Taking a step into the digital age, the European Commission announced that the 2020s shall become the EU’s Digital Decade. The EU’s digitalization, including in the area of health, is one of the Commission’s key priorities and covers a wide range of actions and related initiatives.
Building on prior initiatives, in 2019 the Commission announced six key priorities (since supplemented by the COVID-19 recovery plan) that would shape the coming five years of policy making. One of these six key priorities is to create a Europe fit for the digital age and work on a digital strategy that will empower people with a new generation of technologies.
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.
Sidley was named to Law360’s 2020 “Practice Groups of the Year” in five categories:
- International Arbitration
- International Trade
- Structured Finance
With an eye toward landmark matters and general excellence, the annual awards honor the law firms behind the litigation wins and major deals that resonated throughout the legal profession. Law360 commended Sidley for being only one of five firms to have five winning practices.
Sidley Partners Nathan J. Greene and Colleen Theresa Brown are co-authors of a new chapter of the PLI treatise Investment Adviser Regulation: A Step-by-Step Guide to Compliance and the Law focusing on legal and compliance considerations for use of Big Data. The chapter examines the expanding range of topics facing investment management lawyers and compliance professionals, as well as the attendant legal and operational risks. The chapter includes an introduction to the concepts of data, alternative data, big data and artificial intelligence; examples of an organization’s data users, likely sources of data, and organizational controls for data collection and processing; and a review of the ways different types of data are regulated.
Sidley’s newest partner, Sujit Raman, former U.S. Associate Deputy Attorney General at the Department of Justice (DOJ), was among three panelists on the TRM Talks inaugural podcast, titled “Unpacking DOJ’s Crypto Enforcement Framework.” The panel discussed the DOJ’s recently-published Cryptocurrency Enforcement Framework on legitimate uses of cryptocurrencies, the inherent risks and challenges, and the federal government’s enforcement strategies in this space.
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 September 25, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)’s Division of Trading and Markets issued its first no-action letter (Letter) to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. (FINRA),1 related to digital asset securities. Based on the Letter, the SEC staff (Staff) would not recommend enforcement action pursuant to SEC Rule 15c3-3 (the Customer Protection Rule) under the U.S. Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (Exchange Act) if a registered broker-dealer operates a noncustodial alternative trading system (ATS) that trades digital asset securities issued and/or transferred using blockchain technology, subject to certain conditions. The Letter elaborates on the July 28, 2019, joint statement (Joint Statement) issued by the staffs of the SEC and FINRA,2 which discusses a broker-dealer’s ability to comply with the Customer Protection Rule with respect to digital asset securities and outlines potential noncustodial broker-dealer models for digital assets, including operating an ATS3 that only matches buyers and sellers of digital asset securities but does not custody such securities for the account of customers.
There has been a rapid increase in collaboration between fintechs and other technology firms and more traditional payment service providers (PSPs) such as banks, merchant acquirers, and money transmitters. While fintechs and technology firms are often seen as direct competitors of traditional PSPs, in a market driven by innovation, both sides of the market increasingly consider collaboration a mutually beneficial way to play to each participating firm’s strengths. For more traditional PSPs, the technologies that a fintech or technology firm develops can help enhance and streamline, and in some cases modernize, the services provided to customers. For a fintech or technology firm, partnering with a PSP can provide an efficient and effective way to expand into the payment services market, particularly for customers who are more inclined to use traditional PSPs.
Regulators are monitoring these developments with growing interest and with an eye to potential risks to customers and markets as well as their ability to supervise regulated firms and their operations. This post highlights a number of EU/UK regulatory issues that fintechs, technology companies, and PSPs should consider when collaborating with one another.
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.