On January 30, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit held a hearing entitled “Examining Opportunities and Challenges in the Financial Technology (“Fintech”) Marketplace.” The Subcommittee issued a press release following the hearing and presented the following key takeaways:

  • “Modern developments in digital technology are changing the way in which many financial services are offered and delivered”; and
  • “Congress and the federal prudential regulators must continue to examine this innovative marketplace to understand the opportunities and challenges it presents, and to ensure that financial services entities are allowed to use fintech to deliver new products and services while also protecting consumers.”

Opening statements were presented by several members of the Subcommittee, including Subcommittee Vice Chair Keith Rothfus, R-PA, who noted that online lending, mobile banking, and other products could bring capital back to areas deserted by traditional banks. Subcommittee Chairman Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-MO, highlighted that loan originations passed through marketplace lenders accounted for nearly $40 billion over the past ten years, with online lenders often able to offer better lending terms. Luetkemeyer also discussed the rise of mobile banking and lending and raised the question presented by some states of whether fintech companies should be required to comply with current laws that apply to similar products. He stressed that understanding fintech’s capabilities “can better create an environment that fosters certainty and responsible innovation while maintaining consumer protections.” A broad range of topics were discussed at the hearing, including the following highlights:

  • Madden v. Midland / True Lender. Companies that have chosen to partner with banks have also run into regulatory and legal roadblocks, including the recent decision in Madden v. Midland Funding, which determined that a nonbank entity taking assignment of debts originated by a national bank is not entitled to protection under the National Bank Act from state-law usury claims. (See Buckley Sandler Special Alert here.) In prepared remarks, Andrew Smith, Partner at Covington and Burling, LLP, stated that because of varying outcomes in true lender court challenges, the lack of certainty means that “market participants will no longer be willing to enter into these types of transactions, thereby depriving consumers, banks, and the economy of the many benefits of bank partnerships with fintech providers while also hampering the liquidity necessary to support a robust lending market.” Smith went on to discuss H.R. 4439, the Modernizing Credit Opportunities Act, which was introduced to “reconfirm and reinforce existing federal law with respect to a bank’s identity as the true lender of a loan with the assistance of a third-party service provider.” Smith emphasized that the legislation would “resolve any uncertainty about a bank’s ability to use third-party service providers by confirming the principle that when a bank enters into a loan agreement, it is the bank that has made the loan.”
  • Marketplace Lending. During his testimony, witness Nathaniel Hoopes, Executive Director at the Marketplace Lending Association, highlighted the role marketplace lending platforms (MPPs) have had in delivering products to underserved consumers, but emphasized that a lot of work still needs to happen for more of the “broad American ‘middle class’ to fully realize and benefit from the potential of MPPs specifically and fintech more broadly.” He also expressed support for the Special Purpose National Bank charter currently under consideration by the OCC.
  • Regulatory Sandboxes. Witness Brian Knight, Director of the Program on Financial Regulation and Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, suggested in his prepared remarks various methods to improve the current regulatory environment, and opined that lawmakers could allow firms that participate in a regulatory sandbox program and comply with its requirements to avoid liability as long as the firm makes “customers whole if the firm causes harm owing to a violation of the law.” Knight added that states could be allowed to grant special non-depository charters similar to those offered by the OCC. And while witness Professor Adam J. Levitin of the Georgetown University Law Center agreed that sandboxes would allow companies to explore new ideas with the understanding that customers must be protected, he cautioned that the fragmentation of the regulatory system around fintech makes it hard for experimentation, and that risk would need to be regulated.
  • Virtual Currencies. Knight discussed his concerns with initial coin offerings (ICOs) and commented that while ICOs “may enable firms to access capital more effectively than traditional methods, there are significant concerns that they are being used by both outright frauds and well-meaning but ignorant firms to obtain capital in contravention of existing laws governing the sales of securities, commodities futures contracts, and products and services.” However, Knight testified that despite the potential for risk, peer-to-peer payments, cryptocurrencies, and other innovations demonstrate potential, and that innovative lenders are replacing banks in communities where it is no longer profitable for those banks to serve.

Inconsistent Regulations. During his testimony, witness Brian Peters, Executive Director at Financial Innovation Now, advocated for improved coordination among regulators and stressed that the “current structure is needlessly fragmented and inconsistent among federal regulators, and varies widely across state jurisdictions.” Peters also commented on the need to modernize the regulatory structure to keep pace with innovation and meet consumers’ needs.