The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) recently issued guidance consolidating current FinCEN regulations, rulings, and guidance about cryptocurrencies and money services businesses (MSBs) under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). Along with the May 9 guidance, FinCEN issued an advisory to assist financial institutions in identifying and reporting suspicious activity or criminal use of cryptocurrencies.
The Federal Reserve Board (Fed) released on April 23 a notice of proposed rulemaking to clarify the standards and criteria under which one company “controls” another company under the Bank Holding Company Act (BHCA) and the Savings and Loan Holding Company Act (SLHCA). This long-awaited proposal, which Fed officials have stated for some time was in the works, is notable for several reasons—primarily because if adopted, it will bring much-needed clarity to an area of banking law that historically has been notoriously opaque.
In a recently published statement, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS) has raised concerns relating to the risks that crypto-assets pose to the global financial system. While it acknowledges that banks do not currently have significant exposure to crypto-assets, it warns that these assets are increasingly becoming a threat to financial stability.
These concerns are founded on the volatility, constant evolution, and lack of standardization of crypto-assets, which the BCBS believes exposes banks to liquidity, credit, operational, money laundering, legal, and reputational risks. It considers that crypto-assets should not be referred to as “cryptocurrencies,” given that they fall short of being currencies that are safe mediums of exchange.
In separate remarks delivered before the annual Washington meeting of the Institute for International Bankers on March 11, FDIC Chair Jelena McWilliams and Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting both said that the federal financial regulatory agencies are actively considering revisions to the Volcker Rule regulations, including a reconfiguration of the interagency Volcker Rule regulatory proposals published in June 2018. Ms. McWilliams, among other things, indicated that “all options are on the table," and stated that the federal agencies “need to right size the rule's extraterritorial scope while also minimizing competitive inequities between U.S. banking entities and their foreign counterparts…” with a particular focus on foreign funds.
When the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued its decision in Madden v. Midland Funding in 2015, it sent shockwaves through the financial community for its unexpected ruling that nonbank assignees of a national bank did not get the benefit of National Bank Act “preemption” permitting lenders to charge any interest rate provided it does not exceed the rate permitted in the bank’s home state. After an unsuccessful attempt to get the US Supreme Court to review the decision, the Second Circuit’s decision remains binding precedent in federal courts sitting in New York, Connecticut, and Vermont. The case returned to the district court and has quietly been litigated over the last two years. On March 1, the final chapter began when the parties filed a motion for preliminary approval of a settlement of the action, as described below.
The five federal banking agencies (Federal Reserve, Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, National Credit Union Administration, and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency – collectively Agencies) have issued a joint statement on the role of supervisory guidance.
The statement says that supervisory guidance does not have the force and effect of law, and that the Agencies do not take enforcement actions based on supervisory guidance. However, the Agencies state that supervisory guidance outlines the Agencies’ “supervisory expectations or priorities and articulates the [A]gencies’ general views regarding appropriate practices for a given area.” For example, supervisory guidance often contains examples of practices that the Agencies “generally consider consistent with safety-and-soundness standards or other applicable laws and regulations.”
Prior to the passage of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (EGRRCPA), bank holding companies and nonbank financial companies supervised by the Federal Reserve with $50 billion or more of total consolidated assets were subject to enhanced prudential standards (SIFIs). The EGRRCPA raised that threshold to $100 billion or more of total consolidated assets, and the SIFI threshold will eventually increase to $250 billion in total consolidated assets.
Zions Bancorporation (Zions) has around $66.5 billion in total consolidated assets and, prior to EGRRCPA, was a SIFI. Post-EGRRCPA, Zions is no longer a SIFI, which one would think would be the end of the story and Zions could walk away a happy non-SIFI bank.
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.
The UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) issued a press release on July 3 announcing the latest cohort of firms accepted into its regulatory sandbox. Twenty-nine firms were accepted, which represents the largest cohort to date. The sandbox, now in its fourth year, allows firms to test their products and services in a controlled environment, prior to use in the open market where they would be subject to the full suite of regulations and associated costs.
The United Kingdom is a leader worldwide in supporting growth and innovation in the world of financial technology. Similar efforts are occurring in the United States, but lag behind UK developments; as we reported just three months ago, Arizona became the first state in the United States to enact a law to create a “Fintech Sandbox.”
Focus of cohort
The focus of this year’s UK Fintech Sandbox cohort appears to be on the capital-raising process, with a large number of applicants seeking to increase the efficiency of the process and improve access to capital, including six firms seeking to automate the issuance of debt or equity. Other notable innovations among the UK cohort include the use of distributed ledger technology (over 40% of the cohort), firms offering automated or “robo” investment advice, and the continued increase of firms seeking to use technology to streamline the AML/KYC process.
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