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OCC Moves Forward on Fintech Bank Charters

Amid criticism from virtually every possible constituency, on March 15, 2017, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) released a draft supplement  to its chartering licensing manual related to special purpose national banks leveraging financial technology, or fintech banks. As we indicated in our fintech webinar discussing the proposal last December, the OCC is proposing to apply many conventional requirements for new banks to the fintech charter. While the OCC’s approach is familiar to those of us well versed on the formation of new banks, there are a few interesting items of note to take away from the draft supplement.

  • More bank than technology firm. Potential applicants for a fintech charter should approach the project with the mindset that they are applying to become a bank using technology as a delivery channel, as opposed to becoming a technology company with banking powers. While the difference might seem like semantics, the outcome should lead potential applicants to have a risk management focus and to include directors, executives, and advisors who have experience in banking and other highly regulated industries. In order to best position a proposal for approval, both the application and the leadership team will need to speak the OCC’s language.
  • Threading the needle will not be easy. Either explicitly or implicitly in the draft supplement, the OCC requires that applicants for fintech bank charters have a satisfactory financial inclusion plan, avoid products that have “predatory, unfair, or deceptive features,” have adequate profitability, and, of course, be safe and sound. Each bank in the country strives to meet those goals, yet many of them find themselves under pressure from various constituencies to improve their performance in one or more of those areas. For potential fintech banks, can you fulfill a mission of financial inclusion while offering risk-based pricing that is consistent with safety and soundness principles without having consumer groups deem your practices as unfair? On the other hand, can you offer financial inclusion in a manner that consumer groups appreciate while achieving appropriate profitability and risk management? We think the answer to both questions can be yes, but a careful approach will be required to convince the OCC that it should be comfortable accepting the proposed bank’s approach.
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Impact of Proposed “Regulatory Off-Ramp” for Community Banks

A key component of the proposed roadmap for Republican efforts to provide regulatory relief is based on reduced regulatory burdens in exchange for holding higher capital levels.  Specifically, Title I of the proposed Financial Choice Act, as modified by Representative Hensarling’s “Choice Act 2.0 Changes” memo of February 7, 2017, proposes to provide significant regulatory relief for institutions that maintain an average leverage ratio of at least 10 percent.

The principal concepts of this “regulatory off-ramp” have, so far, remained relatively constant since first published by the House Financial Services Committee in June of 2016; any institution that elects to maintain elevated capital ratios (set at a 10% leverage ratio) would enjoy exemptions from the need to comply with certain other bank regulatory requirements.

Choice 2.0

In February 2017, Jeb Hensarling, Chairman of the Financial Services Committee, indicated that the “regulatory off-ramp” included in the proposed 2017 legislation would differ in two critical aspects from the 2016 proposed legislation.

First, the regulatory off-ramp would be based solely on the banking organization’s leverage ratio and would not consider the organization’s composite CAMELS rating.  Originally, the legislation limited eligible institutions to those that possessed a composite two CAMELS rating.  This change eliminates a subjective element to the regulatory off-ramp, but may also highlight that banking regulators would retain a wide array of tools to address institutions with substandard CAMELS ratings, regardless of their capital levels.

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Core Principles for Financial Regulation

On February 3, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order setting forth his administration’s core principles for the regulation of the U.S. financial system.  While generally touted as the administration’s first affirmative steps to dismantle the Dodd-Frank Act, the executive order actually does little to implement any immediate change but says a lot about the overall framework by which the Trump Administration intends to approach financial regulation.

In addition to standard executive order boilerplate, the executive order sets forth two specific actions.  First, it establishes the “principles of regulation” that the administration will look at in evaluating regulations.

Section 1. Policy. It shall be the policy of my Administration to regulate the United States financial system in a manner consistent with the following principles of regulation, which shall be known as the Core Principles:

(a) empower Americans to make independent financial decisions and informed choices in the marketplace, save for retirement, and build individual wealth;

(b) prevent taxpayer-funded bailouts;

(c) foster economic growth and vibrant financial markets through more rigorous regulatory impact analysis that addresses systemic risk and market failures, such as moral hazard and information asymmetry;

(d) enable American companies to be competitive with foreign firms in domestic and foreign markets;

(e) advance American interests in international financial regulatory negotiations and meetings;

(g) restore public accountability within Federal financial regulatory agencies and rationalize the Federal financial regulatory framework.

Notwithstanding partisanship biases, I think most of these principles express ideas that most Americans could support, even if some would say there are additional principles (such as protecting consumers) that might also be relevant.  Even with some “norms” going out the window, I think everyone should be able to get behind the concept that our financial regulations should seek to “prevent taxpayer-funded bailouts.”  If nothing else, the Core Principles reflect generally mainstream Republican views of the goals (and implied limitations) of federal regulations.

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What Will The Proposed New York Cybersecurity Requirements For Financial Institutions Really Make Companies Do?

In early September 2016, the New York Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) proposed a set of data security regulations (the “Proposal”) that would govern financial institutions, banks, and insurance companies subject to the jurisdiction of the agency (“covered entities”).  After receiving public comments, DFS revised and resubmitted the Proposal on December 28, 2016.  If the Proposal ultimately goes into effect it would require that covered entities have a written information security policy (“WISP”) and outline specific provisions (substantive and procedural) that must be contained in that document.  While the Proposal has garnered a great deal of public attention, the majority of the provisions in the latest version are not unique.

Prior to the Proposal at least four states already required that if a company collected financial information about consumers within their jurisdiction some, or all, of the company’s security program must be reduced to writing; three states required that an employee be specifically designated to maintain a security program.  More importantly, the Federal Gramm Leach Bliley Act (“GLBA”) contains broad requirements that mimic many of the Proposals provisions.  This includes, for example, the requirement that a financial institution conduct a risk assessment and maintain data breach response procedures.

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Fraudster Beware: Your Scheme Could be a Federal Crime if it Involves a Bank

Normally, a scheme to defraud another individual would be a state crime, prosecuted and sentenced at the state level (leaving aside use of U.S. mail or wires). To be convicted of the state crime of fraud usually requires proof of some combination of a false statement or representation and an actual intent to defraud.

On December 12, 2016, in a remarkably unpretentious opinion by Justice Breyer, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Shaw v. United States, U.S., No. 15-5991, resolved a circuit split by ruling that such a scheme can also constitute federal bank fraud, even if there was intent only to defraud the individual, not the bank itself.

The case stemmed from Shaw’s successful efforts to defraud a bank customer of more than $300,000. Shaw was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1344(1) which makes it a federal crime to “knowingly execut[e] a scheme . . . (1) to defraud a financial institution.” Shaw argued that to prove fraud it is necessary to show intent to defraud and he had no intent to defraud the bank – and, in fact, the bank did not lose any money. The Supreme Court affirmed a 9th Circuit opinion that no such proof was necessary to establish the federal crime of bank fraud, on the ground that a bank had a property interest in the use of the money deposited by its customers, even if the bank ultimately suffers no financial loss.

Read more about the broader impact on criminal law enforcement on BryanCave.com.

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To Deposit or Not to Deposit: a Question for Fintech Charters

The fintech industry has justifiably greeted the OCC’s announcement of a national fintech charter with optimism. But one area where we have seen significant confusion is the possibility of the fintech charter being granted without deposit insurance, and the implications thereof.

Background.  On December 2, 2016, OCC Comptroller Thomas Curry announced that the OCC is planning to take applications from fintech companies wishing to obtain a special purpose national bank charter.  These banks would be national banks with the same privileges and obligations as traditional full-service national banks, but with specialized business plans and that may or may not choose to have deposit taking authority.

In his remarks, Comptroller Curry expressed his excitement about the great potential to expand financial inclusion and reach unbanked and underserved populations.  At the same time, clearly recognizing that there are some industry players that are worried about new sources of competition from fintech banks, or that these new banks might otherwise have unfair advantages, Curry took great pains to seek to alleviate those concerns in his remarks and in the OCC’s white paper on the proposal.

Curry acknowledged that it will be difficult for the agency to determine the requirements to charter a fintech bank because of the “diversity of approach” among fintech companies. He noted that, for example, a payments model would be different than a marketplace lending one. However, he said that the OCC is a “firm believer in tailored innovation” and has the existing framework to evaluate these issues in the chartering process.  Consistent with existing OCC regulation, the white paper states that a special purpose bank that conducts activities other than fiduciary activities must conduct at least one of the following three core banking functions: receiving deposits, paying checks, or lending money.

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Starting a New Bank

Starting a New Bank

December 5, 2016

Authored by: Jonathan Hightower

piggybankOn November 29, 2016, the FDIC, as part of its Community Banking Initiative, held an outreach meeting in Atlanta.  While the FDIC has indicated that it will publish a handbook regarding applications for deposit insurance in the coming weeks (which we’ll also summarize), we thought it made sense to provide a few highlights from that meeting:

Mechanics.  The mechanics of the chartering process are the same as before.

Business Plans.  As expected, there will be greater scrutiny on business plans, making sure that banks stick to their business plans post-opening, and (not expressly stated but as translated by me) ensuring that the results of the bank’s business plan do not deviate greatly from the original projections (i.e., providing for limited ability to take advantage of natural growth in the new bank’s markets or lines of business during the first three years of operations if not reflected in projections).  Approvals to deviate from one’s business plan will not be granted under most circumstances.

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Reviewing Third Party Vendor Service Contracts

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAManaging third party vendor relationships has always been an important function in banks. More recently it has become a hot topic for state and federal financial bank regulators.

As a result, we have compiled our Seven Part Guide on reviewing third party vendor service contracts into one article.  A checklist for reviewing third party vendor contracts is included in the article, and also available separately.

The analysis covers typical elements that should be found in any third party vendor contract, including provisions on the nature of services to be provided, the location where the word is to be performed, breach and termination, as well as provisions related to the potential outbreak of zombies.

Reviewing Third Party Vendor Service Contracts

Checklist for Vendor Service Contracts

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12 Questions You Need to Answer Before Starting a New Bank

With paths recently being cleared from a regulatory perspective and the consolidation in the market, we’re hoping to see a pickup in de novo applications (and one that is far greater than the five applications the FDIC has indicated it has received for all of 2015). Because of the recent history of difficulty starting new banks and the extremely limited number of applications this year, we imagine many of the qualified candidates are hesitant to take the first steps. We’d like to make the process easier for you.

In his article, “Thinking of Starting a New Bank? Answer These Questions First,” which was published in The Banking Law Journal today, my partner, Jonathan Hightower (@hightowerbanks), covers twelve questions that organizing groups and individuals should answer as they begin a venture toward a de novo bank.

Please call any member of our Financial Institutions team if you’d like to start talking about the prospect of organizing a new bank, or if your further down the road and would like our guidance with your application – we’re happy to help.

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Federal Rules Target Student Bank Accounts

As previously discussed on BankBryanCave.com, new Department of Education regulations will impact the terms and conditions of bank accounts that institutions of higher education and postsecondary vocational institutions may offer to students to receive disbursements of Title IV Higher Education Act funds. While the regulations apply directly to colleges, many banks and third-party servicers will need to change their products, services and practices if they want to contract with colleges to offer accounts to students.

The DOE rules require covered colleges to ensure that student account terms are in the best financial interest of students, present Title IV fund disbursement and account options to the student in a fact-based and neutral manner, and ensure that students have access to an appropriate number of surcharge-free ATMs. The rules also prohibit many account fees and impose ongoing monitoring obligations on colleges to ensure that student accounts meet all requirements of the rules.

The CFPB’s new prepaid account rules will further regulate accounts offered to students by imposing Regulation E protections on those prepaid accounts, limiting overdrafts, and highly regulating other credit features on student prepaid accounts. CFPB enforcement actions against colleges relating to consumer financial products and services remind us that even colleges can be subject to their jurisdiction and enforcement efforts.

On November 18, 2016 at 1:00pm EST, Bryan Cave LLP partner, John ReVeal, will be conducting a webinar with Lorman Education Services to summarize the new DOE rules and the key CFPB prepaid account rules as they relate to student accounts.  With John as a faculty member, we are able to offer a 50% discount on the registration fee.  Click here for more information, here for the brochure of the webinar, and here to register.

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