Financial Institutions

On May 2, 2019, a court in the Southern District of New York (“SDNY”) held that the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”) lacked the statutory authority to charter nondepository special purpose national banks (the so-called “FinTech Charter”).  In denying, with one exception, the OCC’s motions to dismiss claims by New York’s Department of Financial Services (“DFS”), the Court held that the OCC could not charter a nondepository “national bank” because the National Bank Act “unambiguously requires that, absent a statutory provision to the contrary, only depository institutions are eligible to receive national bank charters from the OCC.”  
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On April 3, 2019, staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission released (1) a framework providing principles for analyzing whether a digital asset constitutes an investment contract, and thus a security, as defined in SEC v. W.J. Howey Co. and (2) a no-action letter permitting TurnKey Jet, Inc., without satisfying registration requirements under the Securities

The United States offers an innovative and diverse marketplace along with a sound infrastructure for new cryptocurrency and digital asset businesses.  However, the U.S. regulatory framework for digital asset businesses creates significant barriers to innovation and risks frittering away the potential benefits of the U.S. markets’ creativity. One of the chief challenges for today’s cryptocurrency businesses, especially those offering exchange, trading, or custody services, is the fragmented and inconsistent state law framework currently applied to many of those businesses. 
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On February 26, 2019, Steven Maijoor, the Chair of the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA), delivered a keynote speech to the 3rd Annual FinTech and Regulation conference in Brussels.  In his speech, he highlighted ESMA’s recent initiatives in the crypto-asset and distributed ledger technology (DLT) space and noted ongoing areas of focus.
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On November 12, 2018, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (“MAS”) released guidelines for financial services firms to consider when they make decisions related to artificial intelligence and data analytics (“AIDA”).  The guidelines, entitled “Principles to Promote Fairness, Ethics, Accountability and Transparency (FEAT) in the Use of Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics in Singapore’s Financial Sector” (the “Principles”), are believed to be the first AIDA guidelines issued by a central bank or financial regulator, and emphasize the importance of fairness, ethics, accountability and transparency in how firms utilize AIDA with respect to their customers. 
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On November 16, 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Division of Corporation Finance (“Corp. Fin.”), Division of Investment Management, and Division of Trading and Markets issued a joint public statement on “Digital Asset Securities Issuance and Trading.”  The public statement is the latest in the Divisions’—and the Commission’s—steady efforts to publicly outline and develop its analysis on the application of the federal securities laws to initial coin offerings (“ICOs”) and certain digital tokens.  These efforts have combined a series of enforcement proceedings with public statements by Chairman Jay Clayton and staff, including a more detailed statement of the SEC’s analytical approach in Corp. Fin. Director William Hinman’s speech on digital assets in June 2018.
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On September 26, 2018, a federal court in the District of Massachusetts found that virtual currencies are a commodity under the Commodity Exchange Act, 7 U.S.C. § 1 et seq, (“CEA”). This marks the second time that a court has accepted the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s (“CFTC”) position and upheld the agency’s authority to regulate unleveraged and unmargined spot transactions in virtual currency under the agency’s anti-fraud and manipulation enforcement authority.  Most notably, however, the reasoning behind its decision potentially expands the scope of the CFTC’s oversight of the market.
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On Tuesday, September 11, 2018, Judge Raymond J. Dearie of the Eastern District of New York issued a decision holding that Initial Coin Offerings (“ICO”) may qualify as securities offerings and therefore be subject to the criminal federal securities laws.  This ruling came as two U.S. regulators—the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”)—announced separate actions under securities laws against companies engaged in the cryptocurrency marketplace, including the sale of digital tokens.  As the popularity of cryptocurrencies grows and businesses and entrepreneurs increasingly turn to ICOs to raise capital, these developments may serve as guideposts for how cryptocurrencies and ICOs will be viewed by courts and federal regulators in cases to follow.
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This week, the New York Department of Financial Services (“NYDFS”) announced approval for its two licensed FinTech-oriented state trust companies, Gemini Trust Company LLC and Paxos Trust Company LLC (formerly known as itBit Trust Company), to offer a new type of cryptocurrency referred to as a Stablecoin.  The Gemini Dollar (“GUSD”) and Paxos Standard Token (“PAX”) are designed to be collateralized one-for-one by the U.S. dollar, and will permit payment for other assets traded on blockchains with instant settlement and minimal transaction costs. As described, GUSD and PAX are issued only when a customer of Gemini or Paxos deposits a corresponding amount of U.S. dollars, which are always held in a reserve account by the issuer on behalf of GUSD and PAX holders.  At all times under this framework, Gemini or Paxos are required to hold, in a fiduciary capacity, at least as much fiat currency as GUSD and PAX in circulation.
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Artificial intelligence and machine learning (for simplicity, we refer to these concepts together as “AI”)[1] have been hot topics in the financial services industry in recent years as the industry wrestles with how to harness technological innovations.  In its report on Nonbank Financials, Fintech, and Innovation released on July 31st, the Treasury Department (“Treasury”) generally embraced AI and recommended facilitating the further development and incorporation of such technologies into the financial services industry to realize the potential the technologies can provide for financial services and the broader economy.

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