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Financial Inclusion and Robust Regulation Are on the Table as OCC Pushes Ahead With Fintech Charter

Last week the United States Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”) issued a Draft Supplement to its Licensing Manual (“Supplement”) in furtherance of its proposal to rolling out a special purpose national bank (“SPNB”) charter for financial technology (“fintech”) companies. The Supplement outlines the process by which a fintech company may apply for a SPNB charter, and the considerations the OCC will take into account when evaluating such applications.

The Supplement reiterates OCC determination that the SPNB charter would be “in the public interest” because it would provide “uniform standards and supervision,” “support the dual banking system,” promote “growth, modernization, and competition” in the financial system, and encourage fintech companies to “promote financial inclusion.” It also makes clear the OCC’s determination to promote financial inclusion and to rebut criticisms that the SPNB charter would represent a light touch regulatory regime.

Summary of Key Provisions

The Supplement notes that many application processes and chartering standards for SPNB applicants will be similar to those used for other bank charter applicants. It is not a ‘bank-lite’ charter; an “applicant that receives OCC approval for a charter becomes a national bank subject to the laws, regulations, and federal supervision that apply to all national banks.” This summary highlights key areas in which the OCC indicates considerations may be different; therefore we do not restate existing licensing procedures and considerations.

The OCC wants an “iterative” application process whereby the agency and applicant maintain an “open dialogue.” Like other bank charter applicants, SPNB applicants must arrange a preliminary meeting (which could become multiple meetings) and submit a prefiling proposal that details the company’s business plan, including its plan for financial inclusion. The company should also identify “any novel policy or legal issues” of the proposal. Additionally, the OCC indicates that the applications will provide it with an “enhanced window” through which it can better understand emerging technologies and evaluate and respond to any accompanying risks.

The Supplement makes clear that an SPNB charter recipient must engage in the limited range of permissible banking activities (other than deposit taking) set out in statute, regulation, judicial precedent, or OCC guidance, including one of the core banking functions. However, the OCC acknowledges that applicants may be involved in activities that have not previously been deemed to be part of, or incidental to, the business of banking or to fall within a core banking function. When that is the case, applicants should address in their prefiling meetings the permissibility of the proposed activities, and they may be required to prepare a supporting legal analysis. However, the Supplement makes clear that the OCC will not approve proposals from companies whose activities “inappropriately commingle banking and commerce.”

When considering a SPNB charter application, the Supplement states that “the OCC will consider, among other things, whether the proposed bank

  • has organizers and management with appropriate skills and experience.

  • has adequate capital to support the projected volume and type of business and proposed risk profile.

  • has a business plan that articulates a clear path and a timeline to profitability.

  • includes in its business plan, if applicable, a [financial inclusion plan] that has an appropriate description of the proposed goals, approach, activities, and milestones for serving the relevant market and community.”

The OCC may impose special conditions regarding the charter to ensure that an applicant will achieve these objectives.

Business Plans

The Supplement provides guidance for applicants about what must be included in their business plans, noting specifically that “companies without an established business record are subject to a higher degree of scrutiny.”

The business plan should include, among other things:

  • a risk assessment, including the degree of risk the bank would generally assume and how it would manage that risk;

  • a description of the bank’s records, systems, and controls, which explains the bank’s information technology platform, its compliance management program, its plans for independent auditing, and outsourcing and third-party risk management; and

  • for applicants that will lend or provide financial services to consumers or small businesses, a description of a financial inclusion plan for providing fair access and treatment to the relevant market and community.

The Supplement also explains that an “SPNB will be subject to the minimum leverage and risk-based capital requirements” that apply to all national banks. However, the OCC acknowledges that SPNB applicants may have particular situations that require different approaches to determining the capital adequacy requirements. Accordingly, applicants will be required to propose in their business plans capital adequacy requirements, including a discussion of how the applicants would address adverse market conditions.

Supplement Feedback

Comments on the Supplement are due by April 14, 2017, and we expect there will be many commentators. Even before issuance of the Supplement, there has been intense interest in the proposed charter. State regulators, for example, have questioned the need for, and the OCC’s authority to grant, such a charter. Moreover, the proposed charter also garnered significant bipartisan, bicameral interest among Members of Congress. On March 10, 2017, all 34 Republican members of the House Financial Services Committee urged the OCC to delay implementation of the charter to allow stakeholders and the next Comptroller of the Currency to provide further input. (Comptroller Thomas J. Curry’s five-year term ends on April 1, 2017.) In addition, key Senate Democrats expressed concerns that the proposed charter could result in “charter shopping” by fintech firms, as well as reduce consumer protections and undermine efforts to achieve greater financial inclusion. However, numerous industry groups have lauded the OCC’s efforts to bring uniformity and a level playing field for banks and fintech companies.

Copyright 2019 K & L Gates

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About this Author

Anthony R.G. Nolan, KL Gates, fixed income securities lawyer, structured finance attorney
Practice Area Leader

Anthony Nolan is a finance partner in the New York office and is a Practice Area Leader for the firm's global Finance practice. Mr. Nolan has a domestic and international practice that emphasizes lending transactions, fixed income securities, structured finance, structured products and derivatives. He often works at the intersection of finance and investment management, including trading and regulation of swaps and security-based swaps, loan trading, securities lending and repo as well as traditional borrowing and leverage transactions. 

Mr....

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Judith E. Rinearson, KL Gates, federal consumer protection lawyer, anti money laundering attorney
Partner

Judith Rinearson is a partner in the firm’s New York and London offices. Ms. Rinearson concentrates her practice in prepaid and emerging payment systems, electronic payments, crypto/virtual currencies, reward programs, ACH and check processing. She has more than 25 years of experience in the financial services industry, including 18 years at American Express’s General Counsel’s Office. Her expertise focuses particularly in the areas of emerging payments and compliance with state and federal consumer protection laws, anti-money laundering laws, state money transmitter licensing laws and abandoned property laws. 

Fully experienced in both the “issuing” and “acquiring” side of the payments business, Ms. Rinearson has drafted and negotiated complex agreements with strategic co-branded partners, processors and Independent Sales Organizations (ISOs), ATM networks, major retailers and service providers, prepaid card issuers and program managers, international remittance companies, virtual and mobile payment providers, as well as the Terms and Conditions and disclosures that usually accompany such products. She has hands-on experience in all legal aspects of launching and managing a range of payment products, from prepaid cards of all kinds, to Bitcoin exchanges and miners, wire transfer services, ACH, electronic banking, money orders and credit cards. Her practice includes advising on fraud avoidance and compliance with federal banking and anti-money laundering laws, as well as state money transmitter licensing laws, consumer protection laws and abandoned property laws. On the international level, Ms. Rinearson has supervised the launch of a range of payment and foreign currency products in Europe, Asia and Latin America; met with international regulators; and spoken on the issue of payment regulation. 

212-536-3928
Associate

Jeremy McLaughlin is an associate in the firm’s San Francisco office and a member of the Consumer Financial Service group. His practice focuses principally on regulatory compliance and government enforcement for Fintech and consumer financial products and services, with particular attention on emerging payments and compliance with state and federal consumer protection laws, state money transmitter licensing laws, and international remittances, as well as advising on privacy, data security, and PCI compliance. He represents and advises financial technology companies,...

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Eric A. Love, KL Gates, Capital Markets Compliance Lawyer, Treasury Legislation Attorney
Law Clerk

Eric A. Love is a member of K&L Gates’ Public Policy and Law Practice and is based in the Washington, D.C. office. Mr. Love focuses on federal legislative and regulatory policy issues related to financial services and capital markets, with a particular emphasis on securities and corporate governance. 

Prior to joining K&L Gates, Mr. Love served as a special assistant in the Office of Legislative Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. In this capacity, he worked to help advance Treasury’s legislative agenda on a broad portfolio...

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