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On March 16, FHFA published orders applicable March 10 for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) with respect to stress test reporting as of December 31, 2021, under Dodd-Frank as amended by the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act. Under Dodd-Frank, certain federally regulated financial companies with total consolidated assets of more than $250 billion are required to conduct periodic stress tests to determine whether the companies have the capital necessary to absorb losses as a result of severely adverse economic conditions. The orders are accompanied by Summary Instructions and Guidance, which include stress test scenarios and revised templates (baseline, severely adverse, and variables and assumptions) for regulated companies to use when reporting the results of the stress tests (orders and instructions are available here). According to the Summary Instructions and Guidance, the GSEs have until May 20 to submit baseline and severely adverse results to FHFA and the Federal Reserve Board, and must publicly disclose a summary of severely adverse results between August 1 and 15.
On March 4, a split U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, on remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, sent a shareholders’ suit back to the district court for further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in Collins v. Yellen, in which the Supreme Court, relying on its decision in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB, held that FHFA’s leadership structure was unconstitutional because it only allowed the president to fire the FHFA director for cause. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) In Collins, the Supreme Court reviewed the 5th Circuit’s en banc decision stemming from a 2016 lawsuit brought by a group of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) shareholders against the U.S. Treasury Department and FHFA, in which shareholders claimed that the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (Recovery Act), which created the agency, violated the separation of powers principal because it only allowed the president to fire the FHFA director “for cause.” The shareholders also alleged that FHFA acted outside its statutory authority when it adopted a third amendment to the Senior Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements, which replaced a fixed-rate dividend formula with a variable one requiring the GSEs to pay quarterly dividends equal to their entire net worth minus a specified capital reserve amount to the Treasury Department (known as the “net worth sweep”). (Covered by InfoBytes here.) At the time, while the en banc appellate court reaffirmed its earlier decision that FHFA’s structure violated the Constitution’s separation of powers requirements, nine of the judges concluded that the appropriate remedy should be severance of the for-cause provision, not prospective relief invalidating the net worth sweep, stating that “the Shareholders’ ongoing injury, if indeed there is one, is remedied by a declaration that the ‘for cause’ restriction is declared removed. We go no further.”
The split Supreme Court had affirmed the 5th Circuit’s en banc decision regarding the FHFA’s structure, but left intact the net worth sweep and remanded the case to the appellate court to determine “what remedy, if any, the shareholders are entitled to receive on their constitutional claim.” Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote for the majority, stated that “[a]lthough the statute unconstitutionally limited the President’s authority to remove the confirmed Directors, there was no constitutional defect in the statutorily prescribed method of appointment to that office. As a result, there is no reason to regard any of the actions taken by the FHFA in relation to the third amendment as void.”
On remand, the en banc 5th Circuit majority ordered the district court to decide whether the shareholders suffered compensable harm from the unconstitutional removal provision, observing that the Supreme Court left open the possibility that the unconstitutional restriction on the President’s power to remove the FHFA director could have inflicted compensable harm. Noting that the Supreme Court had sketched “possible causes and consequences of such harm along with the Federal Defendants’ denial of any such harm,” the majority stressed that “it became clear” during oral argument that “the prudent course is to remand to the district court to fulfill the Supreme Court’s remand order.”
However, five of the appellate judges dissented from the majority decision on the grounds that nothing in the Supreme Court’s decision precluded the 5th Circuit from deciding the harm issue, pointing out that the appellate court could “easily do so in light of [its] previous conclusion that ‘the President, acting through the Secretary of the Treasury, could have stopped [the Net Worth Sweep] but did not.’” The dissenting judges noted that because the shareholders failed to point to sufficient facts to cast doubt on the 5th Circuit’s previous decision, the appellate court “should modify the district court’s judgment by granting declaratory relief in the Plaintiff’s favor, stating that the ‘for cause’ removal provision as to the Director of the FHFA is unconstitutional. In all other respects, we should affirm.”
On February 25, FHFA announced a final rule, which amends the Enterprise Regulatory Capital Framework (ERCF) by refining the prescribed leverage buffer amount (leverage buffer) and risk-based capital treatment of retained credit risk transfer (CRT) exposures for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (collectively, GSEs). Among other things, the final rule: (i) replaces the fixed leverage buffer equal to 1.5 percent of a GSE's adjusted total assets with a dynamic leverage buffer equal to 50 percent of the GSE's stability capital buffer; (ii) replaces the prudential floor of 10 percent on the risk weight assigned to any retained CRT exposure with a prudential floor of 5 percent on the risk weight assigned to any retained CRT exposure; and (iii) removes the requirement that a GSE must apply an overall effectiveness adjustment to its retained CRT exposures in accordance with the ERCF’s securitization framework. Additionally, the final rule implements technical corrections to provisions of the ERCF that were published in December 2020. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The ERCF amendments and technical corrections will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On February 24, FHFA re-proposed updated eligibility standards that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (collectively, GSEs) mortgage sellers and servicers would have to meet. The updated proposed requirements are designed to provide transparency and consistency of capital and liquidity requirements for sellers and servicers with different business models, and would differentiate between the servicing of Ginnie Mae mortgages and GSE mortgages. FHFA noted that the updated proposed requirements, which reflect coordination with other federal agencies, also incorporate feedback from a January 2020 proposal (covered by InfoBytes here), as well as lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Under the updated proposed requirements, all GSE sellers and servicers (both depositories and non-depositories) would be required to maintain a tangible net worth requirement of $2.5 million, plus 35 basis points of the unpaid principal balance for Ginnie Mae servicing and 25 basis points of the unpaid principal balance for all other 1-to-4 unit residential loans serviced, including GSE loans. Current GSE sellers and servicers, as well as new applicants, will be required to comply with the updated proposed requirements by December 31, 2022, minus the exception that Capital and Liquidity Plan requirements must be submitted to the GSEs by December 31, 2023, and are due annually by the end of each year thereafter. Comments on the proposed changes are due in 60 days. FHFA stated it anticipates finalizing the updated proposed requirements in the second quarter of 2022, with most requirements taking effect six months after finalization.
On February 23, the CFPB released an outline of possible options for upcoming rulemaking to prevent algorithmic bias in automated home valuation models (AVMs). Dodd-Frank mandates that the Bureau, Federal Reserve Board, OCC, FDIC, NCUA, and FHFA engage in joint agency rulemaking to strengthen the oversight of AVMs, which requires (i) ensuring a high level of confidence in the estimates; (ii) protecting against data manipulation; (iii) avoiding conflicts of interest; (iv) requiring random sample testing and reviews; and (v) accounting for other factors deemed “appropriate” by the agencies. The Small Business Advisory Review Panel’s Outline of Proposals and Alternatives Under Consideration details options for ensuring computer models used to determine home valuations are accurate and fair. While recognizing that AVMs “have the potential to contribute to lower costs and shorter turnaround times in the performance of property valuations” and are increasingly being used—in part due to advances in database and modeling technology and the availability of larger property datasets—the Bureau cautioned that using AVMs may introduce several risks that can impact data integrity and accuracy. The outline also expressed concerns that AVMs may “reflect bias in design and function or through the use of biased data and may introduce fair lending risk.” To mitigate potential fair lending risks in AVMs, the Bureau stated it is considering proposing “a requirement that covered institutions establish policies, practices, procedures, and control systems to ensure that their AVMs comply with applicable nondiscrimination laws.” The Bureau added that it “preliminarily believe[s] standards designed to ensure compliance with applicable nondiscrimination laws may help ensure the accuracy, reliability, and independence of AVMs for all consumers and users.” Without proper safeguards, the Bureau warned in its announcement that “flawed” AVMs “could digitally redline certain neighborhoods and further embed and perpetuate historical lending, wealth, and home value disparities.”
Among other things, the outline also previewed definitions under consideration for terms such as “mortgage originator,” “mortgage,” and “consumer’s principal dwelling,” and noted that the Bureau is considering a “principles-based option” to allow regulated institutions more flexibility to set their own AVM quality control standards, as well as a “prescriptive option” with a more detailed set of requirements for institutions to reduce potential compliance uncertainty. “It is tempting to think that machines crunching numbers can take bias out of the equation, but they can’t,” CFPB Director Rohit Chopra said. “This initiative is one of many steps we are taking to ensure that in-person and algorithmic appraisals are fairer and more accurate.”
The Bureau stated that the next step will be to review the options to determine their potential impact on small business stakeholders as required by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996. Feedback will be used to inform the Bureau’s efforts on developing a formal proposal with the other agencies.
On February 10, FHFA released Advisory Bulletin (AB) 2022-02 to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) on managing risks related to the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML). Recognizing that while the use of AI/ML has rapidly grown among financial institutions to support a wide range of functions, including customer engagement, risk analysis, credit decision-making, fraud detection, and information security, FHFA warned that AI/ML may also expose a financial institution to heightened compliance, financial, operational, and model risk. In releasing AB 2022-02 (the first publicly released guidance by a U.S. financial regulator that specifically focuses on AI/ML risk management), FHFA advised that the GSEs should adopt a risk-based, flexible approach to AI/ML risk management that should also be able “to accommodate changes in the adoption, development, implementation, and use of AI/ML.” Diversity and inclusion (D&I) should also factor into the GSEs’ AI/ML processes, stated a letter released the same day from FHFA’s Office of Minority and Women Inclusion, which outlined its expectations for the GSEs “to embed D&I considerations throughout all uses of AI/ML” and “address explicit and implicit biases to ensure equity in AI/ML recommendations.” The letter also emphasized the distinction between D&I and fairness and equity, explaining that D&I “requires additional deliberation because it goes beyond the equity considerations of the impact of the use of AI/ML and requires an assessment of the tools, mechanisms, and applications that may be used in the development of the systems and processes that incorporate AI/ML.”
Additionally, AB 2022-02 outlined four areas of heightened risk in the use of AI/ML: (i) model risk related to bias that may lead to discriminatory or unfair outcomes (includes “black box risk” where a “lack of interpretability, explainability, and transparency” may exist); (ii) data risk, including concerns related to the accuracy and quality of datasets, bias in data selection, security of data from manipulation, and unfamiliar data sources; (iii) operational risks related to information security and IT infrastructure, among other things; and (iv) regulatory and compliance risks concerning compliance with consumer protection, fair lending, and privacy laws. FHFA provided several key control considerations and encouraged the GSEs to strengthen their existing risk management frameworks where heightened risks are present due to the use of AI/ML.
On February 8, the FHFA released AB 2022-01: Insider Trading Risk Management, which provides guidance to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) on managing insider trading risk and related conflicts of interest. The Bulletin defines illegal insider trading as an individual or entity in possession of material nonpublic information (MNPI), “obtained through their employment or other involvement with a company,” purchasing, selling or otherwise trading their own company’s securities or non-company securities based on MNPI, or “when a person or entity improperly discloses MNPI to a third party.” The Bulletin explains that the GSEs are expected to establish and maintain a compliance program based on risk assessment processes to manage insider trading activities and risks. In order to mitigate these risks, the Bulletin advised the GSEs to “examine the nature of its business and its prior history of insider trading risk events, determine what types of illegal insider trading activities pose the greatest risk, and adopt effective controls to detect and prevent such misconduct.” The Bulletin directs the GSEs to address the following topics: (i) establishing an “effective [corporate] governance framework” for the GSEs; (ii) creating an “effective risk identification and assessment system;” (iii) “identifying, managing, and reporting on insider trading-related controls;” (iv) creating procedures for regular internal surveillance and monitoring of insider trading risks ‘to identify changes or trends in exposures over time;” and (v) developing procedures for effective internal and external disclosures and reporting.
On February 4, CFPB Fair Lending Director Patrice Ficklin, along with senior staff from the Federal Reserve Board, OCC, FDIC, NCUA, HUD, FHFA, and DOJ, sent a joint letter to The Appraisal Foundation (TAF) emphasizing that discrimination prohibitions under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and ECOA extend to appraisals. The joint letter, sent in response to a request for comments on proposed changes to the 2023 Appraisal Standards Board Ethics Rule (Ethics Rule) and Advisory Opinion 16, noted that while provisions prohibit an appraiser from relying on “unsupported conclusions relating to characteristics such as race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, marital status, familial status, age, receipt of public assistance income, disability, or an unsupported conclusion that homogeneity of such characteristics is necessary to maximize value,’” the “provisions do not prohibit an appraiser from relying on ‘supported conclusions’ based on such characteristics and, therefore, suggest that such reliance may be permissible.” The letter noted that the federal ban on discrimination under the FHA and ECOA is not limited only to “unsupported” conclusions, and any discussions related to potential appraisal bias should be consistent with all applicable nondiscrimination laws. The joint letter encouraged TAF to present the nondiscrimination requirements as “an essential part of any guidance provided in the Ethics Rule or Advisory Opinion 16 to ensure compliance with fair housing and fair lending laws.”
In a blog post, Ficklin noted that despite the fact that federal law prohibits racial, religious, and other discrimination in home appraisals, there are still reports of appraisers making “value judgments on biased, unfounded assumptions about borrowers and the neighborhoods in which they live.” Additionally, Ficklin noted that the Bureau is carefully reviewing findings presented in a report funded by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council's Appraisal Subcommittee, which raised serious concerns related to existing appraisal standards and provided recommendations with respect to fairness, equity, objectivity, and diversity in appraisals and the training and credentialing of appraisers.
Recently, the CFPB, CFTC, FDIC, FinCen, FHFA, and OCC provided notice in the Federal Register regarding adjustments to the maximum civil money penalties due to inflation pursuant to the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990, as amended by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015. Each notice or final rule (see CFPB here, CFTC here, FDIC here, FinCen here, FHFA here, and OCC here) adjusts the maximum amounts of civil money penalties and provides a chart reflecting the inflation-adjusted maximum amounts associated with the penalty tiers for particular types of violations within each regulator’s jurisdiction. The OCC’s adjusted civil money penalty amounts are applicable to penalties assessed on or after January 12. The new CFPB, CFTC, FDIC, and FHFA civil money penalty amounts are applicable to penalties assessed on or after January 15. FinCEN's adjusted civil money penalty amounts are effective January 24.
On January 5, FHFA announced targeted increases to the upfront fees for certain high-balance loans and second home loans sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs). Upfront fees for high-balance loans will increase between 0.25 percent and 0.75 percent, tiered by loan-to-value ratio. Upfront fees for second home loans will increase between 1.125 percent and 3.875 percent, also tiered by loan-to-value ratio. In order to continue to provide support for affordable housing, certain loans, including HomeReady, Home Possible, HFA Preferred and HFA Advantage, will not be subject to the increased fees. Additionally, “loans to first time homebuyers in high cost areas with incomes at or below 100 percent of area median income will have no specific high balance upfront fees.” The new fees will take effect April 1, to “minimize market and pipeline disruption,” FHFA stated. Acting Director Sandra Thompson said the fee increases are another step FHFA is taking to strengthen the GSEs’ safety and soundness, while also ensuring access to credit for first-time homebuyers and low- and moderate-income borrowers. “These targeted pricing changes will allow the [GSEs] to better achieve their mission of facilitating equitable and sustainable access to homeownership, while improving their regulatory capital position over time,” Thompson said.