FPC Blog

The Systemic FinTech Revolution


Fiscal 2018 has been a momentous year for US financial technology (FinTech) organizations. On July 31, 2018, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) began the process of accepting applications from non-depository FinTech companies for a special purpose national bank charter. Such action has been spurred by the Trump administration’s call for a regulatory climate that supports financial technology and innovation, mandated by the US Treasury Department under Executive Order 13772. The OCC’s special purpose charter allows FinTech Companies to have nationwide operations as opposed to needing state-by-state licensing per transactions. FinTech companies that qualify cannot obtain FDIC deposit insurance, as the most glaring requirement revolves around the non depository nature of all FinTech banking transactions.

All FinTech companies under this umbrella may participate in lending services and facilitating payments without any need to partner with traditional banks. Financial policy under the National Bank Act will now govern FinTech companies that fall under his new banking status. Specifically, reporting requirements which pertain to the Dodd-Frank Act, “CAMELS” supervision and all legal lending limits now count for FinTech companies. Such inclusion of FinTech into mainstream banking compliance marks an important turning point in our financial system, one where we finally recognize FinTech as a systemically important financial entity that is rapidly changing the fabric of both microeconomic lending and macroeconomic advancement.

Professor Saule T. Omarova of Cornell Law School (CLS) has delineated concrete insight into impacts of FinTech’s systemic importance. Financial experts, governments and policymakers have only recognized the longevity of financial technology in the last five years. For most, early FinTech was considered purely disruptive in a democratizing fashion: providing unorthodox financial solutions to outlier demographics such as lending to less wealthy demographics, or providing currency alternatives to speculative renegade traders. However, the advent of Blockchain technology’s wide reach into countless industries has propelled FinTech as innovative, stabilizing and fostering of long term growth. Policymakers are now realizing that disruptive does not mean destabilizing!

Omarova’s CLS whitepaper “New Tech v. New Deal: Fintech As A Systemic Phenomenon” makes the point to not trivialize the impact which FinTech has on the financial system. As stated, FinTech’s systemic and vastly growing influence on the structure and velocity of global payments cannot be ignored. According to Omarova, global financial policymakers have thus far treated the issues that challenge FinTech – cybersecurity, regulatory governance, legal obscurity, transactional accountability – as natural glitches to be naturally worked out in the private market. However, as Omarova so rightly says “money and power are two sides of the same coin…Finance is, and always will be, a matter of utmost and direct public policy significance.” FinTech commands systemic power, and it is best to include FinTech players in the wider audience of finance. Long standing behemoths such as Goldman Sachs have been savvy in the adoption of financial technologies such as bitcoin derivatives trading. Institutions such as the OCC must recognize the same.

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP via the Columbia Law School Blue Sky Blog examined further changes to the US regulatory framework, recommended by the US Department of Treasury, which will aid further financial technology innovation in the mainstream financial system. These are as follows:

  • The creation of a FinTech Industry Advisory Panel comprising both state and federal agencies to pilot regulatory sandboxes for early stage FinTech companies. Regulatory sandboxes are common in the United Kingdom, and allows regulators practical insight into growing financial technology.
  • Marketplace Lending, where banks will be fully identified as the official lender of loans originated, even if these loans are sold to multiple third parties. In this manner, financial accountability is easily identified.
  • Clarity in regards to the Federal Reserve Board’s definition of “control” within the Bank Holding Company (BHC) Act. Specifically, the definition must clarify and support BHC permissible investment activities in financial technology.
  • Third-Party Oversight, where compliance checks along the bank supply chain has led to an over abundance of costs. There needs to be blanket standardization of such costs.
  • Regulators need to provide more consistent and facilitating rules pertaining to credit modeling and data without impeding accuracy and privacy.
  • The standardization and flexibility of payments and transmitter requirements are uppermost to ensure systemic flow within the financial system under FinTech, as financial technology continues to capture a huge bulk of the payments sector.

These recommendations from the US Department of Treasury come under the auspices of Executive Order 13772, and support US financial system growth and innovation. State and Federal policymakers must continue to harmonize regulatory framework to harness the systemic power of US financial technology.