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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 January 29, the Chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, Mike Crapo (R-ID), outlined his upcoming committee agenda, which prioritized housing finance. Specifically, Crapo stated “housing finance reform is the last piece of unaddressed business from the financial crisis,” emphasizing that the continued conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be addressed with bipartisan legislation to establish better taxpayer protection and increase competition among mortgage guarantors. Crapo also highlighted, among other things, potential legislative needs for (i) capital markets, specifically legislation that would encourage capital formation and reduce burdens for smaller businesses; (ii) data breaches and solutions to provide consumers greater control over their financial data; (iii) credit bureau reform to make it easier for consumers to interface with credit bureaus generally and dispute inaccuracies; and (iv) improvements in the regulatory landscape covering fintech innovation. Crapo also acknowledged the upcoming expiration of the National Flood Insurance Program in May, noting that the program was extended ten times last Congress, and any significant reforms need to balance taxpayer interest with the assistance of consumers.
The Committee will continue to provide ongoing oversight over the federal financial regulatory agencies, including whether the regulations, guidance and supervisory expectations are consistent with the intent of the sponsors of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act. Additionally, the Committee will (i) continue its review of the “benefits of agencies that have a bipartisan commission, rather than a single director; a Congressional funding mechanism; and a safety and soundness focus,” and (ii) conduct oversight into financial companies’ actions with regard to access to credit, including whether companies withhold access to customers and industries they disfavor.
On January 22, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) issued new guidance on areas member firms should consider when seeking to improve their compliance, supervisory, and risk management programs. The 2019 FINRA Risk Monitoring and Examination Priorities Letter (2019 Priorities Letter) examines both new priorities as well as areas of ongoing concern, including the adequacy of firms’ cybersecurity programs. FINRA notes, however, that the 2019 Priorities Letter does not repeat topics previously addressed in prior letters, and advises member firms that it will continue to review ongoing obligations for compliance. Topics FINRA plans to focus on in the coming year include:
- Firms’ use of regulatory technology to help compliance efforts become “more efficient, effective, and risk-based.” FINRA will work with firms to understand risks and concerns related to supervision and governance systems, third party vendor management, and safeguarding customer data;
- Supervision of digital assets, including coordinating with the SEC to review how firms determine whether a given digital asset is a security and whether firms are implementing adequate controls and supervisions related to digital assets, such as complying with anti-money laundering and Bank Secrecy Act rules and regulations;
- Assessment of firms’ compliance with FinCEN’s Customer Due Diligence rule, which requires firms to identify beneficial owners of legal entity customers (as previously covered by InfoBytes here); and
- Financial risks, including credit risks, funding and liquidity planning.
Waters announces subcommittee chairs, including newly formed Subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion
On January 24, Chair of the House Financial Services Committee, Maxine Waters, announced that Joyce Beatty (D-OH) will serve as the first Chair of the newly formed Subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion. According to Waters’ policy speech on January 17, the new Subcommittee will be “dedicated to looking at diversity and inclusion issues under the Committee’s jurisdiction.” Specifically, Waters cited to low representation of minorities and women in the financial services industry, particularly at the management level, as a reason for the creation of the subcommittee. Using the Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion of the federal financial services regulators as an example, Waters suggested that the subcommittee be responsible for overseeing diversity in management, employment, and business activities in the financial industry. In addition to diversity and inclusion, Waters noted that, among other things, fair housing, including conducting “robust oversight” of HUD, and fintech would be top priorities for the subcommittee.
In December, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report entitled “Financial Technology: Agencies Should Provide Clarification on Lenders’ Use of Alternative Data,” which addresses emerging issues in fintech lending due to rapid growth in loan volume and increasing partnerships between banks and fintech lenders. The report also addresses fintech lenders’ use of alternative data to supplement traditional data used in making credit decisions or to detect fraud. The report notes that many banks and fintech lenders welcome additional guidance to ease the regulatory uncertainty surrounding the use of alternative data, including compliance with fair lending and consumer protection laws. The report’s findings cover the following topics:
- Growth of fintech lending. GAO’s analysis discusses the growth of fintech lending and several possible driving factors, such as financial innovation; consumer and business demand; lower interest rates on outstanding debt; increased investor base; and competitive advantages resulting from differences in regulatory requirements when compared to traditional state- or federally chartered banks.
- Partnerships with federally regulated banks. The report addresses two broad categories of business models: bank partnership and direct lender. GAO reports that the most common structure is the bank partnership model, where fintech lenders evaluate loan applicants through technology-based credit models, which incorporate partner banks’ underwriting criteria and are originated using the bank’s charter as opposed to state lending licenses. The fintech lender may then purchase the loans from the banks and either hold the loan in portfolio, or sell in the secondary market.
- Regulatory concerns. GAO reports that the most significant regulatory challenges facing fintech lenders relate to (i) compliance with varying state regulations; (ii) litigation-related concerns including the “valid when made” doctrine and “true lender” issues; (iii) ability to obtain industrial loan company charters; and (iv) emerging federal initiatives such as the OCC’s special-purpose national bank charter, fragmented coordination among federal regulators, and the CFPB’s “no-action letter” policy.
- Consumer protection issues. The report identifies several consumer protection concerns related to fintech lending, including issues related to transparency in small business lending; data accuracy and privacy, particularly with respect to the use of alternative data in underwriting; and the potential for high-cost loans due to lack of competitive pressure.
- Use of alternative data. The report discusses fintech lenders’ practice of using alternative data, such as on-time rent payments or a borrower’s alma mater and degree, to supplement traditional data when making credit decisions. GAO notes that while there are potential benefits to using alternative data—including expansion of credit access, improved pricing of products, faster credit decisions, and fraud prevention—there are also a number of identified risks, such as fair lending issues, transparency, data reliability, performance during economic downturns, and cybersecurity concerns.
The GAO concludes by recommending the CFPB, Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, and the OCC communicate in writing with fintech lenders and their bank partners about the appropriate use of alternative data in the underwriting process. According to the report, all four agencies indicated their intent to take action to address the recommendations and outlined efforts to monitor the use of alternative data.
District Court rejects dismissal bid, determining plaintiff sufficiently alleged ICO tokens were unregistered stock
On December 10, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey denied a motion to dismiss a putative class action, finding the plaintiff sufficiently alleged that a company’s sale of unregistered cryptocurrency tokens were “investment contracts” under securities law. According to the opinion, the plaintiff filed the proposed class action against the company alleging it sold unregistered securities in violation of the Securities Act after purchasing $25,000 worth of tokens during the company’s initial coin offering (ICO). The company moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the tokens were not securities subject to the registration requirements of the Act. The court applied the three-prong “investment contract” test from SEC v. W.J. Howey Co.—“the three requirements for establishing an investment contract are: (1) an investment of money, (2) in a common enterprise, (3) with profits to come solely from the efforts of others”—and determined the token sales met the requirements. Focusing on the second and third prongs, because the company acknowledged the first was satisfied, the court concluded that the plaintiff sufficiently alleged the existence of a common enterprise by showing a “horizontal commonality” from the pooling of the contributions used to develop and maintain the company’s tasking platform. As for the third prong, the court determined the investors had an expectation of profit rather than simply a means to use the tasking platform, as demonstrated by the company’s marketing of the ICO as a “‘unique investment opportunity’ that would ‘generate better financial returns[.]’”
On December 4, the California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) released an invitation for comments from interested stakeholders in the development of regulations to implement the state’s new law on commercial financing disclosures. As previously covered by InfoBytes, on September 30, the California governor signed SB 1235, which requires non-bank lenders and other finance companies to provide written consumer-style disclosures for certain commercial transactions, including small business loans and merchant cash advances. Most notably, the act requires financing entities subject to the law to disclose in each commercial financing transaction —defined as an “accounts receivable purchase transaction, including factoring, asset-based lending transaction, commercial loan, commercial open-end credit plan, or lease financing transaction intended by the recipient for use primarily for other than personal, family, or household purposes”—the “total cost of the financing expressed as an annualized rate” in a form to be prescribed by the DBO.
The act requires the DBO to first develop regulations governing the new disclosure requirements, addressing, among other things, (i) definitions, contents, and methods of calculations for each disclosure; (ii) requirements concerning the time, manner, and format of each disclosure; and (iii) the method to express the annualized rate disclosure and types of fees and charges to be included in the calculation. While the DBO has formulated specific topics and questions in the invitation for comments covering these areas, the comments may address any potential area for rulemaking. Comments must be received by January 22, 2019.
FDIC encourages more de novo bank applicants, launches initiatives to streamline and promote transparency in deposit insurance applications
On December 6, the FDIC announced several initiatives designed to streamline and promote transparency in the federal deposit insurance application process, while encouraging more applications from de novo banks. According to FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams, the “application process should not be overly burdensome and should not deter prospective banks from applying.” As part of its initiative, the FDIC issued a request for information (RFI) soliciting feedback on all aspects of the deposit insurance application process—the RFI applies to all institutions, including those with less than $1 billion in total assets, as well as traditional community banks. The RFI seeks comments on: (i) suggestions for modifying the application process as it relates to traditional community banks; (ii) potential ways to “support the continuing evolution of emerging technology and fintech companies . . . [and whether there are] particular risks associated with any such proposals”; (iii) aspects of the application process such as legal, regulatory, economic, or technological factors that may discourage potential applications; and (iv) other suggestions for addressing stakeholder concerns regarding the application process, as well as methods for improving effectiveness, efficiency, and transparency. Comments on the RFI will be accepted for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register.
The FDIC also discussed a new, voluntary process for new deposit insurance applicants to request feedback on draft applications before filing formal submissions. “The new process is intended to provide an early opportunity for both the FDIC and organizers to identify potential challenges with respect to the statutory criteria, areas that may require further detail or support, and potential issues or concerns,” the announcement stated.
In addition to updating publications related to the application process (available through FIL-83-2018), the FDIC also released FIL-81-2018 and FIL-82-2018, which respectively provide application processing timeframe guidelines and an overview of the review process for draft deposit insurance proposals.
- 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