opinion

Justice and Equal Banking for All

Justice and Equal Banking for All

July is the month when Americans celebrate our freedoms. Valuing those freedoms also means being vigilant about protecting them. That’s why I recently visited our nation’s capital as part of a Free Speech Coalition (FSC) trip to combat banking discrimination.

For the past seven years, I’ve been on the board of FSC and currently serve as its CFO. FSC members were invited to Washington in May after a successful December 2022 Capitol Hill visit. This experience was amazing and to see democracy in action was inspiring. I want to share what happened in Washington, how banking discrimination impacts us all — and how groups like FSC are champions for change.

Both sides of the aisle agree that if a business is legal, the people in that business should have access to banking.

Freedom Is Calling

Every legal business should be able to have a bank account. It’s that simple — and it’s an issue uniting multiple industries. Merchants in many “high-risk” categories constantly fear they’ll lose their banking relationships. For some in the adult industry, it’s always a struggle to fund their models, content creators and affiliates. Many look to their payment processors for help.

That’s where the FSC trip came in. Ten FSC members traveled to Washington to meet with representatives from the House and Senate to highlight the challenges caused by banking discrimination, and to urge decisive action to end it.

The meetings were led by FSC Executive Director Alison Boden and Mike Stabile, the organization’s director of public affairs. They were supported by the FSC lobbying team, FS Vector and Clarity Consulting.

The timing coincided with legislation recently introduced in the Senate, called the Fair Access to Banking Act. The bill places restrictions on certain banks, credit unions and payment card networks if they refuse to do business with a person or company — even though that person or company complies with the law. The bill also seeks to ensure that financial services cannot be withheld from businesses that are “politically unpopular” — ring any bells? — and establishes the right to bring civil action against violators.

There is also bipartisan legislation moving forward that focuses on the cannabis industry, but that also addresses fair banking for other industries.

Wheels of Justice Are Turning

We had a full day, splitting into two groups and meeting with five congressional offices and nine Senate offices. The meetings were a mix of Democrats and Republicans. Although we didn’t meet with actual House and Senate members, the meetings with their staff members were very productive.

Alison and Mike led each meeting and provided a laser focus on how banking discrimination impacts our industry. I shared how bank account closures impact payment processors and their merchants, such as when industry folks have their bank accounts shut down or money held with no reasons given. Other FSC members shared their personal experiences, including one member who has had 30 accounts closed over the course of her career.

United We Stand

What surprised me most was that most of the staff members — all young, in their 20s and 30s — didn’t even know that banking discrimination was happening to our industry. They were genuinely surprised to learn about the challenges we face. Both sides of the aisle agree that if a business is legal, the people in that business should have access to banking. It is a human right! Of course, each party viewed the issue differently, but there were several areas of common ground.

What gave me hope was that all sides recognized that in order to get legislation approved, they needed to work together. If you watch any cable news shows, it’s hard to believe that working together is something anyone ever considers these days.

Fighting for Our Rights

FSC has been helping to advance initiatives to protect and improve the industry for more than 30 years. When it comes to banking discrimination, the fight for merchants’ rights has been ongoing. Some of the organization’s other big accomplishments include taking on legislative threats such as the EARN IT Act, which would impact free speech, or California’s SB 435, a badly written “revenge porn” law that would have threatened adult businesses across the web. In November, FSC launched a legislative action center to track emerging threats.

FSC is also on top of it when it comes to child protection. After a victory in the courts against unconstitutional provisions of U.S. Code 2257, FSC drafted an update to the regulation’s record-keeping requirements, to remove those provisions and clarify exactly what producers and performers need to do to comply. These streamlined and simplified rules are headed to the Department of Justice this year.

Lastly, FSC has been tracking the many age verification laws currently going through state legislatures and recently joined a suit to overturn Utah’s SB 287. That law requires that visitors to adult sites prove that they are over 18 years of age by providing digitized government identification to a service that interacts with a state database.

Standing Together

This trip to Washington was one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of my entire professional career. It taught me that if we speak out and stand strong as an industry, we can make change happen.

The small but passionate FSC team provides the leadership and focus for that effort, so I strongly encourage everyone in the industry to get involved with FSC, which is supported by membership dues. Even the smallest contribution helps the organization to move forward and champion change. It’s a way to give back to an organization that supports so many of us.

Cathy Beardsley is president and CEO of Segpay, a merchant services provider offering a wide range of custom financial solutions including payment facilitator, direct merchant accounts and secure gateway services. Under her direction, Segpay has become one of four companies approved by Visa to operate as a high-risk internet payment services provider. Segpay offers secure turnkey solutions to accept online payments, with a guarantee that funds are kept safe and protected with its proprietary Fraud Mitigation System and customer service and support. For any questions or help, contact sales@segpay.com or compliance@segpay.com.

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