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James is the co-leader of the firm’s Financial Services Industry Group. He has significant experience working with clients across the entire financial services sector, regularly working with public and private companies such as banks, neobanks, marketplace lenders, and other fintech and financial services providers and partners.

On January 29, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking regarding its review of business combinations under the Bank Merger Act (BMA). Specifically, the OCC proposed: (i) amendments to 12 C.F.R. § 5.33 to remove provisions related to expedited review and the use of streamlined business combination applications subject to BMA review; and (ii) the adoption of an official policy statement setting forth general principles the OCC will use in its review of applications subject to the BMA. If adopted as proposed, the rulemaking will likely lead to longer approval timelines for certain national bank transactions, particularly for mergers involving well-managed, well-capitalized community banks, internal corporate reorganizations, and branch acquisitions that would have otherwise been able to take advantage of expedited review. Currently, assuming certain criteria are met, a BMA filing that qualifies as a business reorganization eligible for a streamlined application is deemed approved on the 15th day after the close of the comment period, unless the OCC notifies the applicant that the filing is not eligible for expedited review or the expedited review process is extended. However, if the rulemaking is adopted as proposed, § 5.33 would be amended to remove the procedures for expedited review and the use of streamlined applications.

On January 18, at an event hosted by Columbia University Law School, Acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael J. Hsu discussed liquidity risk at banks and described potential “targeted regulatory enhancements” that would require midsize and large banks to have sufficient liquidity to cover “ultra-short-term” stress outflows over a five-day period. The rationale for the enhancements stem from last year’s large bank failures and are intended to ensure that updated liquidity and risk management practices are implemented and sustained across midsize and large banks.

On January 12, Fiserv announced that it filed an application with the state of Georgia for a merchant acquirer limited purpose bank (MALPB) charter. This application is a seismic development and positive sign for those in the United States pushing for more direct merchant acquirer access to the payment card networks.

On January 8, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) announced adjustments to the maximum amount of each civil money penalty (CMP) within its jurisdiction. The 2015 Adjustment Act requires federal agencies with CMP authority to annually adjust each CMP to account for inflation in accordance with the guidance published by the Office of Management and Budget. The adjusted maximum penalties are effective immediately for violations occurring on or after November 2, 2015. The OCC adjustment does not affect the OCC’s discretion to assess a CMP lower than the maximum allowed. Further, with respect to community banks, the OCC retains discretion to impose inflation-adjusted maximum CMPs, as appropriate

On January 2, New York Governor Kathy Hochul unveiled her 2024 consumer protection agenda, which includes plans to regulate the “buy now, pay later” (BNPL) industry. Specifically, Governor Hochul plans to propose legislation to require BNPL providers to be licensed in the state and to authorize the New York State Department of Financial Services to propose and issue regulations for the industry. According to Governor Hochul, “New Yorkers are increasingly turning to [BNPL] loans as a low-cost alternative to traditional credit products to pay for everyday and big-ticket purchases. This legislation and regulations will establish strong industry protections around disclosure requirements, dispute resolution and credit reporting standards, late fee limits, consumer data privacy, and guidelines to curtail dark patterns and debt accumulation and overextension.”

On December 21, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen), the National Credit Union Administration, along with state bank and credit union regulators (collectively, the agencies) announced issuance of the final Access Rule regarding access by authorized recipients to beneficial ownership information (BOI) that will be reported to FinCen, pursuant to the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA). In their announcement, the agencies emphasized that the Access Rule does not create new regulatory requirements or supervisory expectations for banks and that banks’ responsibilities under the Customer Due Diligence (CDD) Rule and Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) remain unchanged. However, the agencies did note that if banks access and use BOI, they must comply with the requirements of the CTA and the Access Rule.

On December 7, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) published the fall edition of its Semiannual Risk Perspective, which discusses key issues facing banks. From the OCC’s perspective, the overall strength of the banking system remains sound and recessionary pressures appear to be easing. The OCC notes that, while many economists had predicted a decline, gross domestic product increased at an annual rate of 2.1% in the second quarter of 2023, slowing just slightly from the first quarter’s 2.2% pace. However, the OCC also emphasized that inflation remains elevated and a slowing labor market, declining savings, and higher interest rates could cause financial stress to borrowers.

On November 3, the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) voted unanimously to finalize the procedures for designating a nonbank financial company for Federal Reserve supervision. FSOC’s Interpretive Guidance aims to establish a “durable” process for using its nonbank financial company designation authority, maintain rigorous procedural protections for companies reviewed for potential designation, and remove “unwarranted hurdles” to designation imposed by the 2019 Interpretive Guidance. FSOC had issued a proposed Interpretive Guidance in April 2023, which received 47 comments. The final version takes into account those comments.