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Fintechs take flight as FCA freezes customer accounts at Wirecard UK

Fintechs take flight as FCA freezes customer accounts at Wirecard UK

The UK's Financial Conduct Authority has ordered Wirecard UK to cease all regulated activity after the parent company filed for insolvency in Germany.

Wirecard Card Solutions Limited (FRN 900051) is authorised and supervised by the FCA to issue e-money and provide payment services including, issuing e-money onto prepaid cards.

With the German parent entering insolvency proceedings following a multi-year fraud that resulted in a €1.9 billion hole in its balance sheet, the FCA has imposed restrictions on Wirecard UK to cease all regulated activity and freeze all assets and funds.

"Our primary objective is to protect the interests and money of consumers who use Wirecard," states the regulator. "Following last week’s news of €1.9 billion missing from the accounts of the German company, Wirecard, we immediately placed requirements on the firm’s UK business so that it should not pay out or reduce any money it holds for its customers except on their instructions. On 26 June, we took additional measures to require the firm to cease all regulated activities in order to further protect customer money. This now means customers money cannot be accessed."

The action will be a major headache for UK fintech firms which rely on Wirecard services for operational support. These include the likes of Revolut, Pockit, Soldo, Anna Money, Holvi and Curve.

The FCA says that firms who outsource some operational functions to Wirecard should contact their relevant Supervision contact to discuss the contingency plans they have in place.

Anna Money, which offers mobile business accounts and piggy-backs off Wirecard's EMI licence, has already recommended that all customers withdraw their cash from accounts before 12pm, sending out an urgent tweet:

Card consolidation app Curve has also warned customers that they are likely to see a "temporary disruption" to their service and are advised to carry an alternative payment method.

Within hours, the firm had posted a notice on its Website stating: "All Curve transaction and money transfer services have now been suspended with immediate effect."

"In April, Curve announced we would bring more processes in house such as card issuing and e-money and move away from a reliance on Wirecard," the firm continues. "This disruption is expected to last for a limited time only and we are focussed on completing this transition as quickly as possible."

Revolut has also provided Finextra with a statement: "Revolut used Wirecard only as an acquirer in certain locations, enabling customer card ‘top-ups’. We were already in the process of a phased migration from Wirecard to diversify our suppliers since late 2019. When we learned of Wirecard's problems, we migrated the remaining customers to alternative providers worldwide to avoid any potential service disruption."

An email from a worried customer of mobile account Pockit has also landed in our inbox: "Wondering why my account has been frozen with pockit I've got rent to pay and kids to feed what is this all about? Need it sorting asap."

In a statement on its Website, Pockit says: "Pockit accounts will remain inaccessible for a short period of time. We are working with the FCA to reactivate all accounts as quickly as we can."

The ripples are being felt far and wide. BBVA-owned Holvi, which offers business accounts for sole traders, is also seeking to reassure customers after freezing card transactions.

In a message to customers, the firm states: "Please be assured that all Holvi customer accounts and funds remain safe, secure and accessible at all times. This is because all Holvi customer funds are segregated and held in separate accounts in European banks in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, the UK and France. No customer funds are held by Wirecard AG. Your money and your Holvi account are safe."

Comments: (2)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 29 June, 2020, 10:02Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Seems then that fintech has its own systemic vulnerabilities. 

I would imagine many fintech CEOs waking up this Monday morning to the priority of comprehensively understanding all the dependencies among their own 'supply chains' of outsourced service providers of Whatever as a Service.

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 29 June, 2020, 17:24Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Last year, I'd posted this question on Twitter: "I've always wondered what'd happen if such a fintech were to go bankrupt. Will FDIC recognize & pay each customer of the fintech (up to $250K - or whatever is the current cap - per end customer) or does its insurance only cover the fintech's master account?"

Wirecard bankruptcy proceedings may throw some light on this topic in the context of EU & UK.