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On March 9, the Financial Stability Board (FSB) announced the release of its Supplementary Guidance to the FSB Principles and Standards on Sound Compensation Practices (Supplementary Guidance) relating to FSB’s Principles and Standards published in 2009. The Supplementary Guidance arises out of a 2015 workplan implemented to address concerns about compensation practices that could create misaligned incentives within financial institutions. The Supplementary Guidance, which does not contain new or additional principles and standards, provides recommendations presented in three parts: (i) “governance of compensation and misconduct risk”; (ii) “effective alignment of compensation with misconduct risk”; and (iii) “supervision of compensation and misconduct risk.” The Supplementary Guidance notes that “inappropriately structured compensation arrangements can provide individuals with incentives to take imprudent risks,” which may lead to potential harm for financial institutions and their customers or stakeholders. The Supplementary Guidance suggests that financial institutions use compensation tools as part of an overall strategy to limit risks and address misconduct, and cautions that “compensation should be adjusted for all types of risk.”
CFPB and New York Attorney General File Lawsuit Against Company that Lured 9/11 Heroes Out of Millions of Dollars
On February 7, the CFPB announced that it has—in partnership with the New York Attorney General (NYAG)—filed a complaint in federal district court against a finance company and two affiliates that offer lump-sum advances to consumers entitled to periodic payouts from victim compensation funds or lawsuit settlements. A press release from the NYAG’s Office can be accessed here.
The Bureau and the NYAG claim, among other things, that the defendants misled World Trade Center attack first responders and professional football players in selling expensive advances on benefits to which they were entitled and mischaracterized extensions of credit as assignments of future payment rights, thereby misleading their victims into repaying far more than they received. Specifically, according to the allegations in the complaint, the New Jersey-based companies: (i) used “confusing contracts” to prevent the individuals from understanding the terms and costs of the transactions; (ii) lied to the individuals by telling them the companies could secure their payouts more quickly; (iii) misrepresented how quickly they would receive payments from the companies, and (iv) collected interest at an illegal rate.
These actions, the two regulators argue, constitute violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act ban on unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices, New York usury laws, and other state consumer financial protection laws. The lawsuit seeks to end the company’s illegal practices, obtain relief for the victims, and impose penalties.
On August 5, the SEC adopted a rule requiring public companies to disclose the pay ratio of their CEO to the median compensation of their employees. The rule gives companies some flexibility in the method of determining the pay ratio while providing investors with information to assess the compensation of CEOs. Methods companies may employ to identify the median employee include using (i) a statistical sample of the total employee population; (ii) payroll or tax records that contain a consistently applied compensation measure; or (iii) yearly total compensation as calculated under the existing executive compensation rules. The total compensation for CEOs and total compensation for average employees must be calculated in the same manner. Under the new rule, companies must also disclose the methodology used for identifying the median employee’s annual compensation. Companies will be required to provide disclosure of their pay ratios for their first fiscal year beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2017. Smaller reporting companies, emerging growth companies, foreign private issuers, MJDS filers, and registered investment companies are exempt from the pay ratio rule, which will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On April 29, the SEC voted 3-2 to propose rules that would implement Dodd Frank’s pay-versus-performance provision by requiring companies to disclose the relationship between their financial performance and executive compensation. According to SEC Chair Mary Jo White, the proposed rules “would better inform shareholders and give them a new metric for assessing a company’s executive compensation relative to its financial performance.” All executive officers currently submitting their financials in the summary compensation table must abide by the proposed rules’ disclosure requirements. The rules would require that all reporting companies, except smaller companies, disclose the relevant compensation information for the last five fiscal years; smaller reporting companies will only be required to disclose the information for the past three fiscal years. Foreign private issuers, registered investment companies, and emerging growth companies will be exempt from the relevant Dodd-Frank statutory requirement. The comment period for the proposed rules will be open for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On February 9, the SEC issued a proposed rule implementing Section 955 of the Dodd-Frank Act. The rule would require directors, officers, and other employees of public companies to disclose in proxy and information statements whether they use derivatives and other financial instruments to offset or “hedge” against the decline in equity securities granted by the company as compensation, or held, directly or indirectly, by employees or directors. The proposed rule would apply to equity securities of a public company, its parent, subsidiary, or any subsidiary of any parent of the company that is registered with the SEC under Section 12 of the Exchange Act. Public comments will be accepted for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register.
On March 4, the UK FCA released the results of its most recent review of sales incentives at retail financial firms. The FCA’s review revealed that retail banks have made progress in changing their financial incentive structures in response to the FCA’s supervisory focus on the issue starting in September 2012, which led to new guidance issued in January 2013. The FCA’s initial focus on the issue derived from its concerns about incentive structures that, among other things, allegedly fueled the sale of payment protection plans and other add-on products. Despite the broad progress, the FCA reports that roughly one in 10 firms with sales teams had higher-risk incentive scheme features where it appeared they were not managing the risk properly at the time of the FCA’s assessment. It believes firms should concentrate on, among other things (i) checking for spikes or trends in the sales patterns of individuals to identify areas of increased risk; (ii) better monitoring behavior in face-to-face sales conversations; and (iii) managing risks in discretionary incentive schemes and balanced scorecards, including the risk that discretion could be misused. The FCA states that given the progress made, it is not proposing any rule changes at this time, but it intends to keep financial incentives on its agenda for 2014.
CFPB Settles With Mortgage Company, Senior Executives Over Alleged Loan Officer Compensation Practices
On November 7, the CFPB announced it reached a settlement with a mortgage company and two of its executives accused of using compensation to incentivize loan officers to steer consumers into costlier mortgages. The proposed consent order, entered jointly and severally against the company and the individual executives, requires the defendants to pay more than $9 million in restitution to over 9,400 consumers and a $4 million civil money penalty. In addition, all defendants are subject to regular and mandatory compliance reporting and monitoring for a period of three years and are permanently enjoined from paying compensation to loan officers in a manner that violates the Loan Originator Compensation Rule. The order also mandates that the company maintain compensation records in compliance with federal law going forward. The defendants do not admit the CFPB’s allegations.
The settlement resolves an action commenced by the CFPB in July 2013 in which the CFPB employed its civil litigating authority to charge that the company’s quarterly bonus program violated the Federal Reserve Board’s Loan Originator Compensation Rule and other consumer financial protection laws by, among other things, incentivizing loan officers to steer consumers into loans with higher interest rates. According to the complaint, after the rule took effect in 2011, the defendants eliminated from their compensation program any written reference to compensation based upon loan terms or conditions, but in practice continued to adjust loan officers’ quarterly bonuses based on the interest rates of loans closed during the quarter. The case was referred to the Bureau by the Utah Department of Commerce, Division of Real Estate.
BuckleySandler recently hosted a webinar about this CFPB action and impending changes to mortgage loan originator compensation rules. Please contact any of the attorneys below for materials from the webinar or with any questions about this action or the new mortgage loan originator regulations.
- Clinton Rockwell, (310) 424-3901
This afternoon, the CFPB released a complaint it filed today against a Utah-based mortgage company and two of its officers for giving bonuses to loan officers who allegedly steered consumers into mortgages with higher interest rates. The complaint alleges that the company, and its president and senior vice-president of capital markets, violated the Federal Reserve Board’s Loan Originator Compensation Rule by instituting a quarterly bonus program that paid more than 150 loan officers greater bonus compensation based on the terms and conditions of the loans they closed. The CFPB claims the program incentivized loan officers to steer consumers into loans with higher rates.
According to the complaint, when the Loan Originator Compensation Rule took effect in April 2011, the company amended its program to eliminate any written reference to compensation based upon terms or conditions, making it appear on its face to be a compliant compensation program. The CFPB alleges that although the company’s regular compensation was no longer tied to terms or conditions under the new program, the managers actually continued to adjust the quarterly bonuses based upon the terms and conditions established under the compensation program.
The complaint further alleges violations of Regulation Z’s requirement that a creditor retain records of compensation paid to loan originators for two years. According to the complaint, the company violated this requirement by failing to record what portion of quarterly bonuses paid to loan originators were attributable to a given loan and by failing to maintain accurate and complete compensation agreements.
The case highlights a number of points:
- The CFPB will look beyond a company’s written compensation and compliance plans to include analysis of a company’s actual compensation payments to its loan originators;
- The CFPB is pursuing individuals in senior management;
- $1 billion companies are within range for CFPB actions;
- The CFPB is seeking an injunction, restitution, civil money penalties for each bonus paid, and costs; and
- The case was referred to the CFPB by the Utah Department of Commerce.
On February 28, the European Parliament announced that negotiators from the Parliament and the European Council agreed to alter bank capital rules and limit executive pay. The capital requirements, developed to implement aspects of Basel III, would raise to eight percent the minimum thresholds of high quality capital that banks must retain. The announcement does not specify what types of capital would satisfy the requirement, but does indicate that good quality capital would be mostly Tier 1 capital. With regard to executive pay, the base salary-to-bonus ratio would be 1:1, but the ratio could increase to a maximum of 1:2 with the approval of at least 65 percent of shareholders owning half the shares represented, or of 75 percent of votes if there is no quorum. Further, if a bonus is increased above 1:1, then a quarter of the whole bonus would be deferred for at least five years. Finally, the legislation would require banks to disclose to the European Commission certain information that subsequently would be made public, including profits, taxes paid, and subsidies received country by country. The European Parliament is expected to vote on the legislation in mid-April, and each member state also must approve the legislation. Once approved, member states must implement the rules through their national laws by January 2014.
On August 17, the CFPB proposed the latest rule in a series of mortgage-related rules mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act. This latest proposal seeks to amend regulations regarding upfront points and fees and loan originator compensation, and to implement other Dodd-Frank Act provisions regarding mortgage credit. Generally, for closed-end mortgages, the rule would prohibit a creditor or mortgage broker from imposing upfront points or fees unless the creditor or broker first offers the consumer an alternative loan with no such fees (a zero-zero alternative). If the upfront fees are passed on to independent third parties, or if the consumer is unlikely to qualify for the alternative loan, this requirement would not be triggered. The proposal provides separate safe harbors for transactions that involve mortgage brokers and those that do not. The rule also would refine an existing ban on loan originator commissions to allow reductions in compensation to cover certain increases in closing costs and to clarify when a factor used as a basis for compensation is prohibited as a “proxy.” Also with regard to compensation, the rule proposes to revise restrictions on pooled compensation and to amend the general ban on compensation of originators by both parties. Additionally, the CFPB seeks to (i) establish originator qualification requirements, (ii) restrict agreements that require consumer disputes to be resolved through mandatory arbitration, and (iii) prohibit the financing of premiums for credit insurance. The CFPB is accepting comments through October 16, 2012 and plans to finalize the rule by January 2013.
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss “Hot topics outside of CA” at the California Mortgage Bankers Association Conference
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss “LIBOR Transition: How will the pieces come together in time?” at the American Bar Association In the Know-Live webinar
- Dissecting the annual federal agency fair lending summit
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Regulators always ring twice: Responding to a government request” at ALM Legalweek