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On January 19, the CFPB released a special edition of Supervisory Highlights detailing the agency’s Covid-19 prioritized assessment (PA) observations. Since May 2020, the Bureau has conducted PAs in response to the pandemic in order to obtain real-time information from supervised entities operating in markets that pose an elevated risk of pandemic-related consumer harm. According to the Bureau, the PAs are not designed to identify federal consumer financial law violations, but are intended to spot and assess risks in order to prevent consumer harm. Targeted information requests were sent to entities seeking information on, among other things, ways entities are assisting and communicating with consumers, Covid-19-related institutional challenges, compliance management system changes made in response to the pandemic, and service provider data. Highlights of the Bureau’s findings include:
- Mortgage servicing. The CARES Act established certain forbearance protections for homeowners. The Bureau pointed out that many servicers faced significant challenges, including operational constraints, resource burdens, and service interruptions. Consumer risks were also present, with several servicers (i) providing incomplete or inaccurate information regarding CARES Act forbearances, failing to timely process forbearance requests, or enrolling borrowers in unwanted or automatic forbearances; (ii) sending collection and default notices, assessing late fees, and initiating foreclosures for borrowers in forbearance; (iii) inaccurately handling borrowers’ preauthorized electronic funds transfers; and (iv) failing to take appropriate loss mitigation steps.
- Auto loan servicing. The Bureau noted that many auto loan servicers provided insufficient information to borrowers about the impact of interest accrual during deferment periods, while other servicers continued to withdraw funds for monthly payments even after agreeing to deferments. Additionally, certain borrowers received repossession notices even though servicers had suspended repossession operations during this time.
- Student loan servicing. The CARES Act established protections for certain student loan borrowers, including reduced interest rates and suspended monthly payments for most federal loans owned by the Department of Education. Many private student loan holders also offered payment relief options. The Bureau noted however that servicers faced significant challenges in implementing these protections. For certain servicers, these challenges led to issues which raised the risk of consumer harm, including (i) provision of incorrect or incomplete payment relief options; (ii) failing to maintain regular call center hours; (iii) failing to respond to forbearance extension requests; and (iv) allowing certain payment allocation errors and preauthorized electronic funds transfers.
- Small business lending. The Bureau discussed the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), noting that when “implementing the PPP, multiple lenders adopted a policy that restricted access to PPP loans beyond the eligibility requirements of the CARES Act and rules and orders issued by the SBA.” The Bureau encouraged lenders to consider and address any fair lending risks associated with PPP lending.
The Supervisory Highlights also examined areas related to credit card accounts, consumer reporting and furnishing, debt collection, deposits, prepaid accounts, and small business lending.
On January 20, the Biden administration issued a memo directing the heads of executive departments and agencies across the federal government to “immediately withdraw” or delay action on any pending regulations not yet published in the Federal Register. The memo, among other things, directs departments and agencies to withdraw any new finalized rules that have not yet been published in the Federal Register in order to seek approval from a department or agency head appointed or designated by President Biden. Departments and agencies are also encouraged to “consider” 60-day postponements for published rules that have not taken effect yet to allow for 30-day public comment periods and to consider petitions for reconsideration. The memo, which does not specify which departments or agencies are covered, allows for exceptions in “emergency situations or other urgent circumstances relating to health, safety, environmental, financial, or national security matters, or otherwise.”
On January 20, Kathy Kraninger resigned from her position as CFPB director and newly sworn-in President Biden announced that Dave Uejio would serve as acting director until permanent leadership is confirmed by the U.S. Senate. President Biden officially nominated Rohit Chopra as the permanent director of the Bureau.
Uejio has been with the Bureau since 2012, and prior to his appointment as acting director, he has served as the Bureau’s Chief Strategy Officer since 2015. Chopra, who is currently a Democratic Commissioner of the FTC, previously served as the Bureau’s first student loan ombudsman and assistant director of the Office for Students before leaving the Bureau in 2015.
Kraninger’s resignation is a notable departure from the Bureau’s original structure, as outlined in Dodd-Frank, which called for a single director, appointed to a five-year term and only removable by the president for cause (i.e., for “inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office”). As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, in June 2020, the Supreme Court, in a plurality opinion in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB, held that the CFPB’s statutory structure violates the constitutional separation of powers by restricting the president’s ability to remove the director. The Court remedied the constitutional violation by severing the “for cause” removal language from the remainder of the statute. When Kraninger submitted her resignation on President Biden’s Inauguration Day, she stated it was in “support of the Constitutional prerogative of the President to appoint senior officials within the government who support the President’s policy priorities…”
On January 15, the OCC announced a $3.5 million penalty against a national bank’s former general counsel for his role in the bank’s incentive compensation sales practices. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in January 2020, the OCC announced charges against the former general counsel and other executives, seeking a lifetime prohibition from participating in the banking industry, a personal cease and desist order, and/or civil money penalties. The January announcement included settlements with three of the executives, and the OCC settled with three others in September 2020 (covered by InfoBytes here).
In addition to the $3.5 million penalty, the consent order against the former general counsel includes a personal cease and desist, and a requirement to cooperate with the OCC in any investigation or proceeding related to the sales practices of the bank. The consent order does not prohibit the former general counsel from holding future executive positions within the industry.
On January 15, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced a $390 million civil money penalty against a national bank for allegedly violating the Bank Secrecy Act and its implementing regulations. The settlement resolves an investigation into the bank’s alleged failure to maintain an effective anti-money laundering (AML) program. According to FinCEN, the bank’s check-cashing business unit failed to file thousands of suspicious activity reports (SARs) and currency transaction reports (CTR). As a result, suspicious transactions were not reported in a timely and accurate manner. FinCen noted that while the bank was allegedly aware of several compliance and money laundering risks associated with its check-cashing business unit, its process for investigating suspicious transactions was insufficient. The bank also allegedly failed to file SARs even though it had actual knowledge of criminal charges against specific customers and continued to process transactions for these customers’ businesses. In determining the penalty, FinCEN considered the bank’s significant remediation efforts—including taking remedial measures related to its SARs and CTR filing systems and enhancing its AML program over the past several years—as well as its cooperation with the agency’s investigation.
On January 19, the CFPB announced a settlement with a California-based online lender resolving allegations that the company violated the Military Lending Act (MLA) when making installment loans. This settlement is part of “the Bureau’s broader sweep of investigations of multiple lenders that may be violating the MLA,” which provides protections connected to extensions of consumer credit for active-duty servicemembers and their dependents. As previously covered by InfoBytes, last month the Bureau filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California alleging that since October 2016 the lender, among other things, made more than 4,000 single-payment or installment loans to over 1,200 covered borrowers in violation of the MLA. These violations included (i) extending loans with Military Annual Percentage Rates (MAPR) exceeding the MLA’s 36 percent cap; (ii) requiring borrowers to submit to arbitration in loan agreements; and (iii) failing to make certain required loan disclosures, including a statement of the applicable MAPR, before or at the time of the transaction.
Under the terms of the settlement, the company is required to pay $300,000 in consumer redress and pay a $950,000 civil money penalty. The company is also be prohibited from committing future MLA violations and from “collecting on, selling, or assigning any debts arising from Void Loans.” Furthermore, the company is required to submit a compliance plan to ensure its extension of consumer credit complies with the MLA. This plan must include, among other things, a process for correcting information furnished to credit reporting agencies about affected consumers.
On January 15, the CFPB announced a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut against a mortgage lender and four executives (collectively, “defendants”) alleging the defendants engaged in unlawful mortgage lending practices in violation of TILA, FCRA, ECOA, the Mortgage Acts and Practices—Advertising Rule (MAP Rule), and the CFPA. According to the complaint, from as early as 2015 until August 2019 (i) unlicensed sales people would take mortgage applications and offer and negotiate mortgage terms, in violation of TILA and Regulation Z; (ii) company policy regularly required consumers to submit documents for verification before receiving a Loan Estimate, in violation of TILA and Regulation Z; (iii) employees would deny consumers credit without issuing an adverse action notice, as required by the FCRA or ECOA; and (iv) defendants regularly made misrepresentations about, among other things, the availability and cost savings of a FHA streamlined refinance loan, in violation of the MAP Rule. The Bureau is seeking an injunction, as well as, damages, redress, disgorgement, and civil money penalties.
On January 14, the CFPB announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the NCUA, which is intended to improve supervision coordination of credit unions with over $10 billion in assets. According to the Bureau’s press release, the MOU covers (i) the sharing of the Covered Reports of Examination and final Reports of Examination for covered institutions, using secure, two-way electronic means; (ii) collaboration in semi-annual strategy planning sessions for examination coordination; (iii) information sharing on training activities and content; and (iv) information sharing related to potential enforcement actions.
Recently President Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021—a funding measure which extends certain emergency authorities and temporary regulatory relief contained in the CARES Act (covered by InfoBytes here)—that includes a provision under Title XIV Covid-19 Consumer Protection Act, which allows the FTC to seek civil penalties for first-time violations of the FTC Act related to Covid-19 scams and deceptive practices. Specifically, the provision targets conduct “associated with—(1) the treatment, cure, prevention, mitigation, or diagnosis of COVID-19; or (2) a government benefit related to COVID-19.” Such a violation would be “treated as a violation of a rule defining an unfair or deceptive act or practice prescribed under section 18(a)(1)(B) of the Federal Trade Commission Act (15 U.S.C. 57a(a)(1)(B)),” with violators subject to civil penalties. This authority is granted to the FTC for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic.
On January 19, the FHFA announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) will extend their moratorium on single-family foreclosures and real estate owned (REO) evictions until at least February 28 (which was set to expire on January 31, previously covered here). The foreclosure moratorium applies to homeowners with a GSE-backed, single-family mortgage, and the REO eviction moratorium applies to properties that were acquired by the GSEs through foreclosure or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure transactions.
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