“Fintech”: in search of a legal definition

by Carlos Goettenauer (PhD Candidate at University of Brasília)

During the last decade, the term “fintech” gained popularity and became a topic of discussion among market agents and financial regulators all around the world. The term’s origin, however, can be traced to the early 1990s, when Citigroup established the “Financial Services Technology Consortium”[1]. As with any other nascent buzzword, its meaning remains a subject of debate and controversy among many social actors. Market agents tend to associate the term “fintech” with innovations on financial systems and on so-called “market disruptions”, linking it to other common Silicon Valley tropes, such as “disintermediation” and “consumer-empowerment”. On the other hand, financial industry incumbents, and even its regulators, may wish to broaden the meaning of the term “fintech”, in order to fit all sorts of technological innovation under its umbrella. Considering its many possible meanings, it is time we ask whether there is space for a legal definition of “fintech”.

The law often plays a major role in reducing polysemy in contested expressions. Legal predictability and normative stability require terms to be precisely defined and agreed upon. This way, a legal definition (or even a statutory definition) of “fintech” would aid authorities in grounding their regulatory efforts, thus producing a more stable and predictable legal environment for both entrants and incumbents.

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The importance of a conceptual reform in the regulation of emerging technologies

by Manuel Resende Monteiro Protásio (LL.M Law & Technology, Tilburg University)

Whenever a different situation or circumstance emerges in society, we, as a group of individuals, instinctively react by trying to comprehend it. The first individual and social construction that we build to understand reality in a consensual way is language itself.

Although our thoughts and concerns on how we perceive society may differ, as language, legal concepts try to establish a consensus between Law and almost every aspect of human life. If we add a new element to our human interactions, like technology, one should ask the question if this new element in our reality requires new language to understand it, or new legal concepts to regulate it.

The need to conceptualize the way we interact with our environment is inherent to our nature. In fact, Language and Law are the most established and sophisticated social constructions that people designed to control their interpersonal relations as well as the environment around them. Both are models of interpretation of our reality and tools that we created to control what we perceive. If we consider the impact of emerging and disruptive technologies in our society, we must assume that the need for a new conceptual approach to regulate technologies is undeniable.

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