Tag Archive for: Regulatory

(New York, NY):  Last month, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency published its proposal to debut a national bank charter specifically for fintech companies and invited public comment on potential implications of the measure.  Auriemma responded to the OCC’s request with a comment letter assessing the proposal’s possible effects on non-bank lenders, payment companies as well as traditional banks.

The core of the OCC proposal is offering a national banking charter to a segment of fintech companies, such as payments technology and marketplace lenders, that provides recipients with the ability to forgo deposits (and skip the FDIC insurance process), while still having the advantages of a national bank charter. For fintech companies with consumer lending businesses, this is especially useful in simplifying pricing, as a national bank charter would allow such companies to select one domicile for determination of rates and regulations and to “export” them to consumers in other geographical areas.

Currently, non-bank lenders are often in contractual relationships with “originating” banks as a way to indirectly achieve national bank advantages, such as avoiding the “state-by-state” regulatory compliance model historically used by non-bank finance companies. The new charter would eliminate the need for an originating bank and allow the OCC to more directly regulate these activities.

Fintech firms would be primarily regulated by the OCC, but this proposal makes clear that all other relevant regulators would still be involved (e.g., a public company would still be regulated by the SEC also).  If a fintech bank elected to be an FDIC depository, for example, the FDIC would also be a key regulator. (Among the most unique features of the charter is that the FDIC insurance is not a requirement, but rather an election.)

Should the proposal move forward, it could also signal a flow of new equity capital moving into the banking sector. (Many institutional equity investors had been sidelined by the current interplay of the Bank Holding Company Act and the FDIC insurance requirement.) This would mark a return of the same investors who flocked to the non-bank fintech companies to participate in consumer credit without these regulatory impediments.

Still up in the air: the appropriate level of regulatory capital that would be needed by a fintech bank. While a non-FDIC insured institution presents no risk to the FDIC guaranty fund, it may still present systemic/contagion risks. Similarly, a non-FDIC insured institution would not fall under the Community Reinvestment Act, but the OCC will still expect fintech companies to address financial “inclusion.” It remains to be seen how this could be addressed outside of the CRA framework.

Since the OCC published its proposal, political opposition has emerged.  Some state Attorneys General and Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore) are questioning the new charter, saying it is a way to avoid state usury and compliance laws.  Although the OCC did not expect this to become a partisan issue, it now appears likely to become one.

Ultimately, we view this proposal as the OCC offering fintech companies national bank preemption in exchange for direct supervision.  While fintech companies have always had the option of becoming a bank, the new charter makes this more acceptable to institutional equity investors while simultaneously safeguarding the insured deposit base.  Clearly, the OCC is open to revisiting some traditional bank regulatory matters from a new vantage point.

 About Auriemma Group

Auriemma is a boutique management consulting firm with specialized focus on the Payments and Lending space. We deliver actionable solutions and insights that add value to our clients’ business activities across a broad set of industry topics and disciplines. For more information, contact John Costa at (212) 323-7000.

Ever since former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke took extraordinary measures to resuscitate the economy, the capital markets have been awaiting a return to “normalcy.” It’s been a long wait.

As the markets anticipate the September FOMC meeting, everyone is wondering whether Janet Yellen will continue the current Fed Funds interest rate stance or catalyze a long- awaited interest rate increase cycle.  Either move would be controversial.

Financial luminaries such as former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and New York Fed President William Dudley have strongly urged the Fed to hold off on increasing rates, at least for the September meeting if not for the remainder of 2015, fearing that a rate increase may cause an economic contraction.  Yet the strengthening US economy, as well as some other global factors, may argue for commencing the long delayed rate increase.

With its historic mandate, the Fed must balance the twin objectives of “full employment” as well as “price stability.”  Since the end of the last recession, the Fed has been continually seeking to stimulate economic growth while keeping to its goal of a 2% inflation rate.  With inflation well below its target, and only limited signs of pressure on wage growth, the Fed certainly has had plenty of leeway to continue its historic monetary accommodation.

In addition to the tepid economic expansion in the US, the Fed board members are also weighing the impact of other external events in their rate deliberations.  The recent devaluation of the Chinese currency, as well as the massive correction in the Chinese stock market, may further support a delay in the increase of the Fed Funds rate.  While the US economy may not have to worry about a “contagion” effect from China (equity volatility notwithstanding), a slowing Chinese economy further reduces the demand for global energy.  With oil already trading at much lower levels, a significant further reduction in demand will cause even further price softening.  This reduces inflationary pressure, giving the Fed additional latitude to forbear a rate increase.

In the current environment, the cards seem to be stacked against a Fed rate increase. An increase would likely harm U.S. exports, due to an appreciation of the dollar against most world currencies.  And while any Fed Rate increase would be modest and gradual, the increasing rate cycle would reallocate capital from the US equities markets to the risk-free fixed income markets.  Both trends would weaken economic expansion, and increase the odds of a recession.

The Fed isn’t facing a red-hot U.S. economy. Inflation is below target. The U.S. economy is performing better than its counterparts in China and the Eurozone. So why bother with a rate increase at all?  The U.S. stock market volatility last week offers a clue.  In some cases, a delay (or a “relent” in the current vernacular) of an expected rate increase can trigger an overreaction by the market. Panicked investors would be asking, what does the Fed see that we don’t see?  Things must be worse than we thought!

The case for and against a rate increase will be argued right up until the September FOMC meeting.  Intervening events, such as a new round of volatility or, conversely, significant gains in employment and wage growth, make this a real cliffhanger.  Moreover, the Fed hasn’t forgotten the market gyrations that ensued when the gradual elimination of Quantitative Easing was first discussed (remember the “taper tantrum”?). To avoid a similar market reaction they will be reluctant to back away from their signaled rate increase.

Our view is that the Fed will not increase rates in September, but will characterize the decision as a short delay with an October increase all but certain.  This allows the Fed to take the safer route of delaying a rate increase, betting that a bout of inflation is not in the offing, while maintaining its credibility.  In times of volatility the markets appreciates the Fed’s discretion.

–John Costa, Managing Director, Auriemma Finance

(London): Consumer satisfaction with credit cards has seen a steady increase since 2012, suggesting that the investments issuers have made in communicating the value and benefits of credit cards are paying off, according to Auriemma Group’s UK Cardbeat.® This syndicated online research publication was conducted in February 2015 among 442 UK cardholders. While the industry scored better for each of the factors measured, the improved satisfaction is mostly attributed to higher levels of trust in protecting information, and clarity surrounding credit card terms, signifying that recent efforts by banks have not gone unnoticed.

The Auriemma Industry Satisfaction Index (ISI) is a trended measurement of consumer satisfaction with credit cards, and has seen a stable rise over the past 4 years (69.6 in 2015 vs. 61.6 in 2012). While the industry posted an increase in each of the factors measured, the largest gains were among “I trust credit card companies to protect my personal information” (averaging 6.8 vs. 5.9 in 2012) and “Rules, terms and conditions are easy to understand(5.6 vs. 4.4 in 2012). While this higher rating demonstrates progress, there is still substantial room for further improvement in transparency by banks, which the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has prioritised since early 2014.[1] The organisation identified areas they believe are not working in the best interest of some consumers, and hope to build a detailed picture of the credit card market to identify which actions should be taken.

“Improving consumer education through easily-understood marketing has been a priority in the industry for quite some time, and it’s encouraging to see consumers are recognising the efforts that have been made,” say Marianne Berry, Managing Director of the Payment Insights practice at Auriemma. “Even before the FCA’s most recent push, banks were already headed in the right direction.”

The research shows additional signs of improved consumer knowledge, specifically regarding APRs. In 2012, less than one-quarter (22%) were able to indicate the interest rate on the outstanding balances on their most frequently used credit card. Over the past four years awareness has steadily risen, and the proportion has doubled to nearly half (45%). Among revolvers, the group most impacted by APRs, awareness is even higher, with 6 in 10 able to specify their interest rate.

Following a similar line of inquiry to the work the FCA is doing, Auriemma’s upcoming issue of UK Cardbeat® will focus on opportunities for consumer education and improvement. “Providing notification is no longer enough; we need to ask cardholders what aspects of financial education they want more of. Efforts tend to be unsuccessful without a thorough understanding of what the consumer hopes to learn, and by what means we can successfully deliver this information. Our forthcoming research aims to unveil just that” says Berry.

Survey Methodology

The study was conducted online within the United Kingdom by an independent field service provider on behalf of Auriemma Consulting Group in February 2015 among 442 credit card users (“cardholders”). The number of interviews completed on a monthly basis is sufficient to allow for statistical significance testing between sub-groups at the 95% confidence level ± 5%, unless otherwise noted.

 About Auriemma Group

Auriemma is a boutique management consulting firm with specialised focus on the Payments and Lending space. We deliver actionable solutions and insights that add value to our clients’ business activities across a broad set of industry topics and disciplines.

[1] http://www.fca.org.uk/news/credit-card-market-study

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