GAO FinTech Report Calls for Improvements in Customer Protection and Regulatory Oversight

The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) issued a report evaluating the risks and benefits, customer protections, and regulatory oversight of FinTech products and activities. Among other things, the GAO advised regulators to (i) improve interagency coordination, (ii) address competing concerns on financial account aggregation and (iii) analyze the feasibility of adopting successful foreign regulatory approaches.

The GAO report found that the fragmented regulatory framework, split between state and federal regulators, does not sufficiently address the risks of these products. The GAO advised regulators to protect customers by addressing the unique characteristics of FinTech products, including data security and privacy liabilities. The GAO also found that the regulatory framework presents several challenges to FinTech payment and lending firms, including costly and time-consuming compliance activities.

The GAO report praised innovation taken by regulators in foreign jurisdictions. A “regulatory sandbox” is one such innovation that allows regulators and FinTech firms to collaborate and understand evolving market trends. In practice, it allows FinTech firms to offer products on a limited scale, which enables firms and regulators to get useful feedback on the products and their risks. The GAO advised U.S. regulators to consider similar approaches and be adaptive to market innovations.

Lofchie Comment: According to the summary of the GAO report:

“The U.S. regulatory structure poses challenges to fintech firms. With numerous regulators, fintech firms noted that identifying the applicable laws and how their activities will be regulated can be difficult.”

A great part of the problem is the prevailing Dodd-Frank notion that more rules, more agencies and more overlapping authority means that the market is safer. The reality is that, in many cases, it just means that the system is more cumbersome and that greater authority in ever more governmental agencies provides even less certainty as to what the rules actually are. For a somewhat fuller discussion of the impact of regulatory complexity, here is a 2009 pre-Dodd-Frank article: The Future of Financial Regulation: Meet the New Regulators, Better Than the Old Regulators?

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