The staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Division of Trading and Markets (Staff) issued a no-action letter on October 29 to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), which, in effect extends the effective date of recent changes to FOCUS reporting by registered broker-dealers. In August 2018, the SEC adopted amendments regarding, among other things, broker-dealer reporting with respect to reporting of extraordinary gains, the cumulative effect of changes in accounting principles, and comprehensive income reported on broker-dealer annual reports (i.e., Rule 17a-5). The amendments are scheduled to become effective for all filings made on and after November 5, 2018.

On July 6, the Federal Reserve Board, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (together, the Agencies) issued an interagency statement (Statement) regarding the impact of the recently enacted Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (the tongue-tying EGRRCPA), which we previously summarized. The new law amended the Dodd-Frank Act to streamline certain of its systemic regulation requirements, and provide a modest level of relief for midsized banks and community banking institutions. The Statement addressed some of the immediate impacts of EGRRCPA and the Agencies’ responses to those provisions that took effect immediately. The Federal Reserve Board also issued a separate conforming statement addressing the impact of EGRRCPA on bank holding companies subject to its supervision (FRB Statement).

Among other things, EGRRCPA increases the Dodd-Frank Act enhanced prudential supervision threshold for bank holding companies with $50 billion in total consolidated assets by exempting bank holding companies with total consolidated assets of less than $100 billion immediately upon enactment (May 24, 2018), and raising this threshold to $250 billion 18 months after the date of enactment (November 25, 2019). EGRRCPA also allows the application of any enhanced prudential standard to bank holding companies with between $100 billion and $250 billion in total consolidated assets.

Since taking on the role in November 2017, Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting has been relatively circumspect regarding his views on the banking industry, bank regulation, and bank regulatory reform. In testimony on June 14 before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, Comptroller Otting provided the clearest insight to date about his views on the federal banking system and the role of bank regulation.

In his testimony, Comptroller Otting first discussed risk in the banking system and the OCC’s “supervision by risk” approach, noting the following areas of heightened risk:

  • Elevated credit risk due to eased credit underwriting, increased commercial real estate concentration limits, and policy exceptions that create a higher level of concern
  • Elevated operational risk created by cybersecurity threats and third-party relationships, including risks created by consolidation in the fintech industry, which has led to a limited number of providers servicing large segments of the banking industry
  • Elevated compliance risk due to Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) requirements, the new FinCEN beneficial ownership rules, and new technologies that attempt to increase customer convenience and access to financial products and services, and the need for banks to better manage implementation of regulatory changes in consumer laws

Just over two months after the Senate passed the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (S 2155), the House voted 258-159 (with 33 Democrats voting “yea”) to pass S 2155 without amendments. S 2155 was quickly signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Until recently, S 2155 faced an uncertain future in the House. In June 2017, the House had passed its version of financial regulatory reform (HR 10, better known as the Financial CHOICE Act of 2017 (CHOICE Act). The CHOICE Act was a relatively comprehensive effort to reform the Dodd-Frank Act. Because it included a large number of provisions that would not attract broad bipartisan support, however, the CHOICE Act never was seen as having much, if any, chance of passing the Senate.

When S 2155 was passed, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) signaled that the House was not inclined to pass it without incorporating at least some elements of the CHOICE Act. In the interim, however, Mr. Hensarling and other Republicans were persuaded to allow a vote on S 2155 without further amendment, with the promise that additional provisions of the CHOICE Act could be brought as a separate bill or bills, which resulted in House passage of the bill.

We usually don’t blog about financial regulatory nonevents, but sometimes it is useful simply to point out when something is just that. Our “nonevent event” example of the day is the April 30 dismissal (read the accompanying order here) by the US District Court for the District of Columbia of the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) lawsuit against the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), where the CSBS challenged the OCC’s authority to issue national bank nondepository fintech charters. The court dismissed the lawsuit in part for lack of “ripeness,” which is administrative lawspeak for “there’s nothing to challenge here.” Put simply, the OCC has not chartered any fintech banks and has not even issued final guidance on the chartering process, and the court therefore found itself without anything to review or decide. Administrative law aficionados therefore should not be at all surprised by that aspect of the court’s decision and reasoning. As the court trenchantly stated, “Indeed, there may ultimately be no case to decide at all if the OCC does not charter a Fintech.” A similar lawsuit against the OCC that was filed by the New York State Department of Financial Services was dismissed last year on similar grounds, and we surmised at that time that the CSBS suit might suffer the same procedural fate.

Arizona has become the first state in the United States to enact a law to create a “Fintech Sandbox” – a safe zone for fintech startups to test new applications and financial services otherwise subject to state money transmitter, banking, and similar licensing requirements without having to obtain a state license. Although other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Singapore, and Australia, have created similar fintech sandboxes, similar legislation or regulations thus far have not been adopted in the United States at the federal or state level.

The Fintech Sandbox idea was promoted by the Arizona attorney general and will be administered by the Arizona Office of the Attorney General (AZ OAG). However, the Fintech Sandbox does not mean that fintech companies will be unregulated in Arizona. There will be a substantive application and oversight process.

In a rare bipartisan vote, 16 Democrats and one Independent who caucuses with the Democrats joined with 50 Republicans to pass Senate Bill 2155, the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (Senate Bill). The Senate Bill is the most comprehensive reform to the Dodd-Frank Act that has passed the Senate, although it is more limited in scope than HR 10, better known as the Financial CHOICE Act of 2017, the Dodd-Frank Act reform bill passed by the House of Representatives in June 2017.

There are a number of notable provisions in the Senate Bill.

In pointed and detailed public remarks, Federal Reserve Board Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles said on Monday that the Volcker Rule is “an example of a complex regulation that is not working well” and proposed a number of possible changes to the Volcker Rule. Mr. Quarles emphasized that all five regulatory agencies responsible for the implementation of the Volcker Rule are actively working on changes to the Volcker Rule. Overall, the possible changes outlined by Mr. Quarles focus on reducing the burden of the Volcker Rule within the boundaries of the statutory requirements, particularly for financial institutions that do not have large trading operations, as well as limiting unintended extraterritorial effects of the Volcker Rule. Further, it is not clear whether all five regulatory agencies are in alignment with the priorities and solutions that Mr. Quarles outlined in his speech, although he stated that he thought the odds of implementing the changes are “pretty good.”

US financial reform at the congressional and regulatory agency levels continues to move along—albeit more in fits and starts than in a blaze of big happenings. Below is a recap on where matters currently stand.

Congress

The US Senate financial regulatory reform bill, “The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act” (S. 2155), about which we have previously written, remains on the Senate legislative calendar and now has 25 co-sponsors (12 Democrats, 12 Republicans, and 1 Independent who caucuses with the Democrats). No major actions on the bill have been taken. Given the bipartisan nature of the bill, it stands a reasonable chance of passing in the Senate (a vote will reportedly occur sometime in March) but will face strong opposition from Senator Elizabeth Warren and other progressive Democrats. There has been no indication from the House of Representatives thus far as to whether it will take up the Senate bill (if passed) or push for broader regulatory reform to align with its own financial regulatory reform bill.

Few topics in the financial news have gotten more attention recently than the rise of cryptocurrency and initial coin offerings (ICOs), which allow startups to raise money from users in exchange for digital currency. In 2017, ICOs raised more than $3 billion in funding, surpassing early-stage venture capital funding for internet companies, and solidifying ICOs as a financing strategy among tech entrepreneurs.

But with surging popularity comes increasing attention and scrutiny from regulators, most notably the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC or Commission). Previously, the SEC had adopted a more cautionary approach, advising potential investors to perform due diligence, and issuing trading suspensions for certain issuers that made questionable claims regarding ICO investments. As we have previously reported, however, the SEC has recently taken a more aggressive stance toward ICOs.