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On April 23, the CFPB announced updates to its policy on Civil Investigative Demands (CIDs). According to the Bureau, the new policy is consistent with comments received in response to a 2018 Request for Information, which solicited public feedback on “how best to achieve meaningful burden reduction or other improvement to the CID processes while continuing to achieve the Bureau’s statutory and regulatory objectives” (previously covered by InfoBytes here). Going forward, CIDs will (i) provide additional information on potentially applicable provisions of law that may have been violated; (ii) specify business activities subject to Bureau authority; and (iii) “[i]n investigations where determining the extent of the Bureau’s authority over the relevant activity is one of the significant purposes of the investigation, staff may specifically include that issue in the CID in the interests of further transparency.”
On March 26, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, in what appears to be the first significant decision on claims brought against a mortgage lender under the CFPB’s Ability-to-Repay/Qualified Mortgage Rule, granted summary judgment in favor of the lender. The court rejected plaintiff’s claims that his bank improperly relied on income under his spousal support agreement, stating that “[t]he fact that Plaintiff and [his spouse] did not keep the separation agreement and instead opted to divorce – a series of events which reduced Plaintiff’s income by an order of magnitude – was not an event that was reasonably foreseeable to the Bank.” The court also noted that, “[a]lthough Plaintiff is now in his eighties, he is a repeat player in the field of real estate and mortgages, and a consumer of above-average sophistication.” While this decision does not break new legal ground, it does provide useful insights into how courts may respond to inherently fact-specific claims about the underwriting of individual loans.
On April 17, Kathy Kraninger, Director of the CFPB, spoke before the Bipartisan Policy Center where she reiterated the Bureau’s focus on prevention of harm and announced a symposium that will explore the meaning of “abusive acts or practices” under Section 1031 of the Dodd-Frank Act. In her remarks, Kraninger touched on the four “tools” the Bureau has at its disposal to execute its mission: education, rulemaking, supervision, and enforcement.
- Education. The Bureau wants to help consumers protect their own interests and choose the right products and service to help themselves. Specifically, the Bureau is focusing on ensuring that American consumers learn to save to be able to absorb a financial shock.
- Rulemaking. The Bureau will comply with Congressional mandates to promulgate rules or address specific issues through rulemaking, but when the Bureau has discretion, it will focus on “preventing consumer harm by maximizing informed consumer choice, and prohibiting acts or practices which undermine the ability of consumers to choose the products and services that are best for them.” In the coming weeks, the Bureau will release its proposed rules to implement the FDCPA, which will include (i) bright line limits on the number of calls consumers can receive from debt collectors on a weekly basis; (ii) clarity on how collectors may communicate through new technology such as, email and text messages; and (iii) requiring more information at the outset of collection to help consumers better identify debts and understand payment and dispute options. Kraninger stated, “the CFPB must acknowledge that the costs imposed on regulated entities absolutely affect access to, and the availability of, credit to consumers.”
- Supervision. This tool is the “heart of the agency,” according to Kraninger, as it helps to prevent violations of laws and regulations from happening in the first place. The Bureau will keep in mind that it is not the only regulator examining most entities and will focus on coordination and collaboration with the other regulators so as not to impose unmanageable burdens in examinations.
- Enforcement. The Bureau will continue to enforce against bad actors that do not comply with the law, as enforcement is “an essential tool that Congress gave the Bureau.” The Bureau will have a “purposeful enforcement regime” to foster compliance and help prevent consumer wrongs. Kraninger is “committed to ensuring that enforcement investigations proceed carefully and purposefully to ensure a fair and thorough evaluation of the facts and law… [and ensuring they] move as expeditiously as possible to resolve enforcement matters, whether through public action or a determination that a particular investigation should be closed.”
Kraninger also touched on how the Bureau plans to measure success going forward. Kraninger noted that in the past, the Bureau touted its outgoing statistics as a measurement, such as amount of consumer redress and number of complaints handled. However, according to Kraninger, if the Bureau succeeds in fostering a goal of prevention of harm, certain outputs like meritorious complaints would actually be lower. Therefore, the Bureau’s success should be based on how it uses all of its tools. Lastly, Kraninger announced a symposia series that would convene to discuss consumer protections in “today’s dynamic financial services marketplace.” The first will explore the meaning of “abusive acts or practices” under Section 1031 of the Dodd-Frank Act, specifically, to address issues with the “reasonableness” standard. There are no additional details on the date for the symposium but Kraninger noted that this would be the next step in exploring future rulemaking on the issue. The series will also have future events discussing behavioral law and economics, small business loan data collection, disparate impact and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, cost-benefit analysis, and consumer authorized financial data sharing.
Additionally, on April 9, acting Deputy Director, Brian Johnson, spoke at the George Mason University Law & Economics Center's Ninth Annual Financial Services Symposium. In his prepared remarks, Johnson emphasized that regulatory rules should be “as simple as possible” when dealing with complex markets as they are easier for a greater portion of actors to understand and adapt to and also promote compliance, “which has the ancillary benefit of making it easier for consumers (not to mention regulators) to distinguish between good and bad actors.” Johnson argued that regulators should not try and dictate specific outcomes in rulemaking. Instead, Johnson stated that “financial regulators should recognize that complex market systems are not a means to accomplish their specific goals” and should “narrowly-tailor rules to address a discrete market failure.” Johnson also touched on the Bureau’s new Office of Innovation, noting that the Bureau’s proposed No Action Letter Program and Product Sandbox will offer firms “the opportunity to expand credit while still preserving important consumer protections,” while assisting the Bureau in learning about new technologies and potential consumer risks. As for the Bureau’s cost-benefit analysis, Johnson said that this activity will not be limited to future actions, but will also be used for “periodic retrospective analysis” because financial markets are “constantly changing, requiring constant reappraisal and verification of the rules that govern the system.”
On April 9, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) released responses to inquiries sent last month to the Federal Reserve Board, the OCC, and the CFPB, which expressed, among other things, concern about the level of response taken by a national bank regarding its auto-lending practices, as well as the bank’s remediation plans and compliance risk management efforts. In response, the regulators individually discussed the bank’s progress to satisfy its obligations under existing consent orders.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell wrote that the asset cap imposed on the bank will remain in place until the bank has implemented—to the Board’s satisfaction—remedies to address risk management breakdowns. Powell noted that the bank and the Board are comprehensively addressing the progress.
OCC Comptroller Joseph Otting emphasized that the agency continues “to monitor the bank’s work to remediate deficiencies” identified in previously issued orders, and commented that while the OCC is disappointed with the bank’s current corporate governance and risk management programs, it “is fully engaged and prepared to bring [the bank’s] matters to resolution.”
CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger stated that “while the Bureau is working with [the bank] to ensure its compliance with the consent order, I am not satisfied with the [b]ank’s progress to date and have instructed staff to take all appropriate actions to ensure the [b]ank complies with the consent order and [f]ederal consumer financial law.”
On April 3, six Democratic Senators wrote to the CFPB seeking additional information on the Bureau’s oversight of student loan companies and servicers involved in the administration of the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). In the letter, the Senators expressed concern that the Bureau’s leadership “has abandoned its supervision and enforcement activities related to federal student loan servicers.” The Senators noted that consumers owe more than $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in the U.S. and that loan servicing companies under contract with the U.S. Department of Education (the “Department”) are “covered persons” under Title X of the Dodd Frank Act, which allows the Bureau “broad oversight authority over their actions.” The Senators cited to a number of lawsuits brought by private citizens and state authorities challenging student loan servicing companies’ actions with regard to PSLF, and requested the Bureau respond to a series of questions regarding its activities overseeing student loan servicers’ handling of PSLF since December 2017. Among other things, the Senators requested information regarding (i) the Bureau’s examinations of student loan servicers’ PSLF administration; (ii) the effect of the Department’s December 2017 guidance to loan servicing contractors not to produce documents directly to other government agencies; (iii) the status of the CFPB’s alleged investigation into a specific student loan servicer’s actions; and (iv) the status of information sharing with the Department since August 2017.
CFPB and Federal Reserve update HMDA examination procedures; CFPB updates ECOA baseline review procedures
On April 1, the CFPB and the Federal Reserve Board (Federal Reserve) issued revisions to the HMDA examination procedures covering data collected since January 1, 2018, under the HMDA amendments issued by the Bureau in October 2015 and August 2017, as well as section 104(a) of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (implemented and clarified by the 2018 HMDA Rule, which was covered by InfoBytes in August 2018 here.) According to the Federal Reserve’s CA 19-5, the HMDA examination updates include, (i) Narrative, Examination Objectives, and Examination Procedure sections that were developed by the Task Force on Consumer Compliance of the FFIEC; (ii) Review of Compliance Management System, Examination Conclusions and Wrap-Up, and Examination Checklist sections that were developed in consultation with the FDIC and the OCC; and (iii) sampling, verification, and resubmission procedures. With regard to HMDA data collected prior to January 1, 2018, institutions will continue to be examined according to the interagency HMDA examination procedures “transmitted with CA 09-10 and the HMDA sampling and resubmission procedures transmitted with CA 04-4.”
Additionally, in April, the CFPB also released updated ECOA baseline review procedures. The procedures consist of five modules: (i) Fair Lending Supervisory History; (ii) Fair Lending Compliance Management System (CMS); (iii) Fair Lending Risks Related to Origination; (iv) Fair Lending Risks Related to Servicing; and (v) Fair Lending Risks Related to Models. According to the Bureau, all exams will cover the Fair Lending CMS module and additional modules will be assigned depending on the scope of examination.
On March 29, the CFPB published its Consumer Response Annual Report, providing a review of the Bureau’s complaint process and a description of complaints received from consumers from across all 50 states and the District of Columbia between January 1 and December 31, 2018. According to the report, the Bureau handled approximately 329,800 consumer complaints. Of these complaints, roughly 80 percent were submitted to companies for review and response, 14 percent were referred to other regulatory agencies, and four percent were determined to be incomplete. The top categories, representing approximately 89 percent of all complaints, were credit or consumer reporting, debt collection, mortgages, credit card, and checking or savings complaints. The Bureau also received complaints related to: (i) student, personal, and payday loans; (ii) money transfers and virtual currency; (iii) vehicle finance; (iv) prepaid cards; (v) credit repair; and (vi) title loans. As reported by the CFPB, the majority of consumers who submitted complaints indicated that they first tried to resolve their issues with the companies.
On March 28, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a stipulated final judgment and order resolving the CFPB’s allegations against a California-based company for allegedly buying and selling personal information from payday and installment loan applications without properly vetting buyers and sellers. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB’s December 2015 complaint alleged that, among other things, the company (i) knew or should have known that the lead generators in its network used false or misleading statements to obtain consumer information; and (ii) connected consumers with lenders that offered less favorable loan terms than were otherwise available, did not comply with state usury limits, or claimed they were exempt from state regulation and jurisdiction. The stipulated order requires the company to pay $1 million for consumer redress and $3 million in civil money penalties. Additionally, the company is banned from acting as a lead generator, lead aggregator, or data broker in connection with the offering of certain loans. The company neither admitted nor denied the allegations.
On March 29, the CFPB announced that the HMDA Modified Loan Application Registers (LARs) data is available for 2018. Specifically, the Modified LARs contain loan level information for 2018 on HMDA filers, covering approximately 5,400 financial institutions. This is the first release in which the additional data required by the 2015 HMDA rule is available. Later this year, additional information will be published, including a complete loan level dataset.
On March 27, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a consent judgment ending a CFPB lawsuit against a group of affiliated law firms and their managing attorneys. As previously covered by InfoBytes in 2017, the Bureau’s enforcement action alleged that the defendants violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule by, among other things, (i) collecting improper fees in advance of providing debt relief services; (ii) misrepresenting that advance fees would not be charged; and (iii) providing substantial assistance to another company it knew or should have known was engaged in acts or practices that violated the rule. Under the terms of the consent judgment, the defendants—who have neither admitted nor denied the Bureau’s allegations or the factual findings outlined in the judgment—agreed to pay approximately $35.3 million in redress to affected consumers and a $40 million civil money penalty. However, based on the defendants’ inability to pay this amount, full payment is suspended subject to the defendants’ paying $50,000 to affected consumers and $1.00 toward the CMP.
- Buckley Webcast: Maintaining privilege in cross-border internal investigations
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss "State regulatory and disclosures" at the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association Legal Forum
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "The state of the BSA 2019: What’s working, what’s not, and how to improve it" at the West Coast Anti Money-Laundering Forum
- Buckley Webcast: The future of the Community Reinvestment Act
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Creative character evidence in criminal and civil trials" at the Litigation Counsel of America Spring Conference & Celebration of Fellows
- Buckley Webcast: Amendments to the CFPB's proposed debt collection
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Flood NFIP in the age of extreme weather events" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "UDAAP compliance" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Benjamin K. Olson to discuss "LO compensation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Major state law developments" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Leveraging big data responsibly" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "State examination/enforcement trends" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- APPROVED Webcast: State and SAFE Act licensing requirements for banks
- John C. Redding to discuss "TCPA compliance in the era of mobile" at the Auto Finance Risk Summit
- Buckley Webcast: The next consumer litigation frontier? Assessing the consumer privacy litigation and enforcement landscape in 2019 and beyond
- Buckley Webcast: Data breach litigation and biometric legislation
- Buckley Webcast: Trends in e-discovery technology and case law
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: Addressing prosecutions driven by hidden actors" at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers West Coast White Collar Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Keep off the grass: Mitigating the risks of banking marijuana-related businesses" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Mid-year policy update" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program
- Douglas F. Gansler to discuss "Role of state AGs in consumer protection" at a George Mason University Law & Economics Center symposium