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On November 14, the SEC hosted its first Fintech Public Forum at its Washington, DC headquarters to discuss FinTech and to evaluate how the current regulatory environment can most effectively address innovation in the financial services industry. The event was divided into four panels, which covered the following topic areas: (i) the impact of recent innovation in investment advisory services; (ii) the impact of recent innovation on trading, settlement, and clearance activities; (iii) the impact of recent innovation in capital formation; and (iv) investor protection in the FinTech era. The forum was open to the public and is also available on the SEC’s website.
SEC Chair Mary Jo White opened the forum with introductory remarks. After explaining that “Fintech innovations have the potential to transform key parts of the securities industry,” Chair White highlighted several developments that are particularly important to the SEC, including: (i) automated investing advice; (ii) distributed ledger technology; and (iii) online marketplace lenders and crowdfunding portals. In describing the SEC’s role with respect to such innovations, Chair White noted that the Commission “must ensure new developments are not rushed to market or implemented in a way that facilitates a risk of fraud or harm to investors.” Ms. White explained that she had “directed the creation of a Fintech working group at the SEC earlier this year . . . to evaluate the emerging technologies,” and tasked the group to provide “specific, tailored recommendations . . . about what the SEC should do to provide clarity on existing regulatory requirements and help foster responsible innovation.” Chair White also clarified that the SEC was at an early stage in its outreach to investors, innovators and other stakeholders in new technologies, with the forum being an important part of SEC’s outreach.
SEC Commissioner Michael Piwowar, who championed the idea of the Commission hosting a Fintech public forum, also spoke to attendees. “I believe the commission should take the lead regulatory role in the Fintech space,” Piwowar said in prepared remarks. “Many of the firms pursuing Fintech are already SEC registrants, and others are providing services that are squarely within the commission’s oversight, such as investment advice and trading and settlement functionalities.” Piwowar emphasized the need for clarity in the sector, but added that the SEC is “uniquely situated to determine whether and how Fintech currently fits, and ultimately should fit, within a financial regulatory structure.”
On October 26, the OCC announced plans to establish an Office of Innovation (Office) with staff located in Washington, New York, and San Francisco. The OCC simultaneously published a paper titled “Recommendations and Decisions for Implementing a Responsible Innovation Framework,” which provides an overview of the financial services landscape and the OCC’s innovation initiatives. With the expectation to begin operations in first quarter 2017, the new Office will implement certain aspects of the OCC’s responsible innovation framework, including: (i) creating an outreach and technical assistance program; (ii) conducting awareness and training activities for OCC staff, such as implementing an “internal web page that provides OCC staff a ‘one-stop-shop’ to access information on industry trends and innovative products, services, and processes”; (iii) encouraging coordination and facilitation among the regulatory community and industry stakeholders; (iv) conducting industry innovation research; and (v) promoting coordination with other agencies, particularly those with overlapping jurisdictions. Beth Knickerbocker will head the Office as acting Chief Innovation Officer.
The OCC noted that its “assessment of granting a special purpose national bank charter to nonbank financial technology companies, and under what conditions, continues.” Later in 2016, the OCC plans to publish a paper to address issues related to a potential special purpose charter.
On November 19, the SEC announced that the agency voted to adopt new rules intended to improve the technology infrastructure of the U.S. securities markets. The new rules, titled Regulation Systems Compliance and Integrity (Regulation SCI), will require comprehensive new controls for the technology systems employed by certain market participants. According to the press release, the rules will (i) provide a “corrective action” framework for entities to take when encountering issues with their systems; (ii) provide “notifications and reports to the SEC regarding systems problems and systems changes;” (iii) provide information on systems issues to participants and members; (iv) conduct business continuity testing; and (v) conduct reviews of automated systems annually. Regulation SCI will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On August 6, in remarks at a financial technology conference, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, outlined the UK government’s plans for the UK to become a world leader in financial innovation and financial technology. Mr. Osborne noted the UK’s science and technology resources and its history of leading the way in financial innovation. He called for new means of banking and payments for consumers and businesses that go beyond just viewing statements online and that “bypass traditional banks altogether, and lend money directly – through peer-to-peer platforms.” Mr. Osborne believes that “with the right backing from government,” London can become “the Fin Tech capital of the world.” To that end, he detailed the government’s plans to support financial innovation, including by: (i) establishing an appropriate tax regime for the industry; (ii) committing funds for government investment programs; (iii) establishing a favorable regulatory regime; (iv) creating a new partnership between Innovate Finance and the British Business Bank to champion financial innovation and technology; and (v) launching a “major program of work exploring the potential of virtual currencies and digital money.” For example, as part of the regulatory changes, Mr. Osborne described several pieces of legislation, including those that will: (i) require the large UK banks to “pass on information on small businesses they reject for loans, so that FinTech Companies and alternative lenders can step in and offer finance instead”; and (ii) allow consumers to use their smart phones to pay in checks.
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