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On January 21, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted final approval of a $13 million class action out-of-network (OON) ATM fee settlement. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the plaintiffs filed the action asserting that the bank charges its customers two OON fees when an account holder conducts a balance inquiry and then obtains a cash withdrawal at an OON ATM. The bank moved for summary judgment on the breach of contract claim, which the district court denied, concluding that there were ambiguities regarding the fee terms provided in the contract and on the on-screen ATM warnings. After participating in a private mediation, the plaintiffs filed an unopposed motion for preliminary approval of the settlement. The $13 million settlement covers a total of over 1.6 million class members—defined as all bank account holders in the U.S. who incurred at least one OON balance inquiry fee during varying time periods based on location— and provides for a $10,000 incentive award to each of the named plaintiffs and $3.9 million for plaintiffs’ counsel. In exchange for their share of the settlement funds, the class members will agree to release the bank from all claims relating to the action.
On January 19, the CFPB released a special edition of Supervisory Highlights detailing the agency’s Covid-19 prioritized assessment (PA) observations. Since May 2020, the Bureau has conducted PAs in response to the pandemic in order to obtain real-time information from supervised entities operating in markets that pose an elevated risk of pandemic-related consumer harm. According to the Bureau, the PAs are not designed to identify federal consumer financial law violations, but are intended to spot and assess risks in order to prevent consumer harm. Targeted information requests were sent to entities seeking information on, among other things, ways entities are assisting and communicating with consumers, Covid-19-related institutional challenges, compliance management system changes made in response to the pandemic, and service provider data. Highlights of the Bureau’s findings include:
- Mortgage servicing. The CARES Act established certain forbearance protections for homeowners. The Bureau pointed out that many servicers faced significant challenges, including operational constraints, resource burdens, and service interruptions. Consumer risks were also present, with several servicers (i) providing incomplete or inaccurate information regarding CARES Act forbearances, failing to timely process forbearance requests, or enrolling borrowers in unwanted or automatic forbearances; (ii) sending collection and default notices, assessing late fees, and initiating foreclosures for borrowers in forbearance; (iii) inaccurately handling borrowers’ preauthorized electronic funds transfers; and (iv) failing to take appropriate loss mitigation steps.
- Auto loan servicing. The Bureau noted that many auto loan servicers provided insufficient information to borrowers about the impact of interest accrual during deferment periods, while other servicers continued to withdraw funds for monthly payments even after agreeing to deferments. Additionally, certain borrowers received repossession notices even though servicers had suspended repossession operations during this time.
- Student loan servicing. The CARES Act established protections for certain student loan borrowers, including reduced interest rates and suspended monthly payments for most federal loans owned by the Department of Education. Many private student loan holders also offered payment relief options. The Bureau noted however that servicers faced significant challenges in implementing these protections. For certain servicers, these challenges led to issues which raised the risk of consumer harm, including (i) provision of incorrect or incomplete payment relief options; (ii) failing to maintain regular call center hours; (iii) failing to respond to forbearance extension requests; and (iv) allowing certain payment allocation errors and preauthorized electronic funds transfers.
- Small business lending. The Bureau discussed the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), noting that when “implementing the PPP, multiple lenders adopted a policy that restricted access to PPP loans beyond the eligibility requirements of the CARES Act and rules and orders issued by the SBA.” The Bureau encouraged lenders to consider and address any fair lending risks associated with PPP lending.
The Supervisory Highlights also examined areas related to credit card accounts, consumer reporting and furnishing, debt collection, deposits, prepaid accounts, and small business lending.
On January 20, the Biden administration issued a memo directing the heads of executive departments and agencies across the federal government to “immediately withdraw” or delay action on any pending regulations not yet published in the Federal Register. The memo, among other things, directs departments and agencies to withdraw any new finalized rules that have not yet been published in the Federal Register in order to seek approval from a department or agency head appointed or designated by President Biden. Departments and agencies are also encouraged to “consider” 60-day postponements for published rules that have not taken effect yet to allow for 30-day public comment periods and to consider petitions for reconsideration. The memo, which does not specify which departments or agencies are covered, allows for exceptions in “emergency situations or other urgent circumstances relating to health, safety, environmental, financial, or national security matters, or otherwise.”
On January 20, Kathy Kraninger resigned from her position as CFPB director and newly sworn-in President Biden announced that Dave Uejio would serve as acting director until permanent leadership is confirmed by the U.S. Senate. President Biden officially nominated Rohit Chopra as the permanent director of the Bureau.
Uejio has been with the Bureau since 2012, and prior to his appointment as acting director, he has served as the Bureau’s Chief Strategy Officer since 2015. Chopra, who is currently a Democratic Commissioner of the FTC, previously served as the Bureau’s first student loan ombudsman and assistant director of the Office for Students before leaving the Bureau in 2015.
Kraninger’s resignation is a notable departure from the Bureau’s original structure, as outlined in Dodd-Frank, which called for a single director, appointed to a five-year term and only removable by the president for cause (i.e., for “inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office”). As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, in June 2020, the Supreme Court, in a plurality opinion in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB, held that the CFPB’s statutory structure violates the constitutional separation of powers by restricting the president’s ability to remove the director. The Court remedied the constitutional violation by severing the “for cause” removal language from the remainder of the statute. When Kraninger submitted her resignation on President Biden’s Inauguration Day, she stated it was in “support of the Constitutional prerogative of the President to appoint senior officials within the government who support the President’s policy priorities…”
On January 19, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, NCUA, and the OCC, in consultation with staff at certain other federal functional regulators, published answers to frequently asked questions concerning suspicious activity reporting (SAR) and other anti-money laundering (AML) considerations. The answers clarify financial institutions’ commonly asked questions about SARs/AML regulatory requirements and are provided to assist financial institutions with their Bank Secrecy Act (BSA)/AML compliance obligations in order to enable them “to focus resources on activities that produce the greatest value to law enforcement agencies and other government users of [BSA] reporting.” Topics discussed include (i) law enforcement requests for financial institutions to maintain accounts; (ii) receipt of grand jury subpoenas and law enforcement inquiries and SAR filings; (iii) maintaining customer relationships following the filing of SARs; (iv) filing SARs based on negative news identified in media searches; (v) information provided in SAR data and narrative fields; and (vi) SAR character limits. The agencies note that the FAQs do not alter existing BSA/AML requirements or establish new supervisory expectations, but have been developed in response to recent recommendations as described more thoroughly in FinCEN’s Advance Notice or Proposed Rulemaking issued last September on AML program effectiveness (covered by InfoBytes here).
On January 20, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) announced that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients are now eligible for FHA loans. Specifically, FHA is waiving the FHA Single Family Housing Handbook statement: “Non-US citizens without lawful residency in the U.S. are not eligible for FHA-insured mortgages.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, in June 2019, Len Wolfson, the Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations at HUD sent a letter to Representative Pete Aguilar (D-CA) stating that DACA recipients are not eligible for FHA loans under FHA published policy, referring to the handbook statement. FHA is now reversing course, stating that the term “‘lawful residency’ pre-dates DACA and thus did not anticipate a situation in which a borrower might not have entered the country legally, but nevertheless be considered lawfully present.” In order to avoid confusion, FHA is waiving the Handbook subsection containing the statement in its entirety, but emphasizes that all other FHA borrower requirements remain in effect for all potential borrowers, including DACA recipients.
On January 19, California’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) announced the issuance of subpoenas to a dozen debt collection companies as part of its investigation into consumer complaints about alleged unlawful, unfair, deceptive, or abusive debt collection practices. This is DFPI’s first significant action since the California Consumer Financial Protection Law—which, among other things, expanded DFPI’s UDAAP authority by adding a prohibition on “abusive” acts or practices to California law—went into effect January 1 (covered by a Buckley Special Alert). According to DFPI, consumers across the country have filed complaints against the companies, alleging the debt collectors make repeated phone calls, fail to validate debts, and threaten to sue consumers for debts they do not owe. DFPI notes that the state’s new Debt Collection Licensing Act (enacted last September and covered by InfoBytes here) requires a person engaging in the business of debt collecting in the state of California to be licensed and provides for the regulation and oversight of debt collectors by the agency.
On January 19, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13850 against three individuals, fourteen entities, and six vessels for allegedly engaging in activities tied to a Mexico-based network involved in the illicit sale of hundreds of millions of dollars of Venezuelan oil. The action builds on OFAC’s June 2020 sanctions against three individuals and eight foreign entities for allegedly engaging in activities in or associated with a network attempting to evade U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector in order to benefit “the illegitimate Maduro regime” and Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (covered by InfoBytes here). As a result, all property and interests in property belonging to the identified individuals and entities subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by the designated entities, are also blocked.” U.S. persons are generally prohibited from dealing with any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons.
On January 19, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued four General Licenses in conjunction with State Department designations against a foreign terrorist organization: General License 9, “Official Business of the United States Government,” General License 10, “Official Activities of Certain International Organizations,” General License 11, “Certain Transactions in Support of Nongovernmental Organizations’ Activities in Yemen,” and General License 12, “Transactions Related to the Exportation or Reexportation of Agricultural Commodities, Medicine, Medical Devices, Replacement Parts and Components or Software Updates.” The general licenses authorize certain transactions ordinarily prohibited by the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations, Foreign Terrorist Organizations Sanctions Regulations, and Executive Order 13224, including actions “to help facilitate the uninterrupted flow of humanitarian assistance, including COVID-19-related assistance, and certain other critical commodities to the people of Yemen that would otherwise be prohibited pursuant to authorities administered by OFAC.” OFAC also published related FAQs 875, 876, and 877.
OFAC also updated its Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List to add individuals and entities associated with Venezuela, Russia, and Yemen designations.
On January 14, the Massachusetts governor signed H. 5250, which provides new requirements for student loan servicers. Among other things, these provisions stipulate that servicers are not required to (i) be licensed as a debt collector, or (ii) be registered as a third-party loan servicer provided the servicer does not act, represent, operate, or hold itself out as a third-party loan servicer or a debt collector outside the scope of specified provisions. The bill also requires entities servicing student loans in the Commonwealth to be licensed, but exempts from the licensing requirement banks, credit unions, wholly-owned subsidiaries of banks and credit unions, and nonprofit or public institutions of higher education. H. 5250 also establishes a student loan ombudsman within the office of the attorney general who will be tasked with resolving complaints from student loan borrowers, and assisting student loan borrowers with repayment options, applying for loan discharges and forgiveness, and resolving billing disputes, among other things. Additionally, H. 5250 states that non-exempt student loan servicers must comply with all applicable state and federal regulations, and stipulates that the commissioner may conduct investigations and examinations and suspend licensure should a servicer be found to be in violation of the outlined provisions. In addition, should the commissioner determine that a servicer has committed fraud or engaged in unfair, deceptive, or dishonest actions, the commissioner may take action, including notifying the state attorney general or the student loan ombudsman, suspending or revoking the servicer’s license, and/or imposing an administrative penalty of no more than $50,000 per incident.
- Magda Gathani to discuss "Cryptocurrency meets banks" at the Women in Housing & Finance Partner Series
- Garylene D. Javier to moderate "Innovation in an evolving privacy landscape" at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Consumer Financial Services Committee Winter Meeting
- Buckley Webcast: What’s next for privacy and data security in 2021 and beyond?
- H Joshua Kotin to discuss "Diversity & inclusion: Litigation and enforcement" at the Tri-State Mortgage Conference