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FinCEN Leaks highlight need for regulatory framework overhaul

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FinCEN Leaks highlight need for regulatory framework overhaul

The banking industry has drastically changed over time, money transfers that used to take a number of business days can now be done in milliseconds with a tap of a button. Small exchanges of everyday goods to massive fortunes can now be sent zipping across continents.

All matters of trade and commerce has been rendered easy through the modern advancements of technology. Yet a dark side exists, and this decade has brought a number of them to light.

The FinCEN file leaks brings to the forefront more than 2,500 documents that mostly showcase bank files sent to the US authorities between 2000 till 2017; raising concerns over many money laundering schemes and sketchy transactions done by high-profile people and enterprises across the globe.

These documents are considered some of the international banking system’s most closely guarded secrets.

At the core of the FinCEN files are more than 2,100 Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) written by a number of the banking world’s most renowned names submitted to the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, known as FinCEN.

The SARs, however, were merely the tip of the iceberg.

The files, which were obtained by Buzzfeed and later shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and released last weekend, highlighted the major flaws within the regulatory system that failed to pick up on suspicious transactions amounting to almost $2 trillion. 

But many experts are arguing that the frustrations should be targeted toward the outdated regulatory framework that often fails in its main fight against money laundering and international crime in ways that have the potential to harm everyone.

“Millions of SARs are filed with FinCen every year, half a million are filed with the NCA (National Crime Agency) in the U.K. every year, and law enforcement authorities just can’t react, they can’t look at all of those,” Tom Keatinge, Director of the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies at RUSI, told CNBC.

He argued that banks spend fortunes on compliance, as well as fines from previous failings, thus the banking sector will look to deal with this incident with haste. 

“We are still running a system that was built 25 years ago when it took five days to clear a payment, but yet now money is moving at the touch of an app or a button, so the system I think is what we need to be looking at here, more than the banks themselves,” he added.

The FinCEN files is the fifth leak of financial information to happen this decade, previous are 2017’s Paradise Papers, 2016’s Panama Papers, 2015’s Swiss Leaks, and 2014’s LuxLeaks.

Yehia is an investigative journalist and editor with extensive experience in the news industry as well as digital content creation across the board. He strives to bring the human element to his writing.

FinTech

Retail investors can buy into Robinhood IPO stock

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Robinhood Markets Inc. announced Wednesday its latest alteration to its share distribution, allowing firms issuing shares via the IPO Access platform to reserve stock for certain associates to the company, according to Reuters. 

The trading platform’s Directed Share Programs (DSP), also referred to as “friends and family” offer, delivers workers, consumers, vendors, and various other members with a direct relationship with the trading company the chance to obtain shares at the initial public offering (IPO) valuation.

This shift in tactics for the FinTech company, DSPs, will deliver members of the public familiar with Robinhood with the possibility of buying any share at IPO price, valued at $2.06 per share. And, since the company works in synchronization with Wall-Street level banks to obtain allocations for retail investors. This tactic will permit investors to carve up their interest with the trading company.

Any investor who receives an IPO allocation will have the utmost ability to obtain a share at an IPO valuation that is typically below the market price when trading on an exchange market begins.

The strategy helps raise demand on Robinhood IPO stock instead of the sum of shares offered by the company before the public offering.

Robinhood Markets Inc. revealed that it has already partnered up with 12 firms, making IPOs accessible to users, exhibiting that its most recent share offering is made accessible to a large sum of retail investors.

In parallel, the financial firm listed an additional 660,000 funded accounts in its third-quarter (Q3), payment writes, resulting in a total sum of funded accounts of 22.4 million, signaling a 97 percent rise in a fiscal year. Also, its customer base heightened its horizon by almost doubling its monthly active users Year-over-Year (YoY).

Formerly, renowned institutional investors and funds were the first in line to access IPO allocations. As the main controllers of share allocations, investment banks prioritized affluent Wall Street clients, leaving investors with hardly any alternatives to buy in a stock of a newly listed firm. This situation can only happen once the company’s shares initiate trading and end up with a higher valuation.

Last week, Robinhood endured a heavy share drop below its IPO, mirroring the fall of famous cryptocurrencies, such as meme coin, Dogecoin. This halted investors’ efforts from further investing in the online brokerage led by the plunge in its user growth.

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Visa’s profits jump as credit, debit card spending recovers

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Visa's profits jump as credit, debit card spending recovers

Profits at payments giant Visa Inc. jumped in its most-recent quarter, driven by consumers and businesses getting back to spending on their credit and debit cards after the pandemic.

The San Francisco-based company said Tuesday that it earned $3.58 billion in its fiscal fourth quarter that ended Sept. 30, or $1.65 a share. That’s was up from a profit of $2.14 billion, or 97 cents per share, in the same period a year earlier.

Excluding one-time adjustments, Visa earned $1.62 a share, up 42% from a year earlier. Analysts had been expected $1.55 a share, according to FactSet.

Visa’s results last year were hampered the pandemic-induced global slowdown in travel and economic activity, which cut the amount of money traveling on Visa’s credit and debit card networks. As economies worldwide have reopened, there’s been a tick up in payment volume as well, which goes straight into Visa’s bottom line.

Consumers and businesses spent $2.783 trillion on Visa’s network in the latest quarter, up 17% adjusted for currency fluctuations. Visa saw double-digit growth on both Visa-branded credit cards, as well as debit cards.

Visa executives said they observed that the pandemic brought about a permanent change in consumer behavior: More consumers became comfortable purchasing items online or with their smart phones, which often requires a credit or debit card. This was seen in parts of the economy that have traditionally been cash heavy, like grocery stores, coffee shops and bars.

“The pandemic has further digitized cash,” said Al Kelly, Visa’s CEO and chairman, in a call with investors. “We are positioned even better than where we were before the pandemic.”

That ultimately will be good for Visa’s bottom line. The company earns a fee on each transaction that uses its payment network. The fee varies depending on whether it’s a debit card transaction or what type of credit card is used.

Kelly also said the growth of cryptocurrencies will also be good for Visa’s profits because cryptocurrency investors will need to move money from a traditional bank account to a third-party service to buy Bitcoin and other coins. While Visa’s bread and butter will always be credit and debit cards, Kelly said, he sees its network as being a “single connection point” between cryptocurrencies and traditional sources of money.

Visa also reported its full-year results. The company earned $12.93 billion on an adjusted basis, up 16% from its previous fiscal year. Total revenues last year were $24.11 billion.


NEW YORK (AP)

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Trading apps move to get a live person to hear your problems

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Trading apps move to get a live person to hear your problems

It’s one of the downsides of apps that make things like ordering food or buying stocks and cryptocurrencies easier: What happens when something goes wrong?

It’s often a frustrating chase, tapping through menu after menu in hopes of reaching a person to fix the problem. It’s also something that upstart companies upending the investment and trading industry are increasingly acknowledging.

Robinhood, the app that helps more than 22 million people trade stocks and cryptocurrencies, announced Tuesday that it’s offering 24/7 phone support for its customers to cover almost every issue. It follows up on an announcement by Coinbase, the cryptocurrency trading platform that said last month it would launch 24/7 phone service by the end of the year for many customers.

Before its own stock started trading on the public market for the first time, Robinhood cited “concerns about limited customer support” as one of its challenges. Earlier this year, Robinhood also settled a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a 20-year-old alleging he committed suicide after his emails to the company’s customer support about a $730,000 negative balance on his account received only auto-generated replies.

To reach Robinhood’s customer support in its early days meant to communicate mostly over email, but it’s been adding more live phone support in recent months.

“It takes a while to build a great support organization, especially in a highly regulated business,” said Gretchen Howard, Robinhood Market Inc.’s chief operating officer. Agents need to be licensed, for example, and Robinhood more than tripled its number of customer-support workers between March 2020 and June 2021 to nearly 2,700.

With so many first-time investors making up its base, many of the customer questions coming into Robinhood are about setting up a bank account or going through tax reporting for the first time. But the demand can vary wildly by the day.

“If someone famous tweets about crypto, our crypto volumes can go up 10x” in an instant, Howard said.

Customers logged into Robinhood’s app can now request a callback from a representative. Through the process, the app will also try to help customers solve the problem themselves, if possible. The company based in Menlo Park, California, is still working on how to get live phone service to customers who can’t log into their accounts.

William Van Horn II, a 30-year-old in Pensacola, Florida, has already experienced Robinhood’s customer service several times. He hasn’t always been pleased.

He said he once accidentally deposited $1,000 instead of $100 into his account. Quickly afterward he sent an email to customer service, hoping to cancel the deposit. He eventually got a representative on the phone who tried to walk him through several steps. But Van Horn said he never was able to cancel the $1,000 deposit, or to at least claw back the extra $900.

Van Horn has other complaints about Robinhood’s customer service, but it hasn’t been enough to get him to stop using the app.

“The customer service is lacking,” he said, “but the interface is still pretty much the best in terms of mobile use.”


NEW YORK (AP)

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