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On November 12, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) issued a consent order with a commercial financing company, resolving allegations that the company’s merchant cash advance (MCA) product was structured as a lending transaction and offered to California merchants without first obtaining a license as required by the California Financing Law (CFL). According to the DFPI, the MCA agreements in question provide the company with “broad authority to declare ‘default’ on its merchants and when doing so may use extensive recourse allowed under its [a]greement,” including in the event of insufficient funds requiring the full funding amount to be repaid, which DFPI argues, “does not put the risk of the ‘purchase’ of receivables on [the financing company]’s shoulders, but rather the risk of repayment on the merchant’s shoulders, just like a loan.” Moreover, the agreements provide for an indefinite repayment period, placing the “risk of repayment on the merchant by leaving the repayment period open until fully repaid (with fees and interest).” The consent order distinguishes between outstanding and future receivables, noting that under California law, commercial financiers purchasing a share of a merchant’s outstanding receivables without recourse (e.g., factoring), is generally not considered lending, but there is no similar recognition by the legislature or courts with respect to future receivables.
The consent order requires the company to (i) desist from lending in California unless and until licensed under the CFL; (ii) refund fees or payments collected from California merchants in excess of the 10 percent state interest rate cap for non-CFL licensees; and (iii) pay $20,000 to the DFPI to cover the cost of the investigation.
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 the registered clearing house and payment processing service exemptions.
The redacted opinion letter concluded that the company, a Delaware Corporation, is required to apply for and receive an MTA license to engage in the proposed activities in California, absent receiving an exemption. According to the letter, the company proposes to offer automated clearing house (ACH) services to merchants through an “integrated payment gateway” in order to “aid merchants with online and offline stores in collecting cross-border payments.” The ACH services would be a five-step process in which (i) a foreign customer purchases goods or services from a U.S.-based merchant; (ii) the merchant scans a quick response code using the company’s payment software; (iii) the company “withdraws a USD equivalent amount of payment in Chinese Renminbi (RMB) from the foreign customer’s” digital wallet; (iv) the company uses foreign exchange services “to convert the RMB amount into the correct corresponding USD amount” and remits the amount into the company’s U.S. bank account; and lastly (v) the company distributes the payment from its account to the merchant’s account. The company sought a clearing agency exemption and/or an excluded persons processing exemption, however, the DFPI concluded that the company did not supply evidence to show it qualified for either exemption. Thus, the company would need an MTA license to engage in the stated processing activity in California.
On September 29, the California governor signed AB 107, an Assembly Budget Committee bill, which changes the name of the Department of Business Oversight (DBO) to the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI), effective immediately. As previously covered in depth by a Buckley Special Alert, the California legislature passed AB 1864, which was signed by the governor on September 25 and enacts the California Consumer Financial Protection Law (CCFPL) and establishes the DFPI name change.
The DFPI name change is now live on their website.
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.
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.
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- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "What’s new in BSA/AML compliance?" at the Institute of International Bankers Regulatory Compliance Seminar
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- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss internal investigations at the Institute of Internal Auditors of Argentina Spanish-language webinar
- Benjamin B. Klubes to discuss “Creating a Fantastic Workplace Culture”
- John R. Coleman and Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss “Consumer financial services government enforcement actions – The CFPB and beyond” at the Government Investigations & Civil Litigation Institute Annual Meeting
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