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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • OFAC amends CACR to restrict revenue sources to the Cuban regime

    Financial Crimes

    On September 23, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a final rule amending the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) to further implement portions of the President’s foreign policy to deny the Cuban regime sources of revenue. Among other things, the final rule (i) amends an interpretive provision and several general licenses regarding lodging and related transactions at certain properties in Cuba identified on the State Department’s “Cuba Prohibited Accommodations List,” including those owned or controlled by the Cuban government; (ii) amends four general licenses to restrict the importation of Cuban-origin alcohol and tobacco products into the U.S.; (iii) amends a general license to eliminate the authorization for U.S. persons to attend or organize professional meetings or conferences in Cuba (specific licenses may be issued on a case-by-case basis for certain transactions); and (iv) eliminates a general license that authorizes U.S. persons “to participate in or organize certain public performances, clinics, workshops, other athletic or non-athletic competitions, and exhibitions, and replaces it with a specific licensing policy” (again permitting the authorization of specific activities via specific license on a case-by-case basis). The final rule also makes several technical and conforming changes, and is effective September 24.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Sanctions Cuba Of Interest to Non-US Persons

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  • Fed issues ANPR on CRA modernization

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On September 21, the Federal Reserve Board (Fed) issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) inviting public comment on its approach for modernizing the regulations that implement the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). The Fed’s ANPR follows a final rule to modernize the regulatory framework implementing the CRA issued by the OCC in May (covered by a Buckley Special Alert), which was met by opposition from community coalitions and House Democrats (covered by InfoBytes here and here). Neither the FDIC nor the Fed joined in promulgating the OCC’s final rule, which is technically effective October 1, 2020, but provides for at least a 27-month transition period for compliance based on a bank’s size and business model.

    According to the Fed, the ANPR’s objectives are to increase the clarity, consistency and transparency of CRA supervisory expectations and standards, while minimizing data collection burdens. The following are key takeaways from the ANPR:

    • Promoting financial inclusion. The ANPR seeks feedback on ways to strengthen regulations and evaluate how banks meet the needs of low- and moderate-income (LMI) communities and address inequities in credit access. The ANPR proposes, among other things, (i) ways to encourage more activities that support minority depository institutions (MDIs), Community Development Financial Institutions, as well as women-owned financial institutions and low-income credit unions outside of a bank’s assessment area; (ii) seeks feedback on additional incentives for investing in and partnering with MDIs; and (iii) requests input on expanding geographic areas for community development activities to allow banks to receive special CRA credit for activities in areas with high unmet needs.
    • Metrics. The ANPR introduces a metrics-based approach to bring greater clarity, consistency, and transparency to how banks are assessed and rated. The ANPR proposes assessing banks’ CRA performance using a Retail Test and a Community Development Test with options to be evaluated under certain subsets based on their size. According to the Fed’s fact sheet, the metrics would be “tailored to local market conditions and adjust[ed] automatically to reflect structural economic differences and changes over the business cycle.” Additionally, the proposed retail lending metrics formulas use the number of a bank’s loans, rather than the dollar amount of those loans, to avoid weighting larger loans more heavily than smaller ones.
    • Internet banks. The ANPR contemplates defining an internet bank for CRA purposes and allowing such internet banks to delineate nationwide assessment areas to “more holistically capture their banking activities.”
    • CRA deserts. The ANPR considers designating “CRA deserts”—“areas with little bank presence and corresponding lesser availability of banking products and services and community development activities”—and allowing banks to receive credit for community development activities in designated areas of need outside of their assessment areas. The ANPR also suggests providing additional consideration if a bank operates a branch in a designated banking desert within an assessment area.
    • CRA-approved activities. The ANPR proposes publishing an illustrative, non-exhaustive list of community development activities that qualify for CRA consideration and seeks feedback on an activity pre-approval process.
    • Small banks. The ANPR proposes eliminating the current intermediate small bank category and establishing an asset-size threshold of $750 million or $1 billion to distinguish between small and large retail banks. Currently, the asset threshold between small and intermediate small banks is $326 million, and the threshold between intermediate small and large banks is $1.305 billion. Small retail banks could continue to be evaluated under the current CRA framework but would have the option to be evaluated under certain of the new subtests. Small banks are also exempt from additional deposit and certain other data collection requirements.
    • Consistent approach. Fed Chair Jerome Powell released a statement stressing that the ANPR “is an important step forward in laying a foundation for the [Fed, OCC, and FDIC] to build a shared, modernized CRA framework that has broad support.”

    Comments on the ANPR are due 120 days after publication in the Federal Register.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Reserve CRA OCC

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  • SEC amends whistleblower program rules

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On September 23, the SEC voted to adopt amendments to the rules governing its whistleblower program. According to the SEC, the amendments are meant to “provide greater transparency, efficiency and clarity, and to strengthen and bolster the program.” The amendments were proposed for public comment in June 2018 (covered by InfoBytes here) and have been adopted with some changes. Highlights include:

    • Award Determinations. The amendments (i) add Exchange Act Rule 21F-6(c), which provides a presumption that meritorious claimants will receive the statutory maximum amount, for awards $5 million or less, where none of the negative award criteria specified in Rule 21F-6(b) are present, with certain exceptions; (ii) amend the definition of “action” to allow awards based on deferred prosecution agreements and non-prosecution agreements entered into by the DOJ or a state attorney general in a criminal case, or settlement agreements entered into by the SEC outside of a judicial or administrative proceeding that address securities law violations; and (iii) codify that a law-enforcement or separate regulatory action does not qualify as a “related action,” if there is a separate award scheme that more appropriately applies. Additional details can be found in the SEC Office of the Whistleblower’s concurrently released staff guidance regarding the process for determining award amounts for eligible whistleblowers.
    • Definition of Whistleblower. The amendments establish a uniform definition of “whistleblower” that will apply to all aspects of Exchange Act Section 21F, in response to the Supreme Court's decision in Digital Realty Trust, Inc. v. Somers (as previously covered in a Buckley Special Alert).
    • Increased Efficiency. The amendments (i) allow for a permanent bar of any applicant from seeking an award after that applicant has submitted three frivolous award applications; and (ii) allow for a summary disposition procedure for certain common denials.
    • Others. The amendments also clarify and enhance certain policies, practices, and procedures in implementing the program, including allowing the waiver of Tip, Complaint or Referral (TCR) filing requirements if a whistleblower complies with the requirements within 30 days of (i) first providing the information; or (ii) first obtaining notice of the TCR filing requirements. 

    The amendments are effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance SEC Whistleblower

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  • California AG, former FTC chairs argue about federal privacy law preemption during Senate committee hearing

    Federal Issues

    On September 23, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing titled, “Revisiting the Need for Federal Data Privacy Legislation.” The hearing examined the current state of consumer data privacy and legislative efforts to provide baseline data protections for American consumers, and examined the lessons learned from the EU’s Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and recently enacted state privacy laws. Witnesses included a number of former chairs and commissioners of the FTC, along with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

    Becerra discussed the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which sets forth various requirements for businesses that collect, transfer, or sell a consumer’s personal information, and provides California residents several rights, including the right to know what data companies have collected on them and the right to ask to delete data or opt-out of its sale. (See continuing InfoBytes coverage on the CCPA here.) Concerning future federal privacy legislation, Becerra stressed that any such legislation should not preempt the work happening at the state level, and he urged the Committee “to favor legislation that sets a federal privacy-protection floor rather than a ceiling,” in order to allow states the opportunity to provide tailored protections for their residents. Becerra also stressed that the ideal federal legal framework would “recognize[] that privacy protections must keep pace with innovation,” and further addressed the need for a meaningful enforcement regime that respects the work undertaken by the states.

    Former FTC chairs Jon Leibowitz and Maureen Ohlhausen, however, argued (see here and here) in favor of federal preemption. They suggested that a single national comprehensive privacy standard would be stronger and more comprehensive than existing regimes such as the CCPA and GDPR, and could better serve consumers even if it replaces state regulations. Both stressed that preempting state laws should not mean weakening protections for consumers. Moreover, both Leibowitz and Ohlhausen emphasized that federal privacy legislation should be technology- and industry-neutral, with rigorous standards backed by tough enforcement. Leibowitz also urged Congress to provide the FTC with the ability to impose civil penalties on violators for first-time offenses, and recommended that the FTC be granted the primary authority to administer the law and be given continued authority to provide redress directly to consumers. Former chair William Kovacic presented a different approach, which would establish a domestic privacy network to promote cooperation and coordination between federal and state privacy regulators to improve policy formation.

    Other topics covered in the hearing included Chairman Roger Wicker’s (R-MS) recently introduced bill (S. 4626), known as the SAFE DATA Act, which would require businesses to be more transparent about their data collection, processing, and transfer activities, and give consumers more choices and control over their data. Among other things, the bill would preempt privacy laws in California and other states, except in regard to data breaches, and would not include a private right of action allowing consumers to sue over privacy violations.

    Federal Issues Federal Legislation Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Data Breach State Issues State Attorney General

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  • FDIC announces disaster relief in connection with Hurricane Sally

    Federal Issues

    On September 23, the FDIC issued FIL-92-2020 to provide regulatory relief to financial institutions and help facilitate recovery in areas of Alabama affected by Hurricane Sally starting on September 14. In the guidance, the FDIC notes that, in supervising institutions affected by the hurricane, the FDIC will consider the unusual circumstances those institutions face. The guidance suggests that institutions work with impacted borrowers to, among other things, (i) extend repayment terms; (ii) restructure existing loans; or (iii) ease terms for new loans to those affected by the severe weather, provided the measures are “done in a manner consistent with sound banking practices.” Additionally, the FDIC notes that institutions may receive Community Reinvestment Act consideration for community development loans, investments, and services in support of disaster recovery. The FDIC states it will also consider relief from certain reporting and publishing requirements.

    Federal Issues FDIC Mortgages Disaster Relief

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  • District court: Usury claims preempted by National Bank Act


    On September 21, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York dismissed allegations against two entities affiliated with a national bank, and a trust acting as trustee of one of the entities, ruling that a plaintiff’s “state-law usury claims are expressly preempted by the [National Banking Act].” The court noted that, “[e]ven before the OCC issued its rule clarifying that interest permissible before a transfer remains permissible after the transfer, [the plaintiff’s] claims would have been preempted” because the national bank “continues to possess an ‘interest in the account.’” The plaintiff contended he was charged usurious interest rates that exceeded New York’s interest rate cap on unsecured credit card loans originated by the national bank. According to the opinion, one of the entities contracted with the bank to service the credit card loans, with the bank retaining ownership of the accounts. The plaintiff argued that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s decision in Madden v. Midland Funding LLC (covered by a Buckley Special Alert) supported his claims against the affiliated entities, but the court disagreed, ruling that the national bank retained interest in the loans, which included the right to “change various terms and conditions” as well as interest rates.

    Courts Credit Cards Usury Interest National Bank Act Madden

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  • 9th Circuit: HOLA preempts California interest on escrow law


    On September 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in a split decision, reversed the denial of a national bank’s motion to dismiss, holding that state law claims involving interest on escrow accounts were preempted by the Home Owners Loan Act (HOLA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, three plaintiffs filed suit against the bank, arguing that it must comply with a California law that requires mortgage lenders to pay interest on funds held in a consumer’s escrow account, following the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s decision in Lusnak v. Bank of America (covered by InfoBytes here). The bank moved to dismiss the action, arguing, among other things, that the claims were preempted by HOLA. The court acknowledged that HOLA preempted the state interest law as to the originator of the mortgages, a now-defunct federal thrift, but disagreed with the bank’s assertion that the preemption attached throughout the life of the loan, including after the loan was transferred to a bank whose own lending is not covered by HOLA. The district court granted the bank’s motion for interlocutory appeal.

    On appeal, the 9th Circuit disagreed with the district court. Specifically, the appellate court applied the plain meaning of the Office of Thrift Supervision’s preemption regulation, concluding that it “extend[ed] to all state laws affecting a federal savings association, without reference to whether the conduct giving rise to a state law claim is that of a federal savings association or of a national bank.” The appellate court distinguished the case from Lusnak, noting that HOLA preemption is “triggered at a much lower threshold” than National Bank Act. Finally, the appellate court rejected the premise that applying preemption would “run afoul” of HOLA’s purpose of consumer protection, concluding that “HOLA field preemption is so broad that the traditional presumption against preemption does not apply.”

    In dissent, a judge argued that the statutory and regulatory text does not support the majority’s conclusion and therefore, HOLA’s application does not excuse the national bank from California’s law requiring interest on escrow accounts.

    Courts Mortgages Escrow Preemption HOLA Appellate State Issues Ninth Circuit

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  • District court allows Georgia counties’ disparate impact claims to proceed


    On September 18, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia denied a national bank’s motion to dismiss claims that the bank and its subsidiaries’ (collectively, “defendants”) mortgage originating and servicing practices and policies had a disparate impact on, and resulted in disparate treatment of, minority borrowers, in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The plaintiffs, three Georgia counties, filed a second amended complaint raising two disparate impact claims and one disparate treatment claim under the FHA, claiming the defendants’ lending and servicing practices—which included allegedly targeting minority borrowers for higher cost loan products, approving unqualified minority borrowers for loans they could not afford, and providing less favorable terms for loan modifications—were “designed to reduce the overall equity minority borrowers located within their counties had in their homes.” The practices, among other things, allegedly caused African-American and Latino borrowers to receive disproportionately higher cost mortgage loans than similarly situated white, non-Latino borrowers, creating an increase in defaults and foreclosures, and causing the plaintiffs to incur alleged damages, including out-of-pocket foreclosure-related costs and increased municipal expenses, and loss of property tax revenues due to decreased home values.

    The defendants moved to dismiss, asserting, among other things, that the plaintiffs failed to properly allege their disparate impact claims under Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (covered by a previous Buckley Special Alert). The defendants also argued that the plaintiffs’ municipal “economic injuries were not proximately cause by the [d]efendants’ discriminatory policies under [City of Miami Garden v. Wells Fargo & Co.]” (covered by InfoBytes here), and that the plaintiffs failed to allege specific allegations within the FHA’s two-year statute of limitations.

    The court granted the motion in part and denied it in part. With respect to the disparate impact claims, the court applied Inclusive Communities and held that the plaintiffs identified several specific policies that caused the alleged disparate impact. The court also rejected the statute of limitations arguments and held that the plaintiffs “‘can prove a set of facts’ showing a timely violation of the FHA.” The court dismissed certain of the counties’ injury claims—the plaintiffs’ attempts to recover franchise tax and municipal expenses (police, fire, and sanitation services related to vacant or foreclosed-upon properties)—ruling that plaintiffs failed to establish proximate cause and “explain how their municipal services injuries ‘are anything more than merely foreseeable consequences’ of [the d]efendants’ discriminatory acts.”

    Courts Fair Lending Disparate Impact Fair Housing Act

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  • OCC announces settlements with former senior executives over account openings

    Federal Issues

    On September 21, the OCC announced settlements with three former senior executives of a national bank for their roles in the bank’s incentive compensation sales practices. According to consent orders (see here and here), the OCC alleged that two of the individuals either “knew or should have known” about the sales misconduct problem and its root cause, but allegedly failed to, among other things, appropriately consider concerns about the “unreasonably high sales goals” and the associated risks of incentivizing sales of secondary deposit products. The third individual—previously in charge of identifying human resource risks—allegedly approved incentive compensation plans that overly incentivized sales and failed to respond to or escalate information received about unreasonable sales goals. In addition to paying civil money penalties, the individuals—who did not admit or deny wrongdoing—have each agreed to cooperate with the OCC in any investigation, litigation, or administrative proceeding related to sales misconduct at the bank.

    As previously covered by InfoBytes, in January, the OCC reached settlements with three other former senior executives in January for their alleged roles in the bank’s sales practices misconduct, and issued notices of charges against five others.

    Federal Issues OCC Incentive Compensation Settlement Civil Money Penalties

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  • OCC: Banks may hold stablecoins in reserve accounts

    Federal Issues

    On September 21, the OCC released Interpretive Letter 1172, stating that national banks may hold stablecoin in reserve accounts as a service to bank customers and may engage in activity incidental to receiving the deposits. According to the OCC, issuers of stablecoins—a type of cryptocurrency backed by an asset such as a fiat currency—have a desire to place assets in reserve accounts with national banks to “provide assurance that the issuer has sufficient assets backing the stablecoin in situations where there is a hosted wallet.” Hosted wallet, as defined by the OCC, is “an account-based software program for storing cryptographic keys controlled by an identifiable third party.” Because national banks are authorized to receive deposits and provide “permissible banking services to any lawful business they choose,” they may provide these services to issuers of stablecoins, as long as they comply with applicable laws and regulations. (In Interpretive Letter 1170, the OCC approved the holding of cryptocurrency on behalf of customers, covered by InfoBytes here.) Specifically, the OCC noted that national banks should ensure that deposit activities comply with the Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering regulations. Moreover, a national bank must also “identify and verify the beneficial owners of legal entity customers opening accounts.” Lastly, the OCC emphasized that stablecoin reserves “could entail significant liquidity risks,” and national banks may consider entering into contractual agreements with stablecoin issuers to “verify and ensure that the deposit balances held by the bank for the issuer are always equal to or greater than the number of outstanding stablecoins issued by the issuer.” This guidance does not apply to stablecoin transactions involving un-hosted wallets.

    Federal Issues OCC Cryptocurrency Fintech Compliance

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