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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

CFPB holds small business lending symposium

Federal Issues CFPB Small Business Lending Fintech Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Fair Lending ECOA Dodd-Frank

Federal Issues

On November 6, the CFPB held a symposium covering small business lending and Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act, which amends ECOA to require financial institutions to compile, maintain, and submit to the Bureau certain information concerning credit applications by women-owned, minority-owned, and small businesses, and also directs the Bureau to promulgate regulations to implement these requirements. In her opening remarks, Director Kraninger, noted that the symposium was being convened to assist the Bureau with information gathering for upcoming rulemaking and emphasized that the Bureau is focused on a rulemaking that would not impede small business access to credit by imposing unnecessary costs on financial institutions. The symposium consisted of two panels, with the first covering policy issues related to small business lending, while the second discussed specific aspects of the requirements of Section 1071. Highlights of the panels include:

  • Panel #1. During the policy discussion, panelists focused on non-traditional lenders, namely fintech firms, that have entered the small business lending market, with most noting that these online alternative lenders have filled a necessary lending gap left by traditional banks and depository institutions. While concerns around bad actors in the online lending space were discussed, most panelists agreed that online financing may provide an opportunity for women and minority-owned businesses to avoid potential biases in underwriting, with one panelist noting that his company does not collect gender or race information in its online application.
  • Panel #2. Panelists focused their discussion on specific implementation concerns of Section 1071, including compliance costs, definitions of small business and financial institutions, data elements to be reported, and privacy concerns. Among other things, panelists noted that the definition of “small business” should be limited to businesses under $1 million in revenue, which is a figure included in other regulations such as ECOA and the CRA. Panelists disagreed on whether the Bureau should exercise its exemptive authority under Section 1071 for the definition of “financial institution.” While some panelists believe that the broad definition included in the Act is necessary to hold all the players in the market accountable, others argued that large financial institutions that receive an “outstanding” CRA rating should be excluded from the reporting requirements. As for data elements, most agreed that the Bureau should only require the statutorily mandated elements and not include any others in the rulemaking, while one panelist suggested that APR must be included in order to ensure that approval rates for minority-owned small businesses are the result of actual innovation and effective business models and not just the charging of high rates. Moreover, panelists reminded the Bureau to be cognizant of the small business lending reporting requirements of the CRA and HMDA and cautioned the Bureau to keep Section 1071 data requirements compatible.
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