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Chopra testifies at congressional hearings

Federal Issues CFPB Senate Banking Committee House Financial Services Committee Section 1071 Consumer Finance Artificial Intelligence Junk Fees Funding Structure Credit Cards Student Lending

Federal Issues

On June 13, CFPB Director Rohit Chopra testified before the Senate Banking Committee to discuss the Bureau’s most recent semi-annual report to Congress. Covering the period beginning April 1, 2022 and ending September 30, 2022, the semi-annual report addressed a wide range of issues, including the adoption of significant rules and orders, supervisory and enforcement actions, and actions taken by states relating to federal consumer financial law. The report also stated the Bureau received approximately 1.237 million consumer complaints, for which roughly 75 percent pertained to credit or consumer reporting. With respect to the Bureau’s mandated objectives, Chopra’s prepared statement highlighted rulemaking progress on several topics, including small business lending data collection and PACE lending. He also emphasized the agency’s heightened focus on supervising nonbank financial firms and reiterated that the Bureau will continue to shift its enforcement focus from small businesses to repeat offenders.

Committee Chair Sherrod Brown (D-OH) praised Chopra’s leadership in his opening statement, highlighting actions taken by the Bureau since Chopra’s last hearing appearance and disagreeing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision that the agency’s funding authority violates the Constitution’s Appropriations Clause and the separation of powers. However, Ranking Member Tim Scott (R-SC) argued that Chopra “has created uncertainty in the marketplace by attempting to regulate through speeches and blog posts under the guise of ‘clarifying guidance,’” and continues to mislabel payment incentives as “junk fees” or “illegal fees.” Scott also took issue with the Bureau’s small business lending rule and asked why the agency should be trusted to collect a large amount of lending data when the agency itself experienced a data breach when an employee transferred sensitive consumer data to a personal email account without authorization.

During the hearing, Chopra addressed concerns accusing him of bypassing regulatory review by issuing policy changes through agency guidance and press announcements. “The things we hear from small firms is they really want to know how existing law applies,” Chopra said. “We have so many changes in technology, and these small firms don’t have the ability to hire so many lawyers[,] [s]o I’ve actually continued a practice of my predecessor, Director Kraninger to issue these advisory opinions and other guidance documents. They do not create any new obligations. They simply restate what the existing laws are.”

Chopra also answered questions relating to the Bureau’s proposal to limit credit card late fees and, among other things, adjust the safe harbor dollar amount for late fees to $8 for any missed payment (issuers are currently able to charge late fees of up to $41). (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Chopra explained that the proposed rule still allows recovery of costs but said the agency is trying to make the process “more rigorous and make sure it reflects market realities.” “[I]ssuers tell us is that they don’t want to profit off of late fees,” Chopra added. “That's exactly the goal here, because the law says those penalty fees are supposed to be reasonable and proportional. We’re trying to make it more clear about the way we can do that, while also making the market more competitive.”

Republican senators expressed concerns with the proposal during the hearing, with Scott commenting that no one wants to pay the late fee, but that “the truth of the matter is that fee is going to be paid just in a different form. . . .whether it’s through increased interest rates or increased cost of products, it doesn’t go away.” Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) countered that “if there’s an $8 cap on credit card late fees, unless the banks can show that their costs are higher, in which case they can charge more, all that will happen, as best I can tell is that the banks will have slightly lower profit margins.”

Chopra faced similar question during a hearing held the next day before the House Financial Services Committee. Among the topics, committee members raised questions relating to technology risks presented by artificial intelligence and how existing law applies to machine learning. Chopra was also accused of overseeing an unconstitutional agency and flouting the notice-and-comment rulemaking process. Also discussed during the hearing was a recently introduced joint resolution to nullify the Bureau’s small business lending rule. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Representative Roger Williams (R-TX) stressed that community banks are “concerned that the complicated reporting requirements will tie up loan officers and increase compliance costs plus compliance officers, which will be passed down to the consumer.”