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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

DFPI addresses MTA licensing exemptions

Licensing State Issues DFPI State Regulators California Money Transmission Act Virtual Currency Money Service / Money Transmitters

Recently, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) released several new opinion letters covering aspects of the California Money Transmission Act (MTA) related to virtual currency and agent of payee rules. Highlights from the redacted letters include:

  • Agent of Payee – Fund Transfers in Connection with Real Estate Closing Transactions. The redacted opinion letter reviewed whether a company—licensed as a money transmitter in several states, including California, and registered with FinCEN as a money services business—is eligible for the agent-of-payee exemption under the MTA. The company proposes to “facilitate fund transfers in connection with real estate closing transactions” during which it “will be authorized to receive real estate closing funds on behalf of its customer (the seller of real estate).” The payment funds will first flow from the buyer of real estate to the company via the buyer’s lawyer or title company, and then from the company to the seller after the company converts the funds from U.S. dollars to another currency. By providing these services, the company, as the seller’s agent, will receive money from the buyer pursuant to a preexisting written contract between the company and the seller. DFPI concluded that “[t]o the extent these fund transfers take place in California or are with, to, or from persons located in California, [the company’s] services constitute “receiving money for transmission” because [the company] receives money from the buyer for transfer to the seller.” However, DFPI noted that a provision in the written contract, which appoints the company as the agent of the seller when the seller is located in California, allows the company’s services to satisfy the requirements of the agent-of-payee exemption in Financial Code section 2010, subdivision (l). The agent-of-payee exemption, DFPI stressed though, does not apply to sellers outside of California. 
  • Bitcoin ATM Kiosk. Two redacted opinion letters (see here and here) examined whether the sale and purchase of bitcoin through ATMs/kiosks described by the companies is subject to licensure under the MTA. In each instance, the transaction will only be between the consumer using the ATM/kiosk and the company, the transaction will be completed instantly without involving third parties, and any bitcoin sold will be provided from the company’s own inventory. Moreover, the letters state that the companies do not hold virtual currency on behalf of customers nor do they act in a fiduciary capacity. Because the companies’ activities are limited to selling bitcoin, DFPI determined that an MTA license is not required because the activities “do[] not involve the sale or issuance of a payment instrument, the sale or issuance of stored value, or receiving money for transmission.” DFPI reminded the companies that its determination is limited to the activities specified in the letters and does not relieve them from any FinCEN, federal, or state regulatory obligations.
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