Lawyers Chime in On What a Biden Administration Could Mean for Merchant Cash Advance
In the weeks following the election, the news cycle has been heavily focused on the presidential transition’s legal aspects.
Instead of worrying about vote recounts, merchant cash advance (MCA) companies are considering what legal changes, if any, might come after Jan 20th. Will the Biden administration spell the beginning of new regulations on the world of business to business financing?
Lawyers say that while the industry is waiting on Georgia to decide the Senate’s fate, increased regulation at the federal is unlikely to occur.
“If the Republicans hold in Georgia, and we have a split legislative branch, that means gridlock, and gridlock is great for the industry,” Catherine Brennan, partner at Hudson Cook, said. “The more progressive wing of the Democratic Party would like to put merchant cash advance under the auspices of quasi-consumer [loans,] but they won’t be able to do that with the split legislative branch.”
Brennan has a wealth of experience as a commercial finance compliance and litigation lawyer and regularly contributes to the national conversation on alternative and fintech law topics. She said that even if Democrats control the Senate, moderates may still hold back progressives from making new regulatory laws.
“There’s some moderate Democrats who understand the need for this market, they understand the product, and their constituents, in particular, use the product,” Brennan said. “I don’t see anything at the federal level that should be viewed as an existential threat to the ongoing existence of the industry.”
What Brennan does see as more likely, is the gradual adoption of MCA under preexisting executive agencies like the CFPB and FTC. She pointed to the Dodd-Frank Act implementing consumer lending data collection as a possible avenue regulators might take by pushing for data collection in the MCA space.
Still, Brennan insists that MCA firms will be OK so long as they understand the FTC can already look into commercial finance practices and that it has gone after ISOs in the past. She sees that as the number one development from a regulatory standpoint because the FTC will ultimately review what took place in the financial service markets during the pandemic and decide if action is warranted. Still, if funders have been responsible and fair, they should be in a good place.
Brennan did say that the position might be up for grabs when it comes to the head of the CFPB. The previous leader, Richard Cordray, fought with the Trump administration against his re-appointment, believing his position surpassed the president’s authority to fill. Of course, it did not, and Cordray was removed, but there is nothing stopping the Democrats from re-appointing him, Brennan said, especially when other appointees may give up valuable Congressional seats.
James Huber, a partner at Global Legal Law Firm specializing in collections, believes that even if the Senate is somehow blue and passes regulation, that MCAs that are playing by the rules would benefit. The MCA business was born under the Obama administration during the last financial crisis, and if Biden beefs up the CFPB, it would only hurt payday lenders, Huber said.
“It certainly flourished under Obama, so one might think now that it’s got its foothold and it’s here you can almost guarantee that it’s going to continue to do really, really well when there’s stricter regulation,” Huber said. “Your typical deBanked cash advance technology company: I think they’re going to do well with their bread and butter product…”
Huber said that especially when we’re seeing businesses hurting for cash right now, b2b finance will thrive. Huber was worried about Biden’s talk about bankruptcy reform, however.
“Biden’s talked about bankruptcy reform, to make it easier for people to go through bankruptcy, and yield assets like their houses and their cars and things that,” Huber said. “That’s a concern; that would mean that you’re fraudulently applying for a loan, and that’ll be accepted. It slows down collection efforts; our main role in the MCA business is on [defaults].”
Katherine Fisher, a Hudson Cook partner who, alongside Brennan, has deep experience in MCA representation and compliance, agreed with her colleague that funders need to make sure they keep an eye open toward compliance when it comes to regulation.
“Firms that have not focused on the regulatory process need to start, and companies that have looked at it need to revisit it,” Fisher said. Funders should “expect to be comfortable if they are asked to describe how they comply and prepare to do so.”
But beyond that, she sees no doomsday event on the horizon; even if the Senate is no longer Republican-controlled, it would be up to the FTC and CFPB to set the tone. If the CFPB, for example, pushed for data collection under 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act, it might signal a more attentive regulatory environment for MCA and factoring.
Compared to 2008, when the last Democratic administration took office, MCA wasn’t on the radar, Fisher said. Now that it is on the map this time around, especially after MCA funders proved how vital they were to the SMB market during the pandemic, there will be more attention on B2B transactions.
But firms only need to think of this as a chance to make sure their practices are healthy, and most of the industry has already shown signs of doing so. Fisher pointed to the FTC’s small business finance forum last year, which included a panel of MCA representatives at the table.
“I don’t think it is a scary time. It’s an opportunity for MCA to improve their processes, make sure they are following the law,” Fisher said. “They don’t need to be afraid but need to batten down. Much of the industry has already done that, the MCA industry has been focused on adopting good practices.”Last modified: November 30, 2020