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On June 10, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.) wrote to the Federal Reserve Board, the OCC, the FDIC, and the CFPB requesting information regarding the role the regulators can play in ensuring that fintech companies serve consumers on a nondiscriminatory basis. The letter asserts that ,while the fintech business model—using algorithms to underwrite loans, typically without face-to-face interaction with consumers—has “the potential to expand access to financial services for underserved populations,” it also has the potential to lead to discriminatory results. Based on recent reports cited in the letter, the Senators ask the regulators to, among other things, (i) identify what their agency is doing to combat lending discrimination by lenders using algorithmic underwriting; (ii) explain how the agencies’ oversight of fair lending laws extend to the fintech industry; and (iii) describe any analyses conducted on the impact of fintech algorithms on minority borrowers. The letter requests the agencies respond to the inquiries by June 24.
On May 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit held that the City of Miami plausibly alleged that two national banks’ lending practices violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and led to defaults, foreclosures, and vacancies, and eventually reduced property values and corresponding property tax revenues. The court did so by finding “some direct relation” between the City’s tax revenue injuries and the Bank’s alleged violations of the FHA. The case returned to the 11th Circuit after having been appealed to and resolved in part in the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017, where the Court held that municipal plaintiffs may be “aggrieved persons” authorized to bring suit under the FHA against lenders for injuries allegedly flowing from discriminatory lending practices (previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert). According to the appellate court opinion, the Court “declined to ‘draw the precise boundaries of proximate cause under the FHA and to determine on which side of the line the City’s financial injuries fall,’” leaving to the lower courts the issue of how the principles of proximate cause function when applied to the FHA and the facts of the complaints.
The appellate court concluded that the district court erred in dismissing the City’s claims against the banks in their entirety, with the 11th Circuit finding “a logical and direct bond between discriminatory lending as a pattern and practice applied to neighborhoods throughout the City and the reduction in property values.” However, the appellate court concluded that the City’s allegations fell short of establishing a direct relationship between the alleged misconduct and the City’s purported increase in its municipal services expenditures, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court “has told us that foreseeability alone is not enough.” The appellate court emphasized that at the motion to dismiss stage it was only addressing the plausibility that the alleged conduct violated the FHA, and remanded the case back to the district court.
On March 28, HUD announced that it charged a world-wide social media platform with violating the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by allowing advertisers to exclude certain protected classes from viewing housing-related ads. According to the charges, the social media platform collects information about its users and sells advertisers the ability to target housing-related advertisements to people who “share certain personal attributes and/or are likely to respond to a particular ad.” Specifically, HUD alleges that the platform first allows advertisers to use tools to select attributes of users who they would like to include or exclude from viewing their advertisements. These attributes include attributes such as, “women in the workforce,” “foreigners,” “Puerto Rico Islanders,” or “Christian.” HUD also alleges that the platform allows advertisers to draw a “red line” around specific areas on a map to exclude people who live there from seeing a particular ad. In a subsequent phase, HUD alleges that the platform groups users by shared attributes to create a target audience most likely to engage with the ad, even if the advertiser would prefer a broader audience, which, according to HUD, inevitably creates “groupings defined by their protected class.” HUD alleges that the data collection and targeted ad processes function “just like an advertiser who intentionally targets or excludes users based on their protected class” in violation of the FHA. HUD is seeking an injunction, damages for any aggrieved persons, and civil money penalties against the platform.
On March 19, the OCC announced that a national bank has agreed to pay a $25 million civil money penalty to resolve alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act. According to the OCC’s consent order, (i) from August 2011 to April 2015, the bank did not properly train loan officers about available mortgage discounts under its Relationship Loan Program (RLP); (ii) from August 2011 to November 2014, the bank failed to provide explicit instructions within their written guidelines that employees should offer those discounts to all eligible customers; and (iii) from August 2011 to November 2014, the bank did not require loan officers to document the reason for a customer’s rejection. Moreover, according to the OCC, the bank did not require loan officers to inform customers about potential mortgage discounts from August 2011 to January 2015. As a result, the OCC stated that certain borrowers allegedly did not receive RLP benefits for which they were eligible and were adversely affected on the basis of their race, color, national origin, and/or sex. The bank—which did not admit nor deny the allegations and self-reported the problems in 2015—initiated and has nearly completed a reimbursement plan, which will deliver roughly $24 million in restitution to the approximately 24,000 borrowers who may have missed out on the appropriate RLP benefit.
On March 12, Director of the CFPB, Kathy Kraninger, testified at a hearing held by the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee on the CFPB’s Semi-Annual Report to Congress. While Kraninger’s opening statement and question responses were similar to her comments made last week during a House Financial Services Committee hearing (detailed coverage here), notable highlights include:
- Fair Lending. Kraninger did not provide a status update on the Bureau’s pre-rulemaking activities as they relate to whether disparate impact is cognizable under ECOA, but emphasized that the Bureau is committed to the fair lending mission.
- Data Collection. In response to concerns over the Bureau’s history of expansive data collection, Kraninger noted that data collection is an especially important tool for rulemaking, but stated that going-forward she would ensure the Bureau only collects the information needed to carry out the Bureau’s mission, noting that the less personally identifiable information that is collected, the less that requires protection. She acknowledged the Bureau is reviewing the comments submitted in response to its fall 2018 data governance program report (covered by InfoBytes here) and stated the Bureau remains committed to reviewing the internal processes it has for collecting and using data.
- Military Lending Act (MLA). Kraninger stated that she disagrees with the Democratic Senator’s broad interpretation of Section 1024(b)(1)(C) of the Dodd-Frank Act allowing for the Bureau to examine for compliance with the MLA because that interpretation would permit the Bureau to examine for anything that is a “risk to consumers,” including things like safety and soundness, which is not currently under the Bureau’s purview. While she acknowledged that the Bureau has the direct authority to enforce the MLA, she repeatedly rejected the notion that this would also give the Bureau the authority to supervise for the MLA, as Dodd-Frank separates the Bureau’s enforcement and supervision powers.
- Payday Rule. Kraninger repeatedly emphasized that the reconsideration of the underwriting standards in the Payday Rule was to determine if the legal and factual basis used to justify certain practices as unfair and abusive was “robust” enough. She acknowledged that the Bureau will be reviewing all the comments to the proposal and that the evidence used for the original Rule will be part of the record for the reconsideration.
- GSE Patch. In response to questions regarding the 2021 expiration of the Qualified Mortgage (QM) Rule’s 43 percent debt-to-income ratio exception for mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs), Kraninger acknowledged the “non-QM” market hasn’t materialized over the last few years, as was originally anticipated. However, Kraninger was reluctant to provide any further details, noting that she would not be making any “dramatic changes” to the mortgage market. Additionally, she acknowledged that the GSE patch has the potential to expire at the end of the conservatorship as well.
- CFPB Structure. Kraninger did not specify whether she believes the Bureau should be led by a board, rather than a single director, or whether the Bureau should be under appropriations. Specifically Kraninger stated that she would “welcome any changes Congress made that would increase the accountability and transparency of the Bureau,” and would “dutifully carry out” legislation that would place the Bureau under appropriations if the President signed it.
- Student Lending. Kraninger stated that the Bureau intends to re-engage with the Department of Education on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to assist with complaint and information sharing once a new Student Loan Ombudsmen has been hired. The MOUs were previously terminated by the Department in August 2018 (covered by Infobytes here).
On March 1, the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut signed an order dismissing with prejudice a Fair Housing Act complaint filed by the Connecticut Fair Housing Center through its legal counsel, the National Consumer Law Center, against a Connecticut-based bank. The bank denied all allegations of wrongdoing and liability. Under the terms of the stipulation of dismissal, the bank agreed voluntarily to resolve the claims and, among other things, to (i) revise its fair lending policies and procedures and conduct fair lending training for all employees; (ii) open a loan production office in Hartford; (iii) spend $230,000 on targeted marketing and advertising to minority communities, and provide additional consumer financial education opportunities; (iv) invest $300,000 for subsidies to promote home ownership and enhance access to credit in identified communities; (v) identify a Community Development Officer within the bank; and (vi) expand its community development loan program by investing $5 million over the next three years.
On February 12, the CFPB issued its semi-annual report to Congress covering the Bureau’s work from April 1, 2018, through September 30, 2018. The report, which is required by the Dodd-Frank Act, addresses issues including 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 when acting Director Mick Mulvaney was still in office. The report is the first to be released under Kathy Kraninger, who was confirmed as Director in December 2018. In her opening letter, Kraninger emphasized that during her tenure the Bureau will “vigorously and even-handedly enforce the law,” and will make sure the financial marketplace “is innovating in ways that enhance consumer choice.” Among other things, the report focuses on credit invisibility and mortgage shopping as two significant problems faced by consumers, noting that credit invisibility among adults tends to be concentrated in rural and highly urban areas and, based on recent studies, more than 75 percent of borrowers report applying for a mortgage with only one lender.
The report also includes an analysis of the efforts of the Bureau to fulfill its fair lending mission. The report highlights the most frequently cited violations of Regulation B (ECOA) and Regulation C (HMDA) in fair lending exams during the reporting period and emphasizes that during the reporting period the Bureau did not initiate or complete any fair lending public enforcement actions or refer any matters to the DOJ with regard to discrimination.
On February 1, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard spoke at the “Research Symposium on the Community Reinvestment Act” hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia to discuss the need to update Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) regulations. Brainard summarized comment letters received in response to the OCC’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) published last August (previously covered by InfoBytes) seeking input on ways to transform or modernize the CRA regulatory framework, and discussed the following six key takeaways:
- There is broad support for the CRA among commenters—including academics, financial institutions, banking trade associations, community organizations, consumer groups, and citizens—who, among other things, applaud the volume of CRA loans and investments that support low-and-moderate income households and communities.
- There is general agreement among commenters for the need to modernize—but not completely overhaul—CRA assessment areas, while retaining its core focus.
- Commenters support different performance tests for different types of banks. According to Brainard, there is broad agreement that “CRA regulations cannot be one-size-fits-all” and should be tailored to banks of different sizes, as well as different business models.
- CRA modernization should keep the focus on underserved areas. Commenters discussed concerns about “CRA hotspots and credit deserts,” and the need for incentives to ensure CRA capital can reach underserved communities has been a common theme at regional roundtables.
- Commenters offered recommendations on how to increase the “consistency and predictability of CRA evaluations and ratings.”
- Roundtable discussions as well as commenters have emphasized the “historical context of the CRA as it relates to redlining practices,” and demonstrated strong support for the CRA to retain its underlying focus of reaching all underserved borrowers, including low-income communities and communities of color.
CFPB’s latest fair lending report focuses on promoting fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory access to credit
On December 4, the CFPB issued its sixth fair lending report to Congress, which outlines the Bureau’s efforts in 2017. According to the report, in 2017, the Bureau continued to focus on promoting fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory access to credit, highlighting several fair lending priorities such as redlining, mortgage and student loan servicing, and small business lending. The report also addresses the Bureau’s risk-based prioritization approach to supervisory examinations and enforcement activity relating to underwriting, pricing, steering, servicing, and HMDA data integrity. Specifically, the report covers fair lending supervision and enforcement activities, guidance and rulemaking, and interagency coordination efforts, including (i) taking enforcement actions against a bank for alleged credit card lending discrimination, and a mortgage lender that allegedly failed to accurately report consumer application and loan data; (ii) issuing its first no-action letter to a company that uses alternative, non-traditional data and modeling techniques “to make credit and pricing decisions to support innovation and enable people with limited credit history, among others, to obtain credit or obtain credit on better terms”; (iii) collaborating with other federal banking regulators to issue, among other things, the “HMDA Examiner Transaction Testing Guidelines,” which present uniform guidelines for examiners when evaluating whether covered mortgage lenders are reporting accurate data; and (iv) communicating fair lending information to the public through various platforms. Notably, the report is silent regarding plans for upcoming fair lending activities in 2019, unlike previous reports that included future actions. (See InfoBytes coverage on the 2016 report here.)
On November 9, the CFPB issued its semi-annual report to Congress, covering the Bureau’s work from October 1, 2017 to March 30, 2018. 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 during the majority of acting Director Mick Mulvaney’s tenure. Specifically, the report includes (i) a summary of five “significant” state Attorney General actions pursuant to Section 1042 of the Dodd-Frank Act, which allows states to enforce the federal law; (ii) a review of the Bureau’s fair lending efforts, noting that it “conducted fewer fair lending supervisory events. . .than in the prior period,” but “cleared a substantially higher number of MRAs or MOU items from past supervisory events than in the prior period”; (iii) a discussion of non-prime and secured credit cards marketed to consumers; and (iv) a list of upcoming initiatives, which includes requests for information regarding, among other things, the Bureau’s consumer complaint and consumer inquiry handling processes, the Bureau’s inherited regulations and inherited rulemaking authorities, the Bureau’s adopted regulations and new rulemaking authorities, Bureau rulemaking processes, Bureau public reporting practices of consumer complaint information, Bureau external engagements, the Bureau’s supervision program, and the Bureau’s enforcement processes.
Notably, the report also discusses the budget for FY 2018, acknowledging the unusual January 2018 request for zero dollars in funding for the Bureau’s quarterly operations (previously covered by InfoBytes here). As for FY 2019, Mulvaney most recently requested nearly $173 million for Q1, which is still significantly below former Bureau Director Richard Cordray’s FY 2017 Q1 request of $217 million.
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- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "RESPA Section 8/referrals: How do you stay compliant?" at the New England Mortgage Bankers Conference
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