Financial technology, or fintech, is creating a dynamic range of new services and products for banks. Much of the initial discussion about fintech focused on disruption and replacement of traditional banking products and services.
Now, fintech is evolving and is creating new opportunities for banks to expand their products and services, as well as creating various non-interest revenue possibilities through partnering and joint venturing with fintech entities.
Increasingly, fintech entities such as online lenders and payment systems are turning towards partnering and joint venturing with banks for a simple reason they need banks. They need banks because banks can hold federally insured deposits and have the experience and track record of existing and prospering under various federal and state regulatory regimes. However, working with a fintech is not necessarily a voyage into uncharted waters while regulators may adapt with new technologies, banks are comfortable working in the existing banking regulatory ecosystem.
Some existing examples of fintech entities working with banks include:
- licensing online lending platforms
- licensing online customer interface platforms
- using banks as insured depository support for payment systems
- developing cryptocurrencies
- developing digital tools that allow banks to mine and harness data for more efficient operations
State and federal regulators are expanding their ever-advancing regulatory agenda to cover fintech’s unique aspects. Indeed, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency recently announced plans to start issuing Special Purpose National Bank charters to fintech entities, which the state regulators are heavily criticizing. Fintech entities are debating whether they will seek a federal charter in its proposed form.
Nevertheless, if your bank is considering working with a fintech entity, you should consider the following issues:
Strategic Plan: The first, and primary issue that your bank should consider is whether the fintech opportunity fits your bank’s strategic vision and innovation plan. If the opportunity does not, the relationship may not only be not successful, but ultimately detrimental to your bank’s efforts in this area.
Vendor Management: Vendor management is an especially critical area because most banks will choose to work with a fintech entity that owns, develops and services the technology. The key for banks in this area is know their fintech partner and understand the deal. Fintech partners can range from early-stage start-ups to mature entities. Many of these fintech entities have little bank regulatory experience and may be learning as they develop and deploy their products without the legacy regulatory experience. They may also propose contract terms that expose banks to unnecessary risks. The challenge for banks is to conduct thorough due diligence on their fintech partner and understand the agreement.
Cybersecurity: Because essentially all fintech-based products and services are online, cybersecurity is a significant consideration. Additionally, most fintech accumulates and evaluates customer data, which is very attractive to cybercriminals. The critical issue for banks is the ability to ensure that their fintech partners are employing best-of-class cybersecurity practices, not simply regulatory compliant cybersecurity, because the cybercriminals are almost always one step ahead of their targets, as well as the regulators. This will also help the bank protect itself in the event of a data breach or an attack.
Data Privacy: If your bank is working with a fintech, banks should ensure that there are provisions to protect your customer’s data so that it is not used or disseminated in a way that violates the law, as well as provide adequate disclosures to your customers about how their data is used.
Consumer Banking Laws and Regulations: If a bank is working with a fintech entity in providing any type of consumer services, federal and state consumer lending laws and regulations will likely apply to that activity. The combination of new technologies and a fintech entity without a great deal of regulatory experience could spell trouble for a bank partner.
Bank Secrecy Act/Know Your Customer/Anti-Money Laundering: BSA/KYC/AML issues remain critically important for regulators and fintech entities working with banks need to be fully versed in them.
Even considering the regulatory and related issues, working with a fintech is not a voyage into uncharted waters. The tide is also changing, and fintech can provide your bank potentially great opportunities to grow and develop as technology evolves and as fintech entities mature in this sector.