FinTech Action Plan and EBA Road Map: Part 2

Part 2: Further Guidance through EBA’s FinTech Roadmap

On 15 March 2018 EBA published its FinTech Roadmap which bridges the dichotomy between consumer protection and stability of the financial system through cybersecurity on the one hand and the support for financial innovation on the other hand. It becomes clear that EBA recognises the benefits of the innovative developments for the Single Market, which include enhancing consumer experience, cost efficiency for consumers and service providers and the need to support growth.

A harmonised regulatory framework for new technologies in the financial markets is needed. A provider of an innovative idea using new financial technologies might want to test his idea in the market. He will face different challenges in countries with regulatory sandboxes compared to countries where a inflexible regulatory regime applies. A regulatory sandbox would allow the provider to offer his idea to a certain amount of potential clients for a limited period of time without the application of the whole compliance, license and capital requirements. During this time he can assess if his innovative approach is worth the investment of full regulatory compliance. In countries where the regulatory regime applies from day one when the first client is approached and on boarded, the investment of the provider is much higher. This might in turn prevent financial innovations since the hurdle to become a (regulated) market player is quite high.

EBA did not provide a practical briefing for establishing consistent regulatory sandboxes in its Roadmap. It only announced that further analysis of already established sandboxes (as e.g. in the UK, in Singapore and in Australia) will be undertaken. EBA figures that by the end of 2018 best practice guidelines for regulatory sandboxes will be issued.

Until then the German regulator BaFin will impose the classical regulatory regime drafted for traditional players on the innovative developers of the financial markets, paired with a warning to consumers regarding the risk of buying virtual currency due to a lack of statutory consumer protection. So far BaFin published some generic guidance on its regulatory assessment of ICOs, but emphasised that a case-by-case evaluation will be inevitable. For other financial innovations such as for example crowd-funding platforms, it took more than two years until regulation on a national level complemented by BaFin’s administrative practice was established.

A comprehensive and harmonised regulatory framework which leaves room for innovation is essential for a growing and competitive Single Market. Hopefully, EBA’s planned FinTech Knowledge Hub, which will facilitate the exchange of information between regulators, innovators and technology providers, will add to this understanding. Up to now EBA did not provide concrete guidance for new market players. To be fair on the national regulators, without any leeway by the legislators there is not much room to ease the burden of the current regulation for new technologies through an administrative practice alone. Throughout 2018 at least, FinTechs will thrive in countries with a flexible regulatory approach that is backed by the relevant regulator.

FinTech Action Plan and EBA Road Map: Part 1

Part 1: The European Commission’s Action Plan on FinTech

Currently, supervisors in the EU member states take different approaches in dealing with FinTech Start-ups and apply non-harmonised regulatory rules regarding authorisation or registration regimes and compliance. The European Commission’s newest political statement on financial innovation aims at a harmonised market.

On 8 March 2018 the European Commission published its Action Plan on FinTech and laid out its support of innovative business models and new technologies in the financial sector. In addition to ensuring a high level of consumer and investor protection and increasing cybersecurity, the Action Plan also proposes a regulatory framework throughout the Single Market.

Given that new and innovative financial services do not always easily fit under the existing EU regulatory framework, the Action Plan sketches the outlines of a comprehensive European passporting regime for European investment-based and lending-based crowdfunding service providers (ECSP). It also promotes the idea of regulatory sandboxes as a controlled space to test innovative FinTech solutions for a limited period of time and on a limited scale in coordination with the competent authority.

The Commission will host an EU FinTech Lab in Q2 this year where regulators can learn and understand from technology solution providers in a non-commercial space how their new technologies are applied to the financial sector and what regulatory concerns may exist. This is a sensible idea to ensure the regulators’ understanding and the market applicability of new technology in a neutral, constructive setting.

The Action Plan gives some hope that the EU will be a market where innovative FinTech business models can develop on a harmonised basis overcoming diverging regulatory burdens. Yet, it remains to be seen if the awaited guidance of the European authorities thereon will transfer the political vision into a practical and innovation supportive approach.