International Regtech Association Launch and IBM Watson announce Regtech Apps

Regtech has for long been an underdog subcluster of Fintech. Over the last year or so, the trend has been changing, and more stakeholders in the ecosystem are taking notice of how fundamentally important Regtech is to the industry. Over the last few weeks, Regtech has been in the press for all the right reasons. The International Regtech Association (IRTA) was launched with a mission to create an ecosystem for Regtech firms to thrive. IBM have announced the launch of Watson’s RegTech capabilities, thanks to its acquisition of the Promontory Financial Group (PFG) last year.

The top banks have been spending close to about $1 Billion per year on regulatory processes and controls. Regtech firms are focusing on bringing cutting edge technology like AI and Cloud computing and add efficiencies to achieving regulatory compliance. The FCA has been a pioneer in embracing innovation through the FCA regulatory sandbox, that allowed RegTech firms to test their value proposition without fear of a regulatory breach.

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The IRTA, a non-profit, was launched recently, with a goal to bring together technology firms, banks, regulators and academicians in developing international Regtech standards, and promoting research activities.

For Fintech firms to scale globally they need a consistent approach to regulation across nations. For instance, Fintech firms in Asia have serious challenges when navigating through different regulatory regimes while looking to expand beyond their home territory. For example, Cryptocurrency exchanges are treated as money changers and regulated by the customs authority in Hong Kong but they are licensed as online shopping malls in South Korea. In Singapore, the central bank has proposed regulating bitcoin exchanges as payment firms.

Every time they want to expand into a new country, Fintechs are having to start from scratch due to incompatible, and often conflicting regulatory approaches. This not only adds operational delays, but also sometimes needs business model tweaks. In my article last week, I discussed about similar challenges that US Fintechs have in expanding across different states.

The IRTA should help resolve these inconsistencies, over a period of time. It is chaired by Subas Roy who was most recently the Global Head of RegTech at EY. His vision for the IRTA is to set global Regtech standards, lead research and help Regtech firms develop solutions that can be used by banks for regulatory compliance.

The IRTA currently has about 250 members. They hope to work with the global Regtech market that has close to about 700 companies, while about five global banks are keen to join the initiative. This is a great start, however I believe it is essential for the IRTA to work closely with regulators, especially the FCA and the MAS, as they have created a good framework to groom innovation that other regulators could follow.

Earlier this week, IBM Watson announced the launch of its new anti-money laundering (AML) and know-your-customer (KYC) capability. This includes Financial Crimes Insight with Watson, which applies cognitive computing, intelligent robotic process automation, identity resolution, network analysis, machine learning, and other advanced analytics capabilities to help banks spot financial crime.

At the end of last year, IBM acquired Promontory Financial Group (PFG), a consultancy firm specialising in financial regulations. PFG have been training IBM Watson on regulatory compliance.

The aim of the new financial crime solution is to reduce the amount of false positives generated by today’s transaction monitoring systems. Banks have a false positive rate of 98% and spend about £2.7 Billion per year in chasing false leads. About 55% of these costs could be saved by Regtech solutions using AI, as per IBM. This would make the transaction monitoring process very efficient.

Its good to see that government agencies (FCA, MAS), non-profits (IRTA) and Technology firms are waking up to the fact that Regtech is no longer the underdog. Its a massively untapped market that might have just reached the tipping point and 2018 could be the year of Regtech.


Arunkumar Krishnakumar is a Fintech thought-leader and an investor. 

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IRS Subpoena to Coinbase and the broken US Fintech regulatory regime

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There is nothing certain in life except death and taxes! In March 2004 the IRS issued guidance on taxation of crypto-currencies. The gist of the message to consumers and corporates were the following:

  • Digital currency payments must be reported to IRS.
  • Gains from the sale of digital currencies are treated like those from a real estate investment.
  • Wages paid to employees in digital currencies are taxable and must be reported.

In November 2016, the IRS sent a “John Doe” Summons to Coinbase, asking for a complete dump of all transactions that happened on the platform from 2013 to 2015. Now, this sets a bad precedent when governing agencies demand such data that hurts data privacy of consumers. This could be because, the IRS has no clue what the taxation on crypto-currencies should be. And the intention behind the blanket data request is perhaps to understand what the thresholds for taxation should be.

Fintechs in the US have generally struggled with the regulatory landscape, primarily because of structural challenges and overlapping regulations. Unlike the UK where the regulations are pretty centralised, the US has state and federal agencies coming up with regulations that can be painful for startups to navigate through. There is little coordination between these regulatory bodies. Also, the regulations are very rules based and not considered as principles, which means they are inflexible.

'We heard that laughter is the best medicine, so beginning Monday we'll be regulating it.'

Moreover serious criminal penalties may be imposed on an entrepreneur who chooses to take a liberal interpretation of when an activity is a money transmission. There can also be serious implications under the Bank Secrecy Act if an entrepreneur naively chooses to seek forgiveness rather than permission. This liability regime also extends to investors, managers and employees in some cases.

At the moment, crypto-currency transactions are treated like property transactions, irrespective of the size of the transaction. The taxation policy on foreign exchange is slightly better where there is a threshold on gains(of $200) above which one needs to report the transaction. However, if I bought a cup of coffee using bitcoins it is a taxable event. And if I managed a gain between the time I acquired a Satoshi and spent it, I must report it to the IRS irrespective of the size of the gain.

The coinbase summon from IRS has triggered some republican congressmen to lobby for better tax laws around crypto-currencies. Coincenter, a non-profit is leading the efforts on getting better clarity on taxation of crypto-currency transactions and has seen positive responses from some members of the congress. With bitcoins starting to get recognised across various government bodies in developed economies, some clarity from Washington DC would be more than welcome.

While taxation on crypto-currencies seem to be one area where the rules are still unclear, Fintech/Payments regulations in the US need ground up thinking too. Earlier this week, Coincenter sent out a letter to the “Office of the Comptroller of the Currency” (OCC) asking for an innovation friendly regulatory regime.

In the letter they praised the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) for making it easy and quick for innovative startups and entrepreneurs to comply with consumer protection regulations. They have recommended that the US replicate the UK regulatory regime to promote innovation.

'Well, the boss told us to launder the money, didn't he?!'

There is the other issue of governance of crypto-transactions to avoid terrorism financing. A recent assessment by the Center for a New American Security acknowledges that there is only anecdotal evidence that terrorism is being financed by crypto-currencies. This is primarily because the financial crime and money laundering controls at banks are still incomplete or insufficient to stop terrorist financing. However, congress may soon commission a study in this regard which will further influence the regulatory landscape of crypto-currencies in the US.


Arunkumar Krishnakumar is a Fintech thought-leader and an investor. 

Get fresh daily insights from an amazing team of Fintech thought leaders around the world. Ride the Fintech wave by reading us daily in your email.