The U.S. GAO issued its anticipated 132-page report entitled “Financial Technology: Additional Steps by Regulators Could Better Protect Consumers and Aid Regulatory Oversight.” In the report, the GAO describes the benefits and risks; regulatory oversight and challenges; and regulatory efforts to foster innovation with respect to the following four specified FinTech activities: person to person payments, marketplace lending, digital wealth management and distributed ledger technology. It also offers recommendations about how to enhance FinTech regulation.
Many FinTechs have benefited from government-established regulatory sandboxes in diverse jurisdictions such as Australia, the UK and Singapore. However, the U.S. has been noticeably slow to adapt these innovation-friendly programs. That is now changing.
Arizona recently enacted a new law (H.B. 2434) to create a Regulatory Sandbox Program (the “Program”) that will allow FinTech companies to temporarily test innovative financial products and services without being subject to money transmitter and similar licensing requirements in that state. The Program will be administered by the Arizona Attorney General (the “AG”) and is the first of its kind among U.S. states.
The Australian Government has authorised a new external dispute resolution (EDR) scheme for financial disputes, the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA). AFCA will replace the current EDR schemes, FOS, CIO and the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal (SCT), to create a ‘one stop shop’ with higher monetary limits for consumer and small business complaints against financial service providers including roboadvisers, marketplace lenders, payments providers and their representatives.
AFCA will commence accepting complaints from 1 November 2018 and any complaints not yet resolved by FOS or CIO will be transferred to AFCA. The SCT will continue to resolve its existing complaints but will not accept new complaints after 31 October 2018.
All Australian financial services licensees and credit licensees with retail clients have an obligation to become a member of AFCA by 21 September 2018. Existing members of FOS or CIO must also retain their existing memberships until further notice.
AFCA will soon seek public comments on the new AFCA Rules and interim funding model. Which will then need to be approved by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.
In a recent speech on building trust, Australian Securities and Investments Commission Chair, James Shipton, identified 6 key characteristics that financial service providers, including FinTech companies, should have to ensure that the Australian financial system is efficient, resilient and fair. Those characteristics are:
- Financial products that the FinTech company provides do what they say they will and don’t take advantage of consumer biases or lack of knowledge about the product.
- Consumers’ interests are prioritised and put before the FinTech company’s.
- The FinTech company acts with integrity and fairness, not just in compliance with the law but also taking into account community expectations and standards.
- Mistakes and misconduct are quickly identified, reported and rectified.
- Open engagement and cooperation with regulators not only about problems but also in relation to business challenges and risks.
- Being innovative and using technology to improve products and services to deliver better outcomes for consumers. Although by their very nature FinTech companies are innovative and use technology, an effort should be made to constantly improve outcomes for consumers and not adopt a ‘set and forget’ mindset.
How many of these characteristics do you demonstrate?
FinCEN’s new beneficial owner rules take effect May 11, impacting banks and the program managers and similar companies that help banks comply with the Bank Secrecy Act, including FinTech companies that provide AML on-boarding and monitoring services. Under the new rules, banks and other covered financial institutions will be required to identify and verify the identity of the beneficial owners of their legal entity customers. These rules will add to your regulatory burdens, particularly over the next several weeks.
The Bank of England, the UK’s central bank, is undertaking a Proof of Concept (PoC) to understand how a renewed Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) service could be capable of supporting settlement in systems operating on innovative payment technologies, such as those built on Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT). It is hoped that the service will deliver a stronger, more resilient, flexible and innovative sterling settlement system for the United Kingdom to respond to the changing payments landscape. The RTGS blueprint, published in May 2017, stated that the renewed service will offer a diverse and flexible range of settlement models, to enable existing and emerging payment infrastructures to access central bank money.
Australia and the UK have strengthened their joint support of the FinTech industry by entering into two new arrangements which build on the original FinTech cooperation agreement entered into by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in March 2016.
The Australian and UK Governments have entered into the UK-Australia FinTech Bridge which establishes a framework for individual arrangements involving governments, regulators, trade and investment, and business. A number of understandings were agreed to including:
- investigating options for developing complementarity between the UK and Australian open banking regimes;
- continuing to develop a set of international standards for blockchain applications; and
- exploring opportunities to enable quicker processing of licences for firms already licensed in the other jurisdiction.
In a criminal case in Brooklyn, New York, a federal court has been asked to decide for the first time whether tokens or coins issued through an initial coin offering constitute “securities” under U.S. securities laws.
On September 29, 2017 the SEC filed a civil complaint against Maksim Zaslavskiy, alleging that he had committed securities fraud and sold “illegal unregistered securities.” The instruments at issue were tokens that Zaslavskiy allegedly sold to the public through initial coin offerings of his companies RECoin Group Foundation LLC and DRC World, Inc. The lawsuit followed an investigation that apparently took less than 90 days to conduct, and that involved reviewing social media and online postings. The investigation appears to have been conducted parallel with a criminal investigation by the FBI, and a criminal complaint was filed 28 days after the SEC complaint. The SEC case was stayed pending resolution of the criminal case.
By Rizwan Qayyum
The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (“FINMA”) have published guidelines on initial coin offerings, after receiving numerous requests for guidance from start-ups aiming to launch their own ICO and considering Switzerland as their jurisdiction. Having reviewed the document, its evident that FINMA have aimed to create a regulatory environment which balances the central tenet of consumer protection whilst existing in an ecosystem conducive to innovation. The guidelines can be found here.
FINMA CEO, Mark Branson commented: “The application of blockchain technology has innovative potential within and far beyond the financial markets. However, blockchain-based projects conducted analogously to regulated activities cannot simply circumvent the tried and tested regulatory framework. Our balanced approach to handling ICO projects and enquiries allows legitimate innovators to navigate the regulatory landscape and so launch their projects in a way consistent with our laws protecting investors and the integrity of the financial system”.
FINMA notes that they have identified a sharp increase in the number of ICOs planned or executed in Switzerland, alongside the increased activity relating to enquiries about the current regulatory framework and its applicability.
The French Autorité des Marchés Financiers has recently published a synthesis of the contributions it received in response to its public consultation on Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) to obtain stakeholder views on how these new types of blockchain offerings might be regulated.
The consultation included a presentation of ICOs, a warning on the risks they present, a legal analysis of ICOs with respect to the rules overseen by the AMF and the regulatory options proposed by the AMF. Respondents were invited to give their views on all of these points.