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On September 10, the CFPB issued three final innovation policies, the No-Action Letter (NAL) Policy, Compliance Assistance Sandbox (CAS) Policy, and Trial Disclosure Program (TDP) Policy. Director Kraninger noted that the new policies will “improve how the Bureau exercises its authority to facilitate innovation and reduce regulatory uncertainty. . .contribut[ing] to an environment where innovation can flourish—giving consumers more options and better choices.” In September 2018, the Bureau published the proposed TDP policy (covered by InfoBytes here), and in December 2018, the Bureau published the proposed NAL and CAS policies (covered by InfoBytes here). Highlights of the final policies include:
- NAL. The NAL policy provides a NAL recipient reassurance that the Bureau will not bring a supervisory or enforcement action against the company for providing a product or service under the covered facts and circumstances. After an application is considered complete, the Bureau will grant or deny the request within 60 days. The Bureau intends to publish NALs on its website and, in some cases, a version or summary of the application. The Bureau may also publish denials and an explanation of why the application was denied. The policy notes that disclosure of information is governed by the Dodd-Frank Act, FOIA and the Bureau’s rule on Disclosure of Records and Information, which generally would prohibit the Bureau from disclosing confidential information.
- CAS. The CAS policy will evaluate a product or service for compliance with relevant laws and will offer approved applicants a “safe harbor” from liability for certain covered conduct during the testing period under TILA, ECOA, or the EFTA. The CAS was originally proposed as the “Proposed Sandbox Policy,” and included, in addition to the now listed carve-outs, exemptions by order from statutory provisions of ECOA, HOEPA, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Act (FDIA). The final CAS policy does not include the exemption program. The Bureau noted that, based on the comments received on the proposal, it will issue, at a later date, a new proposal to establish a program for exemptions by order through a separate notice-and comment rulemaking.
- TDP. The TDP policy creates the “CFPB Disclosure Sandbox,” which carries out the requirements of Section 1032(e) of the Dodd-Frank Act. The Bureau’s first TPD policy was finalized in 2013, allowing for approved company disclosures to be deemed in compliance with, or exempted from, applicable federal disclosure requirements during the testing period. Under the previous policy, the Bureau did not approve a single company program for participation. The updated TDP policy streamlines the application process, including providing formal determinations within 60 days of deeming an application complete. The policy provides procedures for requesting extensions of successful testing programs, as the Bureau expects most testing periods will start at two-years.
The Bureau also announced the first NAL issued under its new policy in response to a request by HUD on behalf of more than 1,600 housing counseling agencies (HCAs) that participate in HUD’s housing counseling program. The NAL states that the Bureau will not take supervisory or enforcement action under RESPA against HUD-certified HCAs that have entered into certain fee-for-service arrangements with lenders for pre-purchase housing counseling services. Specifically, the Bureau will not take such action against a HCA for including and adhering to a provision in such agreements conditioning the lender’s payment for the housing counseling services on the consumer making contact or closing a loan with the lender, even if that activity could be construed as a referral under RESPA, provided that the level of payment for the services is no more than a level that is commensurate with the services provided and is reasonable and customary for the area. The Bureau issued a template for lenders to seek a NAL for such arrangements, which includes certain anti-steering certifications that (i) the consumer will choose between comparable products from at least three different lenders; (ii) the funding is based on services rendered, not on the terms or conditions of any mortgage loan or related transaction; and (iii) no endorsement, sponsorship, or other preferential treatment will be conveyed to the lender for entering into the arrangement. According to the Bureau, the NAL, “is intended to facilitate HCAs entering into such agreements with lenders and will enhance the ability of housing counseling agencies to obtain funding from additional sources.” In addition to the template, the Bureau has made the HUD NAL application publicly available as well.
On September 10, the FDIC announced updates to its Consumer Compliance Examination Manual (CEM). The CEM includes supervisory policies and examination procedures for evaluating financial institutions’ compliance with federal consumer protection laws and regulations. The recent updates include, among other things, (i) changes to the sections and questions of the Fair Lending Scope and Conclusions Memorandum; and (ii) incorporation of the private flood insurance final rule’s provisions pertaining to the mandatory and discretionary acceptance of private flood insurance by financial institutions.
On September 10, the CFPB, in conjunction with state regulators, announced the American Consumer Financial Innovation Network (ACFIN) to enhance coordination among federal and state regulators to facilitate financial innovation. ACFIN has three stated objectives in its charter: (i) “[e]stablish coordination between Members to benefit consumers by facilitating innovation that enhances competition, consumer access, or financial inclusion”; (ii) “[m]inimize unnecessary regulatory burdens and bolster regulatory certainty for innovative consumer financial products and services”; and (iii) “[k]eep pace with the evolution of technology in markets for consumer financial products and services in order to help ensure those markets are free from fraud, discrimination, and deceptive practices.” The initial state members of ACFIN are Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah, but the Bureau notes that all state regulators, including financial regulatory agencies, have been invited to join.
U.S. enforcement authorities seize $3.7 million, arrest 281 for involvement in Business Email Compromise schemes
On September 10, the DOJ announced a coordinated effort with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the U.S. Department of State, against a series of Business Email Compromise (BEC) scams. The effort was conducted over a four-month period, resulting in the seizure of nearly $3.7 million and the arrest of 281 individuals in the U.S. and overseas, including 167 in Nigeria, 18 in Turkey and 15 in Ghana, along with arrests in France, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, and the U.K. According to the DOJ, “BEC, also known as ‘cyber-enabled financial fraud,’ is a sophisticated scam often targeting employees with access to company finances and businesses working with foreign suppliers and/or businesses that regularly perform wire transfer payments.” BEC scams can involve requests for paper checks and may not actually “compromise” an email account or computer network. The DOJ notes that many BEC scams are perpetrated by foreign citizens, who are often members of transnational criminal organizations.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), in July, discussed efforts designed to restrict and impede Business Email Compromise (BEC) scammers and other illicit actors who profit from email compromise fraud schemes and issued an updated advisory, providing general trends in BEC schemes, information concerning the targeting of non-business entities, and risks associated with the targeting of vulnerable business processes.
On September 10, the FDIC and the OCC filed an amicus brief in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, supporting a bankruptcy judge’s ruling, which refused to disallow a claim for a business loan that carried a more than 120 percent annual interest rate, concluding the interest rate was permissible as a matter of federal law. After filing bankruptcy in 2017, a Denver-based business sought to reject the claim under Section 502 of the Bankruptcy Code, and sought equitable subordination under Section 510 of the Code, arguing that the original promissory note, executed by the debtor and a Wisconsin state chartered bank, and subsequently assigned to a nonbank lender, was invalid under Colorado’s usury law. The bankruptcy judge disagreed, declining to follow Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here). The judge concluded that the promissory note was valid under Wisconsin law when executed as that state imposes no interest rate cap on business loans, and the assignment to the nonbank lender did not alter this, stating “[i]n the Court’s view, the ‘valid-when-made’ rule remains the law.” The debtor appealed the ruling to the district court.
In support of the bankruptcy judge’s opinion, the FDIC and the OCC argue that the valid-when-made rule is dispositive. Specifically, the agencies assert that the nonbank assignee may lawfully charge the 120 percent annual rate, because the interest rate was non-usurious at the time when the loan was made by the Wisconsin state chartered bank. Moreover, the agencies state that it is a fundamental rule of contract law that “an assignee succeeds to all the assignor’s rights in the contract, including the right to receive the consideration agreed upon in the contract—here, the interest rate agreed upon.” Hence, the nonbank lender inherited the same contractual right to charge the annual interest rate. The agencies also argue that the Federal Deposit Insurance Act’s provisions regarding interest rate exportation (specifically 12 U.S.C. § 1831d) requires the same result, noting that “Congress intended to confer on banks a meaningful right to make loans at the rates allowed by their home states, which necessarily includes the ability to transfer those rates.” The agencies conclude that the bankruptcy judge correctly rejected Madden, calling the 2nd Circuit’s decision “unfathomable” for disregarding the valid-when-made doctrine and the “stand-in-the-shoes-rule” of contract law.
On September 10, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing entitled “Housing Finance Reform: Next Steps” to discuss the federal government’s plans for reforming and strengthening the mortgage market. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Department of Treasury and HUD released complementary proposals on September 5 discussing plans to end the conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) and reform the housing finance system. The Committee heard from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, and FHFA Director Mark Calabria. Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) opened the hearing by stating a preference for comprehensive legislation to end the conservatorship of the GSEs but stressed that the agencies should “begin moving forward with incremental steps that move the system in the right direction.” Democratic members of the Committee stated their oppositions to the proposals, with Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) arguing that the Treasury’s plan “will make mortgages more expensive and harder to get,” make it more difficult for small lenders to compete, and roll back tools designed to help underserved families.
Treasury Secretary Mnuchin defended his agency’s proposal, and noted that while he prefers that Congress take the lead on ending the GSE conservatorships and plans to work with Congress on a bipartisan basis to enact comprehensive housing finance reform legislation, he also sees the need to concurrently develop administrative actions to protect taxpayers and foster competition. Among other things, Mnuchin discussed steps to remove the net worth sweep, which requires the GSEs to send nearly all their profits to the Treasury, arguing that ending the sweep will allow the GSEs to retain their earnings and build up capital.
FHFA Director Calabria emphasized that plans released by the Treasury and HUD are “broadly consistent” with his top priorities, which include developing capital standards for the GSEs to match their risk profiles that would “begin the process to end the [GSE] conservatorships,” as well as reforms to reduce the risks in the GSEs’ portfolios. All three witnesses agreed with Crapo’s assessment that the GSEs in their current form “are systemically important companies [and] that they continue to be too big to fail.” Calabria further emphasized that while he believes only Congress can reach a comprehensive solution, he believes the agencies can also make significant steps.
HUD Secretary Carson commented that a central principle of HUD’s housing finance plan is to improve coordination between HUD and FHFA to allow qualified borrowers access to responsible and affordable credit options, with HUD, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Agriculture acting as the sole sources of low-down-payment financing for borrowers outside of the conventional mortgage market. Carson further noted that reform will “reduce the Federal Government’s outsized role in housing finance.”
On September 9, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California entered a final judgment against a debt collection agency that was found guilty of violating the TCPA by making more than 500,000 unsolicited robocalls using autodialers. The court’s final judgment is consistent with the jury’s verdict from last May, which identified four classes of individuals: two involving consumers who received skip-tracing calls or pre-recorded messages, and two involving non-debtor consumers who never had debt collection accounts with the defendant but received calls on their cell phones. In a February 2018 order, the court resolved cross motions for summary judgment, affirming that the dialers used by the defendant to place the calls constituted autodialers within the meaning of the TCPA and that the defendant lacked prior express consent to place the calls. Under the more than $267 million final judgment, class members will each receive $500 per call, with one of the named plaintiffs receiving $7,000 for his individual TCPA claim.
On September 10, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced the designation of 15 leaders, individuals, and entities affiliated with terror groups, pursuant to the newly issued Executive Order (E.O.) 13886, “Modernizing Sanctions to Combat Terrorism,” which updates E.O. 13224. E.O. 13886 provides Treasury and the State Department with “new tools” to identify and designate perpetrators. Most notably, under E.O. 13886, foreign financial institutions are now subject to secondary sanctions, allowing OFAC to prohibit or impose strict conditions on the opening or maintaining in the U.S. of a correspondent account or a payable-through account by any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction for any Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT), or a person acting on behalf of or at the direction of, or owned or controlled by, a SDGT.
As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property of the sanctioned targets subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. U.S. persons are also generally prohibited from entering into transactions with designated persons. Finally, OFAC warns that persons that engage in transactions with the designated individuals “may themselves be exposed to sanctions or subject to an enforcement action.”
On September 10, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a final order and judgment to approve a class action settlement agreement, which ends litigation dating back to 2011 concerning alleged violations of state usury limitations. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the plaintiffs brought claims against a debt collection firm and its affiliate alleging violations of the FDCPA and New York state usury law when the defendants attempted to collect charged-off credit card debt with interest rates above the state’s 25 percent cap that was purchased from a national bank. In 2017, upon remand following the 2nd Circuit’s decision that a nonbank entity taking assignment of debts originated by a national bank is not entitled to protection under the National Bank Act from state-law usury claims (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here), the district court certified the class and allowed the FDCPA and related state unfair or deceptive acts or practices claims to proceed.
Following a fairness hearing, the court granted the parties’ joint motion for final approval, which divides the approximately 58,000 class members into two subclasses: claims alleging state-law violations, and claims alleging FDCPA violations. Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants are required to, among other things, (i) provide class members with $555,000 in monetary relief; (ii) provide $9.2 million in credit balance reductions; (iii) pay $550,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs; (iv) pay class representatives $5,000 each; and (v) agree to comply with all applicable laws, regulations, and case law regarding the collection of interest, including the collection of usurious interest.
On September 9, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued Venezuela-related General License (GL) 34, “Authorizing Transactions Involving Certain Government of Venezuela Persons,” related to Executive Order (E.O.) 13884. As previously covered by InfoBytes, E.O. 13884, among other things, prevents all property and property interests of the Government of Venezuela existing within the U.S. or in the possession of a U.S. person from being transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in.
GL 34 authorizes transactions with certain Government of Venezuela individuals, including United States citizens; permanent resident aliens of the United States; individuals in the United States who have a valid U.S. immigrant or nonimmigrant visa, other than individuals in the United States as part of Venezuela’s mission to the United Nations; and former employees and contractors of the Government of Venezuela. OFAC also updated FAQ 680 to reflect the new GL.
- Tim Lange to discuss "Services and value" at the North American Collection Agency Regulatory Association Annual Conference
- Buckley Webcast: Government lending update
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "Data privacy litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "How to ace your TRID exam" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Katherine L. Halliday to discuss "UDAP, UDAAP & the Map rule compliance basics" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from recent enforcement actions and CMPs" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Assessing the CDD final rule: A year of transitions" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "HMDA data is out, now what?" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Melissa Klimkiewicz to discuss "Navigating FHA rules and regs" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Washington regulatory overview" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Consenting views: Achieving positive outcomes from consent order recovery" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- APPROVED Webcast: Preparing for 2020 license renewals
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "The state’s role in fintech: Providing an industry framework for innovation" at Lend360
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "AML developments: The latest trends, challenges and opportunities" at the American Conference Institute Financial Crime Executive Roundtable
- Marshall T. Bell and Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Truth in lending" at the American Bar Association National Institute on Consumer Financial Services Basics
- Amanda R. Lawrence and Michael A. Rome to discuss "California Consumer Privacy Act compliance" at the Capital Area Compliance Roundtable
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from recent enforcement actions" at the Institute of International Bankers Risk Management and Regulatory Examination/Compliance Seminar
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Customer identification program/customer due diligence/enhanced due diligence" at a National Association of Federal Credit Unions webinar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "MCCA's blueprint for selling & buying - A pitch workshop for outside counsel" at the Minority Corporate Counsel Association Creating Pathways to Diversity Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan and Moorari K. Shah to discuss "Today's regulatory environment - Are you in the know?" at the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association Annual Convention
- Kathryn L. Ryan and Tim Lange to discuss "Temporary authority to operate - Are you prepared? Hear what the states are doing" at the RegList Annual Workshop
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Fintech regulatory developments, crypto-assets, blockchain and digital banking, and consumer issues" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "How to balance a successful (and stressful) career with greater personal well-being" at the American Bar Association Women in Litigation Joint CLE Conference