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

    Fintech

    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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  • Seven state regulators agree to streamline money service licensing process for fintech companies

    Fintech

    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

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  • House Financial Services Subcommittee conducts hearing on fintech opportunities and challenges

    Fintech

    On January 30, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit held a hearing entitled “Examining Opportunities and Challenges in the Financial Technology (“Fintech”) Marketplace.” The Subcommittee issued a press release following the hearing and presented the following key takeaways:

    • “Modern developments in digital technology are changing the way in which many financial services are offered and delivered”; and
    • “Congress and the federal prudential regulators must continue to examine this innovative marketplace to understand the opportunities and challenges it presents, and to ensure that financial services entities are allowed to use fintech to deliver new products and services while also protecting consumers.”

    Opening statements were presented by several members of the Subcommittee, including Subcommittee Vice Chair Keith Rothfus, R-PA, who noted that online lending, mobile banking, and other products could bring capital back to areas deserted by traditional banks. Subcommittee Chairman Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-MO, highlighted that loan originations passed through marketplace lenders accounted for nearly $40 billion over the past ten years, with online lenders often able to offer better lending terms. Luetkemeyer also discussed the rise of mobile banking and lending and raised the question presented by some states of whether fintech companies should be required to comply with current laws that apply to similar products. He stressed that understanding fintech’s capabilities “can better create an environment that fosters certainty and responsible innovation while maintaining consumer protections.” A broad range of topics were discussed at the hearing, including the following highlights:

    • Madden v. Midland / True Lender. Companies that have chosen to partner with banks have also run into regulatory and legal roadblocks, including the recent decision in Madden v. Midland Funding, which determined that a nonbank entity taking assignment of debts originated by a national bank is not entitled to protection under the National Bank Act from state-law usury claims. (See Buckley Sandler Special Alert here.) In prepared remarks, Andrew Smith, Partner at Covington and Burling, LLP, stated that because of varying outcomes in true lender court challenges, the lack of certainty means that “market participants will no longer be willing to enter into these types of transactions, thereby depriving consumers, banks, and the economy of the many benefits of bank partnerships with fintech providers while also hampering the liquidity necessary to support a robust lending market.” Smith went on to discuss H.R. 4439, the Modernizing Credit Opportunities Act, which was introduced to “reconfirm and reinforce existing federal law with respect to a bank’s identity as the true lender of a loan with the assistance of a third-party service provider.” Smith emphasized that the legislation would “resolve any uncertainty about a bank’s ability to use third-party service providers by confirming the principle that when a bank enters into a loan agreement, it is the bank that has made the loan.”
    • Marketplace Lending. During his testimony, witness Nathaniel Hoopes, Executive Director at the Marketplace Lending Association, highlighted the role marketplace lending platforms (MPPs) have had in delivering products to underserved consumers, but emphasized that a lot of work still needs to happen for more of the “broad American ‘middle class’ to fully realize and benefit from the potential of MPPs specifically and fintech more broadly.” He also expressed support for the Special Purpose National Bank charter currently under consideration by the OCC.
    • Regulatory Sandboxes. Witness Brian Knight, Director of the Program on Financial Regulation and Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, suggested in his prepared remarks various methods to improve the current regulatory environment, and opined that lawmakers could allow firms that participate in a regulatory sandbox program and comply with its requirements to avoid liability as long as the firm makes “customers whole if the firm causes harm owing to a violation of the law.” Knight added that states could be allowed to grant special non-depository charters similar to those offered by the OCC. And while witness Professor Adam J. Levitin of the Georgetown University Law Center agreed that sandboxes would allow companies to explore new ideas with the understanding that customers must be protected, he cautioned that the fragmentation of the regulatory system around fintech makes it hard for experimentation, and that risk would need to be regulated.
    • Virtual Currencies. Knight discussed his concerns with initial coin offerings (ICOs) and commented that while ICOs “may enable firms to access capital more effectively than traditional methods, there are significant concerns that they are being used by both outright frauds and well-meaning but ignorant firms to obtain capital in contravention of existing laws governing the sales of securities, commodities futures contracts, and products and services.” However, Knight testified that despite the potential for risk, peer-to-peer payments, cryptocurrencies, and other innovations demonstrate potential, and that innovative lenders are replacing banks in communities where it is no longer profitable for those banks to serve.

    Inconsistent Regulations. During his testimony, witness Brian Peters, Executive Director at Financial Innovation Now, advocated for improved coordination among regulators and stressed that the “current structure is needlessly fragmented and inconsistent among federal regulators, and varies widely across state jurisdictions.” Peters also commented on the need to modernize the regulatory structure to keep pace with innovation and meet consumers’ needs.

    Fintech House Financial Services Committee Marketplace Lending True Lender Virtual Currency Bank Regulatory Usury Third-Party

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  • SEC and CFTC issue joint statement on virtual currency enforcement actions; CFTC files lawsuits alleging cryptocurrency fraud

    Fintech

    On January 19, the SEC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) issued a joint statement to reiterate the agencies’ positions on virtual currency enforcement and stress that they “will look beyond form, examine the substance of the activity and prosecute violations of the federal securities and commodities laws.” As previously discussed in InfoBytes last year (see here and here), the SEC determined that federal securities laws apply to anyone who offers and sells securities in the United States, regardless of the manner of distribution or whether dollars or virtual currencies are used to purchase the securities, while the CFTC announced that virtual currencies are commodities. Additionally, both agencies filed enforcement actions in 2017 against firms based upon fraud allegations (coverage available here and here).

    Separately, on January 18, the CFTC filed lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York against two individuals and their companies, alleging commodities law violations and fraud in the cryptocurrency market. In the first complaint, the CFTC alleged that a UK-registered company and its owner solicited cryptocurrency investments from members of the public for a commodity pool, but misrepresented the company’s trading expertise, misappropriated over $1 million of the pool’s funds, and failed to engage in the proposed investments with the pooled funds. In the second complaint, the CFTC alleged that a New York-based company and its owner operated a deceptive and fraudulent scheme in which they solicited cryptocurrency transfers in exchange for virtual currency investment advice and trading guidance, but never actually provided such advice. The CFTC further claimed the company concealed its scheme after collecting customer funds by removing its internet presence and ceasing communications with those customers. The suits seek, among other things, disgorgement of profits, civil monetary penalties, restitution, and a ban on commodities trading for the defendants.

    Fintech Virtual Currency CFTC SEC Enforcement Cryptocurrency

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  • Chair Giancarlo outlines CFTC approach to virtual currency regulation

    Fintech

    On January 4, the Chair of the CFTC, J. Christopher Giancarlo, issued a statement emphasizing the CFTC’s commitment to effectively regulating virtual currency and reiterated the CFTC’s view that virtual currency is a “commodity,” as defined by the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA), and thus is subject to CFTC regulation. Giancarlo noted that it would be irresponsible to ignore virtual currency and that the CFTC is following steps to effectively and responsibly regulate the risks, specifically, “consumer education, asserting CFTC authority, surveilling trading in derivative and spot markets, prosecuting fraud, abuse, manipulation and false solicitation and active coordination with fellow regulators.” Giancarlo’s statement also noted an upcoming meeting of the CFTC Technology Advisory Committee to discuss virtual currencies on January 23.

    The CFTC also published a backgrounder on the oversight of the virtual currency futures market, which describes the “heightened review” for the self-certification process as applied to virtual currency futures products, and explains the extent to which the CFTC “not only has clear legal authority, but now also will have the means to police certain underlying spot markets for fraud and manipulation.”

    Fintech Virtual Currency CFTC Bitcoin

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  • FSOC Publishes 2017 Annual Report, Highlights Cybersecurity and Financial Innovation Risks

    Fintech

    On December 14, the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) released its 2017 annual report. The report reviews financial market developments, identifies emerging risks, and offers recommendations to enhance financial stability. Highlights include:

    • Cybersecurity.  The report notes that financial institutions need to work with regulators to improve cybersecurity resilience and better understand risks. FSOC encourages the creation of a private sector council of senior executives to work with government officials and focus on ways cyber incidents may affect business operations.
    • Marketplace Lending. FSOC acknowledges that marketplace lending is still an evolving model with potential risks, such as the misalignment of incentives. However, the report notes the platform’s potential to reduce costs and expand access to credit.
    • New Technology. The report discusses challenges for supervision and regulation of virtual currencies and distributed ledger technology. FSOC observes that current regulatory practices were designed for more centralized systems, in comparison to the decentralization of data storage in this new landscape.

    Fintech Virtual Currency FSOC Bitcoin Department of Treasury Marketplace Lending Third-Party Distributed Ledger

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  • CFTC Issues Proposed Interpretation of “Actual Delivery” in Virtual Currency Transactions; Launches Virtual Currency Resource Page

    Fintech

    On December 15, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced a proposed interpretation concerning its authority over transactions involving virtual currency, which includes its view regarding the term “actual delivery” in the context of retail virtual currency transactions. According to the proposed interpretation, the CFTC claims that it has “explicit oversight authority” over “retail commodity transactions” under Section 2(c)(2)(D) of the Commodity Exchange Act. Applying a broad definition of the term virtual currency, the CFTC believes that these type of currencies are commodities, which means that certain transactions in virtual currencies are subject to CFTC oversight.

    The proposed interpretation sets forth two primary factors that market participants must demonstrate to prove “actual delivery” of virtual currency in connection with retail commodity transactions:

    • a customer has the ability to “(i) take possession and control of the entire quantity of the commodity, whether it was purchased on margin, or using leverage, or any other financing arrangement, and (ii) use it freely in commerce (both within and away from any particular platform) no later than 28 days from the date of the transaction”; and
    • “the offeror and counterparty seller (including any of their respective affiliates or other persons acting in concert with the offeror or counterparty seller on a similar basis) does not retain any interest in or control over any of the commodity purchased on margin, leverage, or other financing arrangement at the expiration of 28 days from the date of the transaction.”

    Comments on the proposed regulation must be received on or before March 20, 2018.

    In October, the CFTC’s LabCFTC released “A CFTC Primer on Virtual Currencies,” which discusses potential use-cases for virtual currencies, outlines the agency’s role and oversight of virtual currencies, and highlights the risks associated with virtual currencies. The CFTC also launched its own webpage with virtual currency resources and a customer advisory warning of the risks of virtual currency trading.

    Fintech Virtual Currency CFTC Federal Register Bitcoin

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  • Judge Dismisses OCC Fintech Charter Challenge

    Fintech

    A U.S. District Court Judge dismissed the New York Department of Financial Services’ (NYDFS) challenge to the OCC’s proposed federal charter for fintech firms.  (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) In the December 12 order, the judge agreed with the OCC that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over NYDFS’ claims because the OCC has yet to finalized its plans to actually issue fintech charters. The case was dismissed without prejudice.

    As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) has also filed a lawsuit, which challenges the same statutory authority allowing the OCC to create charters for fintech companies. The CSBS lawsuit is still active. 

    Fintech Courts OCC NYDFS Litigation

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  • Federal Reserve Governor Calls for Collaboration Between Regulators, Banks, Data Aggregators, and Fintech Firms for Financial Data Sharing Standards

    Fintech

    On November 16, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard spoke at a fintech conference sponsored by the University of Michigan regarding consumers’ right to understand and control how their financial data is used by third-party aggregators, and in developing fintech technology. “There's an increasing recognition that consumers need better information about the terms of their relationships with aggregators, more control over what is shared, and the ability to terminate the relationship,” Brainard noted. “Consumers should have relatively simple means of being able to consent to what data are being shared and at what frequency. And consumers should be able to stop data sharing and request the deletion of data that have been stored.”

    Brainard emphasized that regulators, data aggregators, bank partners, and fintech developers should jointly develop a common, consistent message for how customer data is shared and protected within the fintech space and “other areas experiencing significant technological change.” As previously reported in InfoBytes, on October 18, the CFPB issued principles concerning the security and transparency of financial data sharing when companies—including fintech firms—get authorization from consumers to access their account data that reside in separate organizations to provide products and services.

    Fintech Federal Reserve Consumer Finance Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security EFTA CFPB Third-Party

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  • Small Business Economic Hearing on Financing Through Fintech

    Fintech

    On October 26, the House Small Business Committee Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Tax, and Capital Access (Subcommittee) held a hearing entitled, “Financing Through Fintech: Online Lending’s Role in Improving Small Business Capital Access” to understand how small businesses obtain capital, examine various industry business models, and discuss the impacts of online lending in the marketplace. In introductory remarks, Subcommittee Chairman, Dave Brat (R-VA), identified small business access to capital as a top priority for the Subcommittee and noted that small businesses are increasingly looking to online lending as a means to access credit instead of traditional sources.  The full list of witnesses and testimony is available here.

    Fintech Federal Issues House Small Business Committee

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