The Cato Institute announced that it will hold a policy forum in Washington, D.C. on January 17, 2019 at which the topic will be “Promoting Fintech Innovation and Consumer Choice: The Role of Regulatory Sandboxes.”

The forum will feature Paul Watkins, Director of the CFPB’s Office of Innovation at the CFPB.  He is expected to discuss the Bureau’s “BCFP Product Sandbox” proposal and proposed revisions to its no-action letter policy.

Paul was recently our guest for our weekly podcast series.  In the podcast, in addition to responding to our questions about the sandbox proposal and proposed revisions to the NAL policy, Paul also discussed the Bureau’s proposed revisions to its trial disclosure policy.  To listen to the podcast, click here.

 

 

 

The OCC has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed in D.C. federal district court in October 2018 by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) to stop the OCC from issuing special purpose national bank (SPNB) charters to fintech companies.

The CSBS had previously filed a lawsuit challenging the OCC’s authority to grant SPNB charters to fintech companies at a time when the OCC had not yet decided whether it would move forward on its charter proposal.  That lawsuit was dismissed for failing to establish an injury in fact necessary for Article III standing and for lacking ripeness for judicial review.  The new lawsuit was filed in response to the OCC’s July 2018 announcement that it would begin accepting applications for SPNB charters from fintech companies.

In its brief, the OCC makes the following principal arguments in favor of dismissal:

  • CSBS cannot have standing to sue until the OCC approves an application for an SPNB charter because only then could a CSBS member suffer an injury in fact.
  • Because the OCC “remains several stages away from actually granting an SPNB Charter” and “has not finalized its decision to issue an SPNB Charter to a particular applicant,” the matter remains both constitutionally and prudentially unripe for judicial review.
  • Because the OCC’s July 2018 announcement was not a final agency action within the meaning of the Administrative Procedure Act, it is not subject to judicial review under the APA’s arbitrary and capricious standard.
  • The OCC’s July 2018 announcement does not represent a preemption determination to which notice and comment procedures apply “because the question of whether granting a proposed national bank will result in the preemption of any particular state consumer financial law is not relevant to the chartering process.”  (According to the OCC, in deciding whether to grant a charter, its focus is on ”the proposed institution’s prospects and whether it will operate in a safe and sound manner.”)
  • The OCC’s rule (12 C.F.R. Section 5.20(e)(1)) interpreting the term “business of banking” in the National Bank Act by reference to three core banking functions—receiving deposits, paying checks, or lending money—represents a reasonable interpretation of such term and supports treating any one of such functions as the required core activity for purposes of the OCC’s chartering authority.  Nothing in the NBA identifies deposit-taking as an indispensable function for a national bank to be engaged in the “business of banking.”

In September 2018, the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) filed a second in a New York federal district court to block the OCC’s issuance of SPNB charters.  Like the first CSBS lawsuit, the first DFS lawsuit challenging the OCC’s authority to grant SPNB charters was dismissed for failing to establish an injury in fact necessary for Article III standing and for lacking ripeness for judicial review.

]Last month, the OCC submitted a letter to the court indicating that it intends to file a motion to dismiss the DFS lawsuit. The grounds for the motion set forth in the OCC’s letter substantially mirror its arguments for dismissal above in the CSBS lawsuit.  The DFS also submitted a letter to the court in which, in addition to outlining the arguments it would make in opposing an OCC motion to dismiss, it indicated that it intends to file a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent the OCC from issuing any SPNB charters while the lawsuit is pending.

The next step in the case is likely to be the entry of an order by the court setting a motion schedule.  However, based on a docket entry indicating that a standing order was entered on December 27 requiring the U.S. Attorney’s Office to notify the court immediately upon the restoration of DOJ funding, it appears any further developments will not occur until the partial government shutdown ends.

 

 

Our guest for this week’s podcast is Paul Watkins, Director of the CFPB’s Office of Innovation.  Paul formerly worked in the Arizona Attorney General’s office where he was in charge of fintech initiatives and led the state’s successful efforts to create the first “regulatory sandbox” in the United States which allows new financial technologies and products to be tested in a controlled environment with reduced regulatory risk.

The Bureau’s Office of Innovation, which was created under the leadership of former Acting Director Mick Mulvaney, is focused on encouraging consumer-friendly innovation through the creation of policies to facilitate innovation, engagement with entrepreneurs and regulators, and the elimination of outdated or unnecessary regulations.  The Office has taken over the Bureau’s work that was formerly done under Project Catalyst, the initiative launched by the CFPB in 2012 for facilitating innovation in consumer financial products and services.

In this week’s podcast, we question Paul about three recent major Bureau proposals intended to support innovation.  The first is the Bureau’s proposal to revise its “Policy to Encourage Trial Disclosure Programs” (TDP Policy), which sets forth the Bureau’s standards and procedures for exempting individual companies, on a case-by-case basis, from applicable federal disclosure requirements to allow those companies to test trial disclosures.  The second is the Bureau’s proposed revisions to its 2016 final policy on issuing no-action letters (NAL Policy).  The third is a proposal by the Bureau to create a new “BCFP Product Sandbox.”

The issues we discuss with Paul include the key differences between the revised TDP and NAL Policies and the current Policies, the background and objectives of the BCFP Product Sandbox, confidentiality concerns, the scope of protections from liability, and the Office’s efforts to coordinate with other regulators.

To listen to the podcast, click here.   (To listen to our earlier podcast in which we discussed Arizona’s sandbox with Evan Daniels, Fintech Counsel in the Arizona Attorney General’s office, click here.)

 

In this week’s episode, Pennsylvania Secretary of Banking and Securities Robin Wiessmann discusses lessons learned from the 2009 financial crisis and concerns arising from today’s market conditions and regulatory environment, shares her views on the OCC’s fintech charter and provides an update on steps that States are taking to relieve regulatory burdens on fintech companies, and explains her agency’s approach to virtual currency.

To listen and subscribe to the podcast, click here.

 

 

The OCC’s decision to issue special purpose national bank (or fintech) charters has sparked renewed litigation.  In this episode, we review the charter’s potential benefits and drawbacks, provide a litigation update and examine its possible impact on charter applicants, and flag issues for potential applicants.  We also look at fintech charter alternatives, including full-service and Utah industrial banks.

To listen and subscribe to the podcast, click here.

 

 

We talk with Evan Daniels, Fintech Counsel in the Arizona Attorney General’s office, about Arizona’s first-in-the-nation Fintech sandbox and how it is being used to drive innovation in consumer financial services.  We also discuss how the CFPB’s current push to encourage innovation interacts with state efforts, such as those in Arizona.

To listen and subscribe to the podcast, click here.

In August 2018, Arizona began accepting applications for its regulatory sandbox that “enables a participant to obtain limited access to Arizona’s market to test innovative financial products or services without first obtaining full state licensure or other authorization that otherwise may be required.”  The state’s Attorney General is responsible for the application process and oversight of the sandbox.  At the end of last week, the Arizona AG announced that two more participants, Grain Technology, Inc. and Sweetbridge NFP, Ltd., had been added to the state’s sandbox.

In October 2018, there was an announcement by the AG that Omni Mobile Inc. had become the first sandbox participant.  The AG’s press release described Omni as “a mobile payment platform aiming to test cheaper and faster payment transfers through its centralized wallet infrastructure.”  It indicated that the product would be tested by processing guest payments at an Arizona resort, with Arizona-resident guests to receive a disclosure agreement (regarding the company’s participation in the sandbox), an explanation of the test nature of the product, a privacy notice, and the ability to opt out of any information sharing with the resort.

The AG’s announcement regarding Omni was accompanied by an announcement that the AG’s Office had signed a cooperation agreement with Taiwan’s financial regulator, the Financial Supervisory Commission, with the goal of creating an information-sharing arrangement that might create opportunities for businesses to develop and test fintech products in both markets.

The two additional sandbox participants announced last week are described in the AG’s press release as follows:

  • Grain Technology, Inc., based in New York, will test a savings and credit product in Arizona using proprietary technology to offer consumers customized savings plans and credit opportunities. Arizona consumers participating in the program will obtain access to a small line of credit aimed primarily at providing overdraft protection for bank accounts.  APRs for loans obtained through this line of credit may be as low as 12% for consumers who agree to follow a recommended repayment plan calculated using Grain’s technology (a standard APR of 15.99% will apply for those who adopt a different repayment plan).  Grain intends for loans and payments occurring through this line of credit to be reported to major credit-reporting agencies to enable consumers to build their credit profiles.
  • Sweetbridge NFP, Ltd., a Scottsdale-based international nonprofit building blockchain protocols for supply chains and commerce, will test a lending product using proprietary blockchain technology with an APR cap of 20%.  At these rates, Sweetbridge’s product will allow consumers to obtain credit at up to 1/10th the cost allowed under Arizona law.

In September 2018, the CFPB proposed significant revisions to its “Policy to Encourage Trial Disclosure Programs,” which sets forth the Bureau’s standards and procedures for exempting individual companies, on a case-by-case basis, from applicable federal disclosure requirements to allow those companies to test trial disclosures.  The proposal followed Acting Director Mulvaney’s July 2018 appointment of Paul Watkins to serve as Director of the Bureau’s Office of Innovation.  Before joining the CFPB, Mr. Watkins was in charge of fintech initiatives in the Arizona AG’s Office and led the state’s efforts to create its regulatory sandbox.  The CFPB’s proposal includes a process for the CFPB to coordinate with sandbox programs offered by other regulators.

 

The Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) has filed a second lawsuit in D.C. federal district court to stop the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) from issuing special purpose national bank (SPNB) charters to fintech companies.  A similar lawsuit was filed last month in a New York federal district court by the New York Department of Financial Services.

The CSBS and the DFS had previously filed lawsuits challenging the OCC’s authority to grant SPNB charters to fintech companies at a time when the OCC had not yet decided whether it would move forward on its charter proposal.  Both lawsuits were dismissed for failing to establish an injury in fact necessary for Article III standing and for lacking ripeness for judicial review.  The new lawsuits were filed in response to the OCC’s July 2018 announcement that it would begin accepting applications for SPNB charters from fintech companies.  In its complaint, the CSBS alleges that “things have changed substantially since the Court’s decision [dismissing the prior CSBS lawsuit].  The issuance of a [SPNB] charter is now clearly imminent.”  It further alleges that “upon information and belief, multiple pre-qualified candidates have already decided to apply (and may have already applied).”

The CSBS challenges the OCC’s SPNB charter plans in the new lawsuit on the following grounds (which generally track those asserted in the first CSBS lawsuit):

  • 12 C.F.R. Section 5.20(e)(1), on which the OCC has relied for its authority to charter a bank that performs a single core banking function—receiving deposits, paying checks, or lending money—is inconsistent with the National Bank Act because the NBA does not allow the OCC to charter entities that do not receive deposits unless they are carrying on a special purpose expressly authorized by Congress.
  • Because the OCC has indicated that state law would be preempted as to fintech companies that obtain a SPNB charter, the OCC’s plans to issue the charters represent a preemption determination to which notice and comment procedures apply.
  • The OCC’s plans to issue SPNB charters to fintech companies represent a “rule” that was made without compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act and is an arbitrary and capricious action that does not constitute “reasoned decision making” as required by the APA.
  • The OCC’s plans to issue SPNB charters to fintech companies, by enabling nonbank charter holders to disregard state law, violate the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution under which states retain the powers not delegated to the federal government, including the police powers necessary to regulate nonbank providers of financial services and protect consumers and the public interest from unsound and abusive financial practices.

For the reasons discussed in our blog post about the second lawsuit filed by the DFS, we expect the OCC’s power to issue an SPNB charter will ultimately be withheld.

Tomorrow, September 18, the Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing, “Fintech: Examining Digitization, Data, and Technology.”  Topics expected to be discussed include data privacy and the Treasury Department’s recent fintech report.

The scheduled witnesses, who do not include any regulators, are:

  • Brian Knight, Director of the Innovation and Governance Program, Mercatus Center at George Mason University
  • Steven Boms, President, Allon Advocacy, on behalf of Consumer Financial Data Rights
  • Saule T. Omarova, Professor of Law and Director, Jack Clarke Program on the Law and Regulation of Financial Institutions and Markets, Cornell University

In January 2018, the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing on fintech issues.

On September 12th, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) announced that it would again pursue litigation in opposition to the OCC’s recent decision to accept applications from non-depository financial technology firms for a special purpose national bank (SPNB) charter.

While it announced that its Board of Directors had approved renewing litigation against the OCC at an August 28 meeting, the CSBS did not indicate when it plans to file the lawsuit.  The lawsuit would represent the second time that the CSBS has pursued litigation challenging the OCC’s authority to issue a SPNB charter to fintech companies.  On April 30, 2018, a D.C. federal district court dismissed the first lawsuit filed by the CSBS challenging the OCC’s authority to grant SPNB charters on the grounds that the CSBS had failed to establish any injury in fact necessary for Article III standing and that the case was not ripe for judicial review.  In its initial filing, the CSBS argued that the OCC’s 2017 proposal to issue SBNB charters to fintech companies exceeded the authority granted to the OCC by Congress under the National Bank Act (NBA) and other federal banking laws to charter institutions that engage in the “business of banking.”  The CSBS argued that to engage in the “business of banking,” the NBA requires an institution, at a minimum, to receive deposits.

The New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) also previously filed a lawsuit challenging the OCC’s authority to issue SPNB charters.  That lawsuit, which was filed in a New York federal district court, was dismissed in December, 2017 on similar grounds.  While the DFS has not announced whether it will renew its litigation against the OCC, DFS Superintendent Maria Vullo stated in a July 31 press release that “DFS believes that this [OCC] endeavor, which is also wrongly supported by the Treasury Department, is clearly not authorized under the National Bank Act.  As DFS has noted since the OCC’s proposal, a national fintech charter will impose an entirely unjustified federal regulatory scheme on an already fully functional and deeply rooted state regulatory landscape.”

We recently blogged about the announcement by Varo Bank, N.A., a fintech bank, that it had received preliminary approval from the OCC of its application for a full-service national bank charter.  We do not expect the CSBS or the DFS to challenge the preliminary approval since there would not appear to be any basis to challenge the OCC’s authority to issue a full-service national bank charter to Varo assuming it satisfies the standard conditions for obtaining such a charter.