The FCA, the Financial Conduct Authority, is the supervising regulatory body for p2p lending platforms in the UK. In Dec. 2018 it refused the application of Mintos* or more precise of a separate legal entity within the Mintos group, established for operations within the UK.
The full notice of the FCA decision can be read here. Below I outline some of the aspects. I also reached out to the Mintos CEO, who kindly answered my questions on this matter.
Before we go into the details, I want to make it clear, that the FCA decision has no direct impact on the current operation of Mintos platform, which is headquartered in Latvia.
Mintos Marketplace Limited applied for permission to conduct a specific regulated activity (“permission to operate an electronic system in relation to lending (Article 36H RAO)”).
Reading the FCA decision there are several points that led to the refusal:
a) the applying company does not currently meet the minimal funding requirements of 50K GBP as specified by the rules (paragraphs 49-50 of the notice)
b) the head office of the applying company is not currently in the UK (51-53)
c) the FCA has doubts that the Mintos business model will be adapted adaquately to comply with the UK regulation rules (paragraphs 29-33, 35-38, 40)
d) the FCA find Mintos wind-down plans are not specific enough (41-44)
e) the FCA is not satisfied with Mintos’ understanding of the UK rules (46-48)
The decision is interesting to read. Naturally it judges Mintos solely by the formal compliance regarding the UK rulebook. Any other non-UK marketplaces seeking FCA approval can certainly learn some things from this declined application. As I stated above, it does not have any consequences for the current operation of the Mintos marketplace. It only affects any potential plans Mintos had for the UK market.
That gets us to the more interesting point: why did Mintos strive to get FCA approval still in 2018 despite Brexit? I asked Martins Sulte, CEO of Mintos, and here are his answers:
1) What was the intention of Mintos to set up the seperate UK entity and apply for permission at the FCA. Was this related to offering IFISA products and possible tax advantages for UK investors?
The intention is to connect to our marketplace loan originators originating loans in GBP in the UK and offering those loans to investors from the UK. We believe that the UK can become a self-sustaining marketplace where local investors are able to fund loans originated locally in the UK.
2) Considering that the application was pursued still as recent as July 2018 (point 29), this is an interesting move in light of Brexit, with several UK fintechs going the other direction to secure a continued presence in the EU. Any comment?
We view the UK market as a separate market that has the UK specific regulatory environment when it comes to crowdlending. Our intention is to create a largely self-sustaining UK marketplace that serves both UK loan originators and UK investors. In that light uncertainty caused by Brexit plays less of a role. It is important to note that each and every country has their own approach to regulating crowdlending, which means that for instance having the FCA permissions for working in the UK would not really affect our operations in other countries, even in EU. Only when the European Commission’s proposal for a regulation on European crowdfunding services providers come into place we might see that licenses are passportable across the EU and then in that light, the Brexit certainly would more of a consideration. For now, we have to look at each country separately.
3) Is the announcement of the application for an e-money license a reaction to the upcoming decision by the FCA?
No. E-money licence and UK permissions are very different licenses.
4) Do you think that any of the assessments the FCA made, will be relevant for the Latvian regulator once the Latvian regulation is finalized?
I don’t think so. Each country has its own approach. The UK has a rather specific approach. When we talk about Latvian regulation we also have to take into account that it will cover only investors and loan originators in Latvia. Once the Latvian regulation is finalized we will still have to look at each country separately. Us having a necessary license in Latvia will play a little role when considering our operations in, for example, Mexico, South East Asia or Russia, or even in other countries of EU.
Martins added: ‘This was a formal Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) decision on Mintos’ application for operating in the United Kingdom submitted by the Mintos Marketplace Ltd (a separate legal entity within Mintos group that was established for operations in the UK). The application was submitted almost two years ago. In these two years, our business model has evolved, our team has expanded significantly and we have gained major business results on a European and global level that defined our position as a leader in the market of investments in loans. The application for necessary permissions to operate in the UK doesn’t affect our daily business and the future development of Mintos, and the rejection of the application is nothing that can, nor will, affect our business operations in other countries.
The UK has different and specific legislation, and the FCA notice serves us as valuable feedback for adjusting our processes and procedures to fit the UK specificities. At the moment, we are in no rush when it comes to entering the UK market, as we are all aware of the many uncertainties regarding the Brexit issue. Anyway, our growth and expansion goals are unwavering, and entering the UK market will remain in the scope of our interest. We will continue working with our legal and regulatory advisors and will take into account the FCA’s feedback when considering our next steps with respect to the UK.’