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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

DFPI addresses several MTA licensing exemptions

Licensing State Issues State Regulators DFPI California Money Transmission Act Money Service / Money Transmitters Payment Processors Fintech Digital Assets Cryptocurrency California

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

  • Purchase and Sale of Digital Assets; Payment Processing Services. The redacted opinion letter examines whether the inquiring company’s client is required to be licensed under the MTA. The letter describes two types of transactions proposed to be conducted on the client’s online trading platform: (i) transactions in which customers purchase and sell digital assets from the company in exchange for fiat currency (Direct Purchase Transactions); and (ii) transactions in which merchants use the platform as a payment processor to accept digital assets from customers in exchange for non-fungible tokens (Payment Processing Transactions). DFPI concluded that the Direct Purchase Transactions do not require an MTA license because they do not “involve the sale or issuance of a payment instrument, the sale or issuance of stored value, or receiving money for transmission.” DFPI similarly concluded that the Payment Processing Transactions do not require licensure at this time because DFPI has “not yet determined that payment processing transactions involving digital assets constitute receiving money for transmission[.]” Notwithstanding, DFPI added that it has been “studying the cryptocurrency industry closely” and that “[a]t any time, the Department may determine these activities are subject to regulatory supervision. The Department may also adopt regulations or issue interpretive opinions that significantly restrict [the contemplated] business operations.”
  • Agent of Payee. The redacted opinion letter addresses whether the inquiring company’s proposed payment processing activities are exempt from the MTA’s licensing requirements. The letter explains that the company proposes to process payments related to purchases of apps through a virtual marketplace that operates on the company’s point of sale terminals. Through the virtual marketplace, customers (generally small businesses or merchants) may purchase apps that are developed and licensed to customers by third-party developers. Pursuant to a developer agreement, the company is appointed by such third-party developers to act as an “agent” of the developers “to collect and hold all Gross Revenue on [the developers’] behalf and to remit the Remittance Amount to [the developers’] Payment Account.” DFPI concluded that receiving funds from a customer for the purposes of transmitting payments to the developer “constitutes ‘receiving money for transmission.’” However, DFPI noted that these activities also satisfy the “agent of payee” exemption requirements because, pursuant to the developer agreement, the company acts as an agent of the developer, and the company’s receipt of payment satisfies “the customer’s (payor’s) obligation to the Developer for goods or services.” Accordingly, DFPI concluded that while the activities described constitute “money transmission” the company is exempt from the MTA’s licensure requirement.

DFPI reminded the companies that its determinations are limited to the presented facts and circumstances and that any change could lead to different conclusions.