Federal Reserve Appoints Faster Payments Strategy Leader

On July 30, the Federal Reserve announced the appointment of Sean Rodriguez as its Faster Payments Strategy Leader. Rodriguez serves as a Senior Vice President at the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank. In his new role, Rodriguez will lead the Federal Reserve’s Faster Payments Task Force focusing on improving the speed and efficiency of various current and emerging payment systems. More information related to the Federal Reserve’s efforts to improve the U.S. payment system is available at fedpaymentsimprovement.org.

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Federal Reserve Announces Members of Faster Payments and Secure Payments Task Force

On July 21, the Federal Reserve Board of Governors announced the members of the Faster Payments and Secure Payments Task Force as described in the Strategies for Improving the U.S. Payment System white paper released earlier this year. The committees will advise the Federal Reserve task force chair on meeting agendas, and help prioritize various task force activities, among other payments initiatives. The members include various interest groups representing industry, tech, and government, among others. More information about the task forces and the Fed’s payments improvement initiatives can be found at fedpaymentsimprovement.org.

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CFPB Recommends Consumer Protection Principles for Faster Payment Networks

On July 9, the CFPB issued a set of guiding principles aimed to help private industry better protect consumers as new, faster electronic payment systems continue to emerge. “While American consumers benefit from and make use of these payment systems, there remain opportunities to improve efficiency, reduce transaction costs for consumers, and reduce credit and fraud risks,” the CFPB’s announcements stated. Accordingly, the principles advocate for more secure, transparent, accessible, and affordable networks for consumers, and recommend proposals concerning funds availability, fraud and error resolution, and privacy concerns. The Bureau’s announcement comes as the Federal Reserve is currently engaged in an initiative to improve the U.S. payment systems network.

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Financial Action Task Force Issues Guidance Urging Risk-Based Approach to Virtual Currencies and Services

On June 29, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) issued a report, Guidance for a Risk-Based Approach to Virtual Currencies,part of a staged approach focusing on the points of intersection that provide gateways to the regulated financial system, in particular, convertible virtual currency exchangers.  The Guidance explains the application of the risk-based approach to AML/CFT measures in the virtual currency context, identify the entities involved in virtual currency payment products and services (VCPPS), and clarify the application of the relevant FATF Recommendations to convertible virtual currency exchangers.  The guidance provides, among other things, recommendations and encourages member nations to adopt regulations and guidelines similar to those applicable to traditional financial institutions to reduce risk exposure to the banking system.

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Fed Governor Discusses Payment Security

On June 25, Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell delivered remarks at a payments conference hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas to discuss improvements to the U.S. payments system. Specifically, Powell advised that payment system participants must work together to improve the payment system, stating “[A]t a minimum, banks, merchants, and other institutions that process or store sensitive financial information need to keep their hardware and software current to the latest industry standards.” He noted that the Federal Reserve has established two task forces regarding the U.S. payment system, one geared towards faster payments and the other geared towards payment security. Powell cited the use of EMV chip cards and tokenization technology as examples of effective payment security measures. In addition, Powell discussed the importance of proactive efforts to implement preventative measures to prepare for potential cyber-attacks or data breaches.

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OCC Comptroller Discusses Emerging Payment Systems Technology and Cybersecurity, FFIEC Set to Release Cybersecurity Assessment Tool

On June 3, in prepared remarks delivered at the BITS Emerging Payments Forum, OCC Comptroller Thomas Curry advised that as financial institutions continue to develop payment systems, banks need better preparation for potential cyber-risks. Curry warned that “[c]yber criminals will also probe emerging payment systems for vulnerabilities that they can exploit to engage in money laundering[.]” In addition, Curry advocated for more regulatory oversight of digital currencies and non-bank mobile payment providers, such as ApplePay and Google Wallet. Addressing cybersecurity concerns, Curry called for increased information-sharing to promote best practices and strengthen cybersecurity readiness among the banking industry. In particular, he urged financial institutions – of all sizes – to participate in the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center, or FS-ISAC, a non-profit founded by the banking industry to facilitate the sharing and dissemination of cybersecurity threat information.  Moreover, Curry confirmed that the FFIEC will soon be releasing a Cybersecurity Assessment Tool for financial institutions to use when evaluating their cybersecurity risks and risk management capabilities, observing that the tool will be particularly helpful to community banks as cybersecurity threats continue to increase.

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Digital Insights & Trends: How Will Banks Deal with Millennials and Their Money?

Fair Isaac shared some eye-popping statistics on the financial preferences and habits of the so-called “millennial” generation, born in the early 1980s or 90s. Also called Generation Y, 75+ million millennials have a much greater propensity to use mobile financial apps than their Gen X predecessors or Baby Boomers. Financial institutions will soon confront “millennials and their money” issues.

When dealing with money and finance, millennials demand convenience and relevance. Millennials are the social generation – inextricably entwined with social media and eager participants in the sharing economy. They share restaurant and bar tabs with the Venmo app rather than writing checks to each other or swiping multiple cards. But don’t just take our word for it – watch the FICO videos, and this is what you’ll hear: it’s “10 times faster,” millennials are “connected all the time,” and mail from banks is “weird and annoying.” Even phone calls may be passé; some millennials don’t answer if they don’t recognize the caller’s number. Read more…

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Tokenization Introduced to Tackle Cyber Crime

On November 3, a large financial services company announced the rollout of its Token Service (Service) for online, mobile app, and in-store mobile purchases. The Service is designed to increase security and reduce magnetic-stripe card fraud. Based on EMVCo’s Payment Tokenization Specification and Technical Framework, the Service offers four main features: (i) token vault to store and designate tokens; (ii) ability to issue tokens; (iii) lifestyle management services to manage tokens; and (iv) anti-fraud and risk management services for institutions issuing the cards. The Service is currently available in the U.S. and is scheduled to launch internationally in 2015.

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Fed Issues Final Rule Affecting Financial Market Utilities, Updates Policy on Payment System Risk

On October 28, the Federal Reserve announced its final rule to amend Regulation HH, standards for financial market utilities (FMUs) that have been designated as systemically important by the FSOC. The new rule will implement a common set of risk-management standards for all designated FMUs and revise certain definitions. Further, the Fed also announced final revisions to part 1 of its Federal Reserve Policy on Payment System Risk. The final rule and revisions to the policy are based on the Principles for Financial Market Infrastructureswhich were developed jointly by the Committee on Payment and Settlement Systems and the International Organization of Securities CommissionsSpecifically, the amendments and revisions will establish (i) separate standards to address credit risk and liquidity risk; (ii) new plans for recovery and orderly wind-down; (iii) new standards on general business risk and on tiered participation arrangements; and (iv) increased requirements on transparency and disclosure. The final rule will be effective on December 31, 2014. FMUs have until December 31, 2015 to comply with specific additional requirements set forth in the rule.

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Payment Cards Security Standards Organization Publishes Third-Party Security Assurance Guidance

On August 7, the PCI Security Standards Council (PCI SSC), the open global forum responsible for setting payment security standards, published an information supplement titled “Third-Party Security Assurance Guidance,” which is designed to help organizations and their business partners reduce payment data risk from third-party operations. In November 2013, the PCI SSC updated two data security standards. The first, PCI DSS, applies to entities involved in payment card processing—merchants, processors, acquirers, issuers, and service providers, as well as all other entities that store, process or transmit cardholder data, and the second, PA DSS, applies to software vendors and others who develop payment applications that store, process, or transmit cardholder data as part of authorization or settlement, where these payment applications are sold, distributed, or licensed to third parties. The new guidance supplements certain PCI DSS requirements related to when a merchant or entity shares cardholder data with a third-party service provider. Specifically, the supplemental guidance provides “practical recommendations” on how to: (i) conduct due diligence and risk assessment when engaging third-party service providers; (ii) implement a consistent process for engaging third-parties; (iii) develop appropriate agreements, policies, and procedures with third-party service providers; and (iv) implement a process for maintaining and managing third-party relationships through the lifetime of the engagement.

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UK Chancellor Announces Plans, Ambitions For Financial Technology Industry

On August 6, in remarks at a financial technology conference, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, outlined the UK government’s plans for the UK to become a world leader in financial innovation and financial technology. Mr. Osborne noted the UK’s science and technology resources and its history of leading the way in financial innovation. He called for new means of banking and payments for consumers and businesses that go beyond just viewing statements online and that “bypass traditional banks altogether, and lend money directly – through peer-to-peer platforms.” Mr. Osborne believes that “with the right backing from government,” London can become “the Fin Tech capital of the world.” To that end, he detailed the government’s plans to support financial innovation, including by: (i) establishing an appropriate tax regime for the industry; (ii) committing funds for government investment programs; (iii) establishing a favorable regulatory regime; (iv) creating a new partnership between Innovate Finance and the British Business Bank to champion financial innovation and technology; and (v) launching a “major program of work exploring the potential of virtual currencies and digital money.” For example, as part of the regulatory changes, Mr. Osborne described several pieces of legislation, including those that will: (i) require the large UK banks to “pass on information on small businesses they reject for loans, so that FinTech Companies and alternative lenders can step in and offer finance instead”; and (ii) allow consumers to use their smart phones to pay in checks.

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Federal Reserve Board Reports On Prepaid Cards, Domestic Payments

Recently, the Federal Reserve Board released two payments-related reports: (i) a report to Congress on government-administered general use prepaid cards; and (ii) a detailed report on the Federal Reserve’s 2013 payments study. The report on government-administered prepaid cards analyzes the $502 million in fee revenue collected by issuers in 2013, a majority of which was attributable to interchange fees. For consumer-related fees, the report indicates such fees derived primarily from ATM-related charges. The second report details findings from the 2013 Federal Reserve Payments Study, the fifth in a series of triennial studies conducted by the Federal Reserve System to comprehensively estimate and study aggregate trends in noncash payments in the United States. The paper expands on the 2013 summary findings originally published last December, and includes, among many other things, the following new findings: (i) credit cards are more prevalent than other general-purpose card types; (ii) among general-purpose cards with purchase activity in 2012, consumers preferred debit cards, with an average use of 23 payments per month, compared with an average of 11 payments per month for general-purpose credit cards and 10 payments per month for general-purpose prepaid cards; (iii) although the number of ATM cash withdrawals using debit cards and general-purpose prepaid cards dropped slightly, growth in the value of ATM withdrawals continued to exceed inflation; (iv) the number of online bill payments reported by major processors, which included those initiated through online banking websites and directly through billers and settled over ACH, exceeded three billion in 2012; and (v) there were more than 250 million mobile payments made using a mobile wallet application, and at least 205 million person-to-person or money transfer payments.

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Trade Group White Paper Assesses Virtual Currency Landscape

On June 23, the ICBA and The Clearing House published a white paper on virtual currency that (i) defines virtual currency and describes the current regulatory environment; (ii) describes key players in the Bitcoin system; (iii) discusses the application of certain functional and prudential payment system regulations that may be applied to the Bitcoin system and other convertible decentralized virtual currencies; and (iv) evaluates potential regulation of virtual currency, virtual currency investment programs, and exchanges. The paper concludes, among other things, that: (i) credentials used to transact in Bitcoin are functionally similar to prepaid cards and arguably fall within the definition of such cards provided in Regulations E and II; and (ii) the CFPB may determine that cross-border transactions in Bitcoin fall within the scope of the CFPB’s Remittance Transfer Rule, which would require entities facilitating such transfers to comply with the rule’s disclosure, reversibility, and error-resolution requirements. The paper discusses potential safety and soundness oversight for entities in the Bitcoin system. It also suggests that existing regulations intended to protect consumers and market participants in the event of the failure of a securities or commodities exchange may be inapplicable to Bitcoin exchanges, and that alternative means of protecting investors and accountholders—such as disclosure requirements and coordinated state-level registration of exchanges—should be explored.

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FDIC Restricts Bank’s Card Businesses Pending BSA Compliance Enhancements

On June 5, the FDIC and a Delaware bank entered a consent order that prohibits the bank from entering into any new relationships with third-party prepaid card processors or prepaid card program managers until the FDIC approves a written report from the bank that details the steps taken by the bank to (i) implement new BSA compliance policies and procedures; (ii) improve staff training; (iii) implement controls sufficient to mitigate BSA and safety and soundness risk associated with prepaid card, credit card merchant acquiring, and ACH activities; and (iv) perform a BSA risk assessment. The order similarly restricts the bank’s activities related to credit card merchant acquiring and ACH merchant payment processing. The order does not prohibit the bank from issuing prepaid cards through existing distribution channels under existing contracts with third-parties, but does restrict certain activities related to existing credit card and ACH processing activities. In addition, the bank must (i) retain and designate BSA and OFAC officers; (ii) conduct a suspicious activity reporting look-back review; and (iii) submit periodic progress reports. Finally, the order requires increased board supervision of the bank’s BSA compliance program and mandates the creation of a board-level BSA committee.

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House Oversight Committee Report Challenges DOJ’s Operation Choke Point

On May 29, the House Oversight Committee released a staff report on Operation Choke Point, DOJ’s investigation of banks and payment processors purportedly designed to address perceived consumer fraud by blocking fraudsters’ access to the payment systems. The report provides the following “key findings”: (i) the operation was created by DOJ to “choke out” companies it considers to be “high risk” or otherwise objectionable, despite the fact that those companies are legal businesses; (ii) the operation has forced banks to terminate relationships with a wide variety of lawful and legitimate merchants; (iii) DOJ is aware of these impacts and has dismissed them; (iv) DOJ lacks adequate legal authority for the initiative; and (v) contrary to DOJ’s public statements, Operation Choke Point is primarily focused on the payday lending industry, particularly online lenders. The findings are based on documents provided to the committee by DOJ, including internal memoranda and other documents that, among other things, “acknowledge the program’s impact on legitimate merchants” and show that DOJ “has radically and unjustifiably expanded its [FIRREA] Section 951 authority.” The committee released the nearly 1,000 pages of supporting documents, which are available in two parts, here and here.

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