In October, I wrote about the potential for standards to make business-to-business payments more efficient. Today, let’s talk about standards again, this time for money transfer businesses and the state regulations covering them.
We all know these businesses: Venmo, Western Union, MoneyGram, PayPal, CashApp. The roster seemingly grows by the day. Many crypto firms also are registered money transfer businesses. Money transfer businesses typically are nationwide and global in scope. Nevertheless, these multi-state and multi-national businesses are regulated under the separate licensing rules of individual states and US territories. Federal laws, including the Bank Secrecy Act and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, also apply to money transfer businesses.
For new and established money transfer businesses and for state regulators, the hodgepodge of state regulations creates headaches. To do business everywhere in the United States, money transfer businesses must register separately in each state and US territory and meet license requirements that can vary from state to state. They can face multiple state examinations, also with different requirements, simultaneously (and annually). During examinations, regulators review operations, financial condition, management, and compliance with anti-money laundering laws.
Fortunately, many states have acted to address this confusing and inefficient situation by adopting the Model Money Transmission Modernization Act (MTMA) [archived PDF], sample legislation developed by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors to establish nationwide standards and requirements for licensed money transmitters. Fourteen states have adopted some version of the MTMA: Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. In my home state of Massachusetts, the legislature’s Joint Committee on Financial Services heard testimony on a version of this bill just last month. For traditional money transmitters and new fintech entrants, the MTMA aims to reduce the substantive and technical differences among the various state laws and regulations. This kind of change has the potential to reduce compliance burdens, encourage innovation, and remove barriers to entry for new market participants.
The MTMA is important given the prodigious growth in person-to-person, or P2P, payments via apps. Among all US consumers, half of P2P payments were sent using noncash methods in 2022, up from less than 30 percent in 2020 (see the chart). From Massachusetts alone, money transmitters sent $31 billion in 2022, according to the state’s Division of Banks.
Half of P2P payments were made electronically in 2022.
The MTMA also has the potential to create efficiencies for state supervisors. For example, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) has facilitated a collaborative exam program for nationwide payments and cryptocurrency firms to undergo one exam, each facilitated by one state overseeing a group of examiners sourced from across the country. According to the CSBS, transmitters in more than 40 states that have laws addressing core precepts can benefit from the streamlined exams.