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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • FTC to ban “deceptive” mobile-banking app

    Federal Issues

    On March 29, the FTC announced a proposed stipulated final order against the operators of a mobile banking app to settle allegations that the defendants deceived users about their supposedly high-interest bank accounts and falsely promised users “24/7” access to their funds. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FTC alleged, among other things, that the defendants represented that users would receive “‘minimum base’ interest rates” of at least 0.2 percent or 1.0 percent, but that users actually received a starting interest rate of 0.04 percent and stopped earning any interest if they requested that their funds be returned. The FTC also claimed that while the defendants promised users 24/7 access to their funds and represented they could make transfers out of their accounts and receive requested funds within three to five business days, some users waited weeks or months to receive funds despite repeated complaints to the defendants, while other users stated they never received their money.

    The proposed stipulated final order bans the defendants from operating or advertising a mobile banking app or any other product or service that can be used to deposit, store, or withdraw funds, and prohibits them from misrepresenting the interest rates, restrictions, and other aspects of any financial product or service. Additionally, the defendants must issue full refunds, including interest, to all customers. The FTC vote approving the stipulated final order was 3-1, with Rohit Chopra, President Biden’s nominee to head the CFPB, voting no. Commissioner Chopra has not published a statement explaining his vote.

    Federal Issues FTC Enforcement Mobile Banking Consumer Finance Deceptive UDAP

  • 9th Circuit: Arbitration agreement authorizes public injunctive relief under California law


    On February 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a grant of a motion to compel arbitration filed by the operator of a smartphone app that offers financial services to consumers, holding that an agreement between a consumer and the lender authorizes the arbitrator to award all injunctive remedies available in an individual lawsuit under California law. In this case, the plaintiff took out a credit-builder loan and was required to enroll in a program offered by the lender as a prerequisite for applying for the loan, which required the payment of monthly fees. After the consumer fell behind on her fees, deposits, and loan payments, she filed a putative class action suit claiming that when she tried to cancel her membership in the program, the lender informed her that she first had to pay off the loan in full, which could only happen after she paid the still-accumulating past-due membership fees. The lender moved to compel arbitration, which the district court granted, ruling that the arbitration agreement was fully enforceable and that the agreement “explicitly” did not violate the ruling established in McGill v. Citibank NA, as it allowed the arbitrator to award “all remedies in an individual lawsuit,” including, without limitation, public injunctive relief. On appeal, the 9th Circuit rejected the consumer’s argument that she could only secure public injunctive relief by acting as a private attorney general, which the arbitration agreement explicitly prohibited. “Public injunctive relief is available under California law in individual lawsuits—not just in private-attorney-general suits,” the appellate court wrote. “It follows that [the consumer] may secure that relief in arbitration under the [a]greement.” As a result, the court affirmed the district court’s order to compel arbitration.

    Courts Ninth Circuit Appellate Arbitration Mobile Banking State Issues

  • FTC says mobile banking app is deceptive

    Federal Issues

    On November 18, the FTC filed a complaint against a mobile banking app operator alleging the defendants violated the FTC Act by deceiving users about their high-interest bank accounts and falsely promising users “24/7” access to their funds. The FTC’s complaint alleges that the defendants represented that users would receive “‘minimum base’ interest rates” of at least 0.2 percent or 1.0 percent, but that users actually received a starting interest rate of 0.04 percent and stopped earning any interest if they requested that their funds be returned. Additionally, the complaint claims that while the defendants promised users 24/7 access to their funds and represented they could make transfers out of their accounts and receive the requested funds within three to five business days, some users waited weeks or months to receive their funds despite submitting repeated complaints to the defendants. Other users claimed they never received their money. Moreover, some users claimed that the defendants blamed the failure to deliver the requested funds on “unspecified issues with unspecified ‘banking partners’ or ‘technology partners’ and promised the delays were temporary.

    The FTC seeks an injunction against the defendants, along with monetary relief including “rescission or reformation of contracts, restitution, the refund of monies paid, disgorgement of ill-gotten monies, and other equitable relief.”

    Federal Issues FTC Fintech Enforcement Mobile Banking UDAP Deceptive

  • FBI warns of increased mobile banking cyber threats

    Federal Issues

    On June 10, the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a Public Service Announcement (PSA) cautioning mobile banking application users to remain vigilant of cyber activity. Specifically, the PSA indicated, with a more than 50 percent increase in mobile web application usage since the start of the year, that cyber actors may attempt to steal login credentials through the introduction of trojans embedded in other software and the deployment of fake banking applications, designed to trick consumers into entering their credentials. The PSA provides three recommendations for all mobile banking application users and organization: (i) use strong passwords (at least eight characters); (ii) use multifactor authentication and not share multifactor PINs; and (iii) contact the financial institution if a banking application appears suspicious. Finally, the PSA reminds consumers that financial institutions will not ask for login credentials over the phone.

    Federal Issues Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Covid-19 Mobile Banking FBI

  • Mobile banking company approved for FDIC deposit insurance

    Federal Issues

    On February 7, the FDIC approved a proposed national bank’s application for deposit insurance and consent to merge with its parent company. The FDIC found that financial projections show the bank, which will offer banking products through mobile, online, and phone-based banking channels, will be “well capitalized” based on initial paid-in capital funds of no less than $104.4 million to be provided through the transfer of assets and liabilities. During the first three years of operation, the bank must maintain a Tier 1 leverage ratio of 10 percent or greater, and may also be required to maintain higher minimum capital requirements as dictated by the bank’s operating plan or as required by the OCC pursuant to its regulatory authority. According to the FDIC, the proposed national bank will be located in Utah, and while it will have no branches, deposit-taking ATMs, or offices available to the public, it will offer full-service banking products and combine “traditional retail banking approaches with modern technology.”

    The FDIC noted that deposit insurance will not take effect until the bank has been granted a charter and its banking operation has been fully approved by the OCC to operate as a depository institution (in August 2018, the OCC granted preliminary conditional approval of the bank’s de novo chapter application). According to the FDIC, approval is conditioned on the Federal Reserve Board granting final approval to the parent company to become a bank holding company.

    Federal Issues FDIC OCC Federal Reserve Mobile Banking Deposit Insurance

  • FDIC Chairman Speaks About Financial Inclusion

    Federal Issues

    On November 7, the Chairman of the FDIC, Martin J Gruenberg, addressed the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) in New York, New York regarding financial inclusion and expanding economic opportunity for the underbanked. In his speech, Gruenberg discussed the agency’s most recent report, FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, which found that nearly 27 percent of American households are unbanked or underbanked.  Gruenberg also highlighted the initiatives the agency has undertaken to address the results of this report, including (i) creating access to “Safe Accounts,” which are electronic transaction accounts with low costs; (ii) conducting research on mobile financial services and how technology can lead to more sustainable banking relationships; and (iii) continuing financial education initiatives with a particular focus on youth savings.

    Federal Issues FDIC Consumer Finance Mobile Banking Consumer Education

  • FDIC Releases Report on the Unbanked; Captures Movement to Online Banking

    Federal Issues

    On October 20, the FDIC released a report on the use of the traditional banking system in the United States. According to the FDIC’s executive summary of the report, the percentage of U.S. households in which no one had a checking or savings account (the “unbanked”) dropped to 7.0 in 2015. This is the lowest unbanked percentage since 2009, the year the FDIC began conducting an annual survey of unbanked and underbanked households. The FDIC cited several reasons why some households remain unbanked, the most common of which was the cost of maintaining an account, with an estimated 57.4% of respondents citing it as a factor in their decision not to maintain an account, and 37.8% of respondents citing it as the main reason underlying their decision not to maintain an account. Consistent with past survey results, the report notes that unbanked and underbanked rates are higher among lower-income households, less-educated households, younger households, minority households, and working-age disabled households. Additional findings highlighted in the report include: (i) a 1.9% increase from 2013-2015 in the use of prepaid cards; (ii) rapid growth (31.9% of users in 2015 compared to 23.2% in 2013) in the use of mobile and online banking, reflecting “promising opportunities to use the mobile platform to increase economic inclusion”; and (iii) an opportunity for banks to meet the credit needs of some households with an “unmet demand” for credit by “promoting the importance of building credit history, incorporating nontraditional data into underwriting, and increasing households’ awareness of personal credit products.”

    Federal Issues FDIC Banking Digital Commerce Prepaid Cards Mobile Banking Payments Online Banking

  • FDIC Issues White Paper on Mobile Financial Services

    Consumer Finance

    On May 25, the FDIC published a report titled “Opportunities for Mobile Financial Services to Engage Underserved Consumers.” The report is the product of FDIC qualitative research with consumers and industry stakeholders regarding mobile financial services’ (MFS) potential to increase economic inclusion. The report identifies the following areas as core financial needs for underserved consumers: (i) control over finances, noting that consumers want to know precisely when and why money is withdrawn from an account; (ii) access to money, stressing that consumers expect financial providers to make funds available as quickly as possible; (iii) convenience, emphasizing the value consumers place on features that save time or effort when making a transaction; (iv) affordability, commenting that consumers aim to “minimize or avoid fees for account maintenance and everyday transactions”; (v) security, emphasizing consumers’ need for protection from theft of funds or personal information; (vi) customer service, with a consumer expectation for having access to live help through their preferred banking channel; and (vii) long-term financial management (i.e., advice on money management or the availability of tools to meet financial goals). According to the report, mobile banking “helps meet consumer needs in areas where traditional banking is perceived to be weak.” Specifically, the report states that mobile banking improves the convenience of banking services, helps consumers maintain better control of their finances, and, in some cases, is more affordable than traditional banking. The FDIC concluded that “consumers make tradeoffs when selecting financial services on certain financial needs.” As such, the report makes suggestions based off consumer feedback as to how both MFS and traditional banking services can better streamline their products to best benefit the underserved, and how to address consumers’ real and perceived fears about the security risks of using MFS.

    The FDIC’s report follows a May 3 letter seeking input regarding the FDIC’s plans to explore the economic inclusion potential of MFS. The FDIC requested that all feedback be submitted by June 15, 2016.

    FDIC Mobile Banking

  • CFPB Reports on Underserved Consumers' Use of Mobile Financial Services

    Consumer Finance

    On November 5, the CFPB published a report titled "Mobile Financial Services" to summarize the results of its June 2014 Request for Information on the opportunities and challenges associated with the use of mobile financial services (MFS) by traditionally underserved consumers. With 44% of unbanked individuals owning a smartphone, the report notes that MFS has the potential to be a promising tool for underbanked and unbanked consumers to manage their finances. According to the report, consumers using MFS save time and money because they can check their balances any time and have access to certain tools that help them manage their money. The report highlights mobile Remote Deposit Capture as particularly attractive to unbanked consumers because it allows them to take a picture of and deposit checks remotely, reducing the limitations of branch hours and locations. Additional key takeaways from the report include: (i) MFS would likely be most effective for underserved consumers if paired with consultative or assistance services; (ii) privacy and security concerns remain a significant risk; and (iii) digital access and digital financial literacy need improvement, such as enhancing affordable access to technology and educating consumers and intermediaries about safe and effective use of the technology.

    CFPB Mobile Banking Mobile Commerce Mobile Payment Systems

  • Federal Reserve Bank of Boston's Payment Strategies Team Provides Snapshot of Mobile Banking Landscape


    On August 17, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston published a report that outlines the results of a 2014 survey intended to capture “a point-in-time snapshot of mobile banking and payments at [financial institutions]” across five Federal Reserve bank districts. One of the largest U.S. surveys completed on mobile banking and payment services at financial institutions, the collected data mostly came from banks and credit unions – a combined total of more than 600 – with less than $500 million in assets. The survey showed that with the rise of smartphones, consumers are more easily able to use mobile devices for payments, and they demonstrate “growing comfort with mobile and digital wallets as well as willingness to pay with mobile-based solutions.” As competing mobile technologies emerge, such as non-bank technology service providers, the report found the need for financial institutions to “create mobile banking and payment strategies to respond to [the] changing environment” becomes more relevant. The report highlighted that roughly 75 percent of the financial institutions surveyed offer the following mobile services, with a majority of the remaining 25 percent planning to offer them by 2016: (i) checking balances; (ii) transferring funds between a single owner’s account; (iii) viewing statements and transaction history; (iv) ATM / branch locator; and (v) bill payment. The report further suggested that financial institutions should “keep pace” with the growing mobile banking market and “be proactive and help make the best solutions succeed.”

    Mobile Banking Mobile Payment Systems Digital Commerce


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