, ,

Executive Letter: Holding Fintech Companies Accountable

Rose Oswald PoelsBy Rose Oswald Poels

Every fall, I travel to Washington D.C. with a small group of bankers to visit regulators. During this trip, we nearly always meet with staff from Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Since CFPB’s inception, we inevitably encourage the CFPB staff during each of these annual visits to focus more on the non-bank financial organizations that operate in the traditional “banking” space. Nearly every time we have this conversation, they nod and share that they provide this type of supervision typically through a complaint-based system. This means that if enough consumers complain about a particular financial organization (not a regulated bank), they will investigate and take whatever action they deem appropriate. Certainly, this has been incredibly frustrating for bankers to hear over the years given that many non-bank actors contributed to the causes of the Great Recession back in 2008 and 2009 and CFPB’s mission is that of protecting consumers. It has been too easy for CFPB to focus on the banking industry through their rulemaking and enforcement authorities since banks are easier to find with traditional brick-and-mortar offices.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn recently, however, that the CFPB has focused some of its attention on the non-bank financial industry by assessing fines to fintech companies for actions that have ultimately harmed consumers. Specifically, CFPB recently levied a $2.7 million fine against lender Hello Digit for a range of issues including misleading marketing claims such as “no overdraft fees.” This claim of no overdraft fees was one of several promises made to consumers by Hello Digit that were, in fact, not always true. Other fintechs have made similar claims regarding no overdraft fees as well, including digital lender Chime, that have turned out to be misleading or only true in a limited set of circumstances.

At the same time, the FDIC recently issued cease and desist orders against five crypto firms for making false or misleading statements suggesting that their digital assets were FDIC-insured. According to the FDIC, each of these companies made false representations on their website and social media accounts stating or suggesting that certain crypto-related products are FDIC-insured or that stocks held in brokerage accounts are FDIC-insured. As we all know, these representations are false and misleading.

There are many fintechs that are working to do the right thing and help improve the financial industry through technological efficiencies, but some reasonable level of regulation and oversight is important for these institutions just like banks. These recent regulatory actions against non-bank financial organizations are good reminders that it is important to continue sharing our concerns with regulatory agencies related to non-bank actors and to continue to stress to our clients and the public how trustworthy banks are.

If you are interested in accompanying me on a future fall regulatory agency trip to D.C., please let me know and I will add you to the list. I try to keep the group small, limited to 12 bankers, to ensure meaningful dialogue with the regulatory agencies. Bankers who have joined me in the past have found this trip to be worthwhile given much of our frustration and burden comes from regulation. In the meantime, WBA will continue to advocate for the members on these and other issues affecting the industry.