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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

CFPB launches pilot advisory opinion program to provide regulatory clarity

Agency Rule-Making & Guidance CFPB Compliance Regulation

Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

On June 18, the CFPB launched a pilot advisory opinion program (AO program) to allow entities to submit requests to the Bureau for written guidance in cases of regulatory compliance uncertainty. The pilot AO program procedural rule went into effect June 22, and states that the AO program—established in response to external stakeholder feedback encouraging the Bureau to provide written guidance—will primarily focus on clarifying ambiguities in Bureau regulations, although AOs may also clarify statutory ambiguities. The Bureau notes, however, that it will not issue AOs on matters that require notice-and-comment rulemaking or that are better addressed through that process, and does not intend to issue an AO that will change a regulation or replace a regulation or statute with a “bright-light standard that eliminates all the required analysis.” During the pilot, requests will not be accepted from third parties, such as trade associations or law firms, on behalf of unnamed entities. According to the Bureau’s announcement, it will select topics based on the program’s priorities, and, if appropriate, may publicly “issue an [AO] based on its summary of the facts presented that would be applicable to other entities in situations with similar facts and circumstances.”

The pilot AO program will focus on the following four priorities: (i) providing consumers “with timely and understandable information to make responsible decisions”; (ii) identifying “outdated, unnecessary or unduly burdensome regulations in order to reduce regulatory burdens”; (iii) consistently enforcing federal consumer financial laws “in order to promote fair competition”; and (iv) “[e]nsuring markets for consumer financial products and services operate transparently and efficiently to facilitate access and innovation.”

In determining the appropriateness of an AO, the Bureau will consider several factors, including whether (i) prior Bureau examinations have identified the issue as one that may benefit from additional regulatory clarity; (ii) the issue is “of substantive importance or impact or one whose clarification would provide significant benefit”; and/or (iii) the issue concerns an ambiguity not previously addressed through an interpretive rule or other authoritative source. Additionally, issues currently under investigation or enforcement likely will not be considered appropriate for an AO.

A proposed procedural rule and information collection was also announced June 18, which requests comments on the proposed AO program. Comments must be received 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. The proposed AO program, following the conclusion of the pilot, will be fully implemented after the Bureau reviews the comments.