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On June 10, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.) wrote to the Federal Reserve Board, the OCC, the FDIC, and the CFPB requesting information regarding the role the regulators can play in ensuring that fintech companies serve consumers on a nondiscriminatory basis. The letter asserts that ,while the fintech business model—using algorithms to underwrite loans, typically without face-to-face interaction with consumers—has “the potential to expand access to financial services for underserved populations,” it also has the potential to lead to discriminatory results. Based on recent reports cited in the letter, the Senators ask the regulators to, among other things, (i) identify what their agency is doing to combat lending discrimination by lenders using algorithmic underwriting; (ii) explain how the agencies’ oversight of fair lending laws extend to the fintech industry; and (iii) describe any analyses conducted on the impact of fintech algorithms on minority borrowers. The letter requests the agencies respond to the inquiries by June 24.
On May 24, the FTC announced the launch of a dedicated fintech resource page hosted on the agency’s business center website. The fintech page contains the following materials: (i) guidance, including Safeguards Rule and Privacy Rule compliance information; (ii) videos that will be regularly rotated discussing topics such as artificial intelligence and blockchain; (iii) related posts containing relevant information on small business financing and recent fintech enforcement actions; and (iv) legal resources, including relevant cases and staff reports.
On April 30, the OCC released a proposed Innovative Pilot Program (and accompanying program FAQs), which is designed to support responsible innovation in the U.S. federal banking system by allowing eligible entities to test novel products, services, or processes that could present significant benefits to consumers, businesses, financial institutions, and communities. Under the program, the OCC would provide eligible entities with regulatory input, through tools such as interpretive letters during the development and implementation of proposed innovative activities. Any proposal the agency determines to have potentially predatory, unfair, or deceptive features; poses undue risk to consumers; or poses undue safety and soundness risk to an institution would be deemed as inconsistent with existing law and policy and not permitted in the program. Highlights of the proposed program include:
- Eligibility. OCC-supervised financial institutions may participate in the program independently or when partnered with a third-party entity to offer an innovative activity. Third-party entities, not supervised by the OCC, may not independently participate. Additionally, eligible entities seeking to participate in the program must establish an uncertainty (“perceived to be a barrier to development and implementation”) that justifies the need for the OCC’s involvement during development or implementation of the innovative product or service and must also show how the innovative activity has the potential to benefit the needs of consumers, businesses, and or communities.
- Parameters. The OCC anticipates participation in the program to last between three and 24 months, but the duration of each pilot will be on a case-by-case basis. The program may include the use of interpretive letters, supervisory feedback, and technical assistance, as well as potential determinations of legal permissibility before a live test. Notably, the program will not provide any statutory or regulatory waivers, and all participants must continue to comply with applicable laws and regulations.
- Evaluation Process. The four-step application process includes (i) a preliminary discussion with the OCC about the proposed pilot; (ii) submission of a tailored expression of interest (EOI) to the OCC’s Office of Innovation or assigned supervisory office; (iii) evaluation of the EOI by the OCC; and (iv) acceptance or declination of the request. If a proposal is accepted, the testing phase will begin and the entity will be required to submit periodic information and reports, including key performance indicators, issues identified, and any steps taken to address the issues.
The OCC will maintain the confidentiality of proprietary information, including the identity of any participating entities. Comments on the proposal must be submitted by June 14.
On April 24, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced the formation of a new office, the Office of Financial Innovation, that will act as a central point of coordination for issues related to financial innovation by FINRA members. The new office, which is an outgrowth of FINRA’s Innovation Outreach Initiative (previously covered by InfoBytes here), will collaborate with various FINRA teams as well as regulators, investors, and other stakeholders to encourage the use of fintech in a way that strengthens market integrity and protects investors. The new office also will incorporate FINRA’s existing Office of Emerging Regulatory Issues, which focuses on analyzing new and emerging risks and trends related to the securities market.
On March 22, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (New York Fed), one of the 12 regional Federal Reserve System banks that make up the United States' central banking system, announced the launch of its Fintech Advisory Group, which is designed to offer “views and perspectives on the emerging issues related to financial technologies, the application and market impact of these technologies, and the potential impact on the New York Fed’s ability to achieve its missions.” The group’s members will participate on a rotating basis, and will include representatives from financial institutions, nonprofits, and research providers. According to the head of the Supervision Group at the New York Fed, “The Fintech Advisory Group will provide the New York Fed with a more complete picture of the rapidly evolving fintech landscape. The Advisory Group will also gather insights that may inform our interaction with market participants and institutions, our training and hiring efforts, and the application of innovative approaches for internal business use.” The group’s first meeting will be held on April 1.
On March 4, proposed legislation, H.R. 1491, was introduced by its co-sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives to provide federal financial regulatory clarity for fintech startups. According to a press release issued by Congressman David Scott (D-GA), the FINTECH Act of 2019 would: (i) mandate U.S. federal financial regulators harmonize and coordinate conflicting regulations that would cover fintech operations; and (ii) establish a Fintech Council to serve as a “single point of entry” for approving fintech charters before assigning approved fintechs to one or more designated U.S. regulators. The bill's co-sponsors are members of the House of Representatives' Financial Services Committee and co-chair the Fintech and Payments Caucus.
On February 19, the Wyoming Governor signed HB 57, which creates a fintech sandbox program in the state for companies to test innovative financial products and services. Wyoming is the second state to introduce a regulatory sandbox program, following Arizona’s sandbox introduction last March. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) Under the “Financial Technology Sandbox Act” (the Act), the state’s sandbox will be open to innovative financial products and services, including those focused on blockchain and cryptocurrencies, and will allow testing of these products for up to two years with the possibility of an additional 12 month extension before requiring participants to apply for formal licensure. Additionally, under certain conditions, the Act—which grants various supervisory and enforcement power to the state banking commissioner and the secretary of state, including revocation and suspension rights—will authorize (i) limited waivers of specified statutes or rules, and (ii) reciprocity agreements with other regulators. The Act takes effect January 1, 2020.
On February 14, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) agreed to implement specific recommendations from the CSBS Fintech Industry Advisory Panel. The Advisory Panel, which was formed in 2017 and consists of 33 fintech companies, works to “identify and remove unnecessary pain points in the multistate experience of fintechs and other nonbanks operating regionally or nationwide while improving financial supervision.” Of the 19 recommended actions by the Advisory Panel, CSBS supported 14, including: (i) creating a 50-state model law to license money services businesses; (ii) creating a standardized call report for consumer finance businesses; (iii) expanding the use of the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System across all license types; and (iv) building an online database of state licensing and fintech guidance. Recommendations related to small business lending were among the items saved for future action or implementation.
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 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. 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.
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