President of Philadelphia Fed Makes an Argument for FinTech Regulation

In prepared remarks at the “Global Interdependence Center’s Payment Systems in the Internet Age” Conference, Philadelphia Fed President Patrick T. Harker said that regulating the evolving FinTech industry benefits not only consumers, but also the innovators. While Harker did not speculate as to whether the Fed will become involved in FinTech regulation, he stated that it is in the best interest of FinTech companies “to have an established framework in which to operate.” He cautioned, however, that “all financial systems are a matter of trust” and thus FinTech firms will “need that trust the same as any other bank or financial institution.” Harker noted that regulations will help determine which companies can survive the “down side” of a credit cycle, but implementing regulations after a “crisis. . . could mean tighter strictures and less room for innovation.”

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Texas Appeals Court Holds Email “From:” Line to be a Valid Electronic Signature Under State’s Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA)

On December 22, in an unpublished decision, a Texas Court of Appeals held that an email exchange constituted an executed contract between two individuals under the state’s enactment of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (“UETA”). Khoury v. Tomlinson, No. 01-16-00006-CV (Tex. App. Dec. 22, 2016). The dispute involved an email sent from Appellant to Appellee, which outlined terms of an agreement to repay investment funds. Appellee responded to the email, stating “We are in agreement,” but did not type his name or include a signature block at the end of his message. A jury found that an electronic contract was formed by this exchange, but the trial court granted the Appellee’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the basis that the electronic contract violated the state statute of frauds. On appeal, the Appellant invoked the UETA, arguing that the email satisfied the writing requirement of the statute of frauds because it was an electronic record and that the header, which included a “From:” field bearing the Appellee’s name, constituted Appellee’s signature because that field serves the same “authenticating function” as a signature block. The appellate court agreed that the email was an electronic record sufficient to satisfy the writing requirement in the statute of frauds.

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CFTC Extends Public Comment Period for Regulation Automated Trading (Reg AT) to May 1

On January 23, the CFTC extended the comment period for the supplemental proposal for Regulation Automated Trading (Regulation AT) from January 24 to May 1. Acting CFTC Chairman Chris Giancarlo recently announced his intention to “allow more time for public comments on the proposal” in light of “the complexity of the supplemental notice and the well-reasoned requests from interested parties.”  Initially proposed in November 2015, the CFTC released a revised version of the rule in November 2016 in response to concerns expressed by trading firms over, among other things, the requirement that they make their source code available to the agency without a subpoena. All comments will be posted on the CFTC’s website.

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Coinbase Gets NY BitLicense, Clearance For Its Operations

On January 18, the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) announced that it had approved the application of Coinbase, Inc., for a virtual currency and a money transmitter license. According to NYDFS, the license was issued to Coinbase—a digital currency wallet that facilitates transactions with Bitcoin and other virtual currencies—only after “a comprehensive review of Coinbase’s applications, including the company’s anti-money laundering, capitalization, consumer protection, and cyber security policies.”  Having met the New York regulator’s standards for operations in the state, Coinbase may now operate, under supervision by NYDFS, as a service for buying, selling, sending, receiving and storing Bitcoin.

As previously covered in InfoBytes, NYDFS’s BitLicense framework—which was finalized back in June 2015—requires virtual currency companies to submit a 31-page application providing information covering, among other things:  (i) written policies and procedures including, but not limited to BSA/AML, cybersecurity, privacy and information security, (ii) company information, (iii) biographical information on company directors and stockholders, and (iv) an explanation of the methodology used to calculate the value of virtual currency in fiat currency. In addition, the NYDFS released a set of FAQs to help clarify the BitLicense requirements. To date, NYDFS has approved five firms for virtual currency charters or licenses, while denying those applications that did not meet its standards.

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NYDFS Submits Comment Letter Opposing OCC FinTech Charter

On January 17, the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) Superintendent Maria T. Vullo submitted a comment letter in stern opposition to the OCC proposal to create a new FinTech charter, stating that the proposed regulatory scheme is not authorized by federal law and would create a number of problems, including a serious risk of regulatory confusion and uncertainty. New York’s top financial regulator is of the opinion that “the OCC should not use technological advances as an excuse to attempt to usurp state laws.” More specifically, NYDFS’ contends, among other things, that: (i) state regulators are better equipped to regulate cash-intensive nonbank financial service companies; (ii) a national charter is likely to stifle rather than encourage innovation; (iii) the proposal could permit companies to engage in regulatory arbitrage and avoid state consumer protection laws; and (iv) a national charter would encourage large “too big to fail” institutions, permitting a small number of technology-savvy firms to dominate different types of financial services.

An interview of Superintendent Vullo discussing this topic may be accessed here.

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POSTED IN: Digital Commerce, State Issues