California Governor Gavin Newsom submitted his $222 billion budget proposal for the 2020-2021 fiscal year on January 10. Among other priorities identified, the budget earmarks tens of millions of dollars for the creation and administration of the California Consumer Protection Law (CCPL). The governor’s budget proposal specifically notes the need for this expanded consumer protection law as arising from “[t]he federal government’s rollback of the CFPB [which] leaves Californians vulnerable to predatory businesses and leaves companies without the clarity they need to innovate.” Under the proposal, California’s Department of Business Oversight (DBO) would dramatically expand its consumer protection role to define the contours of, and to administer, the CCPL. The stated aim of this move is to enhance consumer protection in California and “foster the responsible development of new financial products.”

Should California’s lawmakers adopt this proposal, the DBO would be renamed the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI). In an expansion of the DBO’s current role, which includes consumer protection in financial transactions and oversight of state-licensed financial institutions, the renamed agency would gain greater authority to “pursue unlicensed financial service providers not currently subject to regulatory oversight such as debt collectors, credit reporting agencies, and financial technology (fintech) companies, among others.”

As a global team, we pay attention to financial regulatory and fintech events happening around the world. In that spirit, we are reporting on some intriguing new regulatory initiatives that were announced at the Singapore FinTech Festival in relation to artificial intelligence (AI) and the intersection of sustainability, finance, and technology. Regulation will underpin many of these initiatives and it will be key for government to work with business and lawyers to ensure the law is robust, is fit for purpose, and can keep pace with the raft of proposals.

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat announced several new projects to help his nation remain current with technology as a way to assist the economy and improve Singapore citizens’ lives. The projects—all part of Singapore’s new “National AI Strategy”—include the development of a chatbot to allow Singaporeans to report municipal issues, including subject matter details, and receive identification of the appropriate government agency to resolve the matter. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) reported improving linkage and collaboration with French and Canadian markets.

In a recent post, we discussed the increasing focus by state attorneys general on the use of their enforcement authority against payment processing applications platforms that were not licensed under state money transmitter laws. As we pointed out, one of the challenges raised by these state laws is the fact that they are not uniform in either their language or how they are interpreted or applied.

In the spirit of looking at the glass-half-full aspects of these developments, it is worth pointing out that the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) is undertaking an initiative to develop model payments legislation with the goal of increasing uniformity of state legislation in this area. The multistate licensing initiative is part of Vision 2020, a set of initiatives that CSBS and state regulators are implementing to harmonize the multistate licensing and supervisory experience for nonbank financial services providers, including fintechs. One primary area of focus for the CSBS is state money transmitter legislation. To this end, a committee of state financial institution supervisors, under the auspices of the CSBS, has developed model language for money services businesses, and recently published this model language for public comment. The model language focuses on areas such as core definitions of money transmission–related activities, money transmitter exemptions, control and changes in control of money transmission businesses, financial condition issues, and interstate parity and coordination activities.

In addition to releasing a finalized No-Action Letter (NAL) Policy, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) also issued a revised Trial Disclosure Policy and Compliance Assistance Sandbox Policy on September 10.

Trial Disclosure Policy

Through its revised Trial Disclosure Policy, the CFPB has created the CFPB Disclosure Sandbox. Now, entities seeking to improve consumer disclosures may conduct in-market testing of alternative disclosures for a limited time upon permission by the CFPB. The Dodd-Frank Act gives the CFPB the authority to provide certain legal protections for entities to conduct trial disclosure programs. The new policy largely streamlines the application and review process, provides greater protection from liability (which also extends to agents of the waiver recipient), and allows for a time-limited extension for successful disclosure tests.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) finalized its revised No-Action Letter (NAL) Policy and issued its first NAL under the revised policy on September 10, in response to a request by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on behalf of more than 1,600 housing counseling agencies (HCAs) that participate in HUD’s housing counseling program.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), working in partnership with multiple state regulators, announced on September 10 that it has launched the American Consumer Financial Innovation Network (ACFIN) to strengthen coordination among federal and state regulators in order to facilitate financial innovation. ACFIN is a network of federal and state officials and regulators with authority over markets for consumer financial products and services. The CFPB invited all state regulators to join ACFIN, and the initial members of ACFIN are the attorneys general of Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah. The network may include state attorneys general, state financial regulators, and federal financial regulators.

According to the CFPB’s press release, ACFIN “enhances shared objectives such as competition, consumer access, and financial inclusion. Additionally, ACFIN promotes regulatory certainty for innovators, benefiting the US economy and consumers alike. The network also seeks to keep pace with market innovations and help ensure they are free from fraud, discrimination, and deceptive practices.”

Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic continue to monitor and address cryptoasset and distributed ledger technology activities. We recently posted on the guidance issued by the US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network on cryptocurrencies and in another post touched upon differences in the regulatory treatment of cryptoassets across jurisdictions. Today we report on two new developments relating to the treatment of cryptoassets by UK and US regulators.

In its continued efforts to learn what broker-dealers and their employees are doing in the digital asset space, FINRA has effectively reissued a regulatory notice requesting that broker-dealers keep FINRA apprised of their digital asset activities.

 Last July, FINRA issued Regulatory Notice 18-20 where it requested that broker-dealers notify their regulatory coordinators about their and their registered representatives’ digital asset activities. Although not an exhaustive list, some activities FINRA wants information about include the following:

On July 8, the staffs of the Division of Trading and Markets (TM) of the US Securities and Exchange Commission and of the Office of General Counsel of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. issued a joint statement on broker-dealer custody of digital assets that are also securities (Joint Statement). As explained in, and for purposes of, the Joint Statement, a “digital asset” refers to an asset that is issued and transferred using distributed ledger or blockchain technology, including, but not limited to, so-called “virtual currencies,” “coins,” and “tokens.” While all digital assets are not securities under the federal securities laws, a digital asset that is a security is referred to as a “digital asset security” in the Joint Statement. While the Joint Statement provides some insight on the issues under consideration by regulators regarding custody, it does not identify specific circumstances under which a broker-dealer could custody digital asset securities in a manner consistent with the financial responsibility rule applicable to broker-dealers.

We are always looking to identify good forums for keeping abreast of global fintech developments and trends. One such interesting platform was Cross-Border Fintech: Regulation & the Law 2019, held in London on June 6, where we heard some great insights into the current market trends in and the future of fintech. The conference was well attended, with representatives of many industry leaders, authorities, and industry bodies in attendance. The participation of many on the front lines of fintech from financial institutions, fintech startups, and industry bodies created a forum to share innovative ideas and trends that allowed participants—including us—to keep up with the latest innovation.