Pennsylvania court holds mobile giving app not required to be licensed as a money transmitter
On May 30, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania reversed an order by the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities Commission (Commission) issued against a mobile giving app and two of its executives (petitioner), holding that the petitioner was not required to be licensed by the Commission because it was not transmitting money under the court’s interpretation of the Pennsylvania Money Transmitter Act (Act). In 2016 the Compliance Office of the Department of Banking and Securities (Department) issued an order to cease and desist against the petitioner for transmitting money in the state without a license as required under the Act. At issue was whether petitioner’s activities constituted “transmitting money” under the Act, or merely involved collecting and supplying information. The Department claimed the petitioner’s app was “an indispensable part of a chain of events through which money was transferred from the donors to the recipients of the donations.” However, the petitioner argued that the app simply connected donors to the recipients, and that the actual transmission of money was outsourced to a payment processor who conducted the actual transactions.
The six-judge majority stated that the Commission’s interpretation of the Act was too broad, holding that “[o]n a basic and critical level, the Commission erroneously interpreted the terminology ‘engage in the business’ in an overly expansive manner and essentially read it as prohibiting any conduct that contributes toward—or has a tangential involvement with—the concrete and real act of ‘transmitting money.’” Moreover, “the key term in ascertaining the defining characteristic of the conduct that is proscribed by the statute is ‘transmitting,’” and while the petitioner’s “software application can be deemed to have acquired and ‘transmitted’ information vital to the donative transactions to [the payment processor], by no means was [the petitioner] ‘transmitting money’ itself, or transmitting some other ‘method for the payment’ of the donation, ‘from one person or place to another.’”