The top Democrat on the House Small Business Committee is looking into what regulators are doing to protect small-business borrowers who use online lenders.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., wrote Thursday to the heads of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Securities and Exchange Commission, expressing concern over what she referred to as gaps in the regulatory framework. The letter asks the two agencies to respond to a series of questions, including what changes in the law would be needed to support their role in the regulation of online lending to small businesses.
"I want to see this technology grow and create new opportunities for startups and small firms, but we need to be certain that there are sufficient regulatory tools in place to ensure transparency for investors and entrepreneurs alike," Velazquez said in a press release. "I want to hear directly from CFPB and SEC on how they are approaching the issue and what they are doing to make sure small companies and investors aren't fleeced by bad actors."
The letter comes at a time when others in Washington, as well as in the financial industry, are criticizing what they describe as a lack of protections for small-business borrowers.
Unlike loans to consumers, small-business loans are not subject to federal rules requiring standard interest-rate disclosures. Many online small-business loans are quite expensive in comparison to bank loans, and have drawn unfavorable comparisons to payday loans.
In a speech last month, Antonio Weiss, counselor to the Treasury secretary, said: "For small businesses, transparency requires standardized all-in pricing metrics, so that a business understands a loan's true cost and can make like-to-like comparisons across different loan products."
Earlier this month, Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley, Sherrod Brown and Jeanne Shaheen wrote to the Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration, asking about those agencies' authority to supervise and examine companies that offer online small-business loans.
The confusion over which federal agencies are responsible for overseeing the burgeoning industry reflects the fact that no single agency has been charged with the job.
The Dodd-Frank Act gave the CFPB the authority to collect various data related to small-business loans — an effort that has yet to begin — but it did not give the agency broader powers to regulate the industry.