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Senators request information from California bank on its relationship with collapsed crypto exchange
On December 5, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), John Kennedy (R-LA), and Roger Marshall (R-KS) asked the CEO of a California-based bank for information regarding its relationship with several cryptocurrency firms founded by the CEO of a now-collapsed crypto exchange. In their letter, the senators pressed the CEO for an explanation for why the bank failed to monitor for and report suspicious transactions to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and asked for information about how deposits it was holding on behalf of the collapsed exchange and related firm were being handled. The senators stressed that the bank has a legal responsibility under the Bank Secrecy Act to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program that may have flagged suspicious activity. “Your bank's involvement in the transfer of [the collapsed exchange’s] customer funds to [the related firm] reveals what appears to be an egregious failure of your bank’s responsibility to monitor for and report suspicious financial activity carried out by its clients,” the letter said. The senators asked the bank to respond to a series of questions by December 19.
On December 6, Fannie Mae announced enhancements to its Desktop Underwriter to create more homeownership opportunities for “credit invisible” borrowers by changing its automated underwriting system to expand eligibility and further simplify the borrowing process for loans where borrowers do not have a credit score. Fannie noted that close to 15 percent of Black and Latino/Hispanic people are credit invisible (as compared to nine percent of their white and Asian counterparts), explaining that these imbalances lead to racial disparities in access to credit and quality affordable housing. “We believe consumers should benefit from their responsible money management habits and a steady stream of income when buying a home, even if they don’t have an established credit history,” Mallory Evans, Executive Vice President and Head of Single-Family Business at Fannie Mae, said in the announcement. “Traditional lending practices make it hard for borrowers with no credit score to access credit, so we’ve taken steps that may help them responsibly qualify for a home loan using data that provides a more holistic view of how they manage their money.”
Beginning December 10, enhancements made to the Desktop Underwriter will (i) update borrower eligibility criteria for those with no credit score to align with Fannie’s standard selling guide requirements; (ii) enable the system to evaluate “a borrower’s monthly cash flow over a 12-month period to potentially enhance their credit risk assessment”; and (iii) simplify the mortgage process by automating the current selling guide requirement for documenting nontraditional sources of credit.
On December 7, the CFPB issued a preliminary determination that New York’s commercial financing disclosure law is not preempted by TILA because the state’s statute regulates commercial financing transactions and not consumer-purpose transactions. The CFPB issued a Notice of Intent to Make Preemption Determination under the Truth in Lending Act seeking comments pursuant to Appendix A of Regulation Z on whether it should finalize its preliminary determination that New York’s law, as well as potentially similar laws in California, Utah, and Virginia, are not preempted by TILA. Comments are due January 20, 2023. Once the comment period closes, the Bureau will publish a notice of final determination in the Federal Register.
Explaining that recently a number of states have enacted laws to require improved disclosures of information contained in commercial financing transactions, including loans to small businesses, in order to mitigate predatory small business lending and improve transparency, the Bureau said it received a written request to make a preemption determination involving certain disclosure provisions in TILA. While Congress expressly granted the Bureau authority to evaluate whether any inconsistencies exist between certain TILA provisions and state laws and to make a preemption determination, the statute’s implementing regulations require the agency to request public comments before making a final determination.
While New York’s Commercial Financing Law “requires financial disclosures before consummation of covered transactions,” the Bureau pointed out that this applies to “commercial financing” rather than consumer credit. The request contended that TILA preempts New York’s law in relation to its use of the terms “finance charge” and “annual percentage rate”—“notwithstanding that the statutes govern different categories of transactions.” The request outlined material differences in how the two statutes use these terms and asserted “that these differences make the New York law inconsistent with Federal law for purposes of preemption.” As an example, the request noted that the state’s definition of “finance charge” is broader than the federal definition, and that the “estimated APR” disclosure required under state law “for certain transactions is less precise than the APR calculation under TILA and Regulation Z.” Moreover, “New York law requires certain assumptions about payment amounts and payment frequencies in order to calculate APR and estimated APR, whereas TILA does not require similar assumptions,” the request asserted, adding that inconsistencies between the two laws could lead to borrower confusion or misunderstanding.
In making its preliminary determination, the Bureau concluded that the state and federal laws do not appear “contradictory” for preemption purposes based on the request’s assertions. The Bureau explained that the statutes govern different transactions and disagreed with the argument that New York’s law impedes the operation of TILA or interferes with its primary purpose. Specifically, the Bureau stated that the “differences between the New York and Federal disclosure requirements do not frustrate these purposes because lenders are not required to provide the New York disclosures to consumers seeking consumer credit.”
On December 6, the CFPB issued its semi-annual report to Congress covering the Bureau’s work for the period beginning October 1, 2021 and ending March 31, 2022. The report, which is required by Dodd-Frank, addresses several issues, including complaints received from consumers about consumer financial products or services throughout the reporting period. The report highlighted that the Bureau, among other things, has: (i) conducted an assessment of significant actions taken by state attorneys general and state regulators related to federal consumer financial law; (ii) initiated 21 fair lending supervisory activities to determine compliance with federal laws, including ECOA, HMDA, and UDAAP prohibitions, and engaged in interagency fair lending coordination with other federal agencies and states; (iii) “encouraged lenders to enhance oversight and identification of fair lending risk and to implement policies, procedures, and controls designed to effectively manage HMDA activities, including regarding integrity of data collection”; and (iv) launched a new Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Strategic Plan to increase workforce and contracting diversity.
In regard to supervision and enforcement, the report highlighted the Bureau’s public supervisory and enforcement actions and other significant initiatives during the reporting period. Additionally, the report noted rule-related work, including advisory opinions, advance notice of proposed rulemakings, requests for information, and proposed and final rules. These include rules and orders related to the LIBOR transition, fair credit reporting, Covid-19 mortgage and debt collection protections for consumers, small business lending data collection, and automated valuation model rulemaking.
On December 7, the CFPB released a report examining the use of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act's (SCRA) interest rate reduction benefit. Among other things, the CFPB raised concerns that servicemembers pay extra interest each year as a result of not taking advantage of interest rate reductions to which they are entitled under the SCRA. The SCRA provides certain legal and financial protections to active duty servicemembers, such as the ability to reduce the interest rate on certain pre-service obligations or liabilities to a maximum of 6 percent. According to the Bureau, members of the National Guard and Reserves are likely to have financial obligations that predate a subsequent period of service. As a result, the interest rate reduction benefit could provide considerable financial value. However, the Bureau found that only a small fraction of activated Guard and Reserve servicemembers receive interest rate reductions. Specifically, the Bureau noted that: (i) between 2007 and 2018, less than 10 percent of eligible auto loans and six percent of personal loans received a reduced interest rate; (ii) in addition to the $100 million of foregone benefits on auto and personal loans, members of the reserve component infrequently benefit from interest rate reductions for credit cards and mortgage loans; and (iii) for longer periods of activation, the utilization rate is low. The Bureau recommended that creditors apply SCRA interest rate reductions for all accounts held at an institution if a servicemember invokes their rights for a single account, and stressed that creditors should automatically apply SCRA rights. The Bureau also noted that more frequent information on SCRA rate reduction utilization would help inform and evaluate future efforts to expand servicemembers’ financial rights and protections.
On December 6, the CFPB issued a blog post emphasizing that financial institutions may need time to implement or adjust policies, procedures, systems and operations to come into compliance with the new HMDA volume reporting threshold and that the agency does not view action regarding institutions’ HMDA data as a current priority. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in September, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted partial summary judgment to a group of consumer fair housing associations that challenged changes made in 2020 that permanently raised coverage thresholds for collecting and reporting data about closed-end mortgage loans and open-end lines of credit under HMDA. The 2020 Rule, which amended Regulation C, permanently increased the reporting threshold from the origination of at least 25 closed-end mortgage loans in each of the two preceding calendar years to 100, and permanently increased the threshold for collecting and reporting data about open-end lines of credit from the origination of 100 lines of credit in each of the two preceding calendar years to 200 (covered by InfoBytes here). The plaintiffs sued the CFPB in 2020, arguing, among other things, that the final rule “exempts about 40 percent of depository institutions that were previously required to report” and undermines HMDA’s purpose by allowing potential violations of fair lending laws to go undetected. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
According to the blog post, the Bureau “does not intend to initiate enforcement actions or cite HMDA violations for failures to report closed-end mortgage loan data collected in 2022, 2021 or 2020 for institutions subject to the CFPB’s enforcement or supervisory jurisdiction that meet Regulation C’s other coverage requirements and originated at least 25 closed-end mortgage loans in each of the two preceding calendar years but fewer than 100 closed-end mortgage loans in either or both of the two preceding calendar years.”
On December 2, the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid published guidance informing guaranty agencies (GAs) of their obligations related to Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans that are in default. In August, the DOE implemented its Fresh Start initiative, which establishes guarantor obligations for a one-year period following the pandemic payment pause. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the current pause on student loan repayments, interest, and collection was extended last month as the U.S. Supreme Court reviews the Biden administration’s appeal of an injunction entered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit that temporarily prohibits the Secretary of Education from discharging any federal loans under the agency’s student debt relief plan.
According to the guidance, GAs are required to suspend collection efforts (including involuntary collections) against borrowers who are eligible for the Fresh Start initiative for one year after the pandemic moratorium ends. During this period, GAs may counsel borrowers about the processing of voluntary payments as well as their loan terms and what repayment plans may be available should their loan be removed from default. Loan rehabilitations occurring during the moratorium will not count toward a borrower’s single opportunity to rehabilitate a loan, the guidance explained, adding that beginning February 1, 2023, “GAs will report all defaulted borrowers as current unless their first date of delinquency (FDD) – which is not the same as their default date – is more than seven years ago. If the FDD is more than seven years ago, GAs must delete the borrower’s tradeline.” However, GAs will not be expected to perform retroactive tradeline updates. Following the end of the moratorium, GAs may resume interest rate accruals for all loans provided it is done in accordance with the law and the borrower’s promissory note, in addition to any loan modifications agreed upon by the GA. GAs must also obtain consent under the TCPA when communicating with borrowers, and gather information related to borrowers’ income-driven repayment plans and bankruptcy account details, if applicable.
On December 5, acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael J. Hsu delivered remarks at the RMA Risk Management and Internal Audit Virtual Conference, where he spoke about the current expected credit losses standard (CECL) and the importance of workforce diversity and inclusion. Hsu started by discussing CECL and mentioning that though loan portfolios have generally remained resilient and widespread, “deterioration isn’t currently evident in credit quality metrics, the effects of high inflation, rising interest rates, lagging wage growth, supply chain disruptions, and stress from geopolitical events threaten the unexpectedly strong credit performance observed over the past few years.” He further pointed out that the longer-term effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, such as the shift in preferences toward online shopping and remote work, and other circumstances, can erode business profit margins, debt service capacity, and collateral valuations, in addition to adversely affecting credit risk levels at financial institutions. When speaking about sound practice, Hsu stated that maintaining safe and sound credit risk management practices through this period of economic uncertainty is critical. He also noted that “timely risk identification and ratings, increased focus on concentrated portfolios and vulnerable borrowers, and stress testing and sensitivity analysis are particularly critical risk management activities at this time.” He further warned that the “flexibility” provided by CECL must ensure safety and soundness, arguing that there needs to be “appropriate support and documentation of management’s judgments,” as well as management’s assumptions, decisions, expectations, and qualitative adjustments. He emphasized that the first step to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion requires more transparency from the financial services industry regarding the diversity of their boards and executive leadership, and organizations need to develop diversity plans and monitor outcomes. He also emphasized that financial institutions should actively “foster a true sense of belonging for everyone.” In closing, Hsu stated that “improving diversity and inclusion is a ‘need to have’ for [the OCC] to achieve our mission of assuring safety and soundness, fair access to financial services, and fair treatment of customers.”
On December 1, Federal Reserve Board Vice Chair for Supervision Michael S. Barr signaled changes may be coming to the supervisory stress test standards for large banks, as the Fed evaluates whether the test used to set capital requirements reflects an appropriately wide range of risks. Speaking during an American Enterprise Institute event, Barr commented that the Fed is also “considering the potential for stress testing to be a tool to explore different sources of financial stress and uncover channels for contagion that lead to unanticipated consequences.” He added that the use of “multiple scenarios or adapting the stress test in other ways to better account for the high degree of interconnectedness between banks and other financial entities could allow supervisors and banks to identify those conditions and take action to address them.” Financial stability risks posed by the nonbank sector are also a strong concern for regulators, Barr said, commenting that many of these firms are undercapitalized and engage in high-risk activities. He stressed that the migration of activities from banks to nonbanks should be monitored carefully, and cautioned against lowering bank capital requirements “in a race to the bottom,” particularly since nonbank financial market stress is often directly and indirectly transmitted to the banking system. Banks must have sufficient capital to remain resilient to those stresses, Barr said.
On December 2, the Federal Reserve Board issued a notice requesting public comments on proposed Principles for Climate-Related Financial Risk Management for Large Financial Institutions. The proposed principles would provide a high-level framework for the safe and sound management of exposures to climate-related financial risks for the largest financial institutions (those with over $100 billion in total consolidated assets), as well as address the physical and transition risks associated with climate change. Notably the notice acknowledged that all financial institutions, regardless of size, can have material exposures to climate-related financial risks. Intended to support large financial institutions’ efforts in addressing climate-related financial risk management, the proposed principles cover six major areas related to: (i) governance; (ii) policies, procedures, and limits; (iii) strategic planning; (iv) risk management; (v) data, risk measurement, and reporting; and (vi) scenario analysis. The Fed noted that the proposed principles are substantially similar to those issued by the OCC and FDIC (covered by InfoBytes here and here), and said that the agencies intend to issue final interagency guidance to promote consistency. Comments on the proposed principles are due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
Governor Bowman stated that while she voted in favor of seeking input on the proposed principles, she reserves the right to vote against its finalization. She also emphasized that excluding financial institution with less than $100 billion in assets from the guidance “is appropriate based not only on the size of such firms, but also in light of the robust risk management expectations already applicable to such firms.”
However, Governor Waller issued a dissenting statement: “Climate change is real, but I disagree with the premise that it poses a serious risk to the safety and soundness of large banks and the financial stability of the United States. The Federal Reserve conducts regular stress tests on large banks that impose extremely severe macroeconomic shocks and they show that the banks are resilient.”