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On July 8, the CFPB announced a proposed settlement with a Florida-based student debt-relief company and three of its owners and officers (collectively, “defendants”), which would resolve allegations that the defendants violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) by charging advance fees for services to renegotiate, settle, reduce, or alter the terms of federal student loans. According to the complaint, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on the same day as the proposed order, the Bureau alleges that from 2016 through October 2019, the defendants used telemarketing campaigns to solicit over 7,300 consumers to pay up to $699 in fees to have their federal student loan monthly payments reduced or eliminated through government-offered programs. The Bureau alleges that—not only are government programs (such as loan consolidation, income-based repayment, or certain loan-forgiveness options) available without charge—the defendants violated the TSR by charging and receiving upfront fees from consumers for their services before the terms of the student debt had been altered or settled.
The proposed settlement, if approved by the court, permanently bans the defendants from providing debt-relief services and imposes a suspended $3.8 million in consumer redress, upon the owners and officers each paying between $5,000 and $10,000 individually. Additionally, each defendant would be required to pay $1 in civil money penalties.
On July 7, a settlement was reached with another of the defendants in action taken by the CFPB against a mortgage lender and several related individuals and companies (collectively, “the defendants”) for alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), and Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB filed a complaint in January in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California claiming the defendants violated the FCRA by, among other things, illegally obtaining consumer reports from a credit reporting agency for millions of consumers with student loans by representing that the reports would be used to “make firm offers of credit for mortgage loans” and to market mortgage products, but instead, the defendants allegedly resold or provided the reports to companies engaged in marketing student loan debt relief services. The defendants also allegedly violated the TSR by charging and collecting advance fees for their debt relief services. The CFPB further alleged that defendants violated the TSR and CFPA when they used telemarketing sales calls and direct mail to encourage consumers to consolidate their loans, and falsely represented that consolidation could lower student loan interest rates, improve borrowers’ credit scores, and change their servicer to the Department of Education. An $18 million settlement was reached with several of the defendants in May (covered by InfoBytes here).
The settlement reached with the chief operating officer/part-owner of one of the defendant companies requires the defendant to pay $25,000 of a $7 million settlement—of which the full payment will be suspended provided several obligations are fulfilled. The defendant, who neither admits nor denies the allegations, is permanently banned from providing debt relief services and from accessing, using, or obtaining “prescreened consumer reports” for any purpose. The defendant is also prohibited from using or obtaining consumer reports for any business purposes aside from “underwriting or otherwise evaluating mortgage loans.” The defendant is further required to, among other things, (i) pay a $1 civil money penalty; (ii) comply with reporting requirements; and (iii) fully cooperate with any other investigations.
On July 7, the CFPB released a blog post discussing the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), addressing the regulatory uncertainty that accompanies their use, and encouraging stakeholders to use the Bureau’s innovation programs to address these issues. The blog post notes that “AI has the potential to expand credit access by enabling lenders to evaluate the creditworthiness of some of the millions of consumers who are unscorable using traditional underwriting techniques,” but using AI may create or amplify risks, including unlawful discrimination, lack of transparency, privacy concerns, and inaccurate predictions.
The blog post discusses how using AI/ML models in credit underwriting may raise compliance concerns with ECOA and FCRA provisions that require creditors to issue adverse action notices detailing the main reasons for the denial, particularly because AI/ML decisions can be “based on complex interrelationships.” Recognizing this, the Bureau explains that there is flexibility in the current regulatory framework “that can be compatible with AI algorithms.” As an example, citing to the Official Interpretation to Regulation B, the blog post notes that “a creditor may disclose a reason for a denial even if the relationship of that disclosed factor to predicting creditworthiness may be unclear to the applicant,” which would allow for a creditor to use AI/ML models where the variables and key reasons are known, but the relationship between them is not intuitive. Additionally, neither ECOA nor Regulation B require the use of a specific list of reasons, allowing creditors flexibility when providing reasons that reflect alternative data sources.
In order to address the continued regulatory uncertainty, the blog post encourages stakeholders to use the Trial Disclosure, No-Action Letter, and Compliance Assistance Sandbox programs offered by the Bureau (covered by InfoBytes here) to take advantage of AI/ML’s potential benefits. The blog post mentions three specific areas in which the Bureau is particularly interested in exploring: (i) “the methodologies for determining the principal reasons for an adverse action”; (iii) “the accuracy of explainability methods, particularly as applied to deep learning and other complex ensemble models”; and (iii) the conveyance of principal reasons “in a manner that accurately reflects the factors used in the model and is understandable to consumers.”
On June 7, the CFPB issued the final rule revoking certain underwriting provisions of the agency’s 2017 final rule covering “Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans” (Payday Lending Rule). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau issued the proposed rule in February 2019 and the final rule implements the proposal without revision. Specifically, the final rule revokes, among other things (i) the provision that makes it an unfair and abusive practice for a lender to make covered high-interest rate, short-term loans or covered longer-term balloon payment loans without reasonably determining that the consumer has the ability to repay the loans according to their terms; (ii) the prescribed mandatory underwriting requirements for making the ability-to-repay determination; (iii) the “principal step-down exemption” provision for certain covered short-term loans; and (iv) related definitions, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements. Additional details regarding the final rule can be found in the Bureau’s unofficial redline and executive summary.
While compliance with the payment provisions of the Payday Lending Rule is currently stayed by court order (see previous InfoBytes coverage here), the Bureau states that it “will seek to have them go into effect with a reasonable period for entities to come into compliance.” Additionally, the CFPB ratified the payment provisions of the Payday Lending Rule in light of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Seila Law (covered by a Special Alert here) and issued a statement on the supervision and enforcement of certain aspects of the payment provisions with respect to certain large loans. According to the statement, the Bureau does not intend to take supervisory or enforcement action with regard to covered loans that exceed the Regulation Z coverage threshold (currently set at $58,300). The statement notes that the Bureau is monitoring and assessing the “effects of the [p]ayment [p]rovisions, including their scope, and [it] may determine whether further action is needed in light of what it learns.”
Moreover, the Bureau released FAQs pertaining to compliance with the payment provisions of the Payday Lending Rule. The FAQs discuss the details of the covered loans and “payment transfers”—defined as a “a debit or withdrawal of funds from a consumer’s account that the lender initiates for the purpose of collecting any amount due or purported to be due in connection with a covered loan”—under the rule.
On July 7, the CFPB, “out of an abundance of caution,” ratified several previous actions, including the large majority of the Bureau’s existing regulations, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Seila v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, the Court held that, while the clause in the Consumer Financial Protection Act that requires cause to remove the director of the CFPB violates the constitutional separation of powers, the removal provision could—and should—be severed from the statute establishing the CFPB, rather than invalidating the entire statute. According to the Bureau’s announcement, the action ratifies most regulatory actions taken by the Bureau from January 4, 2012 through June 30, 2020, and “provides the financial marketplace with certainty that the rules are valid in light of the Supreme Court decision in Seila Law.” The Bureau noted, however, that the ratification does not include two actions: (i) the July 2017 “Arbitration Agreements” rule, which was disapproved following the approval by President Trump of a joint resolution under the Congressional Review Act that provides “the ‘rule shall have no force or effect’”; and (ii) the November 2017 “Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans” rule (Payday Rule), for which the Bureau previously revoked the rule’s mandatory underwriting provisions. Both of these actions are not within the scope of the ratification, the Bureau stated, noting, however, that it has separately ratified the Payday Lending Rule’s payment provisions.
The Bureau is also considering whether to ratify other legally significant actions, such as certain pending enforcement actions, and stated it will make separate ratifications, if appropriate. However, the Bureau stressed it “does not believe that it is necessary for this ratification to include various previous Bureau actions that have no legal consequences for the public, or enforcement actions that have finally been resolved.” Additionally, because the ratification is not a “rule” or “rule making” as defined by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), since it is “not an ‘agency statement of general or particular applicability and future effect’” and is “not ‘formulating, amending, or repealing a rule,’” the Bureau contended it is not subject to the APA’s notice-and-comment procedures.
On July 6, the CFPB filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against a Delaware financial-services company operating in Florida and New York along with its owner (collectively, “defendants”) for allegedly violating the Consumer Financial Protection Act’s prohibition against deceptive acts or practices by making misleading marketing representations when advertising its high yield CD accounts. The Bureau's complaint alleges that since August 2019, the company took more than $15 million from at least 400 consumers. According to the complaint, the defendants engaged in four separate deceptive acts or practices by: (i) falsely representing that consumers’ deposits into the high yield CD accounts would be used to originate loans for healthcare professionals, when in fact, the company never used the deposits to originate loans for healthcare professionals, never sold a loan to a bank or secondary-market investor, and never entered into a contract with a buyer or investor to purchase a loan; (ii) concealing the company’s true business model by falsely representing that the consumers’ deposits, when not being used to originate healthcare loans, would be held in an FDIC- or Lloyd’s of London-insured account or a “cash alternative” or “cash equivalent” account, when in reality, consumers’ deposits were, among other things, invested in securities; (iii) falsely describing the company as a commercial bank and claiming their high yield CD accounts were comparable to a traditional savings accounts with a guaranteed return, when in fact, the company was not a commercial bank, and consumers’ deposits were actively traded in the stock market or used in securities-backed investments; and (iv) falsely representing that past high yield CD accounts allegedly paid interest at rates between 5 percent and 6.25 percent prior to 2019; however, the company did not offer CDs until August 2019, and “consumers’ principals was neither guaranteed nor insured.” Among other things, the Bureau seeks monetary relief, consumer redress, injunctive relief, and a civil money penalty.
On July 6, the CFPB announced the launch of Consumer Financial Protection Week from July 14 through July 17. Over the course of four days, the Bureau is hosting or participating in multiple virtual events, including (i) a tutorial and overview of the HMDA data browser; (ii) a discussion on the Bureau’s supervisory and enforcement prioritized assessment approach; and (iii) a discussion on the Bureau’s Taskforce on Federal Consumer Financial Law.
On July 2, the CFPB issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to amend Regulation Z, as required by the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, and exempt certain insured depository institutions and credit unions from the requirement to establish escrow accounts for certain higher-priced mortgage loans (HPMLs). Under the proposed amendment, any loan made by an insured depository institution or credit union that is secured by a first lien on the principal dwelling of a consumer would be exempt from Regulation Z’s HPML escrow requirement if (i) the institution has assets of no more than $10 billion; (ii) “the institution and its affiliates originated 1,000 or fewer loans secured by a first lien on a principal dwelling during the preceding calendar year”; and (iii) the institution meets certain existing HPML escrow exemption criteria. Comments on the NPRM will be accepted for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register.
On July 2, the CFPB and the OCC announced that they will host joint, virtual “Innovation Office Hours” on July 29-30, as part of the American Consumer Financial Innovation Network (covered by InfoBytes here). The office hours will be one-on-one meetings, of up to one hour, with representatives from the OCC and the CFPB’s Innovation Offices to discuss things such as fintech, new products or services, and bank partnerships. Those interested need to request a virtual session by July 17, and should include details on what they would like to discuss at the meeting.
On July 7, the CFPB issued its semiannual report to Congress covering the Bureau’s work from October 1, 2019, through March 31, 2020. The report, which is required by the Dodd-Frank Act, addresses, among other things, problems faced by consumers with regard to consumer financial products or services; significant rules and orders adopted by the Bureau; and various supervisory and enforcement actions taken by the Bureau. In her opening letter, Director Kathy Kraninger discusses the Bureau’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, stating that the Bureau has participated in “countless joint statements, virtual co-appearances, and shared broadcasts to stakeholders with [their] prudential partners” and has “directly engage[d] consumers with the right information, at the right time.”
Among other things, the report highlights first time homebuyers and credit scores as areas in which consumers face significant problems, citing to the Bureau’s Market Snapshot on First-time Homebuyers and the quarterly consumer credit trends report on public records. In addition to highlighting the Bureau’s previous efforts during the reporting period, the report notes upcoming initiatives and plans, including (i) the Taskforce on Federal Consumer Financial Law’s public listening sessions in the fall; (ii) the cost-benefit analysis symposium in July; and (iii) further work on their Covid-19 pandemic responses.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Fair servicing in wake of Covid-19" at an American Bar Association webinar
- APPROVED Webcast: Maximizing vendor value
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Cram for the exam: Best prep strategies for a regulatory examination" at an ACAMS webinar
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "The United States in the age of Covid-19: The financial stimulus and the battle against fraud and corruption" at the Argentine Association of Ethics and Compliance Compliance Officers’ Club
- Melissa Klimkiewicz to discuss "Flood insurance basics" at the NAFCU Virtual Regulatory Compliance School
- Sasha Leonhardt to discuss "Privacy laws clarified" at the National Settlement Services Summit (NS3)
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "New privacy legislation: Preparing for a major source of class action and enforcement activity going forward" at the American Conference Institute Consumer Finance Class Actions, Litigation & Government Enforcement Actions