The requirements in the proposed framework are more extensive in scope and reach than what many virtual asset industry stakeholders anticipated.

By Simon Hawkins and Adrian Fong


On 8 February 2024, the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau (FSTB) released a consultation paper on its legislative proposal to introduce a regulatory regime governing over-the-counter (OTC) trading of virtual assets (VA) in Hong Kong (Consultation Paper).

This blog post summarises the proposed regulatory framework set out in the Consultation Paper.


Background

A recent bipartisan bill, if enacted, would particularly benefit small lenders and bank-fintech partnerships by promoting transparency, appellate rights, and examiner accountability.

By Arthur S. Long, Parag Patel, Barrie VanBrackle, Pia Naib, and Deric Behar

On December 14, 2023, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Fair Audits and Inspections for Regulators’ Exams Act (FAIR Exams Act), which seeks to increase transparency in the bank examination process. The proposed legislation would require examining agencies to act quickly and transparently, while creating an independent review and appeals process under the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC),[1] which would allow banks to seek independent review of material examiner findings.

The OCC outlines safety and soundness principles and appropriate risk management processes for its regulated institutions that engage in BNPL lending.

By Arthur S. Long, Parag Patel, Barrie VanBrackle, Becky Critchley, Deric Behar, and Charlotte Collins

On December 6, 2023, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) issued Bulletin 2023-37 (Guidance), which clarifies the OCC’s policy positions on the risk management of “Buy Now, Pay Later” (BNPL) lending. These consumer lending arrangements (also known as “point-of-sale installment loans” or “pay-in-4”) involve short-term installment loans repayable in four or fewer payments and carry no finance or interest charges. The OCC expects that banks engaged in BNPL lending “do so within a risk management system that is commensurate with associated risks.”

The Guidance applies to all OCC-regulated institutions, including national banks, federal savings associations, covered savings associations, and federal branches and agencies of foreign banking organizations. The OCC also highlighted that the Guidance applies to community banks engaging in (or considering engaging in) BNPL lending.

The proposal would subject certain large non-bank companies offering wallet and payment services to federal regulatory oversight on par with banks and credit unions.

By Jenny Cieplak, Parag Patel, Barrie VanBrackle, and Deric Behar

On November 7, 2023, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) proposed a rule, Defining Larger Participants of a Market for General-Use Digital Consumer Payment Applications (the Proposal), to supervise large providers of digital wallets and payment apps. The Proposal aims to ensure that US-based non-bank financial service companies providing digital wallets and payment apps will be subject to the same federal supervisory rules as banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions that the CFPB already supervises.

According to the CFPB, fintech companies and other firms offering novel products and services in the consumer finance space have “blur[ed] the traditional lines of banking and commerce.” The Proposal therefore aims to “enable the CFPB to monitor for new risks to both consumers and the market,” and to “promote fair competition” through consistent enforcement between depository and non-depository institutions.

Recognizing new realities in decentralization, the regulations aim to provide market players with governance flexibility within distributed ledger technology foundations.

By Stuart Davis, Brian Meenagh, Andrew Moyle, and Ksenia Koroleva

On October 2, 2023, the Board of Directors of Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), a financial free zone in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), enacted the Distributed Ledger Technology Foundations Regulations 2023 (Regulations). The Regulations were published on November 1, 2023.

Latham & Watkins has advised ADGM in drafting the Regulations. The Regulations were developed following extensive benchmarking across a number of peer jurisdictions and incorporate stakeholder feedback from ADGM’s April 2023 consultation paper. The adoption of the Regulations is part of the strategy to promote ADGM as a global center for digital assets.

The Regulations recognize the suitability of common law foundation structures for projects related to digital assets, and aim to allow maximum flexibility for the sector with respect to governance.

A new guidance creates a regulatory framework for tokenisation of retail investment products and provision of services for tokenised financial instruments.

By Simon Hawkins and Adrian Fong

On 2 November 2023, the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) issued two widely anticipated circulars on tokenisation during the 2023 Hong Kong FinTech Week.

One circular provides conduct-related guidance to intermediaries engaging in tokenised securities-related activities (Activities Circular). The other circular addresses the tokenisation of SFC-authorised investment products (Products Circular), such as retail investment funds.

Before the circulars were released, the SFC’s chief executive spoke of the regulator’s evolutionary rather than revolutionary approach to addressing digital asset-related activities. The circulars indeed reflect this gradual, incremental approach rather than a big-bang moment of regulatory change, and we expect market participants to welcome the SFC’s new guidance as some of them consider exploring tokenised products and services.

As regulatory thinking evolves, firms must ensure that any current or planned use of AI complies with regulatory expectations.

By Fiona M. Maclean, Becky Critchley, Gabriel Lakeman, Gary Whitehead, and Charlotte Collins

As financial services firms digest FS2/23, the joint Feedback Statement on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning issued by the FCA, Bank of England, and PRA (the regulators), and the UK government hosts the AI Safety Summit, we take stock of the government and the regulators’ thinking on AI to date, discuss what compliance considerations firms should be taking into account now, and look at what is coming next.

The FCA recently highlighted that we are reaching a tipping point whereby the UK government and sectoral regulators need to decide how to regulate and oversee the use of AI. Financial services firms will need to track developments closely to understand the impact they may have. However, the regulators have already set out how numerous areas of existing regulation are relevant to firms’ use of AI, so firms also need to ensure that any current use of AI is compliant with the existing regulatory framework.

Revamped SFC and HKMA guidance applies to intermediaries that distribute products or provide dealing, advisory, and asset management services related to virtual assets.

By Simon Hawkins and Adrian Fong

On 20 October 2023, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) and the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) issued a joint circular (Joint Circular) to provide updated guidance to intermediaries conducting virtual asset (VA) activities. The Joint Circular revises a previous joint circular issued on 28 January 2022 (see Latham’s Client Alert).

The need to update the 2022 joint circular emerged after a new regulatory regime for virtual asset trading platforms (VATP) was launched in June 2023, which allowed such platforms to onboard retail investors (see Latham’s Client Alert) for the first time.

A new publication from the UK’s financial regulator signals to firms that they should take steps to manage risks in the use of AI.

By Stuart Davis, Fiona M. Maclean, Gabriel Lakeman, and Imaan Nazir

The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has published its latest board minutes highlighting its increasing focus on artificial intelligence (AI), in which it “raised the question of how one could ‘foresee harm’ (under the new Consumer Duty), and also give customers appropriate disclosure, in the context of the operation of AI”. This publication indicates that AI continues to be a key area of attention within the FCA. It also demonstrates that the FCA believes its existing powers and rules already impose substantive requirements on regulated firms considering deploying AI in their services.

The move becomes effective on October 1, 2023, with the Supreme Court soon to decide on the agency’s rule-writing authority.

By Barrie VanBrackle, Marifiel Gonzalez, and Deric Behar

On February 1, 2023, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) proposed a rule (the Proposal) to amend Regulation Z, which implements the Truth in Lending Act (the Act) to limit credit card late fees. The CFPB received comments before its May 3, 2023 deadline, and it announced that the proposed rule will go into effect on October 1, 2023.

Absent further challenges as described below, credit card issuers should be ready to implement controls to comply with the Proposal.