US banking regulator warns against crisis risk from fintech proliferation

Representations of cryptocurrencies in this illustration taken on January 24, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

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NEW YORK, Sept 7 (Reuters) – The rise of fintech services and digital banking could spur financial risk and potentially a crisis in the long term, Michael Hsu, acting comptroller of the currency, a major U.S. banking regulator, warned on Wednesday.

“I think fintech and big tech are having a big impact and warrant a lot more of our attention,” Hsu said at a conference in New York, noting that fintech companies’ forays into the traditional financial sector, including through partnerships with banks, created more complexity and “de-integration” across the banking sector.

“My strong feeling is that this process, left to its own devices, is likely to accelerate and expand until it is a serious problem, or even a crisis,” Hsu said.

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Banks and tech firms, in an effort to provide a seamless customer experience, are teaming up in ways that make it harder for regulators to distinguish where the bank stops and where the tech firm starts, Hsu said. And with fintech values ​​falling as funding costs rise, bank partnerships with fintech are on the rise, he said.

That can create IT risks around information security and resilience, and also raise issues with customer protection, Hsu said.

“I increasingly worry about the ‘unknowns’ and worry that the lesser-known risks of this digital transition are unmarked and thus unseen. As we learned from the 2008 financial crisis, risks that are unseen tend to grow and later become the source of nasty surprises,” Hsu said.

In the past, Gene Ludwig, a former comptroller of the currency, has also warned that regulations for fintech are much less stringent than those governing banks.

“The non-banking industry is getting away with murder,” said Ludwig, who is now a managing partner at Canapi Ventures, a venture capital firm.

Ludwig predicted non-banks “will get us into the next financial crisis if we don’t do something about it.”

US regulators have been wary of letting banks dip into cryptocurrencies, which have fallen in recent months on fears interest rate hikes will end the era of cheap money. Several crypto companies have filed for bankruptcy.

Hsu said the turmoil had “all the hallmarks of a classic run” on an interconnected industry that was struggling, and warned that the market is very “hype-driven.”

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Reporting by Lananh Nguyen and Saeed Azhar; writing by Michelle Price; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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