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On January 30, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit held a hearing entitled “Examining Opportunities and Challenges in the Financial Technology (“Fintech”) Marketplace.” The Subcommittee issued a press release following the hearing and presented the following key takeaways:
- “Modern developments in digital technology are changing the way in which many financial services are offered and delivered”; and
- “Congress and the federal prudential regulators must continue to examine this innovative marketplace to understand the opportunities and challenges it presents, and to ensure that financial services entities are allowed to use fintech to deliver new products and services while also protecting consumers.”
Opening statements were presented by several members of the Subcommittee, including Subcommittee Vice Chair Keith Rothfus, R-PA, who noted that online lending, mobile banking, and other products could bring capital back to areas deserted by traditional banks. Subcommittee Chairman Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-MO, highlighted that loan originations passed through marketplace lenders accounted for nearly $40 billion over the past ten years, with online lenders often able to offer better lending terms. Luetkemeyer also discussed the rise of mobile banking and lending and raised the question presented by some states of whether fintech companies should be required to comply with current laws that apply to similar products. He stressed that understanding fintech’s capabilities “can better create an environment that fosters certainty and responsible innovation while maintaining consumer protections.” A broad range of topics were discussed at the hearing, including the following highlights:
- Madden v. Midland / True Lender. Companies that have chosen to partner with banks have also run into regulatory and legal roadblocks, including the recent decision in Madden v. Midland Funding, which determined that a nonbank entity taking assignment of debts originated by a national bank is not entitled to protection under the National Bank Act from state-law usury claims. (See Buckley Sandler Special Alert here.) In prepared remarks, Andrew Smith, Partner at Covington and Burling, LLP, stated that because of varying outcomes in true lender court challenges, the lack of certainty means that “market participants will no longer be willing to enter into these types of transactions, thereby depriving consumers, banks, and the economy of the many benefits of bank partnerships with fintech providers while also hampering the liquidity necessary to support a robust lending market.” Smith went on to discuss H.R. 4439, the Modernizing Credit Opportunities Act, which was introduced to “reconfirm and reinforce existing federal law with respect to a bank’s identity as the true lender of a loan with the assistance of a third-party service provider.” Smith emphasized that the legislation would “resolve any uncertainty about a bank’s ability to use third-party service providers by confirming the principle that when a bank enters into a loan agreement, it is the bank that has made the loan.”
- Marketplace Lending. During his testimony, witness Nathaniel Hoopes, Executive Director at the Marketplace Lending Association, highlighted the role marketplace lending platforms (MPPs) have had in delivering products to underserved consumers, but emphasized that a lot of work still needs to happen for more of the “broad American ‘middle class’ to fully realize and benefit from the potential of MPPs specifically and fintech more broadly.” He also expressed support for the Special Purpose National Bank charter currently under consideration by the OCC.
- Regulatory Sandboxes. Witness Brian Knight, Director of the Program on Financial Regulation and Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, suggested in his prepared remarks various methods to improve the current regulatory environment, and opined that lawmakers could allow firms that participate in a regulatory sandbox program and comply with its requirements to avoid liability as long as the firm makes “customers whole if the firm causes harm owing to a violation of the law.” Knight added that states could be allowed to grant special non-depository charters similar to those offered by the OCC. And while witness Professor Adam J. Levitin of the Georgetown University Law Center agreed that sandboxes would allow companies to explore new ideas with the understanding that customers must be protected, he cautioned that the fragmentation of the regulatory system around fintech makes it hard for experimentation, and that risk would need to be regulated.
- Virtual Currencies. Knight discussed his concerns with initial coin offerings (ICOs) and commented that while ICOs “may enable firms to access capital more effectively than traditional methods, there are significant concerns that they are being used by both outright frauds and well-meaning but ignorant firms to obtain capital in contravention of existing laws governing the sales of securities, commodities futures contracts, and products and services.” However, Knight testified that despite the potential for risk, peer-to-peer payments, cryptocurrencies, and other innovations demonstrate potential, and that innovative lenders are replacing banks in communities where it is no longer profitable for those banks to serve.
- Inconsistent Regulations. During his testimony, witness Brian Peters, Executive Director at Financial Innovation Now, advocated for improved coordination among regulators and stressed that the “current structure is needlessly fragmented and inconsistent among federal regulators, and varies widely across state jurisdictions.” Peters also commented on the need to modernize the regulatory structure to keep pace with innovation and meet consumers’ needs.
On December 14, the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) released its 2017 annual report. The report reviews financial market developments, identifies emerging risks, and offers recommendations to enhance financial stability. Highlights include:
- Cybersecurity. The report notes that financial institutions need to work with regulators to improve cybersecurity resilience and better understand risks. FSOC encourages the creation of a private sector council of senior executives to work with government officials and focus on ways cyber incidents may affect business operations.
- Marketplace Lending. FSOC acknowledges that marketplace lending is still an evolving model with potential risks, such as the misalignment of incentives. However, the report notes the platform’s potential to reduce costs and expand access to credit.
- New Technology. The report discusses challenges for supervision and regulation of virtual currencies and distributed ledger technology. FSOC observes that current regulatory practices were designed for more centralized systems, in comparison to the decentralization of data storage in this new landscape.
On September 25, OCC Acting Comptroller of the Currency Keith Noreika spoke before the 2017 Online Lending Policy Summit in Washington, D.C. to discuss ways the maturing banking industry can respond to changing market conditions through the adoption of new business models and adjustments to long-term strategies. “Some pundits see the growth of the online lending industry as a response to the nation’s banking industry. And some say that if the industry had been sufficiently agile and fully met the need for lending, alternative lenders would not have grown so rapidly,” Noreika stated. “I do not share that view. I see the growth of online lending and marketplace lenders as the natural evolution of banking itself.”
According to Noreika, about $40 billion in consumer and small business loans in the United States have been originated by marketplace lenders during the past decade, and since 2010, online lending has doubled each year. In fact, Noreika noted, “some analysts suggest that the market will reach nearly $300 billion by 2020, and others suggest as much as $1 trillion by 2025.” However, the online industry faces certain challenges and “adapting to new market conditions and effectively managing evolving risks” is pertinent to their success. Noreika highlighted recent innovation efforts by the OCC, such as the agency’s Office of Innovation’s “Office Hours,” which was created to facilitate discussions related to fintech and financial innovation. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) Another example is the OCC’s plan to develop “regulatory sandboxes” and bank pilot programs to “foster responsible innovation by OCC-supervised banks” as a means to expand the OCC’s own knowledge in this space. Importantly, Noreika addressed the OCC’s position concerning chartering of fintech companies that seek to expand into banking, along with the possibility of “offering special-purpose national bank charters to nondepository fintech companies engaged in the business of banking”—a concept currently being contested by both the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) and the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS). According to Noreika, the OCC has not yet decided whether it will exercise its authority to issue special purpose bank charters. (See previous InfoBytes coverage of CSBS’ and NYDFS’ challenges here and here.)
Finally, Noreika offered support for a legislative approach that would clarify the “valid when made” doctrine central to Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC by reducing uncertainty in establishing that “the rate of interest on a loan made by a bank, savings association, or credit union that is valid when the loan is made remains valid after transfer of the loan” and serving to reestablish a legal precedent that had been in place prior to the Madden decision, in which an appellate panel held that a nonbank entity taking assignment of debts originated by a national bank is not entitled to protection under the National Bank Act from state law usury claims. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.)
On August 1, the Federal Reserve Board released a paper on the origins and growth of financial technology, and how these “deep innovations” have the potential to affect financial stability. The paper, “FinTech and Financial Innovation: Drivers and Depth,” was authored by John Schindler and adapted from a speech prepared for Banco Central do Brasil’s XI Annual Seminar on Risk, Financial Stability and Banking. Fintech, according to Schindler’s adaptation of the Financial Stability Board’s definition, is best understood as a “technologically enabled financial innovation that could result in new business models, applications, processes, products, or services with an associated material effect on financial markets and institutions and the provision of financial services.” Schindler considers the following to fall into the definition of fintech: (i) online marketplace lending; (ii) equity crowdfunding; (iii) robo-advice; (iv) financial applications of distributed ledger technology; (v) and financial applications of machine learning (also called artificial intelligence and machine intelligence). The paper provides a deeper discussion into the following topics driving fintech innovation:
- supply and demand factors of financial innovation, including regulatory changes and changes to financial or macroeconomic conditions, contributing to the use of technologies supporting fintech financial products and services;
- depth of innovations such as peer to peer lending, high frequency trading, mobile banking and payments, bitcoin, and blockchain all with the “potential to have transformational effects on the financial system”; and
- demographic demands.
Schindler’s position is that fintech evolved, in large part, due to a combination of a number of supply and demand factors occurring in a relatively small period of time, which, as a result, drove new financial innovations.
OCC Supplement Answers Frequently Asked Questions Covering Third-Party Relationships: Risk Management Guidance
On June 7, the OCC released Bulletin 2017-21, which provides answers to frequently asked questions from national banks and federal saving associations concerning third-party procedure guidance. The Bulletin, issued to supplement Bulletin 2013-29, “Third-Party Relationships: Risk Management Guidance” released October 30, 2013, highlights the OCC’s responses to the following topics:
- defines third-party relationships and provides guidance on conducting due diligence and ongoing monitoring of service providers;
- provides insight on how to adjust risk management practices specific to each relationship;
- discusses ways to structure third-party risk management processes;
- discusses advantages and disadvantages to collaboration between multiple banks when managing third-party relationships;
- outlines bank-specific requirements when using collaborative arrangements;
- provides information-sharing forums that offer resources to help banks monitor cyber threats;
- discusses how to determine whether a fintech relationships is a “critical activity” and covers risks associated with engaging a start-up fintech company;
- addresses ways in which banks and fintech companies can partner together to serve underbanked populations;
- covers criteria to consider when entering into a marketplace lending arrangement with a nonbank entity;
- clarifies whether OCC Bulletin 2013-29 applies when a bank engages a third-party to provide mobile payments options to consumers;
- outlines the OCC’s compliance management requirements;
- discusses banks’ rights to access interagency technology service provider reports; and
- answers whether a bank can rely on the accuracy of a third-party’s risk management report.
As previously covered in InfoBytes, the OCC released a supplement (Bulletin 2017-7) to Bulletin 2013-29 in January of this year identifying steps prudential bank examiners should take when assessing banks’ third-party relationship risks.
On June 1, the FTC announced that it submitted its 2016 Annual Financial Acts Enforcement Report to the CFPB. The report—requested by the Bureau for its use in preparing its 2016 Annual Report to Congress—covers the FTC’s enforcement activities related to compliance with Regulation Z (Truth in Lending Act or TILA), Regulation M (Consumer Leasing Act), and Regulation E (Electronic Funds Transfer Act or EFTA), as well as its initiatives to engage in research and consumer education.
According to the report, the FTC’s enforcement actions in 2016 concerning TILA involved automobile purchasing and financing, payday loans, and financing of consumer electronics. Regarding mortgage-related credit activity, the report highlights continued litigation in two cases involving mortgage assistance relief services involving “forensic audit scams.” Furthermore, the FTC continued its consumer and business education efforts on issues related to consumer credit transactions in the following areas: military lending, auto sales and financing, payday lending, marketplace lending, and consumer disclosures and testing.
Regarding the Consumer Leasing Act, the report noted the FTC had issued a final administrative consent order for deceptive advertising practices and failure to disclose key lease offer terms. The FTC also filed two federal court actions against automobile dealers. The FTC also engaged in research and policy development and educational activities in this area.
Concerning the EFTA, the FTC reported six new or ongoing cases, including four cases alleging violations in the context of “negative option” plans, in which a consumer agrees to “receive various goods or services from a company for a trial period at no charge or at a reduced price” but later incurs unauthorized recurring charges after the end of the trial period, in violation of the EFTA. The remaining two cases involved payday lending and consumer electronics financing. The FTC also engaged in rulemaking, research, policy development, and educational activities involving the EFTA.
On April 19, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a study examining four “subsectors” within the fintech industry—marketplace lenders, mobile payments, digital wealth management platforms, and distributed ledger technology (also known as blockchain)—and highlighting the types of products and services offered and how they are regulated. The report, Financial Technology – Information on Subsectors and Regulatory Oversight, is the first in a series of planned reports on fintech, following a request by Congress for a review of issues related to the industry. From July 2016 to April 2017, GAO reviewed agency publications, guidance, final rulemakings, initiatives, and enforcement actions, and also conducted interviews with representatives from the federal prudential regulators, state supervision agencies, and trade associations in order to compile the findings in the report. The report provides an overview of the technologies associated with each subsector, identifies primary users of the products and services, notes potential benefits and risks, and highlights industry trends and current regulations and oversight. Notably, GAO stated it made no recommendations in this report.
On October 17, the FTC released the agenda for its upcoming FinTech forum, which is the second in an ongoing event series. The FTC’s half day event will take place on October 26 in Washington, DC from 1:00 to 4:30 pm. The event will consist of panel discussions relating to (i) peer-to-peer payment systems, which allow consumers to exchange money electronically; and (ii) crowdfunding, which is the use of online platforms to fund a project or venture by raising money from a large number of people.
OCC Comptroller Curry Addresses Regulatory Concern Related to Fintech Industry; Outlines Possible Fintech Charter
On September 13, OCC Comptroller Curry delivered remarks at the Marketplace Lending Policy Summit, an inaugural event during which policy implications and regulatory concerns prevalent in the marketplace lending industry were discussed. Similar to past reports and remarks about marketplace lending, Curry expressed concern that the underwriting and business models used by the industry have yet to go through a complete credit cycle: “A less favorable credit cycle will test this business in ways it hasn’t yet experienced, and how sources of funding will hold up under stress remains to be seen.” In addition, drawing attention to the “long-term performance” issues related to marketplace lending, Curry posed the following inquiries: (i) whether new credit underwriting technologies and algorithms comply with existing laws and regulations, such as the Equal Credit Opportunity Act; (ii) whether existing laws, such as the Community Reinvestment Act, should be “amended radically” to ensure that consumers are sufficiently protected against nonbank lenders; (iii) whether an entirely new regulation or law is needed to “protect the public’s interest or prevent risk to the broader financial system”; and (iv) whether innovation itself should be regulated, and, if so, by which primary regulator(s). Notably, Comptroller Curry revealed that the OCC is in the process of developing a potential federal “fintech charter,” a framework that is expected to be released this fall. Comptroller Curry emphasized that, if the OCC grants limited-purpose fintech charters, institutions receiving the charters “will be held to the same strict standards of safety, soundness, and fairness that other federally chartered institutions must meet.”
After what seems to be an extended season of heavy weather for marketplace lending, a federal district court in California unleashed a late-Summer lightning storm in Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. CashCall, Inc. In a CFPB action leveled against the so-called “tribal model” of online lending, the court held that defendants, CashCall and its affiliated entities and owner, engaged in deceptive practices by collecting on loans that exceeded the usury limits in various states. Although the case focused on the tribal model – a structure where the loan is made by an entity located on tribal land and subsequently transferred to an assignee not affiliated with the tribe – the court’s opinion raises critical issues about the extent to which its analysis applies to the more common “bank partnership model” of marketplace lending.
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Questions regarding the matters discussed in this Alert may be directed to any of our lawyers listed below, or to any other BuckleySandler attorney with whom you have consulted in the past.
- Walter E. Zalenski, (202) 461-2910
- John P. Kromer, (202) 349-8040
- Jeffrey P. Naimon, (202) 349-8030
- Matthew P. Previn, (212) 600-2310
- Valerie L. Hletko, (202) 349-8054
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "The international compliance situation and new challenges" at the World Compliance Association Covid Compliance Conference
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Understanding OFAC sanctions" at a NAFCU webinar
- Garylene D. Javier to discuss "Navigating workplace culture in 2020" at the DC Bar Conference