeted regulatory relief for companies to test new consumer financial products. While he did not provide many details on the project, he did note the Bureau was reviewing similar state actions for guidance (as previously covered by InfoBytes, Arizona was the first state to create a regulatory sandbox for fintech innovation). Additionally, in response to another question, Mulvaney noted that the Bureau may begin to take into account the scale and frequency of violations when determining whether to take action against a company; a practice, according to Mulvaney, that was not done under previous leadership. When referring to his authority to decide when to pursue an action, he stated, “I think if [a company is] doing something less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the time, maybe…it's evidence of a lack of criminal intent, and maybe there's a good place ... for me to execute some prosecutorial discretion."

    Overall, Mulvaney’s remarks were consistent with previous comments about the direction of the Bureau, including his intention to end the practice of “regulation by enforcement” and his desire to move the CFPB under the Congressional appropriations process. He noted that he is still in the process of reviewing the public disclosure of consumer complaints and whether or not the Consumer Complaint Database will continue to be publicly available. Additionally, he was unable to provide a status update on the Bureau’s future debt collection rule (the Spring 2018 rulemaking agenda lists the rule in a “Proposed Rule Stage” and has the deadline for a notice of proposed rulemaking set for February 2019, see InfoBytes coverage here). Lastly, he reiterated the Bureau’s recent announcement that it is reviewing applications of the disparate impact doctrine under ECOA, stating that he is “reviewing all of [the Bureau’s] rules regarding ECOA, not just in auto lending” because Dodd-Frank requires that the Bureau “enforce federal consumer financial law consistently without regard to the status of the person.”   

    Federal Issues CFPB CFPB Succession Enforcement Fintech Payday Rule

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  • SEC obtains court order halting allegedly fraudulent initial coin offering

    Securities

    On May 29, the SEC announced it obtained a court order halting an alleged fraud involving an initial coin offering (ICO) that raised as much as $21 million from investors in the U.S. and overseas. In addition, the court approved an emergency asset freeze and appointed a receiver for the firm allegedly responsible for the scheme, the SEC said in its press release. According to the SEC’s complaint filed May 22 in California federal court, the firm’s president and one of two firms he controls allegedly violated the antifraud and registration provisions of the federal securities laws, by, among other things, (i) making misleading statements to investors about the nature of business relationships with the Federal Reserve and nearly 30 well-known companies, and (ii) including “fabricated, misleading, and/or unauthorized” testimonials from corporate customers on the firm’s website designed to “establish a presence and seeming expertise.” A second firm controlled by the defendant has also been charged with violating antifraud provisions. Among other things, the SEC seeks permanent injunctions, the return of profits associated with the fraudulent activity, plus interest and penalties, and a ban prohibiting the president from participating in ICOs in the future.

    Securities Initial Coin Offerings SEC Fraud Fintech

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