Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On February 11, the District of Columbia Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking announced the formation of the District of Columbia Financial Services Regulatory Sandbox and Innovation Council. The Council, which will examine the feasibility of implementing a financial services regulatory sandbox in the District, will also “develop a blockchain and innovation regulatory framework to facilitate financial services innovation in the District.” D.C. Mayor Bowser, who established the Council in January, has directed the advisory group to review barriers that fintech, insurtech, regtech, and other technology companies face when attempting to bring innovative services to the District, and to evaluate how these impediments can be mitigated or eliminated to foster innovation, including making recommendations for ways to reduce the regulatory burden on financial services providers that impede innovation. Among other things, the Mayor also has tasked the Council with studying the potential dangers regulatory sandboxes pose to consumers and the possible safeguards to such dangers. The Council—whose membership will include a cross section of professionals from the insurance, securities, banking, and lending industries; consumer representatives; technology industry members; and individuals specializing in financial services regulation and the captive insurance industry—will report legislative, programmatic, and policy recommendations to the Mayor within the first six months after its initial meeting.
On February 11, a coalition of 22 Democratic state Attorneys General responded to the CFPB’s proposed policy on No-Action Letters (NAL) and a new federal product sandbox, pushing back on the Bureau’s efforts to provide relief to financial institutions looking to implement new consumer financial products or services. (InfoBytes coverage on the proposal available here.) The Attorneys General argued that the Bureau “has no authority to issue such sweeping immunity absent formal rulemaking” and urged the Bureau to rescind the proposals, which the Bureau had stated were exempt from the notice and comment procedures of the Administrative Procedures Act.
In addition to challenging the Bureau’s authority to establish these policies, the Attorneys General asserted specific concerns with the NAL proposal, including (i) the fact that the proposed NAL policy would make NALs binding on the CFPB indefinitely; (ii) the streamlined application process and 60-day decision window, potentially causing the Bureau to render hasty, uninformed decisions; and (iii) the proposed NAL policy’s purported deviations from the policies of other federal agencies, such as the SEC.
As for the new product sandbox, the Attorneys General viewed the proposed policy as “even more troubling” than the NAL proposal, as it provides immunity from “enforcement actions by any Federal or State authorities, as well as from lawsuits brought by private parties.” The Attorneys General rejected the Bureau’s contention that the statutory safe harbors in TILA, ECOA, and the EFTA grant the authority to provide the broad enforcement relief and accused the Bureau of “abandoning its critical role in monitoring the risk that new and emergency technologies post to consumers in the financial marketplace.”
On January 31, the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced that the Global Financial Innovation Network (GFIN) officially launched and is now seeking cross-border testing applications. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in August 2018, the FCA announced the creation of the GFIN in collaboration with 11 other global financial regulators, including the CFPB. The network has now expanded to include 29 organizations, including financial regulators and other related entities, committed to supporting financial innovation. The GFIN has three primary functions: (i) to collaborate on innovation and to provide accessible regulatory contact information for firms; (ii) to provide a forum for joint regulation technology work; and (iii) to provide firms with an environment in which to trial cross-border solutions.
The announcement states that the network has opened a one month application window for firms interested in joining a pilot cohort for cross-border testing for new technologies. Firms interested in participating are required to meet the application requirements of all the jurisdictions in which they would like to test. Each applicable regulator will decide whether the firm’s proposed test meets the screening criteria and ensure safeguards are in place in their jurisdiction for testing. The deadline for testing applications is February 28.
On December 10, the CFPB released a new proposed policy on No-Action Letters (NAL) and a new federal product sandbox. The new NAL proposal, which would replace the 2016 NAL policy, is “designed to increase the utilization of the Policy and bring certain elements more in line with similar no-action letter programs offered by other agencies.” The proposal consists of six sections. Highlights include:
- Description of No-Action Letters. The letter would indicate to the applicant, that subject to good faith, substantial compliance with the terms of the letter, the Bureau would not bring a supervisory or enforcement action against the recipient for offering or providing the described aspects of the product or service covered by the letter.
- Submitting Applications. The proposal includes a description of the items an application should contain and invites applications from trade associations on behalf of their members, and from service providers and other third parties on behalf of their existing or prospective clients.
- Assessment of Applications. The Bureau intends to grant or deny an application within 60 days of notifying the applicant that the application is deemed complete.
- Issuing No-Action Letters. NALs will be signed by the Assistant Director of the Office of Innovation or other members in the office, and will be duly authorized by the Bureau. The Bureau may revoke a NAL in whole or in part, but before the Bureau revokes a NAL, recipients will have an opportunity to cure a compliance failure within a reasonable period.
- Regulatory Coordination. In order to satisfy the coordination requirements under Dodd-Frank, the Bureau notes it is interested in partnering with state authorities that issue similar forms of no-action relief in order to provide state applicants an alternative means of also receiving a letter from the Bureau.
- Disclosure of Information. The Bureau intends to publish NALs on its website and in some cases, a version or summary of the application. The Bureau may also publish denials and an explanation of why the application was denied. The policy notes that disclosure of information is governed by the Dodd-Frank Act, FOIA and the Bureau’s rule on Disclosure of Records and Information, which generally would prohibit the Bureau from disclosing confidential information.
Notable changes from the 2016 NAL policy include, (i) NALs no longer have a temporal duration—under the new proposal, there is no temporal limitation except in instances of revocation; (ii) applicants are no longer are required to commit to sharing data about the product or service covered by the application; and (iii) the letters are no longer staff recommendations, but issued by authorized officials in the Bureau to provide recipients greater assurance of the relief.
The proposal also introduces the Bureau’s “Product Sandbox,” which offers substantially the same relief as the NAL proposal but also includes: (i) approvals under one or more of three statutory safe harbor provisions of TILA, ECOA, or the EFTA; and (ii) exemptions by order from statutory provisions of ECOA, HOEPA, and FDIA, or regulatory provisions that do not mirror statutory provisions under rulemaking authority. The proposal notes that two years is the expected duration for participation in the Sandbox, but similar to the no-action relief above, the no-action relief from the Sandbox program can be of unlimited duration—if approved under the sandbox program, “the recipient would be immune from enforcement actions by any Federal or State authorities, as well as from lawsuits brought by private parties.”
Comments on the proposals are due within 60 days of publication in the Federal Register.
On November 1, the Arizona Attorney General announced the approval of two more participants in the state’s fintech sandbox program. The first company, which is based in New York, will test a savings and credit product, enabling Arizona consumers to obtain a small line of credit aimed at providing overdraft protection. If a consumer agrees to a repayment plan recommended by the company’s proprietary technology, the APR may be as low at 12 percent; if a consumer adopts a different repayment plan, the line of credit will have a standard APR of 15.99 percent. The company intends to report transactions under the payment plan to national credit bureaus to enable the building of credit histories. The second company, an Arizona-based non-profit, will test a lending product using proprietary blockchain technology, which has an APR cap of 20 percent.
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. In October, the Attorney General announced the first sandbox participant, a mobile platform company (InfoBytes coverage available here).
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.
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.
On September 10, the CFPB published a proposal to revise its trial disclosure policy in order to “more effectively encourage companies to conduct trial disclosure programs.” The current trial disclosure policy, authorized by Section 1032(e) of the Dodd-Frank Act, was finalized in 2013 and allows for approved company disclosures to be deemed in compliance with, or exempted from, applicable federal disclosure requirements during the testing period. For the past five years, under the current policy, the Bureau has not approved a single company program for participation. The proposed revisions intend to create a “Disclosure Sandbox” and increase company participation in the program by, among other things, (i) streamlining the application process and providing formal determinations within 60 days of submission; (ii) increasing guidance during the testing period; (iii) providing procedures for requesting extensions of successful programs, as the Bureau expects most testing periods will start at two years; (iv) coordinating with other regulators of similar programs to allow companies to conduct a Bureau Disclosure Sandbox program without going through the Bureau’s application process; and (v) clarifying that trade groups may apply to the program on behalf of its members. Comments on the proposal must be received by October 10.
On August 7, the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced the creation of the Global Financial Innovation Network (GFIN) in collaboration with 11 global financial regulators, including the CFPB. As set forth in the GFIN Consultation Document, the three major functions of the initiative are: (i) information sharing among regulators on topics including emerging technologies and business models; (ii) providing a forum for joint policy work; and (iii) instituting “cross-border trials” to create a testing environment for companies as they deal with global regulatory challenges. GFIN’s intention is to serve as an efficient way for innovative fintech firms to interact with regulators and promote transparency, and plans to explore the concept of a “global sandbox” to create opportunities for these firms to test new financial services and products such as artificial intelligence, distributed ledger technology, and initial coin offerings in multiple jurisdictions.
In a press release issued the same day, the Bureau noted that the decision to join the group is a demonstration of its “commitment to promoting innovation by coordinating with state, federal and international regulators.” Acting Director Mick Mulvaney further commented, “We look forward to working closely with other regulatory authorities—whether in the United States or abroad—to facilitate innovation and promote regulatory best practices in consumer financial services.”
The working group seeks multi-jurisdictional comments on the Consultation Document to assess feedback on its proposed mission, function, and priorities. U.S. persons can submit comments through the Bureau’s Office of Innovation or through the FCA and other regulators. Comments must be received by October 14.
CFPB Succession: Kraninger testifies before Senate Banking Committee; Bureau nominates Paul Watkins to lead Office of Innovation
On July 19, the Senate Banking Committee held a confirmation hearing for Kathy Kraninger on her nomination as permanent director of the CFPB. Prior to the hearing, the White House issued a fact sheet asserting that “Kraninger has the management skills and policy background necessary to reform and refocus the Bureau.” In her written testimony Kraninger shared four initial priorities: (i) the Bureau should be fair and transparent, utilize a cost benefit analysis to facilitate competition, and effectively use notice and comment rulemaking to ensure the proper balance of interests; (ii) the Bureau should work closely with other regulators and states to “take aggressive action against bad actors who break the rules by engaging in fraud and other illegal activities”; (iii) data collection will be limited to what is needed and required under the law and measures will be taken to ensure the protection of the data; and (iv) the Bureau will be held accountable to the public for its actions, including its expenditure of resources.
Chairman of the Committee Senator Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, remarked in his opening statement that he hoped Kraninger “will be more accountable to senators on this Committee than Director Cordray was” but that he had “the utmost confidence that she is well-prepared to lead the Bureau in enforcing federal consumer financial laws and protecting consumers in the financial marketplace.” Conversely, Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., released a staff report prior to the hearing detailing Kraninger’s tenure at OMB and identifying her participation in several alleged management failures in the current administration.
During the hearing, Kraninger received questions covering a range of topics, including whether she would appeal last month’s ruling by a federal judge in New York that the CFPB’s structure was unconstitutional. (See previous InfoBytes coverage on the ruling here.) Kraninger responded that constitutionality questions are “not for me in this position to answer.” However, Kraninger did comment that “Congress, through [the] Dodd-Frank Act, gave the Bureau incredible powers and incredible independence from both the president and the Congress in its structure. . . . My focus is on running the agency as Congress established it, but certainly working with members of Congress. I’m very open to changes in that structure that will make the agency more accountable and more transparent.” Kraninger also commended recent efforts by the OCC to encourage banks to make small-dollar loans, discussed plans to consult Bureau staff on the use of the disparate impact theory in enforcement, and stated she will seek to promote the agency’s regulatory views through formal rulemaking instead of through enforcement.
On July 18, acting Director of the CFPB Mick Mulvaney announced the selection of Paul Watkins to lead the Bureau’s new Office of Innovation. The Office of Innovation—a recent addition to the Bureau—will focus on policies for facilitating innovation, engage with entrepreneurs and regulators, and review outdated or unnecessary regulations. Specifically, the Office of Innovation will replace what was previously known as Project Catalyst, which was—as previously discussed in InfoBytes—responsible for facilitating innovation in consumer financial services. Prior to joining the Bureau, Watkins worked for the Arizona Attorney General and helped launch the first state regulatory sandbox for fintech innovation. (See previous InfoBytes coverage on Arizona’s regulatory sandbox here.) Earlier in May, Mulvaney announced at a luncheon hosted by the Women in Housing & Finance that the Bureau is working to build its own regulatory sandbox program, and last year the agency took steps to make it easier for emerging technology companies to comply with federal rules by issuing its first “no action letter.”
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "NMLS usage" at the NMLS Annual Conference & Training
- Jeffrey S. Hydrick to discuss "State legislative update" at the NMLS Annual Conference & Training
- Kathryn L. Ryan to speak at the "Business model primer" at the NMLS Annual Conference & Training
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Dynamic customer due diligence and beneficial ownership from KYC to ongoing CDD and the new rule implementation" at the Puerto Rican Symposium of Anti-Money Laundering
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Preparing for servicing exams in the current regulatory environment" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "Regulatory risks of convenience fees" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo
- APPROVED Webcast: NMLS Annual Conference & Ombudsman Meeting: Review and recap
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Keeping your head above water in flood insurance compliance" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo
- Melissa Klimkiewicz to discuss "Servicing super session" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from recent high profile enforcement actions" at the Florida International Bankers Association AML Compliance Conference
- Moorari K. Shah to provide "Regulatory update – California and beyond" at the National Equipment Finance Association Summit
- Sasha Leonhardt and John B. Williams to discuss "Privacy" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions Spring Regulatory Compliance School
- Aaron C. Mahler to discuss "Regulation B/fair lending" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions Spring Regulatory Compliance School
- Heidi M. Bauer to discuss "'So you want to form a joint venture' — Licensing strategies for successful JVs" at RESPRO26
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Small business & regulation: How fair lending has evolved & where are we heading?" at CBA Live
- Jonice Gray Tucker to to discuss "DC policy: Everything but the kitchen sink" at CBA Live
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from ABLV and other major cases involving inadequate compliance oversight" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "A year in the life of the CDD final rule: A first anniversary assessment" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss "State regulatory and disclosures" at the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association Legal Forum
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: Addressing prosecutions driven by hidden actors" at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers West Coast White Collar Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Keep off the grass: Mitigating the risks of banking marijuana-related businesses" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Mid-year policy update" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program