In recent years, Vietnam has observed a rapid development in fintech in many areas, including banking activities such as open API, e-payment, blockchain, P2P lending, e-KYC and other innovative services.
The current fintech legal framework however seems outdated and unable to keep up with such development. This has caused great difficulties, not only for fintech companies and credit institutions in improving the quality of their services in this technology era, but also for the State in controlling and supervising fintech activities. These difficulties have become a hindrance to Vietnam’s fintech development.
To tackle this situation, the State Bank of Vietnam (“SBV”) has been assigned to prepare a regulatory sandbox for fintech activities in Vietnam (“regulatory sandbox” or “sandbox”), thereby working towards a comprehensive legal framework in the near future. However, up until now, no details of the sandbox have been published, nor any information on its expected release date.
Fintech companies should nonetheless keep a close eye on any update on the regulatory sandbox as this may help them prepare for any potential or significant changes to be introduced in the following ways. First, the regulatory sandbox is expected to at least provide criteria and requirements to be met by participants and control mechanism to be employed by the government to manage the participants’ activities. There is a risk that some unexpected conditions and/or more onerous obligations may be imposed on fintech companies.
Second, Vietnam is lagging behind other countries in terms of the quantity of regulations governing fintech activities. This allows Vietnam to learn from the regulatory successes and failures in other Asian countries and, accordingly, Vietnam may take precedence from these countries to either open or restrict the scope of fintech in the regulatory sandbox.
For instance, P2P lending can be a great concern to the government, especially after the collapse of several P2P lending platforms last year in China, which casts doubts over the feasibility of self-regulated P2P lending enterprises and suggests that China’s loose regulations on P2P lending may be at fault. As such, there is a risk that Vietnam, a country with no legal framework for fintech, may be exposed to similar issues of P2P lending. In fact, the operation of a number of P2P lending companies in Vietnam has already presented apparent risks to clients (including borrowers and lenders/investors), such as low information security, lack of information transparency or unreasonably high loan rates.
The above risks may lead to the regulatory sandbox imposing strict requirements on P2P lending platforms in Vietnam and the SBV placing P2P lending companies’ operation under close supervision.
For other fintech services, there are concerns over cybersecurity and the complex structure of fintech activities. Thus, it would not be surprising if the government takes precautions by imposing strict requirements on and conducting regular inspection of fintech companies.
Another key issue that should gain the attention of fintech companies is the legal consequences for those which do not, or cannot, participate in the regulatory sandbox, i.e. whether non-participating fintech companies may continue, or would be forced to cease or suspend, their operation when the regulatory sandbox is issued and effective. As it remains unclear whether the sandbox may trigger the ask-give mechanism, i.e. the mechanism which gives SBV the sole discretion to decide who can join the sandbox and who cannot, the consequences for non-partcipation are uncertain and should be seriously deliberated.
In conclusion, although particulars of the regulatory sandbox and its effects on the fintech community remain to be seen, the regulatory sandbox and other pertinent regulations relating to fintech activities, once officially promulgated, will lead to radical developments in fintech companies as well as banking technologies and products. As a result, all fintech companies should be well aware of this regulatory sandbox and adequately prepare in advance if possible.
There are also other legal documents promulgated, including:
• Decree No. 155/2018/ND-CP amending regulations relating to business conditions under State management of the Ministry of Health. Significantly, this Decree removes many business conditions and clarifies some licensing procedures for food safety, pharmaceutical products, cosmetic products, medical examination, treatment, etc. The Decree is effective from 12 November 2018.
• Decree No. 157/2018/ND-CP on region-based minimum wages (RMW) applicable to employees working under labor contracts. Notably, the Decree, by replacing Decree No. 141/2017/ND-CP regulating the same matter, increases RMW by 5% - 5.8% depending on the employer’s location. This may result in an increase in the employer’s labor cost since under the laws RMW is used to calculate the employee’s minimum wages as well as the cap unemployment insurance contributions. The Decree takes effect from 1 January 2019.
• Decree No. 165/2018/ND-CP on electronic transactions (e-transactions) in financial activities, which is applicable to organization, individual conducting e-transactions in financial activities including, among others, the State’s budget, tax and fee, security and accounting. In general, the Decree provides specific cases where e-documents used in financial activities are deemed to be valid, clarifies the procedures to convert paper-based documents to e-documents and vice versa, and the requirements on provision of intermediary services in e-transactions in financial activities. This Decree will take effect from 10 February 2019, replacing Decree No. 27/2007/ND-CP.
• Circular 30/2018/TT-NHNN guiding the determination of state capital of equitized credit institutions. The Circular’s purpose is to implement Article 31 of Decree No. 126/2017/ND-CP, stipulating how to calculate the potential development value to be included in an enterprise’s value for equitization purposes. In particular, this Circular lists out accounting accounts the balance of which is used to determine the state capital to calculate the potential development value of equitized credit institutions. These new regulations may facilitate the valuation process of credit institutions in case of being equitized. The Circular takes effect from 1 March 2019.
• Circular No. 42/2018/TT-NHNN amending, supplementing a number of provisions in Circular No. 24/2015/TT-NHNN on loans in foreign currencies granted by credit institutions and foreign bank branches (Banks) to resident borrowers. The Circular aims to specify the Government’s direction on limiting the dollarization of the economy by adding conditions and providing time limit that Banks may consider in granting loans to borrowers for payment of imported goods. On the bright side, for borrowing to manufacture and trade in exported goods, the Circular removes the time limit for granting short-term loans, which was 31 December 2018 under Circular No. 24/2015/TT-NHNN. According to the State Bank of Vietnam, the removal will help satisfy Vietnamese exporters and producers’ temporary capital needs and accordingly enhance their competitiveness in the international market. The Circular takes effect from 1 January 2019.
This briefing is for information purposes only. Its contents do not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as detailed advice in individual cases. For legal advice, please contact our Partners.