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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • FINRA proposes permitting the use of electronic signatures for certain accounts

    Fintech

    On November 28, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) filed a proposed rule change with the SEC to amend paragraph (a)(3) of FINRA Rule 4512(a)(3)—“Customer Account Information”—which will permit the use of electronic signatures consistent with the E-SIGN Act. Specifically, under the proposed rule, firms will be allowed to obtain electronic signatures of personnel exercising discretionary trading authority over customer accounts maintained by a member. FINRA acknowledges that “[g]iven technological advances relating to electronic signatures, including with respect to authentication and security” it now believes that the requirement for manual signatures is obsolete. If approved by the SEC, the proposed rule change will be published in a regulatory notice no later than 60 days following approval, and will take effect within 30 days following publication.

    Fintech FINRA Electronic Signatures E-SIGN Act

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  • Federal Reserve Governor, FDIC Chairman discuss fintech

    Fintech

    On November 13, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard spoke at the “Fintech and New Financial Landscape” conference hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia to discuss the potential implications associated with artificial intelligence (AI) innovation and advise regulators to remain diligent in their approach to understand and regulate the use of AI by financial institutions when augmenting or replacing traditional financial processes. Brainard’s prepared remarks emphasize the benefits and potential risks to bank safety and consumer protection that new AI applications pose. Noting, however, that many AI tools are proprietary and may be shielded from close scrutiny, Brainard suggested that existing regulations and supervisory guidance such as the Federal Reserve Board’s guidance on model risk management and vendor risk management could prove helpful in this space, which requires strong controls. Among other things, Brainard discussed the use of AI models to make credit decisions, and noted the risk of “opacity and explainability” challenges, which would make it difficult to explain how consumer credit decisions were determined and could “make it harder for consumers to improve their credit score by changing their behavior.” However, Brainard noted that the “AI community is responding with important advances in developing ‘explainable’ AI tools with a focus on expanding consumer access to credit.”

    Brainard also commented that “[r]egulation and supervision need to be thoughtfully designed so that they ensure risks are appropriately mitigated but do not stand in the way of responsible innovations that might expand access and convenience for consumers and small businesses or bring greater efficiency, risk detection, and accuracy.” Moreover, supervisory guidance to firms must be read in the context of the “relative risk,” and the “level of scrutiny should be commensurate with the potential risk posed by the approach, tool, model, or process used.”

    At the same conference, FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams also discussed the use of innovation to expand banking access to more consumers, including lower transaction costs and increases in credit availability, but emphasized that millions of “unbanked or underbanked” U.S. households do not experience these technological benefits. McWilliams stated that “[i]t will be up to institutions to leverage technology and develop products to reach these consumers.” McWilliams also discussed the FDIC’s planned Office of Innovation, which will, among other things, evaluate ways to support community banks with limited resources for fintech research and development and explore policy changes to encourage more innovation, particularly “in the areas of identity management, data quality and integrity, and data usage or analysis.” Additionally, McWilliams stated that advances in technology and data analytics will present opportunities for managing risk and change the process in which regulators handle oversight in areas such as Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering compliance and consumer privacy.

    Fintech Federal Reserve Artificial Intelligence

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  • CSBS files lawsuit over OCC’s fintech charter decision, arguing agency exceeds it authority under the National Bank Act

    Fintech

    On October 25, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) filed a lawsuit against the OCC arguing that the agency exceeded its authority under the National Bank Act (NBA) and other federal banking laws when it allowed non-bank institutions, including fintech companies, to apply for a Special Purpose National Bank Charter (SPNB). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed CSBS’s challenge last April on ripeness grounds because the OCC had not yet issued a fintech charter to any firm. But CSBS renewed its challenge in light of the OCC’s July announcement welcoming non-depository fintech companies engaging in one or more core-banking functions to apply for a SPNB (previously covered by Buckley Sandler Special Alert here), and statements indicating the OCC is currently vetting several companies and expects to make charter decisions mid-2019.

    Among other things, the complaint argues that the SPNB program (i) exceeds the OCC’s statutory authority because the OCC may not “redefine the business of banking” to include non-depository institutions; (ii) is “arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion” because it inadequately addresses, without explanation, “the myriad policy implications and concerns raised by the public” and the “cost-benefit” tradeoffs; (iii) did not include the proper notice and comment period for preemption interpretations under the NBA; and (iv) is an improper invasion of “state sovereign interests.”

    Fintech Courts OCC CSBS Fintech Charter National Bank Act

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  • Federal Reserve Governor discusses fintech’s role in financial inclusion

    Fintech

    On October 17, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard spoke at the “FinTech, Financial Inclusion—and the Potential to Transform Financial Services” conference hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program to discuss ways in which fintech can improve financial access for underserved families and small businesses. Brainard argued that, although new technologies can lower transaction costs, access to accounts and credit—while beneficial—does not, by itself, overcome the barriers to financial inclusion. Brainard stressed that continued progress toward financial inclusion is likely to require solutions designed with an understanding of issues the underserved face, such as examining why many unbanked or underbanked people intentionally choose not to maintain a bank account and recognizing the need to support faster payment systems for those living paycheck to paycheck. Brainard cautioned, however, that new fintech products may create consumer data security and privacy issues, and that fintech may struggle to reach communities lacking the infrastructure for digital service delivery. The challenge as regulators, she stated, “is to ensure trust in financial products and services by maintaining the focus on consumer protection, while supporting responsible innovation that provides social benefits.”

    Fintech Federal Reserve Consumer Finance

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  • CFPB launches innovation webpage

    Fintech

    On October 16, the CFPB announced the launch of its new webpage for innovation, which aims to engage with entrepreneurs and the innovation community to promote competition, innovation, and consumer access within financial services. The webpage is a result of the Bureau’s new Office of Innovation (previously known as Project Catalyst) and includes information regarding the Global Financial Innovation Network and the Bureau’s proposed revisions to the Trial Disclosure Program Policy (previously covered by InfoBytes here and here). The webpage also encourages groups to “pitch a pilot” to work with the Bureau on consumer-friendly innovation ideas.

    Fintech CFPB Regulatory Sandbox Disclosures

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  • SEC launches FinHub to facilitate fintech innovation

    Fintech

    On October 18, the SEC announced the launch of its Strategic Hub for Innovation and Financial Technology (FinHub). According to the SEC, FinHub will assist in facilitating public engagement on fintech-related topics, including blockchain/distributed ledger technology, digital marketplace financing, automated investment advice, and artificial intelligence/machine learning. Through FinHub, industry participants and the public will have the opportunity to engage directly with the SEC to discuss and test innovative ideas and technological developments. FinHub will also act as a clearinghouse for SEC staff to access and disseminate fintech-related information throughout the agency, and will “[s]erve as a liaison to other domestic and international regulators regarding emerging technologies in financial, regulatory, and supervisory systems.”

    “FinHub provides a central point of focus for our efforts to monitor and engage on innovations in the securities markets that hold promise, but which also require a flexible, prompt regulatory response to execute our mission,” SEC Chairman Jay Clayton announced.

    Fintech SEC Blockchain Distributed Ledger

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  • Arizona’s fintech sandbox program accepts first participant

    Fintech

    On October 11, the Arizona Attorney General announced the state’s first fintech sandbox participant. The mobile payment platform company will test its product—a centralized wallet infrastructure designed to create “cheaper and faster payment transfers”—for two years by processing guest payments at a Tucson resort. Arizona resident-guests will receive a disclosure agreement outlining the company’s participation in the sandbox, an explanation of the test product, a privacy notice, and the ability to opt out of any information sharing with the resort. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Arizona governor signed legislation in March creating the first state sandbox program for companies to test innovative financial products or services without certain regulatory requirements. 

    The Attorney General also announced the finalization of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Taiwan’s financial regulator, the Financial Supervisory Commission, to increase the reach of the state’s sandbox program. The MOU will establish an information sharing agreement “that may result in the opportunity for businesses to develop/test eligible [fintech] products in both markets,” the release stated.

    Fintech State Issues State Attorney General Regulatory Sandbox

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  • Financial Stability Board report: Crypto-assets not yet posing material risk to financial stability

    Fintech

    On October 10, the Financial Stability Board (FSB) published a report, which asserts that although “crypto-assets do not pose a material risk to global financial stability at this time,” there may be implications for financial stability in the future as market developments evolve. The newest report, “Crypto-asset markets: Potential channels for future financial stability implications,” follows a July report discussing the FSB’s framework for monitoring and assessing vulnerabilities in the financial system resulting from developments in the crypto-asset markets. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) According to the October report, the FSB conducted an assessment which considered the primary risks present in crypto-assets and their markets, such as “low liquidity, the use of leverage, market risks from volatility, and operational risks,” and determined that, “[b]ased on these features, crypto-assets lack the key attributes of sovereign currencies and do not serve as a common means of payment, a stable store of value, or a mainstream unit of account.” However, the October report discussed challenges to assessing and monitoring potential risks and commented on the following implications that may arise from the evolving use of crypto-assets: (i) reputational risks to financial institutions and their regulators; (ii) risks from direct or indirect exposures of financial institutions; (iii) risks resulting from the use of crypto-assets in payments and settlements; and (iv) risks from market capitalization and wealth effects.

    Fintech Financial Stability Board Cryptocurrency

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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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  • NYDFS files lawsuit over OCC’s fintech charter decision

    Fintech

    On September 14, New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) Superintendent, Maria T. Vullo, filed a lawsuit against the OCC arguing that the agency’s decision to allow fintech companies to apply for a Special Purpose National Bank Charter (SPNB) is a “lawless” and “ill-conceived” move that will destabilize financial markets more effectively regulated by the state. As previously covered in InfoBytes, last December the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed NYDFS’ previous challenge because the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over NYDFS’ claims since the OCC had yet to finalize its plans to actually issue SPNBs. However, in light of the OCC’s July announcement welcoming nondepository fintech companies engaged in one or more core banking functions to apply for a SPNB (previously covered by Buckley Sandler Special Alert here), Superintendent Vullo once again issued a challenge to the OCC’s decision, arguing that it is unlawful and grants federal preemptive powers over state law. Among other things, NYDFS requests the court to (i) declare that the OCC’s decision to grant SPNBs exceeds its statutory authority under the National Bank Act, and specifically that the decision improperly defines the “‘business of banking’ to include non-depository institutions,” and (ii) enjoin the OCC “from taking further actions to implement its provisions.”

    Fintech Courts NYDFS OCC State Issues Fintech Charter

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