Why the U.S. Regulators’ New Resource on BaaS Relationships is Disappointing

Why the U.S. Regulators’ New Resource on BaaS Relationships is Disappointing

BaaS-enabled banks have been operating in a regulatory minefield recently. Since late 2023, the U.S. FDIC and CFPB have issued multiple consent orders to banks, citing their BaaS relationships as the cause. From the perspective of an onlooker, it appeared that regulators were issuing the consent orders to make examples out of certain players in the industry, foregoing formal BaaS regulation.

This has been particularly troubling for community banks, which often rely on BaaS to adapt to modern consumer preferences by layering the newest fintech tools on top of their legacy core systems, without the need to build technology in-house or update old technology.

In response to this new stress placed on the country’s smallest financial institutions, three U.S. regulators– the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the FDIC, and the OCC– have published a new third party risk management guide for community banks. The guide is intended to supplement the Interagency Guidance on Third-Party Relationships: Risk Management document the agencies published in June of last year.

The agencies’ newly published document may disappoint, however. That’s because the new document does not provide formal Baas regulation by laying out rules by which community banks can abide in order to avoid consent orders. Instead, the new document lays out “potential considerations, potential sources of information, and examples” for risk management, due diligence, contract negotiation, ongoing monitoring, termination, and governance with third parties.

“This guide is intended to assist community banks when developing and implementing their third-party risk-management practices,” the new document states. “This guide is not a substitute for the TPRM Guidance. Rather, it is intended to be a resource for community banks to consider when managing the risk of third-party relationships. This guide is not a checklist and does not prescribe specific risk-management practices or establish any safe harbors for compliance with laws or regulations.”

Baas-enabled banks seeking to navigate third-party relationships may find the new resource frustrating, however. While some of the advice in the document is helpful, the agencies have built a lot of wiggle room for themselves into the document. Ultimately, however, the guidance is better than nothing.

Regardless of what it lacks, both community banks and even larger financial institutions will likely find it useful to compare the guide’s “potential considerations” to their current internal processes. And in the end, the guidance may help deter another tidal wave of consent orders.

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Happy Earth Day. Goodbye, ESG?

Happy Earth Day. Goodbye, ESG?

As we celebrate Earth Day, we’re taking a look at the state of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals in banking and fintech. Recent actions by the House Financial Services Committee suggest that the industry may be losing sight of these ESG objectives.

For years, the financial services industry has been making progress in its efforts to improve ESG policies by incentivizing clients to choose more sustainable investment options, creating safeguards and efficiencies to create a more sustainable industry, engaging in social stewardship, and more. And while many of those efforts are still happening, some of the progress in ESG has slowed.

The House Financial Services Committee, which has recently taken action on banking regulations and environmental policy, voted along party lines to pass Congressional Review Act resolutions that would void measures aimed at promoting ESG goals. The move would invalidate measures that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and other banking regulators initiated to improve regulation around the industry’s ESG efforts.

One of the key resolutions the Committee has its eye on is a CFPB rule capping credit card late fees at $8. While much of the banking industry is in favor of the resolution, saying that it would protect consumers who pay on time, critics argued that it would disproportionately impact low-income and underbanked families.

The House Financial Services Committee also has its eye on climate change in financial regulation. These resolutions are designed to ensure that banks are transparent about their environmental impact and are managing climate-related risks. The lack of current regulation in ESG has resulted in “green-washing” efforts in which financial services companies promote inflated or irrelevant metrics that provide end consumers the appearance that their company, product, or service is more environmentally friendly than it actually is.

These resolutions represent a significant effort by Republicans in Congress to nullify the Biden administration’s financial policies, including those related to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. While they are questioned, However, the resolutions are unlikely to become law due to a lack of Republican votes to overturn a presidential veto.

Photo by Lauris Rozentāls

Silicon Valley Bank Collapse: One Year Later

Silicon Valley Bank Collapse: One Year Later

March 10th marked the one-year anniversary of the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB). While the event isn’t necessarily something to celebrate, it is a great time to reflect on what the industry has learned and how things have change.

Looking back on the aftermath of SVB’s liquidity crisis, we have seen shifts in behavior and strategy that are starting to reshape the landscape for both banks and fintechs. I had the privilege to speak with Law Helie, General Manager of Consumer Banking at nCino, to gain insights into these changes and how institutions are adapting to meet evolving consumer expectations and regulatory demands.

Finovate: We’re approaching the one-year anniversary of SVB’s liquidity crisis. In the past 12 months, how has the industry responded? Have you seen any changes in behavior from banks or fintechs?

Law Helie: Regardless of size, a consistent banking trend is the re-emphasis on building up deposits. After the liquidity crisis last year, banks became more risk-averse and leaned on their deposits as a shield against volatility.

Another trend is the shift to relationship banking via technology. Banks are leveraging cloud-based tools to unlock more data within their organization to better inform and tailor their services to customers for core offerings, including loans, CDs, high-yield savings and more. We expect intense competition around these services as banks prioritize opening multiple service streams with customers to deepen the relationship and hold onto deposits.

Finovate: How will banks approach their spend on fintech following the SVB crisis?

Helie: Expect banks’ spending on fintech tools to grow exponentially. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but the pace of acceleration since SVB is significant as banks seek ways to better compete in a crowded market.

Banks are deploying technology to help understand their cost of funds base, attract deposits, drive internal efficiencies and, most importantly, to help create a sense of stability. As we await more certainty from the Fed around economic forecasting, we expect to see an increase in tech spending, especially at a time when banks’ appetite for increasing efficiency continues to grow at a rapid pace.

Finovate: How about end consumers—both retail and commercial bank customers—have they changed their attitudes and behavior?

Helie: Post-SVB, end consumers in all lines of business are more aware and educated on deposit limit risks that come with over-exposure. Our FIs have told us that their customers are searching for ways to have more security, including wanting to know how they can limit their risk of exposure and how to structure their accounts for FDIC limits. In addition, some of our customers have incorporated the use of CDARS, a Certificate of Deposit Account Registry Service, that can help customers disperse funds into multiple accounts.

The overall attitude and behavior of end consumers is now that they need to pay attention to FDIC limits, disburse their deposits, and have an increased focus on their wealth management. This shift underscores a proactive approach among consumers toward safeguarding their financial assets.

Finovate: Given these behavioral and attitude shifts, how can banks and fintechs adapt to these changes?

Helie: Most banks have siloed systems, meaning there is no singular source of truth for their data. Yet customers don’t think this way – they look at their needs holistically. Serving these customers requires a client-centric model that is efficient and driven toward self-service.

And the more products a customer has with a bank, the stickier they are. In order to retain existing and new depository relationships, banks can best position themselves by providing a wide suite of banking offerings and services, in particular digital offerings.

Banks also have an opportunity to leverage fintechs to gather a 360-degree view of the customer, allowing them to understand what is going on across all accounts. With that information, banks can leverage relationship banking techniques to provide customers with the tailored products and services that they want and need.

Finovate: What impact has SVB’s liquidity crisis had on regulations so far and how are banks and fintechs responding?

Helie: Regulations have been put in place to try and mitigate the risk of another SVB collapse. Despite NYCB’s recent issues, we are not seeing the same level of concern spread to other financial institutions as it seems the public has a better understanding of the underlying reason for the issues NYCB is currently having.

Financial institutions are actively pursuing ways to strengthen their deposits bases by reviewing FDIC limits. Notably, some FIs have taken measures to impose restrictions on the maximum amount of cash that can be held in an account, aligning with the FDIC limit. Fintechs are helping FIs by not only providing the framework for streamlined experiences that help meet customer needs, but also allowing them to responsively acquire new funds for those customers looking to diversify their deposit base.

Finovate: Looking ahead, what advice do you have for banks and fintechs navigating the ever-competitive game of increasing deposits?

Helie: The market expects the Fed to reduce interest rates one-to-three times this year. Americans are waiting on the sidelines for better rates so that they can shop for refinancing or fresh loan opportunities.

Banks that are well-prepared have a tremendous opportunity to help people get a better handle on their finances and position themselves as a partner for life. Those that struggle to quickly evaluate inquiries or match competing offers could frustrate customers that want to take advantage of the improving environment.

Cloud-based tools that utilize data and AI to help banks evaluate a fresh loan or refinancing request quickly are at a tremendous advantage. Institutions that maintain the sleepier pace of the past year will be rapidly outpaced by their peers and they will have few opportunities to make up the gap.

What ChatGPT Got Wrong about Top 5 Fintech Trends of 2024

What ChatGPT Got Wrong about Top 5 Fintech Trends of 2024

I’ve received dozens of 2024 fintech trends prediction pitches in my email inbox over the past month. And while many of them are insightful, I wanted to see what our AI overlord ChatGPT had to say about the matter.

My prompt read, “What are your predictions for the top five newest and hottest trends in fintech for 2024?” Here is how the AI responded:

Predicting the exact trends for 2024 is speculative, but here are potential emerging trends in fintech:

  1. Embedded Finance: Further integration of financial services into non-financial platforms like e-commerce, SaaS, and marketplaces. This trend will offer users seamless access to financial products within their daily activities.
  2. Metaverse Finance: With the growing popularity of the metaverse, fintech might explore virtual currencies, digital assets, and decentralized finance (DeFi) solutions tailored for this space.
  3. AI-Powered Personalization: Enhanced AI-driven tools for hyper-personalized financial recommendations, wealth management, and banking services. AI will further analyze vast datasets to offer tailored financial advice.
  4. Climate and Sustainable Finance: Continued growth in green finance, impact investing, and ESG-driven financial products as consumers and investors prioritize sustainability.
  5. Regulatory Evolution: Fintechs navigating evolving regulations, especially around data privacy, digital currencies, and open banking. Compliance and adapting to regulatory changes will remain crucial.

As usual, ChatGPT not only did a pretty good job, but it also sounds pretty convincing. And while there are truly no blatant errors in the prediction, it could be better. Here’s what’s wrong or what’s missing in each of the five predictions.

Embedded finance

ChatGPT was spot on. It is quite obvious that this will be a big trend in 2024. Why? Because it’s a big trend right now. However, this is more of a continuation of a current trend rather than a new trend in 2024. Also, ChatGPT failed to mention the role that regulation will likely play in embedded finance next year, especially in the U.S. That’s because partner banks have become more wary to partner with fintechs after the FDIC issued a consent order to Cross River Bank, saying that it was involved in unsound banking practices. Where there is opportunity, there is liability.

Metaverse finance

ChatGPT was wrong. This is one trend that can be thrown away with all of those 2023 desk planners out there. The metaverse offered a fun distraction during the pandemic, when the industry was obsessed with moving all of a bank’s operations to digital channels. However, most consumers lack interest in moving their lives to the metaverse, and banks have realized that their investments in more traditional channels are more likely to pay off.

AI-powered personalization

This is another win for ChatGPT. However, personalization is not the only AI-powered aspect of banking and fintech that will surge in 2024. Many organizations are now turning toward generative AI, which has the potential to produce creative outputs for generating investment strategies, designing financial products, building marketing campaigns, simulating data to predict market movements, simulating economic scenarios, or stress-testing financial systems.

Climate and Sustainable Finance

While I want to believe ChatGPT on this prediction, I wouldn’t list it among the top five trends for 2024. There are two major reasons why sustainable finance will take a backseat (though not disappear) next year. First, the high cost of capital has both banks and fintechs searching for new revenue opportunities. Given this high interest rate environment, firms are more focused on direct cost-saving and revenue growth initiatives such as AI. Second, in many geographies, regulation has not caught up with sustainability initiatives. This lack of regulation and industry standards makes it difficult for organizations to pose definitive claims about what they are doing for the environment.

Regulatory evolution

This is absolutely among the top trends I have my eye on for 2024. Again, this is a continuation of a current trend and not a new development, but it will remain at the forefront in fintech next year. ChatGPT cited regulatory changes across data privacy, digital currencies, and open banking. In regards to open banking, the CFPB released its notice of proposed rulemaking to implement Section 1033 of Dodd-Frank earlier this year and made clear that it will issue the final regulation in the fall of 2024.

One piece that ChatGPT left off its list of anticipated regulatory changes is the formalization of rules around buy now, pay later (BNPL) companies. As consumers rely on BNPL payment technologies as an alternative to traditional credit models, regulators in both the U.S. and the U.K. have announced their intent to formalize regulation in the space.

Photo by Matheus Bertelli

When the CFPB States Banks Cannot Charge for “Basic” Customer Service

When the CFPB States Banks Cannot Charge for “Basic” Customer Service

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued its first advisory opinion offering guidance on section 1034(c) of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), which originally became effective in 2011. Section 1034(c) requires banks to reply for consumer requests for information and not charge them for customer service responses regarding their bank account. The CFPB calls charges such as these “junk fees.”

The issue stems from instances when the consumer needs to gather basic account information required for them to fix problems with their account or manage their finances. With today’s advisory opinion, the CFPB is seeking to stop large banks for charging their customers for requesting essential information they are entitled to under federal law. These “reasonable requests” include asking for original account agreements or information about recurring withdrawals from an account.

“While small relationship banks pride themselves on customer service, many large banks erect obstacle courses and impose junk fees to answer basic questions,” said CFPB Director Rohit Chopra. “While the biggest banks have abandoned the relationship banking model, federal law still requires them to answer certain customer inquiries completely, accurately, and in a timely manner.”

Who is impacted

The opinion applies to insured depository institutions and credit unions that offer or provide consumer financial products or services and that have total assets of more than $10 billion, as well as their affiliates.

What does it require

Banks and credit unions must comply with consumers’ requests for information regarding a financial product or service that they obtained from the institution. This includes supporting written documentation regarding customer accounts.

Why now

Because many households do not have a single, personal banker they can turn to for answers, they are often subject to phone trees and AI-powered chatbots to find information. As more banks attempt to save costs by swapping human agents for generative-AI-powered bots, some consumers may have to spend extra time sorting through irrelevant material and waiting on hold to get the answer they need.

“Large banks and credit unions possess information that is vital to meet these customer needs,” the advisory opinion states. “Too often, however, it can be difficult and time consuming for individual consumers to obtain a clear answer to questions or resolve an account issue.”

What is not included

While consumers have a right to receive information about their account, there are some expections. Banks and credit unions do not need to offer:

  • Confidential information such as an algorithm used to derive credit or risk scores
  • Information collected for the purpose of preventing fraud or money laundering
  • Information required to be kept confidential by law
  • Any nonpublic information, including confidential supervisory information


Citizens Bank of Edmond Goes National

Citizens Bank of Edmond Goes National

Citizens Bank of Edmond has a single branch located in Oklahoma– what many people consider a “fly over state.” The town of Edmond, where the building is located, boasts a population of just under 100,000 people. That’s not stopping President and CEO Jill Castilla from pursuing growth, however.

Castilla announced today that her bank– with $400 million under management and just 55 employees– is taking Citizens Bank of Edmond national. Now, U.S. citizens across the country can sign up for a retail bank account at Citizens Bank of Edmond. The move broadens the bank’s reach to around 300 million people.

“In an unprecedented 72 day timeline to implementation, Citizens proves that small banks can be nimble, fast, thorough, sophisticated and still deliver a George Bailey-like experience,” said Castilla in an announcement on LinkedIn. “We love leading the way for other community banks to stay relevant for decades to come!”

Powering the launch is digital banking technology company Narmi. Founded in 2016 by former bankers Nikhil Lakhanpal and Chris Griffin, Narmi has a mission to offer financial institutions the best digital banking platform in the industry. The New York-based company offers both retail and commercial accounts, as well as a digital account opening solution that takes only two minutes and 13 seconds to complete.

Narmi, which has amassed $55 million in funding, counts Radius Bank (now Lending Club), Greater Alliance Federal Credit Union, Berkshire Bank, Freedom Credit Union, and more among its clients.

By opening its digital doors to everyone in the U.S., Citizens Bank of Edmond is breaking down geographical barriers. This shift toward “affinity banking” or “identity-based banking” will enable Citizens Bank of Edmond to take advantage of the brand identity and recognition it has spent the past few years building.

During the pandemic, the bank leaned hard into its focus on community and the small businesses that make up the community. For example, Castilla frequently shared her phone number on public channels as a resource for those in need. She also contacted all of the bank’s business customers to determine their main areas of stress. And when the bank had to close its lobby, its employees met customers at the curb to schedule time slots to serve its customers and maintain a personal touch.

It will be interesting to see how Citizens Bank of Edmond plans to maintain that level of personal touch while scaling up its accounts. Given Castilla’s fastidious determination, however, I do not envision the bank will have an issue maintaining its reputation of offering a top-notch customer experience. To hear Castilla talk about customer experience in person, come to FinovateFall next month and check out her panel.

What Banks Can Learn from Toast’s 99 Cent Fee

What Banks Can Learn from Toast’s 99 Cent Fee

Point-of-sale (POS) and restaurant management platform Toast unveiled recently that it is rolling out a new fee. At only $0.99, the new fee doesn’t sound particularly problematic initially. Many of the technology provider’s customers, however, are not happy. And looking deeper into the issue, it’s easy to see why.

The fee

Toast is imposing the new fee to the end customers who make purchases of $10 or more on online Toast POS systems. The charge will appear under the “taxes and fees” line item. According to the Boston Globe, if a consumer clicks to see more information, they will see the charge listed as an “order processing fee” that Toast explains is “Set by Toast to help provide affordable digital ordering services for local restaurants.”

Circumventing their merchant client and charging the end consumer directly not only places strain on a restaurant’s business relationship with Toast, but it is also likely to strain the end customer’s relationship with the restaurant. Many have had to increase menu prices over the past few years because of inflation, and they have had to work hard to pay their workforce a competitive wage while not driving away customers with higher meal prices. Toast’s move is certain to exacerbate this.

There has already been much insight into why publicly listed Toast is doing this from a business perspective. The company has yet to become profitable and it’s stock price is down 61% since its 2021 IPO. With 85,000 merchants, Toast is sure to benefit financially from the new fee. Whether it will be enough to turn the company profitable is yet to be seen.

The fee doesn’t take effect nationwide until July 10, so the fallout is yet to be seen. So what can banks learn from this?

The lesson

Banks need to maintain tight control of the customer experience. With the “as-a-service” model taking off in banking, it makes sense that banks are leveraging third party technologies to create efficiencies and focus on their core product. There’s nothing wrong with using third party providers to help create a better user experience, build out a product set, or create a more secure environment. However, if there is a flaw that is the fault of the third party provider, it is ultimately the bank’s reputation that is on the line– not that of the third party.


Preventing the fallout of a rogue fintech partnership comes down to vetting the third party. It’s important that banks do their research by talking with other customers of the third party to garner feedback or run through customer scenarios to ensure optimal outcomes in all cases. Banks should also protect themselves by not locking themselves into a rigorous or limited contract.

Ultimately, banks are in business to serve the customer, and if a third party is ruining that relationship, it’s time for the bank to look elsewhere to suit their needs instead of sacrificing the customer experience.

Looking at Toast’s move, it’s difficult to say how (or if) the move will impact user behavior. When asked about potential customer reactions, Dustin Magaziner, CEO of PayBright, said, “I actually don’t think this will impact sales or customer relationships much. Many customers are accustomed to paying additional fees these days. However, I do think the angle to review this from is the lost revenue for the business owner. If a merchant runs 1000 online sales per month, it’s $1,000 the merchant is essentially not earning.”

Photo by cottonbro studio

Small Move, Big Impact: Plaid’s API Migration Paves the Way for U.S. Open Banking Revolution

Small Move, Big Impact: Plaid’s API Migration Paves the Way for U.S. Open Banking Revolution

Financial infrastructure company Plaid made a relatively quiet announcement last week that will have a big impact on open banking in the U.S. The California-based company unveiled that it has migrated 100% of its traffic to APIs for major financial institutions, including Capital One, JPMorgan Chase, USAA, Wells Fargo, and others.

Taken at face value, this announcement appears to be nothing more than a fintech adding new bank clients. Looking deeper, however, there are three significant aspects of Plaid migrating its traffic to the banks’ APIs.

First, today’s move shows banks’ shifts in attitude toward open banking. Because the U.S. does not have regulation surrounding open banking, many U.S. banks don’t have the motivation to make consumers’ financial data open to third parties or don’t want to deal with the security implications that opening up consumers’ data to third parties may have. Additionally, in some cases, the banks do not want to make consumers’ data available to third party applications because the banks believe that they own the consumers’ data– or at least believe that they own the customer relationship.

The second significant impact of Plaid’s recent move is that it means that third party apps won’t need to rely on screen scraping to retrieve consumers’ data. The practice of screen scraping in financial services is less than ideal for multiple reasons, including:

  1. It requires consumers to share their bank login credentials with a third party, which may not have the same level of security as a bank.
  2. Since screen scraping extracts data based on the visual elements of a website, if the bank redesigns its website or changes the layout, it can result in inaccurate data retrieval.
  3. Screen scraping simulates user actions and requires a response from the bank’s website, which may slow the performance of the bank’s website, especially if multiple apps are screen scraping at once.
  4. Because screen scraping is essentially unauthorized access to a bank’s systems, the act of doing so may violate a bank’s terms of service.

As for the third impact– now that Plaid is working with the four aforementioned major U.S. banks to migrate traffic to APIs, it sends a signal to smaller banks, credit unions, and community financial institutions, which are more likely to follow suit. Potentially expediting the need for other financial institutions to jump on board, Plaid has also signed agreements with RBC, Citibank, and M&T, which will be migrating Plaid’s traffic to their APIs in the coming months.

“Our goal is to remove the need to rely on screen scraping in order for consumers to use the apps and services they want, and the momentum across our API integrations will help the industry get there faster,” Plaid Head of U.S. Financial Institution Partnerships Christy Sunquist said in a company blog post.

Despite the significance of this month’s announcement, there is still much work to be done. Some U.S. banks, such as PNC, are notorious for their unwillingness to work with Plaid, in essence taking a “closed banking” approach. Such attitudes may not prove beneficial in the long run, however, as many of the bank’s customers feel they are being shut out from essential third-party financial tools.

Photo by Jamar Penny on Unsplash

Can Apple Card’s New Savings Account Improve Americans’ Savings Habits?

Can Apple Card’s New Savings Account Improve Americans’ Savings Habits?

As someone who is passionate about personal finance, I was excited to see Apple Card unveil its Savings account today, especially during financial literacy month. The launch comes three-and-a-half years after Apple first debuted the Apple Card in partnership with Goldman Sachs in 2019.

Launching today, the new Savings account enables Apple Card users to set up and manage their funds from within their Apple Wallet. With the high-yield savings account, users will earn 4.15% APY with no minimum deposits and no minimum balance requirements.

The accounts build on Apple Card’s Daily Cash, the credit card’s cashback rewards feature. When a user sets up their Savings account in the Apple Wallet, the Daily Cash they earn on purchases is automatically deposited into their Savings account. In addition to saving their Daily Cash, users can deposit funds through a linked bank account or from their balance in Apple Cash.

“Savings helps our users get even more value out of their favorite Apple Card benefit — Daily Cash — while providing them with an easy way to save money every day,” said Apple VP of Apple Pay and Apple Wallet Jennifer Bailey. “Our goal is to build tools that help users lead healthier financial lives, and building Savings into Apple Card in Wallet enables them to spend, send, and save Daily Cash directly and seamlessly — all from one place.”

Apple Card’s Savings account also comes with a dashboard to enable users to track their account balance and the interest they’ve earned over time. The account, which is powered by Goldman Sachs, does not charge fees for account origination, maintenance, or withdraws.

The U.S. Federal Reserve has raised rates consistently since March 2022. Despite many incumbent banks holding the rates on their savings accounts near zero, it’s nice that a handful of fintechs are passing the positive impacts of the higher rates down to consumers.

But with the rising cost of living, many consumers may not take advantage of such high rates. Credit Karma issued the results of a survey today that details the impact of Americans’ poor savings habits and inadequate financial literacy. The survey targeted Americans’ knowledge (or lack thereof) of their own net worth, and took a look into their retirement savings. Here’s an overview of some of the survey results:

  • 51% of Americans don’t know how to calculate their net worth
  • 31% of Americans have a net worth of $0 or less
  • 21% of respondents aged 59+ report they have a net worth of $0 or less
  • 30% of Gen Z care more about celebrities’ net worth than their own 
  • 27% of respondents (including 25% of Gen X and 27% aged 59+) say they don’t have any money saved for retirement right now.
  • 67% of Americans say they don’t currently track their net worth
  • 22% of Americans believe the term “net worth” only applies to wealthy people

For me, these statistics are eye-opening, and the lack of savings are disheartening. Can fintech fix this? My guess is that, even with enticingly high rates, Americans’ poor savings habits will die hard. And the American Dream may die harder.

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

Coinbase’s Future in the U.S.

Coinbase’s Future in the U.S.

Amid the news of bank failures last week, you may have heard that cryptocurrency wallet and platform Coinbase received a Wells notice from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The notice is a letter that the SEC sends at the end of an investigation, informing an organization of the charges it plans to bring against the party.

What Coinbase did (or didn’t do) wrong

So why is the SEC taking aim at Coinbase? The commission said that its investigation identified that Coinbase’s listed digital assets, Coinbase Earn, Coinbase Prime, and Coinbase Wallet are potentially violating securities law. This statement makes it clear that the SEC believes it has identified securities listed on Coinbase’s platform. Coinbase, on the other hand, insists that it does not list securities on its platform.

Crucial to this debate is understanding that there is an ongoing, complicated debate on whether or not cryptoassets should be considered securities. After receiving the Wells notice, Coinbase asked the SEC to identify which specific assets listed on its platforms are considered securities, but the SEC declined to do so.

Coinbase’s public response

After receiving the Wells notice, Coinbase published a blog post titled, “We asked the SEC for reasonable crypto rules for Americans. We got legal threats instead.” In post, the company reinforces that it does not consider its cryptoassets securities, and that the Wells notice does not require changes to its current products or services.

Furthermore, Coinbase said it attempted to register a portion of its business with the SEC last summer. This was tricky because there is no current method for a crypto firm to register with the SEC. So Coinbase pioneered the registration process, spending millions of dollars on legal support to create proposals for the SEC. However, after spending nine months creating potential methods Coinbase met with the SEC 30 times and did not receive any feedback or questions regarding its suggested methods.

After undergoing this process, Coinbase said it is ultimately looking for guidance. “If our regulators cannot agree on who regulates which aspects of crypto, the industry has no fair notice on how to proceed,” said Coinbase Chief Legal Officer Paul Grewal. “Against this backdrop, it makes no sense to threaten enforcement actions against trusted public companies like Coinbase who are committed to playing by the rules. It makes even less sense to threaten enforcement actions unless an industry participant concedes that non-securities can be regulated by the SEC. That is for Congress to decide.”

Other SEC targets

Coinbase is not the only crypto-related organization the SEC has targeted in recent years. Stablecoin issuer Paxos, cryptocurrency exchange Kraken, USDC-creator Circle, and real-time money movement platform Ripple have each gone into battle with the SEC.

One of the above crypto firms the SEC has targeted, Circle, is doubling-down on its business in more crypto-friendly pastures. The Massachusetts-based company announced earlier this month that it has selected France as its European headquarters. Additionally, Circle recently filed applications in France to become both a licensed Electronic Money Institution and a registered Digital Asset Service Provider (DASP) in the nation.

What’s next?

Coinbase, which is publicly listed on the NASDAQ, has made it clear it is doing its best to be forthcoming and honest, and that it believes it is not breaking the law. “Tell us the rules and we will follow them. Give us an actual path to register, and we will register the parts of our business that need registering,” said Grewal. He concluded by saying that if U.S. regulators continue to threaten the good actors in the crypto industry, they will ultimately drive innovation, jobs, and the entire industry overseas. If Circle’s recent move is any indication, the U.S. may be saying, “au revoir” to the entire crypto industry.

Photo by Sora Shimazaki

Fintech Conversations at the World Economic Forum This Year

Fintech Conversations at the World Economic Forum This Year

The five-day World Economic Forum (WEF) began today. The annual event gathers leaders from across the globe in Davos, Switzerland to discuss the latest economic, social, and political issues. This year’s theme is Cooperation in a Fragmented World and many of the sessions are relevant to the fintech industry.

I combed through the agenda and highlighted the sessions that are most worth watching below. WEF allows the public to watch live via its website or watch the session recordings on its YouTube channel. The meat of the event begins tomorrow, and here’s what I’ll be paying attention to.

January 17

Staying Ahead of a Recession
With the risk of a recession in 2023 continuing to loom over major economies, what steps can leaders take to make a potential recession as short and as shallow as possible?

Financial Institutions: Innovating Under Pressure
At a time of large-scale macro shocks, how do financial actors respond to ongoing disruptions while keeping pace with technological advancement?

Technology for a More Resilient World
In the face of a challenging decade, technology can be a critical tool in the transition to a cleaner, safer and more inclusive world. How should leaders be thinking about the strategic opportunities for technology to be an accelerator of progress in this new context?

Private Equity in the Real Economy
Maximizing impact across the risk/return continuum and alternative asset classes has become a fast-growing trend within the investing industry. How does private equity transform the real economy through its increased focus on impact?

Tokenized Economies, Coming Alive
Tokenization can allow almost any real world asset to have a digital representation on a blockchain. Given its transformational potential, which sectors will see the biggest influence from tokenization in terms of resilience, innovation and social impact?

Generative AI
As artificial intelligence moves from analyzing existing data to creating new text, images, and videos, how will these improvements shift the augmentation versus automation debate and what implications will it have for industries?

January 18

Protecting Cyberspace Amid Exponential Change
The confluence of rising cyberattacks and a complex geopolitical backdrop creates an increasingly challenging environment for decision-makers to predict, prioritize, and respond to cyber risks. How can leaders foster a more secure and resilient digital ecosystem to prepare for future cyber shocks?

Tradetech Meets Fintech
The digitization of all aspects of international supply chains and transactions is enabling more accessible and reliable trade, financing, and payments. How can the emergence of tradetech be accelerated to meet the world’s needs?

The Quantum Tipping Point
Quantum technologies have massive potential in a wide array of domains, from finance to energy. With these technologies holding the promise of unleashing new discoveries, security and performance, how close are we to a true quantum revolution of industries?

Press Conference: Global Cybersecurity Outlook 2023
Geopolitical developments and the implementation of emerging technologies have re-shaped the cyber-threat and increased organized cyber-attackers’ potential for harm. This is exacerbating our interconnected energy, economic, and geopolitical crises.The Global Cybersecurity Outlook 2023 examines the cybersecurity trends that will impact our economies and societies in 2023. The report includes the results of new research on how leaders are responding to cyber threats now and provides recommendations on what leaders can do to secure their organizations in the year to come.

In the Face of Fragility: Central Bank Digital Currencies
Over 100 nations are exploring central bank digital currencies (CBDC) and each has a different motive for implementation, now exacerbated by geopolitical fragility and financial instability. What can we learn from countries that have implemented CBDC solutions and can they provide resiliency in the face of global risks and the high-inflation, low-growth, high-debt economy?

The Role of Finance in a Recovery
Many global economies are already in, or are projected to enter, recession in the near future. How can the global financial system support corporates and individuals to preserve jobs, maintain livelihoods, and drive further and much-needed innovation?

Investing in AI, With Care
As early backers of technology, investors wield great influence over which technologies are more likely to see the light of day. There is an opportunity for investors to work closely with their investee companies to ensure benefits are maximized and risks are mitigated, especially in technologies like AI. What metrics and tools can investors use to guide and shape investments in trusted and responsible technology systems? 

Turning Technologies Into the Markets of Tomorrow
The promise of new technologies does not always translate into economic progress, while tried and tested technologies can be the key to unlocking growth and transformation. How should policy-makers and businesses balance the role of new and old technologies?

January 19

Financial Inclusion Beyond Access
Despite progress over the past decade, 24% of adults remain unbanked and about only half of all adults in developing economies can access funds within 30 days to cover an unexpected expense. What more can technology advancements and cross-sector coordination achieve to increase inclusion for underserved individuals and businesses?

From Mass Data to Mass Insights
New technologies to generate insights without exposing the underlying data is ushering in a new era for value creation in the digital economy. From mapping the genome to reducing the carbon footprint, how can business leaders unlock value from data collaboration at scale?

Investing in the Worst of Times
The scale of uncertainty in today’s markets is severely disrupting an already challenging investment landscape. How are the world’s largest investors adjusting to this unprecedented context and what effect will their asset allocation decisions have on the economy at large?

Finding the Right Balance for Crypto
The boom and bust in the crypto markets, compounded by the dramatic volatility in 2022, has left many with questions about the future of blockchain innovation. What would it take to craft sufficiently robust regulation to realize the benefits of digital currencies while ensuring positive macroeconomic and societal outcomes?

January 20

How to Turbocharge Development Finance
The key to scaling up financing for growth-related investments in developing countries lies in reorienting and expanding the role played by international financial institutions to plug potential funding gaps. How can these institutions help scale up financing for the broader economic, environmental, and social agenda?

Global Economic Outlook: Is This the End of an Era?
The engines of global growth are slowing and the number of households and businesses facing economic distress is rising. What does the future of growth look like and what policies are needed to stabilize the global economy?

Photo by Evangeline Shaw on Unsplash

I Was Wrong: 2023 Fintech Predictions Edition

I Was Wrong: 2023 Fintech Predictions Edition

What does it take to be a fintech analyst? You have to be willing to get things wrong on occasion. Along with that, you need to be able to admit when you’re wrong. This becomes most apparent every December, when it comes time to share predictions on what the fintech industry can expect in the coming year.

Many of my predictions for 2023, which you can find published in this month’s eMagazine, were shaped from looking back at the trends I predicted for the latter half of 2022. Here’s a look at some of those trends, along with an assessment of how I did and a prediction for how the trend will fare in 2023.

Prediction #1: Beginning the era of “neo super apps”

How I did:
Wrong. With every other fintech company claiming to be a super app these days, this prediction is slightly subjective. In my opinion, however, we haven’t entered an era of neo-super apps.

What to expect:
A year ago, I would have identified the first potential U.S. super app as PayPal. However, Walmart has been making strides in this area and is getting ready to compete in the fintech arena. As a bottomline, we are still a ways out from super apps taking over fintech.

Prediction #2: Accelerating M&A activity

How I did:
Somewhat correct. In comparing M&A activity to pre-pandemic 2019 levels, M&A activity has indeed increased. Though year-end data for 2022 hasn’t been published yet, according to FT Partners’ Q3 2022 Fintech Insights Report, there have been 998 deals so far in 2022. While this represents a slight increase over the 986 M&A deals conducted in 2019, it is a large slide from the 1,486 deals closed last year.

What to expect:
The recent economic decline is causing companies to watch their pockets closely and mitigate risk where they can. Many large fintechs have already made major layoffs in order to maintain their bottomline or reduce their burn rate. These factors will contribute to both lower deal numbers and deal volume in 2023.

Prediction #3: Dwindling conversation around digital transformation

How I did:
Correct. While the need for digital transformation across verticals has not subsided, the continuous pulse of conversation around digital transformation has eased up.

What to expect:
This does not mean that digital transformation is over. In fact, many of the conversations we can expect to have in 2023– such as embedded finance, banking-as-a-service, and personalization– are built on the foundation of digital transformation.

Prediction #4: More discussion around Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs)

How I did:
Correct. In the U.S., the Federal Reserve has not taken much action toward creating a CBDC other than issuing a discussion paper on the topic. However, there has been a flurry of activity around CBDCs across the globe. In December of 2021, nine countries had launched a CBDC, while today, 11 have launched their own CBDC. Similarly, CBDC development has increased. In December of 2021, 14 companies had a CBDC in development, while today there are 26 countries with a CBDC in development.

What to expect:
In the U.S. the discussion around CBDCs will progress, especially now that the FTX scandal has brought to light the need for more governmental intervention and oversight.

Prediction #5: BNPL takes a backseat

How I did:
Wrong. Though there have been many publications warning consumers about the dangers of misusing BNPL tools, we are still seeing a regular pulse of new BNPL launches throughout the industry. And while the CFPB published a study on the growth of BNPL and its impact on consumers, the organization has not implemented any formal regulation restricting BNPL players’ movements in the market.

What to expect:
I’m refreshing this prediction for 2023. Consumers have over-leveraged themselves when it comes to BNPL, and it is not only starting to catch up with them, but it is also catching up with the BNPL companies themselves. According to the CFPB’s study, “Lenders’ profit margins are shrinking: Margins in 2021 were 1.01% of the total amount of loan originated, down from 1.27% in 2020.”

Additionally, though the CFPB has been vague on the timing, there is looming regulation facing BNPL tools. “Buy Now, Pay Later is a rapidly growing type of loan that serves as a close substitute for credit cards,” said CFPB Director Rohit Chopra. “We will be working to ensure that borrowers have similar protections, regardless of whether they use a credit card or a Buy Now, Pay Later loan.”

Subsiding talent acquisition

How I did:
Correct. Though companies will always face difficulties trying to secure quality employees, we are no longer seeing the tech talent war that we experienced in 2021. In fact, in the latter half of 2022, we saw the opposite. A handful of fintech companies, including Plaid, Autobooks, MX, Klarna, Brex, Stripe, Chime, and more, have laid off sizable portions of their staff.

What to expect:
The painful reality is that the layoffs will likely continue into 2023 as the economy continues to contract.

Photo by Brett Jordan