On January 14, 2021, the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) issued its controversial final rule (Rule)1 to establish a new requirement for covered banks to provide “fair access” to financial services to both natural persons and legal entities.2 The preamble to the Rule explains that it is intended to address situations in which large banks have denied access to financial services on the basis of a prospective customer’s industry affiliation or connection with a politically unpopular, but lawful, activity. The Rule instead requires, among other things, that access to all financial services at covered banks be provided on the basis of a person’s individual characteristics evaluated under quantitative, impartial risk-based criteria. The OCC claims that these fair access standards do not, however, require that a covered institution provide any specific type of financial service, do business with a particular person or industry, or operate in a particular market. Nonetheless, in part because of the perception that the Rule will impair the ability of banks to take into account issues like climate change in making underwriting decisions, the fate of the Rule under the Biden administration remains uncertain.
On December 18, 2020, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPR) regarding a proposal to impose on banks1 and money service businesses (MSBs) new recordkeeping, reporting, and identity verification requirements in relation to certain transactions involving convertible virtual currency (CVC) or digital assets with legal tender status (legal tender digital assets or LTDA)2 if the counterparty to the transaction does not have an account with, including a digital asset wallet hosted by, a financial institution regulated under the U.S. Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) or certain foreign financial institutions not located in designated problematic jurisdictions. If adopted, the proposed rule will impose significant new burdens only on banks and MSBs involved in digital asset businesses and undercut the role of U.S. institutions in digital asset economies, including in the growing area of “decentralized finance.” The NPR proposes to exclude broker-dealers, futures commission merchants, and mutual funds, among others that are subject to the BSA from these new reporting requirements, but specifically requests the industry’s comment on whether these types of institutions should also be included within the scope of the rule.
Affected institutions will have very limited time to assess and comment on the NPR, as the comment period closes on January 4, 2021, notwithstanding two intervening federal holidays.
On December 15, 2020, the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) approved and the federal banking agencies jointly announced on December 18 a notice of proposed rulemaking, Computer-Security Incident Notification Requirements for Banking Organizations and Their Bank Service Providers (NPR).1 The NPR is a joint proposal by the Office of the Comptroller (OCC), the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Board), and the FDIC.
Adoption of blockchain and distributed ledger technology has the potential to revolutionize business and business practices in ways not seen since the advent of the internet and e-commerce.
Whether you are directly responsible for researching, developing, or implementing new blockchain initiatives, or you are executive management and need a more informed understanding of the issues your project teams are confronting, Sidley’s Blockchain Legal Launch Pad is a place to which you can turn as a resource.
On June 24, 2020, the New York State Department of Financial Service (NYDFS) announced a series of virtual currency initiatives aimed at providing additional opportunities and clarity for BitLicense and limited-purpose trust company applicants and licensees. These initiatives include:
- A proposed framework for obtaining a conditional BitLicense when partnering with an existing licensee
- A proposed approach for NYDFS pre-approval of certain virtual currencies and a licensee’s ability to self-certify the use of new virtual currencies
- New procedures aimed at creating a more transparent and timely process for reviewing BitLicense applications
- A BitLicense FAQ page
The NYDFS’s press announcement stated that these initiatives were developed based on feedback from the industry to make it easier for virtual currency companies to successfully operate in New York. If the stated intent is achieved, these initiatives will be a welcome change for virtual currency businesses, which have often faced long timelines and a burdensome review process when submitting a BitLicense application or attempting to expand their approved activities. It remains to be seen, however, whether those objectives can be met.
The U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) has issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR)1 seeking input on how best to accommodate new technology and innovation in the business of banking, in connection with the OCC’s “comprehensive review” of its regulations at 12 C.F.R. part 7, subpart E (national banks), and part 155 (federal savings associations) (collectively, Rules). The ANPR offers industry participants an opportunity to shape future guidance and remove regulatory burdens to offering innovative new products, partnering with technology companies and enhancing operations through deployment of new technologies. The ANPR follows on the heels of regulators’ other efforts to address technological developments,2 with the caveat that the OCC is not seeking comment on authority to issue special purpose national bank charters.
On March 5, 2020, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) issued an updated set of answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs)1 regarding risk management in national bank relationships with third parties to further supplement its 2013 guidance, OCC Bulletin 2013-29 (the Bulletin),2 and its 2017 FAQs (Prior FAQs) on the topic.3 Twelve of the 27 FAQs are new and elaborate on a wide range of topics, including the broad intended scope of third-party risk management obligations, obligations of banks where negotiating power or access to information is limited, oversight of cloud computing providers and data aggregators and use of third parties in model development or delivery of alternative data for credit underwriting.
The California Department of Business Oversight (CDBO) recently concluded that the point of sale consumer financing programs offered by Sezzle, Inc., and another, unnamed party constituted making loans for purposes of the California Financing Law (CFL). A number of payment providers and technology companies have been developing innovative payment options, including consumer financing options, that are facilitated by advances in technology and mobile connectivity. Some market participants have structured their products such that a license should generally not be required under state law. The CDBO’s actions, however, may require companies to revisit that analysis and consider their licensing obligations.
On December 3, 2019, the five federal banking agencies1 issued a joint statement (the “Joint Statement”) regarding the use of alternative data for credit underwriting. The Agencies highlighted potential benefits that may arise from the use of alternative data, including the ability to make faster and more accurate credit determinations and the potential to provide credit at a lower rate or to individuals or small businesses that would otherwise be unable to access it. While the Agencies issued approving language regarding the use of certain types of alternative data, they also cautioned that the use of alternative data may have consumer protection implications, including fair lending, prohibitions against unfair, deceptive or abuse acts or practices and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
On October 11, 2019, the leaders of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) (together, the Agencies) issued a joint statement highlighting the application of anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) obligations under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) to persons engaged in activities involving digital assets (Joint Statement). On the same day, the SEC filed an emergency action to halt a digital asset distribution, citing BSA/AML concerns.1