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  • DFPI addresses several MTA licensing exemptions

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

    • Cryptocurrency and Agent of Payee Exemption. The redacted opinion letter reviewed whether MTA licensure is required for a company’s proposal to offer payment processing services that would enable merchants to receive payments in U.S. dollars from buyers of goods and services, automatically exchange these payments into dollar-denominated tokens on a blockchain network, and to store the tokens in a custodial digital wallet. DFPI currently does not require licensure for companies to receive U.S. dollars from a buyer for transfer to a merchant’s wallet as dollar tokens. DFPI explained that even if it did regulate this activity, the structure of the company’s payment processing services satisfies the requirements of the agent-of-payee exemption, wherein the company acts as the agent of the merchant pursuant to a preexisting written contract and the company’s receipt of payment satisfies the buyer’s obligation to the merchant for goods or services. DFPI further explained that while storing dollar tokens in a custodial digital wallet or making subsequent transfers out of a wallet do not currently require licensure under the MTA, DFPI may later determine the activities are subject to regulatory supervision.
    • Asset-Backed Tokens and Other Cryptocurrency. The redacted opinion letter asked DFPI whether an MTA license is required to (i) provide technical services to enable owners of metal to create digital assets representing interests in that metal; (ii) facilitate trading in these digital assets; or (iii) provide digital wallets to customers. The company intends to create a platform to facilitate the creation, sale, and trading of metal asset-backed tokens, whereby a customer purchases metal asset-backed tokens (ABTs) or currency tokens using fiat currency stored in an FBO account. Customers will not be allowed to transmit fiat currency to each other except to facilitate the purchase of ABTs or currency tokens, to receive proceeds from ABTs, or to pay platform fees. DFPI explained that while issuing stored value is generally considered money transmission, “[p]roviding technical services to assist in the creation of a [m]etal ABT and [i]ndustrial [t]okens and issuing a digital wallet holding the [m]etal ABT does not require licensure.” DFPI noted that the company is not itself issuing the ABT or industrial tokens. DFPI further concluded that the company does not need an MTA license to issue a digital wallet holding metal ATBs because the digital wallet is not stored value nor can the wallet’s contents be redeemed for money or monetary value or be used as payment for goods or services. DFPI separately indicated that a license is not currently required to facilitate the sale of ABTs, nor the issuance and sale of currency tokens. However, DFPI warned the company that the opinion only pertains to MTA, and that the company should be aware that metal ABTs and industrial tokens “could be considered a commodity and California Corporations Code section 29520 generally prohibits the sale of a commodity, unless an exception applies.”
    • Cryptocurrency-to-Precious Metals Dealer. The redacted opinion letter reviewed whether an online cryptocurrency-to-precious metals dealer, which accepts a variety of different cryptocurrencies in exchange for precious metals and also purchases precious metals from customers using different cryptocurrencies, requires MTA licensure. The company referenced a 2016 decision where DFPI determined that a company operating a software technology platform to facilitate the purchase and sale of gold was not engaged in money transmission, that gold and other precious metals were not payment instruments, that the transactions did not represent selling or issuing stored value, and that “the activity did not constitute receiving money for transmission because the sale or repurchase of gold was a bargained-for-exchange and did not involve transmission to a third party.” The company argued that purchasing and selling precious metals with cryptocurrency is similar and should not trigger MTA’s licensing requirement. DFPI agreed that the company’s business activities do not meet the definition of money transmission because precious metals are not payment instruments, and as such, purchasing and selling precious metals for cryptocurrency does not represent the sale or issuance of a payment instrument. Additionally, DFPI concluded that the company is not selling or issuing stored value, nor do the transactions “involve the receipt of money or monetary value for transmission within or outside the U.S.”
    • Virtual Currency Wallet. The redacted opinion letter asked whether an MTA license is required to operate a platform that will provide customers with an account to store and transfer virtual currencies. The company will also provide customers access to an exchange where they can facilitate the purchase or sale of virtual currencies in exchange for other virtual currencies. Fiat currency will not be used on the platform. DFPI stated that it does not currently require companies to obtain an MTA license to operate a platform that provides customers with an account to store and transfer virtual currencies. DFPI further stated that a license is not required to operate a platform that gives customers access to an exchange to purchase or sell virtual currencies in exchange for other virtual currencies.
    • Purchase of Cryptocurrency. The redacted opinion letter examined whether a company that offers clients a direct opportunity to buy cryptocurrency in exchange for fiat currency requires MTA licensure. The company explained, among other things, that there is no transmission of cryptocurrency to third parties and that it does not offer money transmission services. DFPI concluded that because the company’s activities are limited to directly selling cryptocurrency to clients, it “does not require an MTA license because it does not involve the sale or issuance of a payment instrument, the sale or issuance of stored value, or receiving money for transmission.”

    DFPI reminded the companies that its determinations are limited to the presented facts and circumstances and that any change could lead to different conclusions. Moreover, the letters do not relieve the companies from any FinCEN or federal regulatory obligations.

    Licensing State Issues DFPI California Money Transmission Act Money Service / Money Transmitters California Cryptocurrency Fintech

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  • DFPI addresses MTA licensure requirements in new letters

    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 bitcoin automated teller machines (ATMs) and kiosks and the Agent of Payee exemption.

    • Bitcoin ATM Kiosk. The redacted opinion letter explains that the sale and purchase of bitcoin through ATMs/kiosks described by the inquiring company is not activity that is subject to licensure under the MTA. DFPI states that the customer’s purchase of bitcoin directly from the company “does not involve the sale or issuance of a payment instrument, the sale or issuance of stored value, or receiving money for transmission.” In each instance, the transaction would only be between the customer using the ATM/kiosk and the company, the bitcoin would be sent directly to the customer’s virtual currency wallet, no third parties are involved in the transmission, and the company does not hold digital wallets on behalf of customers. DFPI reminds the company that its determination is limited to the presented facts and circumstances and that any change could lead to a different conclusion. Moreover, the letter does not relieve the company from any FinCEN or federal regulatory obligations.
    • Agent of Payee Exemption. The redacted opinion letter analyzes a proposed future service to be provided by the inquiring company and determines whether the service meets the agent of payee exemption from the MTA. The company and its global affiliates “provide a global, fully integrated suite of back-end service, including sales compliance management, fraud prevention, risk management, tax and regulatory fee calculation, billing optimization, and remittance services to manufacturers, merchants, and retailers” (collectively, “brands”) that want to sell or license products and services to shoppers. The company proposes a future service, which will allow brands to sell products directly to shoppers and transfer the products to the shoppers. The company will not take title to or purchase the products and will continue to provide its suite of back-end services including payment processing, tax and regulatory fees calculations, and refund processing. The company’s contracts with the brands appoint the company as the agent of the brands for facilitating product sales and receiving payments and funds from shoppers. Agreements will also be entered between the company and the shoppers with terms that state a shopper’s payment to the company is considered payment to the brand, which extinguishes the shopper’s payment liability. The company will accept funds for the sale of products on behalf of the brands, and at the conclusion of the sale, will settle the funds paid by the shoppers and remit sales taxes to the appropriate authorities. The company will be the entity responsible for paying and reporting taxes accrued by the sales to shoppers.

    DFPI states that the company will “receive[] money for transmission,” thus triggering the license requirement in the MTA, by receiving funds from the shoppers in the sales transactions. However, the company qualifies for the Agent of Payee exemption because the company will be the recipient of money from the shoppers as an agent of the brands pursuant to a written contract, and payments from the shoppers to the company as the agent will satisfy the shoppers’ payment obligation to the brands. DFPI further notes that refunds facilitated by the company on behalf of the brands will be a reversal of the original transactions with the shoppers, and therefore will not require licensure. Finally, DFPI notes that by contract, the company will be legally responsible for paying local sales taxes on transactions. According to the agreement, because the company will pay taxes on its own behalf, and will not be paying taxes owed by the shoppers, its tax payments will not constitute money transmission. DFPI reminds the company that its determination is limited to the presented facts and circumstances and that any change could lead to a different conclusion.

    Licensing State Issues DFPI State Regulators California Money Transmission Act Virtual Currency Money Service / Money Transmitters

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  • DFPI addresses MTA licensing exemptions

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

    • Agent of Payee – Fund Transfers in Connection with Real Estate Closing Transactions. The redacted opinion letter reviewed whether a company—licensed as a money transmitter in several states, including California, and registered with FinCEN as a money services business—is eligible for the agent-of-payee exemption under the MTA. The company proposes to “facilitate fund transfers in connection with real estate closing transactions” during which it “will be authorized to receive real estate closing funds on behalf of its customer (the seller of real estate).” The payment funds will first flow from the buyer of real estate to the company via the buyer’s lawyer or title company, and then from the company to the seller after the company converts the funds from U.S. dollars to another currency. By providing these services, the company, as the seller’s agent, will receive money from the buyer pursuant to a preexisting written contract between the company and the seller. DFPI concluded that “[t]o the extent these fund transfers take place in California or are with, to, or from persons located in California, [the company’s] services constitute “receiving money for transmission” because [the company] receives money from the buyer for transfer to the seller.” However, DFPI noted that a provision in the written contract, which appoints the company as the agent of the seller when the seller is located in California, allows the company’s services to satisfy the requirements of the agent-of-payee exemption in Financial Code section 2010, subdivision (l). The agent-of-payee exemption, DFPI stressed though, does not apply to sellers outside of California. 
    • Bitcoin ATM Kiosk. Two redacted opinion letters (see here and here) examined whether the sale and purchase of bitcoin through ATMs/kiosks described by the companies is subject to licensure under the MTA. In each instance, the transaction will only be between the consumer using the ATM/kiosk and the company, the transaction will be completed instantly without involving third parties, and any bitcoin sold will be provided from the company’s own inventory. Moreover, the letters state that the companies do not hold virtual currency on behalf of customers nor do they act in a fiduciary capacity. Because the companies’ activities are limited to selling bitcoin, DFPI determined that an MTA license is not required because the activities “do[] not involve the sale or issuance of a payment instrument, the sale or issuance of stored value, or receiving money for transmission.” DFPI reminded the companies that its determination is limited to the activities specified in the letters and does not relieve them from any FinCEN, federal, or state regulatory obligations.

    Licensing State Issues DFPI State Regulators California Money Transmission Act Virtual Currency Money Service / Money Transmitters

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  • DFPI addresses cryptocurrency MTA licensing exemptions

    Recently, California’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) released a new opinion letter covering aspects of the California Money Transmission Act (MTA) related to certain cryptocurrency activities. According to the letter, the requesting company intends to provide an internet-enabled peer-to-peer (P2P) marketplace for the purchase and sale of certain decentralized digital currencies. The P2P marketplace will enable buyers and sellers of the specified cryptocurrency “to connect and arrange for the direct settlement of purchases and sales between such users” through a variety of means, such as bank transfers, gift cards, money transmission, debit card, credit card, among others. Additionally, the company’s P2P marketplace will allow customers to (i) buy goods or services with the specified cryptocurrency from unaffiliated, third-party online retailers who accept that cryptocurrency as a form of payment; (ii) exchange their cryptocurrency for the rights to a US dollar-backed stablecoin; and (iii) remit funds in different currencies, including foreign currency. The company emphasized that it will “not collect, store, or transmit any digital or fiat currency” in any of its four proposed products. DFPI concluded that the Delaware company’s proposed services are not subject to licensing under the MTA, explaining that the sale and purchase of cryptocurrency directly between two parties, in which the company does not facilitate the exchange of the fiat currency or the cryptocurrency, does not meet the definition of money transmission. Likewise, the company’s other proposed products do not constitute money transmission either. DFPI reminded the company, however, that its determination is limited to the facts as presented and that at any time DFPI may determine that the activities are subject to regulatory supervision. Moreover, the letter does not relieve the company from any FinCEN or federal agency obligations.

    Licensing State Issues California Money Transmission Act Cryptocurrency Virtual Currency Fintech

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  • DFPI: Bitcoin ATM kiosk not subject to MTA licensure

    Recently, California’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) released three new opinion letters (see here, here, and here) covering aspects of the California Money Transmission Act (MTA) related to bitcoin automated teller machines (ATMs) and kiosks. The letters explain that the sale and purchase of bitcoin through an ATM kiosk as described by the inquiring companies is not subject to licensure under the MTA because it does not meet California’s definition of “money transmission.” In each instance, the transaction would only be between the consumer/bitcoin purchaser using the ATM kiosk and the respective company. DFPI reminded the companies, however, that its determination is limited to the activities specified in the letters and does not extend to any other activities that the companies may engage in. Moreover, the letters do not relieve the companies from any FinCEN, federal, or state regulatory obligations.

    Licensing State Issues State Regulators DFPI California Money Transmission Act Virtual Currency

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  • DFPI addresses several MTA licensing exemptions

    Recently, California’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) released several new opinion letters covering aspects of the California Money Transmission Act (MTA) related to virtual currency, agent of payee rules, and transactions in which recipients are paid before a company is reimbursed. Highlights from the redacted letters include:

    • Agent of Payee Exemption Online Gaming/Sports Betting. The redacted opinion letter reviewed whether a company’s payment processing services—which allow customers to use bank accounts to purchase stored value redeemable for goods and services, including “e-commerce, digital goods, financial services, travel, and online gaming/sports betting”—require licensure under the MTA. DFPI concluded that the company’s “pay-in” transactions qualify for the agent-of-payee exemption where the merchant is the payee, the customer is the payor, and the company is the agent of the payee, because the pay-in transactions are ultimately for goods and services since the customer is purchasing stored value redeemable in a closed loop of issuing merchant, and the company’s master agreement with the merchant states that payment to the company satisfies the customer’s obligation to pay the merchant. However, DFPI noted that the agent-of-payee exemption does not apply to transactions involving refunds and the pay-out of winnings. Pay-out transactions, DFPI explained, “constitute ‘receiving money for transmission’ because the [company] receives money from the [m]erchants for transfer to the [c]ustomers” and the customer does not provide goods or services to the merchant for which payment is owed.
    • Agent of Payee Exemption – Payments to Daily Fantasy Sports Providers. The redacted opinion letter, which supersedes an interpretive opinion issued last August (covered by InfoBytes here), reviewed whether MTA licensure is required for a company that plans to offer U.S.-based merchant clients (primarily daily fantasy sports providers) an ACH payment platform to allow customers to use bank accounts to purchase credits for their accounts with the merchants. According to DFPI, pay-in transactions for stored monetary value “constitute ‘receiving money for transmission’”; however, DFPI noted that based on provided information, the pay-in activities qualify for the agent-of-payee exemption because the merchant is the payee, the customer is the payor, and the company is the agent of the merchant. Additionally, the company’s “receipt of funds from the [c]ustomer satisfies the [c]ustomer’s payment obligation to the [m]erchant for the goods or services.” Here, DFPI also explained that the pay-in transactions are closed loop since the customer’s stored value can only be redeemed for goods or services provided by the issuing merchant or its affiliate. DFPI further explained that “selling or issuing” closed loop stored value is excluded from the definition of money transmission. In both the first and second opinion letters, DFPI reiterated that MTA licenses cannot be issued to companies engaged in the transmission of money to facilitate unlawful activities, such as sports betting.
    • Purchase and Sale of Cryptocurrency. The redacted opinion letter concluded that a company’s activities, which are limited to buying and selling virtual currency directly from and to consumers via ACH or wire transfer, do not trigger the licensing requirements of the MTA because the activities do “not involve the sale or issuance of a payment instrument, the sale or issuance of stored value, or receiving money for transmission.”
    • Paying Recipients Before a Company is Reimbursed. The redacted opinion letter examined whether a company’s payment reimbursement model requires licensure under the MTA. The company offers transactions that result in beneficiaries being paid before the company receives money from the sender. The company “obtains a payment authorization on the customer’s debit card for the transaction,” and the debit card authorization then “puts a hold on the cardholder’s funds for the purchase and guarantees that [the company] will be paid.” Once the customer authorizes the transaction, the funds are instantly moved to the recipient’s wallet or bank account for immediate use. To be reimbursed, however, the company must initiate a second step, which actually processes the payment and converts the hold status to payment/post status. According to DFPI, the company’s payment reimbursement model does not involve transactions that constitute money transmission because the company “never ‘receives money for transmission. . ., does not actually or constructively receive, take possession of, or hold money or monetary value for transmission. . ., incurs no transmission liability,” or puts consumer funds at risk.

    Licensing State Issues DFPI California Money Transmission Act State Regulators

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  • DFPI: Certain bitcoin ATMs/kiosks not subject to MTA licensure

    Recently, California’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) released a new opinion letter covering aspects of the Money Transmission Act (MTA) related to bitcoin automated teller machines (ATMs) and kiosks. The letter explains that the sale and purchase of bitcoin through ATMs/kiosks in third-party retail locations described by the applicant company are not subject to licensure under the MTA because the sale and purchase of bitcoin from the company’s own inventory through a kiosk does not meet California’s definition of “money transmission.” In each instance, the transaction would only be between the consumer using the ATM/kiosk and the company, the bitcoin would be sent directly to the customer’s virtual currency wallet, and any bitcoin sold would be provided exclusively from the company’s own inventory. DFPI reminded the company that its determination is limited to the activities specified in the letter and does not extend to any other activities that the company may engage in. Moreover, the letter does not relieve the company from any FinCEN, federal, or state regulatory obligations.

    Licensing State Issues DFPI Virtual Currency State Regulators California Money Transmission Act

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  • DFPI: Certain Bitcoin ATMs not subject to MTA licensure

    Recently, California’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) released new opinion letters covering aspects of the Money Transmission Act (MTA) related to Bitcoin automated teller machines (ATMs). Each of the three letters (available here, here, and here), which contain slightly different fact patterns, explain that the Bitcoin ATMs described by the applicant companies are not subject to licensure under the MTA because they are not considered to be engaging in the business of money transmission. In each instance, the transaction would only be between the consumer using the kiosk and the company, the transaction would be completed instantly, and no third parties would be involved in the transmission of the Bitcoin to the customer’s virtual wallets. DFPI reminded each company that while it was not a subject of their inquiry, if they choose to offer virtual currency other than Bitcoin, they may have obligations under California’s broker-dealer laws to the extent that any of those virtual currencies are securities.

    Licensing State Issues State Regulators DFPI California Money Transmission Act

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  • California DBO addresses MTA licensing exemptions

    State Issues

    Last month the California Department of Business Oversight (CDBO) released two new opinion letters covering aspects of the California Money Transmission Act (MTA) related to the sale of foreign currency and the agent of the payee exemption.

    • Sale of Foreign Currency. The redacted opinion letter concludes that the company’s banknote replenishment service does not trigger the licensing requirements of the MTA because the company does not engage in “selling  or receiving payment instruments, selling or receiving stored value, or receiving money for transmission.” Moreover, the CDBO determined that the company “does not issue anything to the business except for the foreign currency that was ordered, and does not receive money from the business for purpose of transmission.” 
    • Agent of Payee Exemption - Payment Processing Service. The redacted opinion letter concludes that neither the company’s pay-in services nor pay-out services are exempt from the MTA. According to the letter, the company provides payment processing services to online gaming operators (merchants), which allow the merchants’ customers to submit payments to engage in online gaming, such as sports betting and daily fantasy sports betting. The CDBO determined that the pay-in and pay-out services provided by the company “constitute ‘receiving money for transmission,’” as required for the MTA to apply, because the company “receives money from the [c]ustomers for transfer to the [m]erchants” for the pay-in service and “receives money from the [m]erchants for transfer to the [c]ustomers” for the pay-out service.  However, the agent of the payee exemption does not apply to the pay-in services, despite an agreement that establishes the company as the merchant’s agent, because the funds received by the company are not owed to the merchant when they are received by the company. Instead, such funds are retained in an account for the benefit of the merchant until a gambling debt is owed to the merchant. For the pay-out services, the exemption does not apply because the merchant’s customer does not provide any goods or services to the merchant for which the merchant’s payment to the customer is owed. The CDBO also advised that some of the proposed payments described in the company’s request may involve sports betting, which is an illegal activity in the state, and cautioned that the opinion “applies only to activities that are currently legal in California and does not relieve [the company] from its obligation to comply with other applicable state and federal laws.” Furthermore, the CDBO stated that MTA licenses cannot be issued to companies engaged in the transmission of money to facilitate unlawful activities.

    State Issues Licensing California Money Service / Money Transmitters State Regulators CDBO California Money Transmission Act DFPI

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  • California DBO opinion letters cover activities exempt from MTA licensing

    State Issues

    The California Department of Business Oversight (CDBO) released several opinion letters issued throughout the summer covering virtual currency and agent of payee rules under the California Money Transmission Act (MTA). Highlights from the redacted letters include:

    • Cryptocurrency - Escrow Accounts and Exchanges. The redacted opinion letter states that the CDBO has not yet determined whether cryptocurrencies are a form of money that triggers the application of the MTA and therefore, a business model that operates brokerage accounts using cryptocurrency exchanges would not need to be licensed and supervised under the MTA. As for a business model that the letter describes as a third-party repurchase transaction related to borrowing and lending cryptocurrency, the CDBO reminds the company that the activity may still be subject to California Escrow Law.
    • Agent of Payee Exemption - Payment Processing Service. The redacted opinion letter concludes that the company’s payment processing services—which use mobile applications or card readers to capture customer information through merchants, and the payment funds flow first from the customer to the company, and then from the company to the merchant—“fall within the definition of ‘money transmission’ but are exempt from the MTA to the extent [the company], acting as the [m]erchant’s agent, receives money from [c]ustomers, via the relevant card company, as payment for goods or services.”
    • Online Foreign Currency Exchange Service. The redacted opinion letter concludes the company’s online foreign currency exchange service is not subject to licensure under the MTA, because the service does not “involve ‘payment instruments’ or ‘stored value’” and there is no indication that the company would “receive money for transmission,” as customers would use the service to purchase foreign currency “like other online retail purchases.”
    • Exemption for Operator of Payment System. The redacted opinion letter notes that California governmental entities are exempt from the MTA, and a company that provides payment processing services to facilitate the transfer from a California Department of Correction detainee’s cash at a detention facility to that detention facility’s bank account, is exempt from the MTA because it is processing payments between or among persons exempt from the MTA.
    • MTA - Agent of Payee. The redacted opinion letter states that the company’s transactions by an agent of a merchant to collect funds from the merchant’s customer for payment of goods and services are exempt from the requirements of the MTA. The company is acting as an agent of the payee when a company is receiving money as an agent of a merchant pursuant to a preexisting written contract, and delivery of the money to the company satisfies the customer’s obligation to the merchant for a good or service provided by the merchant.
    • Sending Instructions Not Money Transmission. The redacted opinion letter states that the company’s actions do not constitute money transmission under the MTA because “[the company] never ‘receives money for transmission.’” The company only “receives instructions from consumers and merchants to transmit money to each other and forwards these instructions for processing by their respective banks on the ACH network.” Because the banks are “solely responsible for payment and settlement in accordance with these instructions” the company’s payment system does not require an MTA license.

    State Issues Licensing California Money Service / Money Transmitters Virtual Currency California Money Transmission Act CDBO DFPI

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