WASHINGTON — The current financial regulatory structure is ill-suited for innovation, but a legislative effort to fix that may still be a long way off, according to top House Republican lawmakers.
During a roundtable discussion with fintech entrepreneurs this week, lawmakers acknowledged there were some regulatory obstacles, but said they are just beginning to look into the situation.
"You are at ground zero for this discussion," Rep. Patrick McHenry R-N.C., told the group. "There really haven't been formal discussions in Congress around fintech. We should encourage it and I think that is a long time coming, so getting this group together was that first step for us to formulate ideas and policies around these ideas."
During the roundtable, representatives from fintech startups said the existing regulatory scheme is confusing for everyone.
"The folks don't know how to regulate us and we don't know how to be regulated," said Shally Venugopal, chief executive officer of Myolo, a marketplace lending platform for mortgages.
She went on to tell a story about when she emailed one of her regulators about a very specific issue and the agency responded by sending along an act and code number for her to look up, but ended up not applying it to her business.
"It makes it very unclear to us when we are doing anything illegal or not and that is not a good space to be in as somebody who is just starting out because if something goes wrong, your business is bust," Venugopal said.
After hearing the anecdote, Rep. Mimi Walters R-Calif., said, "Government agency reform is what we need to help you guys."
Chris Duffus, co-founder at Leaf College Savings, which provides gift cards for college savings accounts, said that financial technology oftentimes "is not complicated in terms of design or development of the actual application" but that what is complicated and expensive is applying the technology in a regulatory gray space. He said that getting access to regulators can sometimes require hiring pricey lobbyists.
Instead of jumping through hoops and dealing with multiple regulators, Duffus said his company ended up latching onto a bank, a strategy that he said is fairly common in the fintech world.
"We were lucky that we found a bank to partner with us so we could essentially ride along their charter," Duffus said.
During a discussion after the panel, Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Mo., said that the old regulatory "schemes don't work for" financial technology companies and that the panel was a good way to "specifically come up with legislative ways to fix them."
But Yoder said it will be a while before legislative proposals around fintech come to fruition. "You sort of have to chew at it and sort of whittle it down until you come up with some specific solutions."
McHenry added that "we need to look at ways that we can have a uniform platform for technology."