The California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation recently released a new opinion letter covering aspects of the California Money Transmission Act (MTA) and the Escrow Act related to persons engaging in business as an escrow agency within the state. The redacted opinion letter examines a request from the inquiring company for confirmation that it does not require either an internet escrow agent license or a money transmitter license in the state of California in connection with its proposed business model (details on the model have been omitted). DFPI responded that under the Escrow Law, “it is unlawful for any person to engage in business as an escrow agent within this state except by means of a corporation duly organized for that purpose licensed by the commissioner as an escrow agent.” The definition of an “internet escrow agent,” DFPI explained, was added to Financial Code section 17003, subdivision (b) to mean “any person engaged in the business of receiving escrows for deposit or delivery over the Internet.” DFPI concluded that based on the facts asserted within the request, the inquiring company has not demonstrated that its proposed model is exempt from the Escrow Law.
DFPI further considered whether the inquiring company’s proposed model meets the definition of stored value under the MTA, and whether it qualifies for several exemptions under the statute. DFPI explained that the transactions under consideration are not considered “stored value under the definition in Financial Code section 2003, subdivision (x), because they do not represent a claim against the issuer; rather, the money comes under [the inquiring company’s] possession and control and therefore must be placed in an escrow trust account. “An escrow trust account is not the same as stored value,” DFPI said, adding that since the transaction is not stored value, it is unnecessary to address the remaining arguments regarding the MTA.
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