Under the new
Predicting the
future of fintech

Wilcox on future of fintechPerhaps you heard: The United States has a new administration.

Relax. I’m not going to opine here about bathrooms, health care, or walls. I could think of no surer way to lose about 50 percent of valued personal and business relationships. Instead, I’m going report on sundry educated guesses as to what we in the payments industry might expect.

There is widespread agreement that the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act faces serious revision if not outright repeal. The act’s stated purpose is:

To promote the financial stability of the United States by improving accountability and transparency in the financial system, to end too big to fail, to protect the American taxpayer by ending bailouts, to protect consumers from abusive financial services practices, and for other purposes.

Dodd-Frank merged a number of federal agencies and created a fair share of new ones, the most notable being the Financial Stability Oversight Council, the Office of Financial Research, and the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. Depending on whom you ask, Dodd-Frank is a godsend, a millstone, or a bit of both. TechTarget offers a succinct summary of the two views. Proponents, it says …

… believe the act prevents the United States economy from experiencing a crisis like that of 2008 and protects consumers from many of the abuses that contributed to that crisis.

… whereas opponents …

… believe the compliance burdens the legislation creates makes [sic] it difficult for U.S. companies to compete with foreign counterparts.

But, in any case …

In February of 2017, President Trump issued an executive order that directed regulators to review provisions put in place by the Dodd-Frank Act and submit a report on potential regulatory and legislative reforms.

The award for scariest headline goes to Nasdaq, who recently ran the not terribly reassuring, “Will Trump Disrupt the Payments Industry?” The article quotes E&S Consulting founder Lori Breitzke:

“Trump may repeal the CFPB, given his disdain for [Dodd-Frank]. If this occurs, the CFPB’s new prepaid card rules will be repealed along with the agency, and another entity will be created to replace it. ​If Trump cannot repeal the CFPB, he will instruct the agency to ignore, rather than enforce, the existing rule governing prepaid cards. Trump also will lower taxes on small businesses, fostering growth and the need for more merchant accounts and services.”

A number of journals are following Trump’s threat to cut off remittance send from the U.S. to Mexico. Shortly after the 2016 election, Business Insider reported that the threatened cutoff:

… could drastically curtail the operations of US remittance firms. Mexico is the largest receive destination for US remittances, cashing $25 billion in 2015, according to the World Bank. The strength of that corridor is pushing firms to double down on Mexico—for instance, Western Union recently nearly doubled the size of its retail network in the country, and MoneyGram unveiled a product in partnership with Walmart to make it easier and less expensive to send money from the US to Mexico. Cutting off access to the corridor, even temporarily, could drastically change the trajectory for these companies.

For mobile payments, the news may not be all bad. Most agree that the threatened cutoff may, as John Rampton, writing for Mashable, observes …

… put mobile payments, such as digital wallets and peer-to-peer payment apps, in a better position to thrive. Unlike traditional payments companies, these allow users to make cross-border payments without government interference.

Rampton takes a look specifically at the payments industry. He predicts a rollback of regulations welcomed by the financial services industry, agrees that cutting off remittances to Mexico could have adverse economic consequences, especially for the likes of Western Union, and reports a curious, early “skirmish” between the administration and the New York State financial regulator Maria Vullo, who wrote, “The OCC should not use technological advances as an excuse to attempt to usurp state laws that already regulate fintech activities.” Vullo was reacting to the White House’s just-released whitepaper, “A Framework for Fintech,” which, as of this writing, the White House has apparently pulled from its site.

Predictions by various pundits, policymakers, and reporters are all over the board. One thing all appear agreed on, however, is that no one really knows what’s coming. As Rampton summed up,  “While the new presidential administration could bring about many new changes in the payments system—both good and bad—it’s still too early to predict exactly what’s going to happen.”

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