In the first two parts of this series we talked about the reason we have so many far-reaching regulations in compliance. The pattern these regulations follow is the same. Bad behavior by a number of financial institutions leads to a large public outcry which eventually results in regulations directed to addressing the bad behavior. The Truth in Lending Act, The Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and HMDA, all were implemented this way. Despite ongoing complaints from bankers about how burdensome these regulations might be, they are here to stay and are a part of doing business in financial services. However, by taking an optimist’s view of consumer regulations, one can find that there are many positives. These regulations add a level of stability to the banking industry and level the playing field for banks. Not only consumers but financial institutions have come to know what to expect when offering consumer products. Federally insured financial institutions have the same set of rules applied to them. Consumer compliance regulations are going to be a fact of life for financial institutions for the foreseeable future. However, all is not lost. Today there is a unique opportunity to reimagine the purpose of the compliance department. In fact, with the right change of focus, compliance can go from a cost center to a profit center.
Changes Have Come to the Banking Industry
In part two of this series we talked about the major factors that will drive change in the financial services industry in the very near future. Major forces are not only impacting the way financial institutions will do business in the future, they are directly impacting the meaning of compliance. Consider that the number of unbanked and underbanked people in the United States is at an all-time high. According to the FDIC there are more than 30 million people that fall into one of these two categories. Not only is the number of people striking, the composition of the group should give a moment’s pause to financial institutions doing strategic planning. The people in the unbanked and underbanked group include millennials, and people who simply have decided that it is better to stay outside of the banking system for assorted reasons.
Even though the unbanked and underbanked don’t have relationships with financial institutions, they DO have banking needs. Fintech companies have recognized the banking needs of this group and are developing the means to deliver. The smart phone is a gateway to banks even for persons that don’t want to have traditional accounts. Products such as Venmo and PayPal are the first generation of these companies. But in large part, these require a banking connection; today there are many ways to transfer money without a bank account. The second generation of Fintech’s allows customers to maintain a digital wallet1. The digital wallet allows the customer to maintain value (money) and store
the value on the smart phone. In other words, the new Fintech’s are making it more and more likely that the unbanked can stay unbanked and thrive.
Yet another hidden factor is the demand for the financial services provided by money service businesses (“MSB’s). MSB’s are companies that provide financial services including foreign currency exchange, check cashing and most important remittances. The constituency of MSB’s includes large populations of the unbanked and underbanked. During the period starting in 2010 through 2013, the Department of Justice along with the FDIC instituted Operation Chokepoint, which focused strict scrutiny on the administration of MSB’s. The result was that many financial institutions decided that they would no longer offer banking services to MSB’s. The need for banking services did not go away simply because Operation Chokepoint made it more difficult for MSB’s to get bank accounts. In many respects, Operation Chokepoint has created a significant opportunity for financial institutions who “step outside the box” and consider MSB’s as a source for non-interest income.
For many institutions, the ability to take advantage of the opportunities presented by underbanked, financial technology and MSB’s is severely limited. While each of these businesses present a reliable source of potential income, they all come with a level of risk. Compliance departments at financial institutions must be able to properly project the levels of risk and develop systems that will allow the institution to mitigate the risk.
Today’s compliance department tends to be misaligned with the strategic planning structure of financial institutions. Because compliance is viewed as a necessary (but unwanted) cost of doing business, the approach is often to get by with the minimum to meet the regulatory requirements. In extreme cases, some institutions simply calculate the costs of noncompliance into the operating budget.
Compliance programs are most often designed to be reactive. Compliance Officers make changes only when there is change in a regulation that impacts the institutions ability to keep the same products and services. For example, when the valuation rule was implemented, many compliance officers were tasked with figuring a way to document that the customer had received a copy of the appraisal or valuation used to establish collateral value. A more proactive approach might have been to partner with a Fintech company that could produce the required documentation electronically and efficiently, which will allow for significant cost savings.
The vast majority of compliance departments have limited resources and requests for budget increases are denied. Many Compliance Officers are forced to get by on their own grit and determination (in addition to lighting candles and praying). It is also common for a Compliance Officer to have several other duties including operations, security, BSA and IT to name a few. In the end, the best that a misaligned compliance depart can do is to try to keep its head above water.
Towards a More Proactive Compliance Department
Could you imagine the compliance department at your institution as a source of fee income, new clients and ongoing growth at your institution? Though it may sound farfetched, there is a possibility that this can be the case. There is a two-step process that must occur to get to this point.
First, recognizing the opportunities that exist; too many financial institutions write off MSB’s because they fear the compliance burden. However, the regulators have made it clear that with the right compliance program, there is absolutely nothing to fear from MSB’s. Making an investment into your compliance department that allows the necessary resources to properly monitor and administrate MSB’s will yield a positive return. In addition, by being able to offer banking to MSB’s your bank can access a group of potential clients that have given up on banking
Fintech companies have been developed to specifically meet the money movement needs of their customers. For many a fintech firm, there is a limited focus on compliance. One of the main things that vexes these companies is the need to get MSB licenses in each state in which they transact business. For many of` these firms a partnership with a Bank is a solution to this problem. Once again, by investing in your compliance department, the ability to engage in these partnerships can be realized.
By reimagining the compliance department of your institution, the door can be opened to additional income, customers and sustainable growth.