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帮助金融科技公司?CFPB监管沙盒的优势不止于此

国际资讯监管与政策

帮助金融科技公司?CFPB监管沙盒的优势不止于此

美国消费者金融保护局(后文简称CFPB)在金融科技沙盒领域发展迅猛,并希望借此去除限制新公司的监管阴影。但其实,沙盒的作用不仅仅是推动创新。

观察者认为,不只是创业公司需要测试环境。要想成功实施,CFPB沙盒必须克服一个明显的缺陷,即金融科技公司发展迅速的同时缺乏合适的监管制度来监控风险。

咨询公司Protiviti的风险与合规管理总监Shelley Metz-Galloway表示:"金融科技公司在监管要求限制范围外运营有三大优势,发展迅速、竞争力强、能够吸引大量消费者用户。

CFPB代理主管Mick Mulvaney对扩大CFPB在推动科技创新方面的努力表现出明显的兴趣。今年5月份,他提出了沙盒的想法,并一再表示希望调整前任主管设立的金融科技部门。7月份,他宣布雇佣一名亚利桑那州律师,这位律师之前曾在当地负责创建美国首例沙盒,现在主管CFPB新设的创新办公室,负责沙盒创建。

就像英国已经广泛运用的沙盒一样,沙盒带来的优势是双向的。创业公司可在免罚的环境下进行试验,而CFPB等监管机构能够了解更多信息,确定公司目前是否处于监管边缘。

但也有人认为,CFPB承诺在产品测试阶段不施加消费者保护规则,这可能会导致金融科技公司出现不必要的不正当行为。

旧金山个人金融网站NerdWallet首席执行官、CFPB消费者咨询委员会(现已解散)前成员Tim Chen表示:"CFPB认为法规过于严格而限制了创新,对于这种说法,我并不赞同。"

Chen说道:"创业公司应该建立更好的框架确保消费者不会违法,而不是尝试利用法律与大银行业务之间的空白地带获利,并且认为自己规模比较小,不会有人追究。这不是创新该有的样子。"

上周,美国财政部针对金融科技行业发布了一份报告,要求CFPB、通货审计官办公室和其他监管机构创建"监管沙盒",以"实现与行业的稳健互动"。

CFPB前主管Richard Cordray首次尝试为金融科技公司实现免罚环境的计划在很大程度上被认为已经失败。该计划被称为Project Catalyst,CFPB向感兴趣的公司签发"免诉讼"信函。这个想法旨在推进创业公司和监管机构之间的接触,同时减少参与公司面临的执法诉讼威胁。

Cordray在任期间,CFPB仅签发了一封免诉讼信函给网贷机构Upstart Network。行业许多人认为CFPB工作不到位,而且CFPB仍在计划针对金融科技公司提起执法诉讼。

Mulvaney先是终止了Project Catalyst计划,重新命名为创新办公室,并雇佣了Paul Watkins作为主管,后者之前担任过亚利桑那州司法办公室的金融科技方案主管。

Mulvaney在最近的会议上表示,重新开始的计划"可以帮助正常盈利的合法公司将产品推向市场,银行领域的创新确实有所保留,因为行业一直以来的规则都是不要做任何有风险的事,确保安全、稳定、合法。"

支持者认为沙盒最大的优势就是为那些将产品开发凌驾于法律合规性之上的公司提供了便利。

Ballard Spahr的律师Scott Pearson认为:"CFPB的计划是让金融科技公司在受控的环境下测试自己的产品,这样监管机构可以了解他们的发展情况,并据此给出建议。选择沙盒方案,公司无需准备充分开发的合规系统,这样便可以用更低的成本来测试产品。"

Pearson说CFPB计划在Mulvaney在任期间重新签发之前的免诉讼信函,保护公司免受私人诉讼和执法诉讼的困扰。

Metz-Galloway认为对于知晓自己已违反监管要求的公司来说,沙盒还可以降低监管风险。

她表示:"金融科技公司一般事后才会考虑法律合规性问题。他们的目的就是赚钱,这点与在传统银行从业二三十年的人并不同。他们率先表示感兴趣,因为他们知道自己违反了法律规定,这样可以向监管机构表明态度,并计划在不受罚的情况下缩小差距。"

Watkins之前在亚利桑那州开展过一个项目,那里的金融科技沙盒最近已经开始接受申请,他在CFPB的工作就是创建一个同样的项目。

金融科技免罚的主要风险之一就是数字化公司使用更新的认购和营销模式,这种情况下,他们可以择优挑选自己的客户群,更容易违反消费者保护法。

乔治梅森大学法学教授Todd Zywicki表示:"许多金融科技模式都以使用大数据和新认购方式为前提,如公用事业付款、社交媒体发帖,以吸引传统金融体系以外的人群。如果一家公司开始使用不同的数据,例如提供高度定制的信贷产品,这种定制产品将很快带来差异性影响。"

Zywicki表示Project Catalyst在Cordray在任期间无法继续发展的主要原因就是对公平借贷问题的顾虑。

"将创新从想法变为现实一直都是个问题,"Zywicki说道。

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is moving quickly on a fintech sandbox to remove the regulatory cloud from new firms, but the effort is about more than just fostering innovation.

It's not just startups that need a testing ground, observers say. For it to be successful, a CFPB sandbox must also help the agency correct an obvious flaw: Fintech is moving forward without an adequate regulatory regime to monitor risks.

"Fintech firms have an advantage by operating outside of the constraints of regulatory requirements that allows them to be very rapid, hypercompetitive and capture a large consumer base," said Shelley Metz-Galloway, a managing director of risk and compliance at the consulting firm Protiviti.

Acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney has shown clear interest in expanding the agency's efforts to promote tech innovation. He floated the idea of a sandbox in May, and has repeatedly said he wants to reorient the bureau's fintech unit begun under previous leadership. In July, he announced the hiring of an Arizona lawyer, who had led creation of the first-in-the-nation sandbox in the state, to also lead the CFPB effort through the bureau's new Office of Innovation.

The advantages of a sandbox - like the one already flourishing in the United Kingdom - are twofold. Startups can experiment without fear of punishment. But regulators like the CFPB also benefit by learning more about firms that up to now have been on the regulatory fringes.

"Regulators are trying to get out in front of a problem that they haven't yet solved for, which is very rapid change in the financial services market," Metz-Galloway said.

But others say the CFPB, by promising not to impose consumer protection rules during a product testing period, runs the risk of giving fintech firms an unnecessary giveaway.

"I disagree with the framework that the regulations are overly stringent such that innovation cannot happen," said Tim Chen, the CEO of NerdWallet, a San Francisco-based personal finance website and a former member of the CFPB's now-disbanded consumer advisory board.

"What startups should be doing is building a better mousetrap to help consumers that doesn't break the law rather than trying to arbitrage the gap between the law and what the big banks feel comfortable doing and what [a fintech firm] can do because they're tiny and no one will come after them," Chen said. "That isn't the right type of innovation."

Last week, the Treasury Department issued a report on the fintech industry directing the CFPB, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and other regulators to create "regulatory sandboxes" and "to pursue robust engagement efforts with industry."

The CFPB's initial attempt under former Director Richard Cordray to create a carve-out for fintech firms - alleviating them from certain regulatory requirements - was largely seen as a failure. Through the effort, then known as Project Catalyst, the CFPB designed "no-action" letters for interested firms. The idea was to encourage contact between startups and the regulator, while reducing the threat of enforcement actions for participants.

Under Cordray, the CFPB issued only one such letter - to the online lender Upstart Network. But many in the industry said the agency's efforts were insufficient and the CFPB still planned to pursue enforcement actions against fintech firms.

Mulvaney has essentially ended Project Catalyst, renaming it as the Office of Innovation and hiring Paul Watkins, a former head of fintech initiatives at the Arizona attorney general's office, to head it.

"This is an avenue for legitimate and properly capitalized companies to bring products to market - there's been a real hesitation to innovate in the banking sector because they've all been told don't do anything risky, don't do anything that isn't safe and sound and lawful," Mulvaney said of the renewed effort at a recent conference.

Proponents say the biggest benefit of a sandbox is for firms that have prioritized their product development over regulatory compliance.

"What the CFPB is doing is allowing fintechs to test their products in a controlled environment where regulators are looking at what they're doing and can give advice along the way," said Scott Pearson, a lawyer at Ballard Spahr. "The sandbox option makes it possible to test a product at lower cost because the company would not have to have a fully developed compliance system."

The CFPB is expected to start reissuing traditional no-action letters under Mulvaney that provide immunity from private litigation and enforcement actions, Pearson said.

Metz-Galloway said a sandbox could also ease the regulatory risk for firms that already know they have committed regulatory errors.

"Regulatory compliance is an afterthought for financial technology firms," she said. "They are looking to make money, and these are not people with 20 to 30 years of traditional banking experience. Their interest in coming in out of the cold is because they know they are already in violation and can demonstrate to regulators and plan to address the gap without penalty."

Watkins is expected to create a program at the CFPB that mirrors what he launched in Arizona. The fintech sandbox in the state recently started accepting applications.

One significant risk with a fintech carve-out is that digital-based firms using newer underwriting and marketing models, with which they can potentially cherry-pick their customer base, make them particularly prone to consumer protection violations.

"A lot of the fintech models are premised on using big data and new underwriting methods, like utility payments or social media posts, to bring in people outside of the traditional financial system," said Todd Zywicki, a law professor at George Mason University. "When a company starts using different data like that it becomes a highly tailored credit offering and tailored offerings can end up with disparate impact fairly quickly."

Zywicki said concerns about fair-lending issues were a major reason Project Catalyst failed to make more headway under Cordray.

"That has always been the problem, taking innovation from the drawing board to implementation," Zywicki said.

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