How Regulators Could Foster the Fintech Sector


fintech-innovation-3-30-16.pngRegulators can’t afford to wait any longer in developing a framework for their oversight of the fast-rising fintech sector. The number of fintech companies, and the amount of investment in them, is growing too rapidly for regulators to hope that they can supervise the sector by applying existing regulations for banks to fintech companies on an ad-hoc basis. That will only create gaps in regulators’ monitoring of the sector, and confusion among fintech companies trying to grasp the complexities of financial regulation in the U.S. Such gaps and confusion are already evident: Many fintech companies are failing to implement best practices in securing customer data, and many of them are also unaware of how existing regulations apply to them.

I addressed the security issue in a previous article, but regulators should be just as concerned with clearing up the confusion in the market. That’s because the government has a legitimate interest in encouraging fintech growth, which would be boosted by a clear regulatory framework. Some fintech companies serve customers that have been ignored by banks in recent years, bringing them into the financial system. For instance, companies like OnDeck Capital, Kabbage, Lendio, Square, and others are filling the credit needs of small businesses that banks have been hesitant to lend to ever since the Great Recession. Regulators should be careful about imposing standards that gash this new source of credit for underserved small businesses. Also, some new technologies that fintech startups are working on, like the blockchain, can improve regulation and compliance throughout the financial services industry.

Build Relationships Early
How can regulators help foster innovation without sacrificing security and integrity in the financial system? For one, they should start their interactions with fintech companies as early as possible to encourage innovation while also safeguarding customers. This means providing guidance to companies while they are still developing and experimenting with their solutions, so companies can incorporate compliance into their products early on. If regulators wait to offer guidance until after products have already been developed or released on to the market, then regulators will become an unnecessary obstacle to innovation.

U.K. regulators are taking steps to develop relationships with fintech startups early on to offer guidance on their solutions. At the end of 2014, the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced it would launch a regulatory “sandbox” where fintech companies could test new solutions. When companies use the sandbox, the authority waives some of the compliance requirements normally applied to pilot tests for new products. Banks can also use the sandbox, and the authority guarantees that it won’t take enforcement action at a later date regarding any tests that the banks run. The sandbox experiment will go live later this year, and U.S. regulators should watch it carefully and explore similar initiatives.

Eliminating Confusion
Regulators also need to give fintech companies a hand in navigating the complexity of the U.S. financial regulatory system. There are so many different regulations and so many different agencies enforcing them, it creates a landscape that can easily overwhelm a small startup. Banks can sympathize with this issue; but fintech companies don’t have the compliance budget, knowledge and experience that banks do.

One way to eliminate all of this confusion would be to create a separate regulatory agency for fintech companies, but there are such a wide variety of fintech companies now offering solutions in almost every category of financial services, one agency couldn’t deliver effective oversight with such a broad scope of coverage.

Instead, existing regulators need to be more proactive in their outreach with fintech companies. Engaging with new startups as early in their development as possible will help with this. Regulators could further eliminate some of the confusion in the market by creating a central registry for newly formed fintech companies before they launch their products. The registry would collect some information about the company and its work. That information could then be used to determine which regulatory agencies it should report to, and provide some guidance on which requirements it must be mindful of.

Some fintech companies will certainly be averse to more regulatory oversight. However, a more refined regulatory framework that ensures security and eliminates confusion will be a blessing for the fintech sector. Right now fintech regulation is a big question mark, and a critical risk for fintech investors. Removing that risk will improve investors’ confidence in the fintech sector, helping fintech companies gain the venture capital they need to get off the ground.

How Regulators Could Foster the Fintech Sector


Fintech-innovation.png

Regulators can’t afford to wait any longer in developing a framework for their oversight of the fast-rising fintech sector. The number of fintech companies, and the amount of investment in them, is growing too rapidly for regulators to hope that they can supervise the sector by applying existing regulations for banks to fintech companies on an ad-hoc basis. That will only create gaps in regulators’ monitoring of the sector, and confusion among fintech companies trying to grasp the complexities of financial regulation in the U.S. Such gaps and confusion are already evident: Many fintech companies are failing to implement best practices in securing customer data, and many of them are also unaware of how existing regulations apply to them.

I addressed the security issue in a previous article, but regulators should be just as concerned with clearing up the confusion in the market. That’s because the government has a legitimate interest in encouraging fintech growth, which would be boosted by a clear regulatory framework. Some fintech companies serve customers that have been ignored by banks in recent years, bringing them into the financial system. For instance, companies like OnDeck Capital, Kabbage, Lendio, Square, and others are filling the credit needs of small businesses that banks have been hesitant to lend to ever since the Great Recession. Regulators should be careful about imposing standards that gash this new source of credit for underserved small businesses. Also, some new technologies that fintech startups are working on, like the blockchain, can improve regulation and compliance throughout the financial services industry.

Build Relationships Early
How can regulators help foster innovation without sacrificing security and integrity in the financial system? For one, they should start their interactions with fintech companies as early as possible to encourage innovation while also safeguarding customers. This means providing guidance to companies while they are still developing and experimenting with their solutions, so companies can incorporate compliance into their products early on. If regulators wait to offer guidance until after products have already been developed or released on to the market, then regulators will become an unnecessary obstacle to innovation.

U.K. regulators are taking steps to develop relationships with fintech startups early on to offer guidance on their solutions. At the end of 2014, the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced it would launch a regulatory “sandbox” where fintech companies could test new solutions. When companies use the sandbox, the authority waives some of the compliance requirements normally applied to pilot tests for new products. Banks can also use the sandbox, and the authority guarantees that it won’t take enforcement action at a later date regarding any tests that the banks run. The sandbox experiment will go live later this year, and U.S. regulators should watch it carefully and explore similar initiatives.

Eliminating Confusion
Regulators also need to give fintech companies a hand in navigating the complexity of the U.S. financial regulatory system. There are so many different regulations and so many different agencies enforcing them, it creates a landscape that can easily overwhelm a small startup. Banks can sympathize with this issue; but fintech companies don’t have the compliance budget, knowledge and experience that banks do.

One way to eliminate all of this confusion would be to create a separate regulatory agency for fintech companies, but there are such a wide variety of fintech companies now offering solutions in almost every category of financial services, one agency couldn’t deliver effective oversight with such a broad scope of coverage.

Instead, existing regulators need to be more proactive in their outreach with fintech companies. Engaging with new startups as early in their development as possible will help with this. Regulators could further eliminate some of the confusion in the market by creating a central registry for newly formed fintech companies before they launch their products. The registry would collect some information about the company and its work. That information could then be used to determine which regulatory agencies it should report to, and provide some guidance on which requirements it must be mindful of.

Some fintech companies will certainly be averse to more regulatory oversight. However, a more refined regulatory framework that ensures security and eliminates confusion will be a blessing for the fintech sector. Right now fintech regulation is a big question mark, and a critical risk for fintech investors. Removing that risk will improve investors’ confidence in the fintech sector, helping fintech companies gain the venture capital they need to get off the ground.

Silver Lining for Community Banks: Using New Regulations to Your Advantage


4-18-14-Crowe.pngIn recent days and months, there has been much discussion about the challenges small banks face to comply with increased regulatory requirements, particularly those stemming from the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Though the costs of compliance have increased and can prove burdensome, especially to small banks, industry observers and participants who approach the requirements with a glass-half-empty attitude are missing an important opportunity: If community banks take a strategic approach to compliance, they can differentiate themselves from the competition.

Going Beyond the Minimum
The benefits of thoughtfully implementing new regulatory requirements have been demonstrated in the past. Consider the know-your-customer requirements that mandated that banks obtain more information about their customers’ behavior to better verify customer identities, which in turn helps identify suspected money laundering activities. When the requirements went into effect, some banks simply did the minimal amount that was required.

Other banks took a more strategic approach. Some saw the new information-gathering requirements as the chance to truly get to know their customers better and enhance the level of service they provide. For example, some institutions developed dynamic discussions with account applicants, with bank staff varying their follow-up questions based on the information new customers provided. These fluid conversations were designed to create better account-opening experiences and to yield insightful data to better serve customers and support new product and service development.

Setting a Community Bank Apart
Community banks can take steps to successfully combine compliance efforts with a focus on enhancing customer service.

  • Fully integrate new regulations for a consistent customer experience. Given the multitude of regulations being implemented during the next several years and their potential impact on bank customers, compliance efforts must be embedded into existing processes. An approach that bolts new systems or processes onto existing ones typically is inefficient and leads to inconsistency that could have a negative effect on customers’ experience with the bank and the bank’s ability to effectively comply with new regulations.
  • Spread compliance-minded professionals bank-wide. It is no longer cost effective or time efficient for a community bank to rely exclusively on its compliance department as the sole line of defense in the bank’s efforts to comply with new regulations. Regular communication with and training of existing personnel is critical to instituting a culture of compliance. When hiring new employees, community banks should seek out professionals who are operationally focused and capable of integrating new regulations and compliance activities into operations.
  • Create open lines of communication. When all those at a community bank expand their focus to include new regulatory requirements, continuous communication is necessary to prevent duplicating efforts. Consider the example of a proactive underwriting manager who invested in a fair-lending tool to boost his department’s compliance activities. Unfortunately, the manager did not inform the bank’s compliance officer, who had already implemented a different fair-lending tool. Regular meetings between lines of business and members of the compliance team will foster more effective and efficient systems of compliance.
  • Seek input from business leaders who understand customer needs. The leaders who manage a bank’s lines of business are accountable for day-to-day activities and are in the best position to recognize how regulatory changes could affect customers. Bringing business leaders into the decision-making process early and often can make the difference between a problematic compliance framework and a solid program that operates as designed and fosters growth of the business.
  • Focus on what the bank does well. Some community banks are jettisoning lines of business that are no longer profitable, especially as they analyze overall rising expenses as well as costs specifically associated with compliance. This is an opportunity to focus exclusively on areas where the community bank excels in serving clients.

    Conversely, competitors eliminating lines of business also can provide community banks with an opportunity to fill a market void and strengthen their competitive position. These types of decisions should be made in the context of market analysis that identifies opportunities and risks.

Small but Mighty
Every bank, regardless of size, will encounter challenges in meeting new regulatory requirements. Finding the silver lining in increased compliance efforts and costs can position community banks as stronger, more competitive, and more focused on their customers’ needs than ever before.