Evidently, the eight-year-old, San Francisco-based outfit was the target of an investigation by the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation after Chime used “chimebank” in its website address, as well as used “bank” and “banking” elsewhere in its advertisements, according to the agency in a settlement agreement.
As noted by AB, Chime made the decision to settle ahead of a deadline imposed by the regulatory body.
The development won’t surprise anyone familiar with U.S. banking laws. No outfit can represent itself as a bank or credit union unless it’s licensed to engage in the business of banking. The commission that pushed back on Chime issues such licenses and regulates state-chartered banks in the state of California through the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation, and it said in the settlement that “at all relevant times herein, Chime was not licensed to operate as a bank in California or in any other jurisdiction, nor was it exempt from such licensure.”
Chime has at times attempted to draw a distinction between itself and a bank. When the company raised its most recent round of funding — a $485 million Series F round last September that valued the business at $14.5 billion — CEO Chris Britt told CNBC: “We’re more like a consumer software company than a bank . . . It’s more a transaction-based, processing-based business model that is highly predictable, highly recurring and highly profitable.”
Still, Chime, like many newer fintech companies, has seemingly embraced the term “neobank” and “challenger bank,” and perhaps it’s no wonder. It’s certainly easier to convey to consumers what it is selling, which is banking services that include — in this case — debit cards, spending accounts and savings accounts, all offered through users’ mobile phones.
Given the settlement, expect to see more startups like Chime make clearer that in most cases, they do not have a bank charter and instead are being provided services by banks that do. In Chime’s case, for example, it now makes more plain on its website that it is a “financial technology company” and “not a bank” and that its services are being provided by the The Bancorp Bank and Stride Bank, which are both FDIC members.