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2019 Fintech Legal and Regulatory Discussion

You’re Invited – Join the Atlanta Chapter of the BayPay Forum on February 19 for a 2019 Fintech Legal and Regulatory Panel Discussion

On Tuesday, February 19, from 6-8:30 pm, the Atlanta chapter of the BayPay Forum will meet at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner’s offices in Midtown Atlanta for a networking reception and panel discussion on the state of fintech regulation.

Start 2019 on solid footing with an engaging panel discussion reflecting on regulatory responses to faster payments, open banking/APIs, blockchain applications and ICOs, and other innovations.  Panelists will include Dick Fraher, Vice President and Counsel to the Retail Payments Office at Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta; C. Ryan Germany, General Counsel and Assistant Commissioner of Securities & Charities, Office of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger; Ben Robey, BSA/AML Compliance Specialist at MSB Compliance, Inc.; and Ken Achenbach, Partner at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner.  The panel will be moderated by Barry Hester, Counsel at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner.  Details and free registration are available here using the passcode BRYANCAVE. 

Participants will take away product and service design implications and a better understanding of the consumer protection, safety and soundness, jurisdictional, other policy issues at play.  Discussion will address, among other issues:

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OCC Provides a Path for FinTech Charters

On July 31, 2018, the OCC announced that it had finalized parameters for its new limited-purpose financial technology national bank charter and is ready to begin taking applications.  This release follows several years of formal deliberation on the topic and coincided with the release of a 222-page U.S. Treasury report on innovation.  Industry reactions have been wide-ranging – will this level the playing field or usher in a FinTech “apocalypse“?

Highlights of the OCC notice include:

  • Designation of the charter type as a national bank.  Like its other special-purpose charters, including the non-depository trust company or the credit card bank, the FinTech charter will be a “national association” in the National Bank Act sense of the term.  As the saying goes, membership will have its privileges (and burdens):  capital requirements, examinations, and federal preemption of certain state laws.
  • Eligibility for qualified applicants that plan to conduct activities “within the business of banking.”  Pursuant to existing OCC regulations, a limited-purpose national bank not engaging in fiduciary activities “must conduct at least one of the following three core banking functions:  receiving deposits; paying checks; or lending money.”  In its FinTech charter announcement, the OCC notes that it “views the National Bank Act as sufficiently adaptable to permit national banks to engage in traditional activities like paying checks and lending money in new ways.  For example, facilitating payments electronically may be considered the modern equivalent of paying checks.”
  • A requirement for a commitment to “financial inclusion.”  We will see how this element is administered.  In theory it provides a non-depository parallel to the Community Reinvestment Act (“CRA”).
  • Publication and comment period.  Just as for other types of national banks, applications will feature newspaper publication requirements and will be generally subject to public review and comment.

The OCC stated that its decision to open the door for this new form of national bank “is consistent with bi-partisan government efforts at federal and state levels to promote economic opportunity and support innovation that can improve financial services to consumers, businesses, and communities.”  Comptroller Otting added:

Providing a path for fintech companies to become national banks can make the federal banking system stronger by promoting economic growth and opportunity, modernization and innovation, and competition.  It also provides consumers greater choice, can promote financial inclusion, and creates a more level playing field for financial services competition.

Treasury’s report is consistent with these themes, noting, “A forward-looking approach to federal charters could be effective in reducing regulatory fragmentation and growing markets by supporting beneficial business models” and that the OCC should proceed with “thoughtful consideration” of FinTech charter applications.  Treasury also calls out specifically the need for updating regulations that relate to data aggregation, for addressing those which have become “outdated” in light of technological advances (e.g., in the mortgage lending and servicing space, according to Treasury), and for a regulatory approach that enables “responsible experimentation” in the financial sector.

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GDPR Considerations for Community Banks

The May 25, 2018, compliance effective date of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is just weeks away, and many U.S.-based companies have at least by now taken stock of their EU customer base and operations, and developed a baseline set of compliance plans.  For many, that might only entail a data inventory and controls that would ensure that changes to the company’s business plan, advertising strategies, and physical footprint would be assessed for GDPR compliance in advance, just as with any other area of compliance.  However, for companies whose business relies upon the gathering and use of consumer data, the GDPR implementation process has been onerous.

In particular, as recent American Banker coverage has described, this compliance effort is hitting financial institutions of all sizes hard.  While the exact nature and magnitude of enforcement exposure is still unclear, U.S. banks should take a broad view of their overseas business – including where U.S. customers temporarily work or travel – in order to stay ahead of GDPR compliance issues.

For U.S.-based small businesses, including community banks, the conventional wisdom has focused on whether the institution solicits or services EU customers.  Unfortunately this approach may cause banks or other businesses to underestimate their potential exposure.

For purposes of the GDPR, compliance obligations for companies without a physical presence in the EU are generally only implicated if the company (1) offers goods and services in the EU or (2) monitors the behavior of EU customers (referred to affectionately as “data subjects” in the regulation).

Of particular concern for community banks is whether tourists, foreign work assignments, or overseas service members could cause the bank to become subject to GDPR obligations.

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Why Your Board Should Stop Approving Individual Loans

In this the new era of banking, our clients are continually looking for ways to enhance efficiency and effectiveness at all levels of their organizations. This line of thinking has led to the revolution of the bank branch and the adoption of many new technologies aimed at serving customers and automating or otherwise increasing process efficiency. Perhaps most importantly, however, banks have begun to focus on optimizing their governance structures and practices, particularly at the board level.

(A print version of this post if you’d like to print or share with others is available here.)

As we discuss this topic with our clients, the conversation quickly turns to the role and function of the bank’s director loan or credit committee, which we refer to herein as the “Loan Committee.” We continue to believe that Loan Committees should move away from the practice of making underwriting decisions on individual credits absent a specific legal requirement, and here we set forth the position that this change should be made in order to enhance Board effectiveness, not just to avoid potential liability.

Ensuring Board Effectiveness

Whenever we advise clients with regard to governance, our fundamental approach is to determine whether a given course of action helps or hinders the Board’s ability to carry out its core functions. Defining the core functions of a Board can be a difficult task. Fortunately, the staff of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System recently outlined its view of the core functions of a bank Board. We agree with the Federal Reserve’s outline of these functions as set forth in its proposed guidance regarding Board Effectiveness applicable to large banks, which was based on a study of the practices of high-performing boards. Based on our experiences, many of the concepts expressed in that proposed guidance constitute board best practices for banks of any asset size. The proposed guidance indicates that a board should:

  • set clear, aligned, and consistent direction;
  • actively manage information flow and board discussions;
  • hold senior management accountable;
  • support the independence and stature of independent risk management and internal audit; and
  • maintain a capable board composition and governance structure.

We believe that an evaluation of the board’s oversight role relative to the credit function is a necessary part of the proper, ongoing evaluation of a bank’s governance structure. As it conducts this self-analysis, a board should evaluate whether the practice of underwriting and making credit decisions on a credit-by-credit basis supports its pursuit of the first four functions. We believe that it likely does not.

Considering Individual Credit Decisions May Hinder the Committee’s Ability to Set Overall Direction for the Credit Function.

We have observed time and time again Loan Committee discussions diving “into the weeds” and, in our experience, once they are there they tend to stay there. In most Loan Committee meetings, the presenting officer directs the committee’s attention to an individual credit package and discusses the merits and challenges related to the proposal. Committee members then typically ask detailed questions about the particular financial metrics, borrower, or the intended project, assuming that any discussion occurs at all prior to taking a vote.

While it may sometimes be healthy to quiz officers on their understanding of a credit package, focusing on this level of detail may deprive the Loan Committee of the ability to focus on setting direction for the bank’s overall loan portfolio. In fact, in many of the discussions of individual credits, detailed questions about the individual loan package may in fact distract from the strategic and policy questions that really should be asked at the board level, such as “What is the market able to absorb with regard to projects of this type?” and “What is our overall exposure to this segment of our market?”

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Frenemies: Gaining Efficiency Through Shared Services

the-bank-accountBryan Cave colleagues Ken Achenbach and Sean Christy join Jonathan and me on this episode of The Bank Account to examine the ability of banks to gain efficiency through shared services.  Throughout the business environment, business are looking to out source all non-core competencies.  Ken and Sean explore the opportunity for banks to similarly explore the opportunity for banks to join forces to purchase outsourced services and invest in technology platforms together. By working together, banks can leverage buying power and share the burden associated with evaluating their vendor options.

You can follow most of us on Twitter.  Jonathan is @HightowerBanks, I’m @RobertKlingler, and Sean is @SeanChristy.  Following Ken on Twitter is difficult, as he has, so far, refused to access that part of the internet.  Our producer, Sam Katz, is @SamathaJill1.

Note:  This episode was recorded before the University of Florida announced it was cancelling this weekend’s football game against Northern Colorado due to Hurricane Irma.  The Gators drought in offensive touchdowns will therefore continue at least another week.  We hope everyone stays safe.

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Counter-Cyclical Thoughts About D&O Insurance

It can be a challenge, when economic times are relatively good, to take time away from thinking about new opportunities to discuss topics like D&O insurance.  Even though I am biased, I’ll admit that, in those times, discussing the risks of potential liability and how to insure those risks can feel both a pretty unpleasant and a pretty remote thing to be discussing.  However, like all risk-related issues, it is precisely in those times when business is going well that a little bit of counter-cyclical thinking and attention can do the most good over the long haul.

As you approach your next D&O policy renewal – and particularly in the 30-60 days prior to the expiration of your current policy, there are a few things that you may want to consider.

Multi-year endorsements – what’s the catch? 

In good times, many insurers will offer packages styled as multi-year policies, usually touted as an option that allows for some premium savings and perhaps a reduced administrative burden.  However, as with all things, these advantages may come with a catch.

Many multi-year endorsements will reserve to the insurer the discretion to assess additional premium on an annual basis within the multi-year period if the risk profile of the bank changes in a material way.  So premium savings may not ultimately be realized, depending on the facts.

Beyond this, some multi-year endorsements will actually impose additional requirements on the insured to provide notice of events that could trigger the carrier’s repricing rights or other conditions.  Those obligations may be triggered when those events occur on an intra-period basis, which can set up a potential foot-fault for an organization that does not keep those requirements front of mind (which can be a practical challenge, as if those events are happening, it is likely that there are a number of issues competing for management and the board’s attention).

Companies looking at multi-year endorsements should make sure they understand fully the terms on which the multi-year option is being provided and should have counsel or an independent broker review the specific language of the proposed multi-year endorsement itself on their behalf.  In addition, while it may be tempting to use a multi-year endorsement to try to extend the renewal horizon and to try to reduce the administrative burden that comes with the renewal process, doing so may also reduce your ability to negotiate appropriate enhancements to your policy terms over the multi-year period.

Multi-year policies may be the right fit for your institution, but they should not be viewed as a one size fits all solution.  Before heading down that road, ask yourself how much is being saved and how real those savings actually are and, perhaps just as importantly, whether avoiding a broader discussion of your coverage strategy on at least an annual basis is a good thing or not.

What about the bank has changed? 

Times of economic expansion often bring with them opportunities to explore new lines of business.  In addition, substantial recent technological innovations in the financial services industries and increasing consumer demands for technological solutions have meant that not only are new market opportunities being explored but that they are being explored in new ways.  And if that isn’t enough, there is always the ever-changing regulatory and compliance landscape to contend with.

All of these trends – as well as your decisions of where and how your institution will choose to participate (or not to participate) in them – bring with them new and different risks.  To the extent that your bank has expanded its offerings, changed its footprint or portfolio mix, or otherwise changed its policies or ways of doing business, you should think about how those changes may impact your insurance needs.  It can be easy, particularly when you have a long relationship with an incumbent carrier, for the renewal process to become somewhat rote.

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Regulators Tackle Board Effectiveness and Overdrafts

the-bank-account

On the latest episode of The Bank Account, Jonathan and Ken Achenbach discussed the Federal Reserve’s proposed supervisory expectations for boards of directors.

Before digging into the Federal Reserve’s proposed guidance, Jonathan and Ken first discussed the CFPB’s statistical analysis of frequent overdrafters.  As noted in the CFPB’s analysis, “very frequent overdrafters account for about five percent of all accounts at the study banks but paid over 63 percent of all overdraft and NSF fees.”  They also touched on the CFPB’s prototype model forms for overdrafts.   As might be expected from the CFPB, the sample forms do a good job of highlighting the economic consequences of utilizing overdrafts, but not mention the potentially significant benefits (tangible and psychological) that can be provided by allowing such payments to proceed.

As noted by Jonathan and Ken, the Federal Reserve’s proposed supervisory guidance identifying expectations for boards of directors of banking holding companies would only apply to institutions with consolidated assets of $50 billion or more.  However, we believe the guidance is appropriate for all bank directors to look at, particularly as it draws on the Federal Reserve’s experience with approaches that improve bank governance.

Per the Federal Reserve guidance, effective boards are those which:

  1. set clear, aligned, and consistent direction regarding the firm’s strategy and risk tolerance;
  2. actively manage information flow and board discussions;
  3. hold senior management accountable;
  4. support he independence and stature of independent risk management (including compliance) and internal audit; and
  5. maintain a capable board composition and governance structure.

We believe this Federal Reserve guidance is consistent with our advice that boards need to get out of the weeds and focus on the big picture, a topic we have addressed on earlier podcasts as well.

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Regulatory Supervision of Third Party Service Providers

the-bank-accountWith Jonathan and I attending the Georgia Bankers Association’s 125th Annual Meeting, Bryan Cave colleagues Ken Achenbach and Sean Christy broke into our podcasting studio to record an episode of The Bank Account looking at vendor negotiations through a regulatory lens.

The FDIC’s Office of Inspector General’s Report on Technology Service Provider Contracts provides another source of regulatory guidance that needs to be considered while negotiating vendor contracts.  Ken and Sean look at the evolving state and federal framework of regulatory oversight of service providers, and how banks should adopt to this framework in contract negotiations.

You can follow Sean on Twitter at @SeanChristy.  Ken doesn’t need Twitter; he’s already following you.

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Convenience vs. Compliance: Behavior-Driven Marketing of Credit Products

the-bank-account Bryan Cave colleague Ken Achenbach joined Jonathan and me on the latest episode of The Bank Account for a discussion of the potential compliance issues associated with a behavior-driven marketing focus within financial services.  To borrow the immortal words of Salt-N-Pepa, should banks “Push it?  Push it real good?”

While new app technologies are allowing banks to market in new ways, we analyze many of the ways in which behavior-driven marketing already permeates our culture, and why financial services-based behavior-driven marketing may be treated differently.  Some of the articles referenced on the podcast include:

You can also follow us on Twitter with Jonathan at @HightowerBanks and me at @RobertKlingler.  Ken cannot be followed on Twitter, as Ken’s thoughts cannot be limited to 140 characters.

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Georgia on my Mind: Changes in Banking Laws

the-bank-accountOn March 28, 2017, Jonathan and I sat down with Bryan Cave Colleagues Ken Achenbach and Crystal Homa in the latest episode of The Bank Account for a discussion focused on legislative changes in Georgia affecting banks, including modifications to Georgia’s business judgement rule and the Department of Banking & Finance’s Housekeeping Bill.

While the bills we discuss await the Governor’s signature (and subsequent effectiveness – July 1 for the business judgement rule change and 30 days after signature for the housekeeping bill), our team looks forward to the practical effect of these statutory changes.  As banking industry participants, we appreciate the efforts of the legislature to make Georgia an attractive state for banking.

As referenced in the podcast, we also encourage you to check out our prior The Bank Account episode about the role of bank directors post FDIC v. Loudermilk, and Crystal’s earlier post on providing banking services to minors.

You can also follow us on Twitter with Jonathan at @HightowerBanks, Crystal at @CrystalHoma and me at @RobertKlingler.  Ken cannot be followed on Twitter, as Ken’s thoughts cannot be limited to 140 characters.

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