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On February 12, the FTC provided the CFPB with an annual summary of its 2023 enforcement, research and policy development, and educational-related initiatives on ECOA, as Dodd-Frank allows the Commission to enforce ECOA and any CFPB rules applicable to entities within the FTC’s jurisdiction. The letter emphasized the commitment of each agency to enforce laws protecting civil rights, fair competition, consumer protection, and equal opportunity in the development and use of automated systems and artificial intelligence. Additionally, the letter stated the FTC continued its involvement in initiatives such as military outreach and participation in interagency task forces on fair lending. Its initiatives focused on consumer and business education regarding issues related to Regulation B and guiding fair lending practices. The Commission also highlighted (1) an enforcement action against a group of auto dealerships alleging ECOA and its implementing Regulation B violations in connection with the sale of add-on products; (2) refund checks sent as a result of the settlement of two enforcement actions against auto dealerships in which it was alleged that the dealerships violated ECOA and Regulation B by discrimination against Black and Latino consumers by charging them higher financing costs; and (3) an amicus brief submitted to an appeals court in support of the CFPB’s appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit of the lower court’s decision regarding the applicability of ECOA to individuals other than “applicants.”
On February 16, the CFPB issued a procedural rule updating its process for financial institutions that appeal the Bureau’s supervisory findings. The CFPB examined financial institutions to ensure they followed federal consumer financial law. After an examination or targeted review, supervised entities may appeal their compliance rating or any other findings.
First, the procedural rule expanded the pool of potential members for the appeals committee within the CFPB. Now, any CFPB manager with relevant expertise who did not participate in the original matter being appealed can be considered, rather than previously only managers from the Supervision department. The CFPB’s General Counsel will assign three CFPB managers and legal counsel to advise them. Second, the revised process introduced a new option for resolving appeals—in addition to upholding or rescinding the original finding, matters can now be remanded back to supervision staff for further consideration, potentially resulting in a modified finding. The Bureau also recommended in its procedural rule that entities engage in “open dialogue” with supervisory staff to discuss their preliminary findings to attempt to resolve disputes before an examination is final.
Third, institutions now can appeal any compliance rating issued to them, not just negative ratings, as was the case previously. Fourth, the updated process included additional clarifications and specifies that it applied to pending appeals at the time of its publication.
On February 16, the FDIC, Fed, and OCC issued the 2023 Shared National Credit (SNC) Report, which found that while large, syndicated bank loans generally have moderate credit quality, there appears to be a trend of declining credit quality stemming from higher interest rates and tighter profit margins in certain industries. The report found that credit risk remains high in leveraged loans and specific sectors like technology, telecom, healthcare, and transportation. Also, the real estate and construction sector showed mixed trends.
On February 20, Samuel Levine, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in an FTC blog post, that although the FTC welcomes open dialogue with parties in open investigations, the Commission is prepared to quickly pivot to litigation in cases should companies cause “undue delay” to redress for consumers. In light of a 2021 Supreme Court ruling in AMG Capital Management, LLC v. FTC, the FTC can no longer pursue monetary relief under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act, which lacks a statute of limitations. Instead, the FTC said, it frequently turns to Section 19, 15 U.S.C. § 57b, which allows courts to order defendants to provide redress only if violations occurred within three years of the Commission’s action. To facilitate timely productive discussions, the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection often requests tolling agreements from potential defendants to provide time for information gathering and dialogue while preserving the possibility of a pre-litigation settlement or closing the investigation in appropriate cases. Parties are encouraged to sign these agreements, as refusal may impact extension requests and meeting opportunities. If necessary, the FTC will recommend litigation to protect consumer interests.
On February 16, the CFPB published the results of a report that found, on average, larger banks charged higher credit card interest rates than smaller banks and credit unions. The CFPB’s data suggested larger banks charge interest rates eight to 10 points higher than non-large banks. If a consumer were to pick a large bank credit card over a smaller bank, the consumer would see an estimated difference of “$400 to $500” in additional annual interest.
Other findings from the report suggested that large issuers offered higher rates across credit scores: e.g., the median interest rate for people with scores between 620 and 719 was 28.20 percent for large banks and 18.15 percent for small ones. The CFPB also found that 15 bank-issued credit cards with interest rates above 30 percent: nine of the largest issuers reported at least one product over that rate. Lastly, the report found that large banks were more likely to charge annual fees, with 27 percent of large banks charging an annual fee, compared to 9.5 percent of small banks. The CFPB published a table between large and small banks that showed median purchase APR by credit tier.
On February 16, the Ranking Member for the House Committee on Financial Services, Maxine Waters (D-CA), and 41 other House Democrats sent a letter to the FDIC, Fed, and OCC regarding the Basel III Endgame and the proposed rule which would impose higher capital requirements. The letter urged the agencies to finalize the rule, highlighting the purpose of capital requirements “to shield banks from unexpected losses, preventing their failure, while serving as a source of funding that banks use…” The letter commended the agencies for providing the public with almost six months to comment and argued the endgame rule’s impact on access to credit is low. The letter also noted that the expected funding impact on a large bank’s average lending portfolio is expected to increase by just 0.03 percent, which it describes as “insignificant” compared to Fed interest rate increases. The letter specifically urged the heads of the agencies to finalize the rules this year “to ensure we have a banking system that will promote stable economic growth.”
On February 22, the CFPB released a blog post on credit card interest rates stating that the interest rate margins are at an all-time high. According to the Bureau, the margin is the difference between the average APR and the prime rate. The blog post notes that both the average APR and the margin between the average APR and the prime rate have reached record highs. Specifically, the Bureau noted that, over the last 10 years, the average APR on credit cards interest has nearly doubled from 12.9 percent in 2013 to 22.8 percent in 2023. Likewise, the average APR margin has increased from 3.3 percent in 2013 to 8.5 percent in 2023. According to the Bureau, this change has been brought on by banks and issuers who have raised their APR margins to increase profits. The CFPB noted that, although the CARD Act of 2009 kept APR margins lower throughout the 2010s, issuers began to increase the APR in 2016. The Bureau intends to take steps to ensure a fair market and to “help consumers avoid debt spirals.”
On February 8, the FCC announced the unanimous adoption of a declaratory ruling that recognizes calls made with AI-generated voices are “artificial” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The declaratory ruling notes that the TCPA prohibits initiating “any telephone call to any residential telephone line using an artificial or prerecorded voice to deliver a message without the prior express consent of the called party” unless certain exceptions apply. The TCPA also prohibited “any non-emergency call made using an automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice to certain specified categories of telephone numbers including emergency lines and wireless numbers.”
The ruling, effective immediately, deemed voice cloning and similar AI technologies to be artificial voice messages under the TCPA, subject to its regulations. Therefore, prior express consent from the called party is required before making such calls. Additionally, callers using AI technology must provide identification and disclosure information and offer opt-out methods for telemarketing calls.
This ruling provided State Attorneys General nationwide with additional resources to pursue perpetrators responsible for these robocalls. This action followed the Commission’s November proposed inquiry for how AI could impact unwanted robocalls and texts (announcement covered by InfoBytes here).
On February 14, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (NY Fed) published a blog post evaluating different households’ use of buy now pay later (BNPL) products, which it generally described as “loans that are payable in four or fewer installments and carry no finance charges.” To understand BNPL usage and its relationship with consumers’ financial situations, the NY Fed conducted a study which revealed distinct usage patterns between the financially fragile and the financially stable.
The study revealed that financially fragile individuals, or individuals who have a credit score below 620, who have been declined for a credit application in the past year, or who have fallen 30 or more days delinquent on a loan in the past year, typically use BNPL to make frequent small purchases when compared to financial stable individuals. The study also found that using BNPL often leads to repeat transactions, indicating a potential trend towards repeat use of the product, particularly among those facing credit challenges.
The study also found that consumers’ motivations for using BNPL differ. Financially stable individuals often cite zero interest as a key advantage, while the financially fragile prioritize ease of access and convenience. The NY Fed summarized that BNPL usage among financially fragile individuals resembles using a credit card for medium-size, out-of-budget purchases, while financially stable users tend to make fewer purchases with a focus of avoiding interest on high-priced items. The NY Fed noted, however, that there is evidence of misunderstanding among users, such as the belief that BNPL helps build credit, concluding that “those with this view may be better off using a credit card.”
On February 15, the Fed, OCC, and the FDIC released their annual stress test scenarios for 2024 to assist the agencies in evaluating their respective covered institution’s risk profile and capital adequacy. The Fed released its “2024 Stress Test Scenarios” to be used by banks and supervisors for the 2024 annual stress test. The scenarios include hypothetical sets of conditions to evaluate the banks under baseline and severely adverse scenarios. The OCC similarly released economic and financial market scenarios to be used by national banks and federal savings associations and include both baseline and severely adverse scenarios as mandated by the stress testing requirements under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. The FDIC also released its stress test scenarios for certain state nonmember banks and state savings associations in conjunction with the OCC and the Fed.