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Fintech企业申请ILC受质疑,只因传统机构害怕竞争

今年,SoFi和Square两家金融科技创企先后发起工业贷款公司申请。

消息一出,就在工业贷款公司和联邦存款保险方面引发了不小的讨论,主要集中在两个方面:

  1. 到底什么是对工业贷款公司的恰当监管?
  2. 应该允许fintech平台和传统银行同台竞争吗?

这场争论焦点并不是申请人的资格,而是传统银行对于新兴创新竞争者的恐惧以及联邦储蓄保险公司(后文简称FDIC)和美联储间对工业贷款公司(后文简称ILC)监管权的古老争夺战。

ILC背景介绍

工业贷款公司即州政府特许银行,由FDIC和合适的州监管机构监管,不受银行控股公司制度管理。这就使得ILC控股公司能够绕开美联储的监管而控有一家银行,同时还保留商业实体身份。美联储向来反对ILC特许,而FDIC却因此有机会对一切全球大型企业进行监管。

事实上,FDIC对于ILC的监管和美联储对于银行控股公司(即经营商业银行的公司)其实没有多大区别。

Milken机构2011年一份关于ILC的报告指出"(ILC)与其他任何银行所受的限制、要求、监管、合规和安全稳健检查是一样的。"(注:SoFi是Milken机构的资金提供者之一。但SoFi没有参与此篇报道,这篇报道尽体现作者观点。)

其实,相比于传统商业银行,ILC在吸收存款类型上面临更多的限制。过去50年间,国会慢慢地通过立法减少了商业公司可以控股的联邦担保机构的种类。比如:

  1. 1956年的《银行控股公司法案》允许商业公司控股一家银行、非银行、多个非银行储蓄机构、单一经营储蓄机构和ILC。
  2. 1967年的《储蓄和贷款控股公司法案》禁止商业公司持有各种储蓄性机构。
  3. 1999年的《Gramm-Leach-Bliley法案》甚至禁止商业公司持有控股单一经营储蓄机构,虽然该法案不溯及既往。

因此ILC是非金融公司仅存的能够控股的银行特许机构,也就是唯一绕过美联储监管的银行特许机构。

ILC监管问题引发重重讨论

但那些将ILC视为绕过美联储监管的一个漏洞的人士仍有话可说。一些人认为美联储比FDIC能够更好地监管一家机构的稳健性。然而之前的监管人员却指出过,FDIC和州政府有足够的法定权力来监管ILC控股公司。

不过,反对fintech公司申请ILC特许或者特殊目的全国银行特许的观点也确实值得考虑。比如,他们提出的问题中就包括怎样才能最佳应用《社团再投资法案(CRA)》来监管特许fintech机构。美国货币监理署和其他法律制定者包括Reps、Gregory Meeks、D-N.Y、Cedric Richmond和D-La正在研究这一问题。再次关注已有40年之久的CRA(以及总体有效性)怎样能够在一个日益数字化的世界中得到应用是顺应潮流的。

但其他的一下批评就没那么有道理了。反对SoFi申请的人总是错误地抱怨fintech公司没有任何监管。这一反对意见没有考虑过,过去各式非银行平台向美国监管机构提交的有关联邦和州法规合规要求的大量意见。这些反对者和那些强烈反对银行和第三方借贷平台合作的人是同一批人,虽然这种合作FDIC似乎默许了。他们同样也反对货币监理署为fintech公司量身打造一个特殊目的银行特许以寻求监管平衡,同时他们强烈反对FDIC给予SoFi ILC许可。

讽刺的是,SoFi和Square此番申请特许所做的是寻求更多的监管,而不是逃避监管。给予他们特许能够将他们和银行放在同等监管条件下,而这一直是主流金融机构所希望的。获取ILC特许意味着公司需要符合又一个监管机构(FDIC)的规定。这应该视为银行业以及倡导fintech透明度和监管的消费者的一场胜利。而且SoFi和Square申请所承受的严密检查(这还是会带来更多监管)都没有向那些计划重组或抛弃银行控股公司模式的银行运用。

最近,Ozarks银行董事长兼首席执行官George Gleason将银行控股公司描述为"历史的糟粕",而且"那种结构导致的多余的行政、会计和监管成本完全就是浪费钱"。Bancorpsouth董事长兼首席执行官Dan Rollins说他公司的重组"将去除冗余的公司基建和活动,帮助减轻重复的监管负担"。这两家银行都抛弃了银行控股公司模式以带来更高的效率和更精简的公司流程。

总而言之,这方面的担心往往是害怕竞争,而不是表面看上去的监管问题。因为害怕新兴创新企业,华盛顿地区的传统行业执业者创造了大量阻碍创新的壁垒。有人曾经警告称,SoFi和Square进入银行市场将会为科技巨头如苹果、Alphabet和亚马逊打开大门。尽管没有任何证据,但苹果、Alphabet和亚马逊的现金存量和市场价值远超几大银行。

也许这场争论不应该关注哪一种特许将提供最多的监管,而应该看看以前的监管框架是否仍适合今天的数字化金融服务市场。现在早已不是1950年代。SoFi和Square的申请为FDIC提供了一个重新检查滞留于过去的监管体系的机会。fintech公司面临着愈加复杂的运营环境,他们的商业计划与许可和监管遗产相冲突。对他们来说,ILC是向客户提供可能更具吸引力的新选择的方式;这么做的同时他们也同意受到更多监管。传统银行总是提到需要一个公平的竞争环境。难道这些申请不是向之迈进的一步吗?

The bids by tech firms Social Finance and Square for industrial loan company charters and federal deposit insurance have rekindled debate over two questions: What is the appropriate regulatory oversight for industrial loan companies, and should fintech platforms be allowed to compete with traditional banks?

Many of the arguments in this debate have less to do with either applicant’s qualifications than with traditional banks’ fear of new, innovative competitors, and with a decades-old turf war between the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Federal Reserve over the regulation of ILCs.

By way of background, ILCs, state-chartered banks supervised by the FDIC and appropriate state regulator, are exempt from bank holding company rules. This allows ILC parents to bypass Fed oversight and own a bank while being a commercial venture. The ILC charter has historically been opposed by the Fed, while it gives the FDIC the potential to examine some of the largest corporations in the world.

Truth be told, the differences between the FDIC’s regulation of ILCs and the Fed’s supervision of bank holding companies — which operate commercial banks — are minute. A 2011 report by the Milken Institute on ILCs notes that they are subject to the “same restrictions and requirements, regulatory oversight, compliance, and safety and soundness exams as any other kind of bank.” (Disclosure: SoFi is a financial supporter of the Milken Institute. However, it was not involved in the preparation of this op-ed, which represents the opinion of the authors.)

In fact, ILCs face greater restrictions on the types of deposits they are allowed to offer compared to commercial banks. Moreover, as our 2011 report mentions, over the past 50 years Congress has passed legislation slowly gutting the types of federally insured institutions commercial companies can own. The Bank Holding Company Act of 1956 allowed commercial firms to own one bank, nonbanks, multiple thrifts, unitary thrifts and ILCs. However, the Savings and Loan Holding Company Act of 1967 prohibited commercial firms from owning multiple thrift companies. Finally, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 prohibited commercial firms from owning even unitary thrifts, although it grandfathered existing ones. That left ILCs as one of the last bank charters that can be owned by nonfinancial companies and that can bypass Fed oversight.

But none of this quiets those who view ILCs as a loophole that can be used to avoid Fed oversight. Some may argue that the Fed’s mandate allows better scrutiny of an institution’s soundness than the FDIC can provide. However, former regulators have confirmed that the FDIC and state governments have sufficient statutory authority to oversee ILC holding companies.

That said some of the concerns raised by opponents of fintech firms receiving ILCs or seeking a special-purpose national bank charter do deserve consideration, including the question of how best to apply the Community Reinvestment Act to chartered fintech institutions. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and various lawmakers, including Reps. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., and Cedric Richmond, D-La., are studying this issue. A refocus on how the nearly 40-year-old CRA is applied (and its overall effectiveness) in an increasingly digital environment is warranted.

But some of the other criticism has less merit. Opponents of SoFi’s application frequently — and wrongly — complain that fintechs are not regulated. This opposition fails to consider the volume of comments submitted by various nonbank platforms to U.S. regulatory agencies in the past detailing the types of federal and state regulation they’re subjected to. These critics are some of the same groups that vigorously oppose partnerships between banks and third party lenders, despite what looks like tacit approval by the FDIC. They also have opposed efforts by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to find regulatory balance by creating a more tailored, special-purpose national bank charter for fintech firms, while putting similar pressure on the FDIC to decline SoFi’s ILC application.

What is ironic is that SoFi and Square are actually asking for more regulation, not less, by seeking a charter. This would put leading nonbank fintech providers on more equal regulatory ground with banks — something that mainstream financial institutions say they want. Getting an ILC would add yet another agency — the FDIC — to the regulatory labyrinth the companies must navigate. This should be considered a win for banking industry and consumer advocates who favor more transparency and oversight of fintechs.

Even more notable, the intense scrutiny of SoFi and Square’s applications, which again would bring more regulation, has not been applied to certain banks that plan to restructure and ditch the bank holding company model altogether. In one recent case, Bank of the Ozarks’ Chairman and CEO George Gleason called bank holding companies a “vestige of the past,” adding that the “redundant administrative, accounting, and regulatory cost of that infrastructure was really just wasted money.” Meanwhile, BancorpSouth Chairman and CEO Dan Rollins stated that his company’s reorganization “will eliminate redundant corporate infrastructure and activities and will help alleviate the burden of duplicative regulatory oversight.” Both banks jettisoned the bank holding company model to derive greater efficiencies and more streamlined compliance processes.

Simply put, competitive concerns are masquerading as regulatory issues. Fear of new and innovative companies is driving certain industry and consumer advocates with a sizable presence in Washington to want to erect new barriers, warning that SoFi and Square’s entry into the banking market opens the door for tech giants such as Apple, Alphabet and Amazon to do the same. Such claims are unsubstantiated warnings of a potential problem with the resilience of tech-based holding companies. Yet Apple, Alphabet and Amazon have cash reserves and market capitalizations that far exceed any of the top banks.

Perhaps the debate should focus less on which type of charter offers the most oversight and focus more on whether regulatory frameworks written for another century make sense in today’s digitally driven financial services marketplace. We’re no longer living in the 1950s. SoFi and Square’s applications offer the FDIC the opportunity to reexamine a regulatory system beholden to the past.

Fintech firms like SoFi and Square face an increasingly complex operating environment, in which their business plans run counter to legacy licensing and regulatory regimes. For them, the ILC is a way to offer their consumers new and potentially more appealing choices, while agreeing to be subjected to more regulatory oversight in order to do so. Traditional banks often talk about the need for a level playing field. Aren’t these applications a step in that direction?


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