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On October 8, the Department of Education announced the creation of the Office of Enforcement within Federal Student Aid (FSA), which is designed to strengthen oversight of and enforcement against postsecondary schools that participate in the federal student loan, grant, and work-study programs. According to the announcement, the Department named Kristen Donoghue, the former CFPB enforcement director, as the chief enforcement officer. Among other things, the office will work with the Partner Participation and Oversight Office on a risk-based approach to oversight and compliance and will be comprised of the following four existing divisions: (i) Administrative Actions and Appeals Services Group; (ii) Borrower Defense Group; (iii) Investigations Group; and (iv) Resolution and Referral Management Group. The announcement also notes that FSA will coordinate with other state and federal partners as part of FSA’s increased enforcement efforts. Specifically, FSA plans to coordinate “with the Federal Trade Commission, which earlier this week announced a major shift in its enforcement priorities to focus on postsecondary schools that illegally engage in unfair and deceptive acts or practices.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
On October 6, the SEC Director of the Division of Enforcement, Gurbir Grewal, discussed the agency’s mission to maintain market integrity and improve public confidence in the securities market. While Grewal noted that enforcement actions taken over the past few years have helped to significantly animate the idea that the SEC “will pursue potential violations by any market participant,” he stressed the need for joint coordination to promote better conduct among market participants. According to Grewal, this includes firms examining ways their specific business models and products interact with both emerging risks and enforcement priorities and tailoring compliance practices and policies accordingly. He stressed that market participants should take “proactive” compliance measures, including enhancing recordkeeping requirements, and anticipate emerging challenges instead of waiting for an enforcement action to implement the appropriate policies and procedures. Grewal also discussed the key role market participants play in identifying and addressing emerging risks. This could include ensuring proactive compliance efforts continue even after violative conduct has occurred, cooperating with SEC investigations, and voluntarily self-reporting potential violations “before the violation is about to be publicly announced." Grewal also noted that the SEC is currently evaluating its approach to enforcement action penalties to better assess whether past penalties have sufficiently deterred misconduct.
On October 6, the California governor signed SB 41, which requires direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies to provide consumers with information about the collection, use, maintenance, and disclosure of genetic data. Under the Genetic Information Privacy Act (GIPA), companies are required to honor a consumer’s revocation of consent and destroy a consumer’s biological sample within 30 days after the consent has been revoked. Companies must also obtain a consumer’s express consent for collection, use, or disclosure of an individual’s genetic data. GIPA also requires companies to comply with all applicable federal and state laws for disclosing genetic data without a consumer’s express consent, and companies must “implement and maintain reasonable security procedures and practices to protect a consumer’s genetic data against unauthorized access, destruction, use, modification, or disclosure, and develop procedures and practices to enable a consumer to access their genetic data, and to delete their account and genetic data, as specified.” Violations of the law may result in civil penalties ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. Exempt from GIPA’s provisions is medical information governed by the Confidentiality of Medical Information Act, or medical information collected and used by business associates of a covered entity governed by the privacy, security, and data breach notification rules issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Earlier on October 5, the governor also signed AB 825, which expands the definition of “personal information” to include genetic data, regardless of its format. Under existing law, any agency that owns or licenses computerized data that includes personal information is required to immediately disclose a security breach upon discovery to California residents who may have been impacted. Agencies are also required to implement and maintain reasonable security procedures and practices.
Both bills take effect January 1, 2022.
California authorizes prepaid accounts to accept publicly administered funds provided no overdraft fees
On October 5, the California governor signed SB 497, which, among other things, amends the definition of a “qualifying account” use for the purposes of depositing certain publicly administered funds. The amendment eliminates prepaid card accounts from the definition of “qualifying account,” and instead authorizes “a prepaid account or a demand deposit or savings account offered by or through an entity other than an insured depository financial institution, as specified, that is not attached to an automatic credit or overdraft feature, unless the credit or overdraft feature has no fee, charge, or cost, or it complies with the requirements for consumer credit under the federal Truth in Lending Act.” Specifically, persons or entities that are not insured depository financial institutions but who offer, maintain, or manage non-“qualifying accounts” are prohibited from soliciting, accepting, or facilitating the direct deposit of the publicly administered funds into the accounts.
On October 8, the CFPB issued its semi-annual report to Congress covering the Bureau’s work from October 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021. The report, which is required by Dodd-Frank, addresses, among other things, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on consumer credit, significant rules and orders adopted by the Bureau, consumer complaints, and various supervisory and enforcement actions taken by the Bureau. In his opening letter, Director Dave Uejio discusses the Bureau’s efforts to increase racial equity in the marketplace and to mitigate the financial effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on consumers, including measures such as reinstituted regular public reporting, developing Prioritized Assessments to protect consumers from elevated risks of harm related to the pandemic, and numerous enforcement actions with claims or findings of various violations. Uejio also notes that communities of color, particularly Black and Hispanic communities, have disproportionately experienced the health and economic effects of the pandemic, and states that the Bureau is utilizing “all [of its] tools to ensure that all communities, of all races and economic backgrounds, can participate in and benefit from the nation’s economic recovery.”
Among other topics, the report highlights two publications by the Bureau: one focusing on the TRID Integrated Disclosure Rule (covered by InfoBytes here), and another focusing on credit record trends for young enlisted servicemembers during the first year after separation (covered by InfoBytes here). The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on consumer credit are also discussed, as are the results from the Bureau’s Making Ends Meet Survey. In addition to these areas of focus, the report notes the issuance of several significant notices of proposed rulemaking related to remittance transfers, debt collection practices, the transition from LIBOR, and qualified mortgage definitions under TILA. Multiple final rules were also issued concerning Truth in Lending Act (Regulation Z); remittance transfers; and payday, vehicle, title, and certain high-cost installment loans. Several other rules and initiatives undertaken during the reporting period are also highlighted.
On October 7, the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) released a report showing significant changes in consumer lending activity, likely attributable to a number of factors including the Covid-19 pandemic, state and federal financial assistance, student loan payment moratoriums, favorable interest rates, and increased reporting of alternative financing products. The 2020 annual report examined unaudited data gathered from finance lenders, brokers, and Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) administrators licensed under the California Financing Law, as well as new data from the “Buy Now, Pay Later” (BNPL) industry. Findings showed, among other things, a sharp decrease in certain types of consumer loans with BNPL products (often interest-free), decreasing overall by 41 percent in 2019. However, the report found that consumer loans, excluding BNPL, increased 94.8 percent during the same period—a result likely caused by an increase in originations of consumer loans secured by real estate. Finance lenders, including BNPL, originated nearly 12 million consumer loans in 2020 (a 530 percent increase over the prior year), with the top six BNPL lenders accounting for 91 percent of the total consumer loans originated in 2020. DFPI noted that a surge in BNPL unsecured consumer loans reported to the regulator shows that BNPL payment options are becoming increasingly popular. DFPI also discussed recent BNPL enforcement actions, which required companies to consider a consumer’s ability to repay a loan and subjected the companies to rate and fee caps.
The report also examined PACE financing data. According to findings, there was an 18 percent decline in the total number of PACE assessment contracts funded and originated in 2020, and a 30 percent decrease in gross income for PACE program administrators since 2019.
On October 4, the California governor signed AB 390, which amends and adds Section 17602 of the Business and Professions Code regarding automatic subscription renewals. The law applies to businesses conducting automatic renewal or continuous services offers to California customers. Among other things, the bill requires that: (i) notice be provided at least 3 days before and at most 21 days before the expiration of the period for which a fee gift or trial, or promotional or discounted price, applies; (ii) notice be provided at least 15 days and not more than 45 days before the automatic renewal offer or continuous service offer renews; and (iii) a business allow a consumer to terminate the automatic renewal or continuous service offer without engaging in steps that may delay the consumer’s ability to immediately terminate the policy. The bill also specifies that a “‘free gift’ does not include a free promotional item or gift given by the business that differs from the subscribed product.” The law takes effect July 1, 2022.
On October 7, the FDIC announced that it will conduct four identical seminars for bank employees and bank officers regarding FDIC deposit insurance coverage between October 21 and December 14. According to the FDIC, the seminars will: (i) provide an overview of FDIC-deposit insurance rules; (ii) cover topics such as the general principles of coverage, ownership categories, and requirements; (iii) provide information on additional deposit insurance resources; and (iv) include coverage examples and a live Q&A session. Registration will be required, but the seminars are free. Seminar participants must register at least two business days prior to the event, which can be accessed here.
On October 7, the Federal Reserve Board announced an enforcement action against a Minnesota-based bank. In the consent order, the Fed alleges that the bank violated the National Flood Insurance Act (NFIA) and Regulation H. The order assesses a $11,00 penalty against the bank for an alleged pattern or practice of violations of Regulation H but does not specify the number or the precise nature of the alleged violations. The maximum civil money penalty under the NFIA for a pattern or practice of violations is $2,000 per violation.
On October 7, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard spoke at the Federal Reserve Stress Testing Research Conference discussing the impacts of climate change on economic activity. Brainard revealed that the Fed is considering the potential implications of climate-related risks for financial institutions and the financial system and emphasized that scenario analysis is emerging as a possible key analytical tool. Regarding the climate scenario analysis, Brainard noted that climate change’s future financial and economic consequences depends on the physical effects and the nature and speed of the transition to a sustainable economy. She highlighted the importance of “model[ing] the transition risks arising from changes in policies, technology, and consumer and investor behavior and the physical risks of damages caused by an increase in the frequency and severity of climate-related events as well as chronic changes, such as rising temperatures and sea levels.” Brainard also discussed opportunities to learn from other countries' use of climate scenario analysis and overcoming the challenges in implementing climate scenario analysis, noting that “climate scenario analysis may need to consider interdependencies across the financial system,” among other things. Brainard added that she anticipates that it will be useful “to provide supervisory guidance for large banking institutions in their efforts to appropriately measure, monitor, and manage material climate-related risks, following the lead of a number of other countries.”
The same day, the U.S. Treasury Department announced the Treasury Climate Action Plan, which is directed by Executive Order 14008 and Treasury’s efforts to support adaptation and increase resilience of its facilities and operations to the impacts of climate change. Among other things, the plan establishes five priority action areas, including: (i) rebuilding stagnated programs and capabilities; (ii) addressing climate change vulnerabilities across Treasury operations; (iii) ensuring a climate-focused approach to managing Treasury’s real property portfolio footprint; (iv) enabling management to fully consider climate change realities; and (v) accounting for a financial investment approach appropriate to Treasury’s climate objectives. In addition to the priority areas, Treasury will utilize the data and science of climate change to adjust policies, programs, and activities in improving its resilience to climate risks and impacts, according to the announcement.
- Daniel R. Alonso to moderate an interactive roundtable at the Latin Lawyer and GIR Connect: Anti-Corruption & Investigations Conference
- APPROVED Checkpoint Webcast: You have license renewal questions, we have answers
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Fintech trends” at the BIHC Network Elevating Black Excellence Regional Summit
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Truth in lending” at the American Bar Association National Institute on Consumer Financial Services Basics
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss anti-money-laundering at FELABAN Spanish-language webinar “Perspective for banks: LAFT, FINCEN, OFAC, Cryptocurrency”
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "What’s new in BSA/AML compliance?" at the Institute of International Bankers Regulatory Compliance Seminar
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "Regulatory update: What you need to know under the new boss; It won’t be the same as the old boss" at the IMN Residential Mortgage Service Rights Forum (East)
- Benjamin B. Klubes to discuss “Creating a Fantastic Workplace Culture”
- John R. Coleman and Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss “Consumer financial services government enforcement actions – The CFPB and beyond” at the Government Investigations & Civil Litigation Institute Annual Meeting
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Regulators always ring twice: Responding to a government request” at ALM Legalweek