Payments and Digital Commerce

Executors have a duty to gather all of the assets of the decedent’s estate and prepare an inventory of the assets and debts. In days of old, this meant obtaining paper files that had been in the possession of the deceased. The digital world changed all that. Digital content is generally held, not by the owner of the information, but by a third-party custodian. The custodian of digital assets has an obligation to protect against disclosure of data to unauthorized users. Can an executor really be considered an unauthorized user?

A prior version of a model act, the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, gave the fiduciary the same rights over digital assets that she had over tangible assets. That act was met with resistance by custodians of electronic records, each with its own terms-of-service agreements in place with their customers which included provisions regarding who could access digital assets. And custodians were concerned about the costs of responding to multiple requests for digital assets.  
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Co-Authored by Erin Fonte and Brenna McGee

Continuing from last week’s post, here is the second half of our “Top 10 List” of key issues U.S. financial institutions, non-banks providing financial services, and financial technology (fintech) entities should plan for and watch throughout 2019.

  1. OCC Fintech Charter

On July 31, 2018, after several years of discussion, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) announced that it is accepting applications for special purpose national bank charters for fintech companies. Long anticipated by the fintech industry and opposed by multiple state regulators, the OCC fintech charter could potentially alter the financial services landscape for nondepository financial institutions. For fintech companies serving customers in multiple states, the OCC fintech charter could reduce the administrative and compliance challenges posed by the existing patchwork of state licensing requirements. But it comes at a steep cost because fintech companies would have to meet the stricter, bank-like regulatory requirements associated with a bank charter. 
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Co-Authored by Erin Fonte and Brenna McGee

As an eventful 2018 comes to a close, we look ahead to 2019 and our “Top 10 List” of key issues U.S. financial institutions, non-banks providing financial services, and financial technology (fintech) entities should plan for and watch throughout the upcoming year. The first five items on the list are discussed below, and the remainder of our list will follow shortly in another post.

  1. Brexit

We will start the list with a couple of topics from “over the pond” that will have a continuing impact on U.S. financial services entities. The British Parliament was scheduled to vote on Tuesday on the agreement that Prime Minister Theresa May reached with the European Union (EU) for Britain’s departure from the EU, commonly referred to as “Brexit.” But in an unscheduled address to Parliament on Monday, May said that she would seek to postpone the parliamentary vote, noting that if the vote were to be held as planned, her proposal “would be defeated by a significant margin.” As a result, May’s own party triggered a no-confidence vote on May that would have seen her removed as Prime Minister if she lost. By a vote of 200 to 117, May won a vote of confidence in her leadership and is now immune from a leadership challenge for a year. 
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Co-Authored by Erin Fonte

Cryptocurrencies have captured the imaginations of individuals and emerging businesses drawn to their potential to serve as alternative stores of value, to reduce transaction costs by eliminating intermediaries, and―most notably in popular culture and media―to provide eye-catching opportunities for speculative investing. Coin valuations for well-established players Bitcoin and Ethereum have fallen sharply since late 2017/early 2018, and new players continue to enter and leave the marketplace. As noted previously in this blog, regulators are taking interest.

Much less appreciated and often overlooked is the business potential for the distributed-ledger, or blockchain, architecture that makes cryptocurrencies possible. Distributed-ledger systems present enormous opportunities for businesses to operate more efficiently and mitigate risks. The financial-services industry in particular stands to gain from the adoption of blockchain technology due to the significant variation and complexity of products, business processes, and relationships among industry participants. We have seen great interest in blockchain technology in the banking and securities industries in particular. 
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Co-Authored by Erin Fonte

On July 31, 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury (“Treasury”) released a report on “Nonbank Financials, Fintech, and Innovation,” its fourth and final report on the U.S. financial system pursuant to Executive Order 13772 (the “Report”). At over 200 pages long, with 80 separate recommendations, the Report addresses products and services ranging from payments and marketplace lending to debt collection and wealth management. While many of Treasury’s recommendations would have a positive impact on creating a national and state regulatory environment to foster innovation in financial services, the Report is ambitious, and implementing many of its recommendations will be a massive effort in legislation, policy-making and regulatory oversight. 
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Co-Authored by Erin Fonte

The recent flurry of activity and press coverage, over the past 18 months in particular, concerning “initial coin offerings” (also referred to as a “digital token sale”) has created confusion regarding their relationship to cryptocurrencies. While certainly connected in both concept and actuation, those with an interest in this burgeoning marketplace will be wise to note that both the risk and the regulatory landscape for existing cryptocurrencies (also referred to as “virtual currencies”) differ from ICOs/tokens. Those who forge ahead, uninformed, stand to learn an expensive lesson. We hope to illuminate certain fundamental concepts here.
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Not long ago, financial technology (FinTech) startups were all seeking to disrupt the market for financial services and compete directly with financial institutions (FIs) for customers. But as these startups have grown into more mature companies, cooperation with FIs has come to replace disruption for many FinTech firms. These companies have realized that FIs can help scale their technology to larger bases of potential users, and can also help FinTechs raise capital by showing strong partnerships and FI distribution channels.

In turn, FIs now recognize that FinTech firms offer more than competition, representing potentially valuable partnerships with better technology and an improved user experience. By collaborating with FinTechs, FIs can improve product offerings and increase efficiency, all without the FIs committing significant resources to create new solutions themselves.
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2018 has a tough act to follow, after a 2017 full of momentous developments—starting with a new Administration and wrapping up with a showdown over the right to serve as Acting Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) (a fight that continues as of this writing, as discussed below).

But 2018 is unlikely to be a quiet year. In addition to developments in the CFPB leadership battle and other litigation, the year is expected to bring developments such as effective and compliance dates for major regulations on data protection, Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money-laundering (BSA/AML), mortgage servicing, and other topics, and could bring changes in supervisory focus at multiple federal agencies. 
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On June 15, 2017, the Federal Reserve Board (FRB) published in the Federal Register final amendments to Regulation CC (Availability of Funds and Collection of Checks). The amendments contain a number of changes that will affect financial institutions, such as modifications to check return requirements, additional warranties, and new indemnities, including a new indemnity for remote deposit capture (RDC). (Spoiler Alert: The indemnity for RDC has significant implications for financial institutions that offer RDC services.) The rule will become effective July 1, 2018.

Regulation CC implements the Expedited Funds Availability Act (EFAA) and the Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act (Check 21 Act). The FRB previously published a notice of proposed rulemaking to amend Regulation CC in February 2014.
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NetSpend Corporation (NetSpend) recently agreed to settle with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regarding allegations that NetSpend deceived consumers about certain aspects of NetSpend’s reloadable prepaid cards. NetSpend will pay $40 million in restitution to customers and $13 million to the FTC under the enforcement order. Providers of consumer financial products and services—not just prepaid card providers—should carefully review the FTC’s allegations. The allegations provide insights on practices the FTC perceives to be deceptive, and how to avoid engaging in them.
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