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On January 7, Representatives Emanuel Cleaver II (D-MO) and Gregory Meeks D-NY) sent a letter to nine federal financial regulators urging them to strengthen their financial infrastructures against possible cyber-attacks in the wake of recent threats against the U.S. from Iran and its allies following the killing of Iranian official Qasem Soleimani. The letter also requests that the regulators coordinate with law enforcement and regulated entities to increase information sharing surrounding cyber threats, and “communicate a strategy to further mitigate existing cyber vulnerabilities within [the U.S.] financial infrastructure by March.” The letter was sent to the Federal Reserve Board, Treasury Department, SEC, FDIC, CFPB, Federal Housing Finance Agency, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, National Credit Union Administration, and the OCC.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, NYDFS separately issued an Industry Letter on January 4 warning regulated entities about the “heightened risk” of cyber-attacks by hackers affiliated with the Iranian government. The letter provides recommendations for ensuring quick responses to any suspected cyber incidents, and reminds entities they must inform NYDFS “as promptly as possible but in no event later than 72 hours’ after a material cybersecurity event.”
On November 18, the U.S. House passed the Investor Protection and Capital Markets Fairness Act (H.R. 4344) by a vote of 314-95. The bill, which was received in the Senate, would overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2017 decision in Kokesh v. SEC, which limits the SEC’s disgorgement power and subjects the agency to the five-year statute of limitations applicable to penalties and fines. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) As discussed in a recent Buckley article, in Kokesh’s wake, H.R. 4344 would amend the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 by specifically authorizing the SEC to seek disgorgement and restitution, putting to rest the threshold question of whether the SEC has the authority to seek disgorgement. Notably, on November 1, the Court granted certiorari in SEC v. Liu to answer this very question. If signed into the law, H.R. 4344 would allow the SEC 14 years to pursue disgorgement in federal court under the statute of limitations.
On October 22, the U.S. House passed the Corporate Transparency Act of 2019 (H.R. 2513) by a vote of 249-173. The bill, which now heads to the Senate, would, among other things, update anti-money laundering (AML) rules, and direct the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to collect and retain beneficial ownership information for corporations and limited liability companies for law enforcement agencies to access. Additionally, H.R. 2513 would update and revise the existing AML/Bank Secrecy Act framework to facilitate information sharing between law enforcement and regulators to prevent illicit activity such as terrorist financing and money laundering. The White House issued a statement of administration policy after the bill’s passage to commend the measure, emphasizing, however, that additional steps must be taken to improve H.R. 2513 as it moves along the legislative process: “These include aligning the definition of ‘beneficial owner’ to the [FinCEN’s] Customer Due Diligence Final Rule, protecting small businesses from unduly burdensome disclosure requirements, and providing for adequate access controls with respect to the information gathered under this bill’s new disclosure regime.”
On October 9, the OCC responded to a letter written by 26 Republican members of the House Financial Services Committee urging the agency to update its interpretation of the definition of “interest” under the National Bank Act (NBA) to limit the impact of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s 2015 decision in Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here). The representatives’ letter (covered by InfoBytes here) argued that Madden deviated from the longstanding valid-when-made doctrine—which provides that if a contract that is valid (not usurious) when it was made, it cannot be rendered usurious by later acts, including assignment—and has “caused significant uncertainty and disruption in many types of lending programs.” The representatives urged the OCC to prioritize a rulemaking to address the issue. In response, the OCC agreed with the letter’s concerns, and stated that “administrative solutions to mitigate the consequences of the Madden decision may be available.” The OCC noted that it has filed amicus briefs in the past, reiterating the view that Madden was wrongly decided, but did not elaborate any further on potential plans for a rulemaking to address the issue.
On October 4, the U.S. House of Representatives filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the CFPB’s structure is constitutional. The brief was filed in response to a petition for writ of certiorari by a law firm, contesting a May decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which held that, among other things, the Bureau’s single-director structure is constitutional (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The House filed its brief after the amicus deadline, but requested its motion to file be granted because it only received notice that the Bureau changed its position on the constitutionality of the CFPB’s structure the day before the filing deadline. As previously covered by InfoBytes, on September 17, the DOJ and the CFPB filed a brief with the Court arguing that the for-cause restriction on the president’s authority to remove the Bureau’s single Director violates the Constitution’s separation of powers; and on the same day, Director Kraninger sent letters (see here and here) to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) supporting the same argument.
The brief, which was submitted by the Office of General Counsel for the House, argues that the case “presents an issue of significant important to the House” and, because the Solicitor General “has decided not to defend” Congress’ enactment of the for-cause removal protection through the Dodd-Frank Act, the “House should be allowed to do so.” The brief asserts that the 9th Circuit correctly held that the Bureau’s structure is constitutional based on the D.C. Circuit’s majority in the 2018 en banc decision in PHH v. CFPB (covered by a Buckley Special Alert). Moreover, the brief argues that when an agency is “headed by a single individual, the lines of Executive accountability—and Presidential control—are even more direct than in a multi-member agency,” as the President has the authority to remove the individual should they be failing in their duty. Such a removal will “‘transform the entire CFPB and the execution of the consumer protection laws it enforces.’”
On September 19, 26 Republican members of the House Financial Services Committee wrote to the OCC, urging the agency to update its interpretation of the definition of “interest” under the National Bank Act (NBA) to limit the impact of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s 2015 decision in Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here). The letter argues that Madden deviated from the longstanding valid-when-made doctrine—which provides that if a contract that is valid (not usurious) when it was made, it cannot be rendered usurious by later acts, including assignment—and has “caused significant uncertainty and disruption in many types of lending programs.” Specifically, the letter asserts that the decision “threatens bank-fintech partnerships” that may provide better access to capital and financing to small business and consumers. The letter acknowledges the recently filed amicus brief in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado by the OCC and the FDIC, which criticized the Madden decision for disregarding the valid-when-made doctrine and the “stand-in-the-shoes-rule” of contract law (previously covered by InfoBytes here), and requests that the OCC prioritize rulemaking to address the issue.
On August 23, House Financial Services Committee Chair, Maxine Waters (D-Calif) and 101 other members of Congress wrote to CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger to express concern over the Bureau’s recent amendment of and delay to certain ability-to-repay provisions of the agency’s 2017 final rule covering “Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans” (the Rule), previously covered by InfoBytes here and here. Specifically, the letter opposes the CFPB’s decision to remove certain ability-to-repay requirements, as well as the Bureau’s June 2019 decision to delay the August 19 compliance date for the mandatory underwriting provisions of the Rule until November 19, 2020. The letter cites to an April 30 subcommittee hearing that examined the payday lending industry and argues that “payday and car-title lenders lack the incentive to make loans that borrowers have the ability to repay while still being able to afford basic necessities of life.” The agency, according to the letter, is betraying “its statutory purpose and objectives to put consumers, rather than lenders, first” by delaying the Rule’s implementation.
Additionally, in the press release announcing the letter, Waters also expressed concern that the CFPB had not yet asked the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas to lift a stay of compliance so that the payment provisions of the Rule could be implemented. As previously covered by InfoBytes, two payday loan trade groups initiated the suit against the Bureau in April 2018, asking the court to set aside the Rule on the grounds that, among other reasons, the Bureau is unconstitutional and the rulemaking failed to comply with the Administrative Procedures Act. The court recently ordered the stay of the full Rule’s compliance date to remain in full force and effect and requested another joint status report from the parties by December 6.
On July 25, the House Financial Services Committee’s Task Force on Financial Technology held a hearing, entitled “Examining the Use of Alternative Data in Underwriting and Credit Scoring to Expand Access to Credit.” As noted by the hearing committee memorandum, credit reporting agencies (CRAs) have started using alternative data to make lending decisions and determine credit scores, in order to expand consumer access to credit. The memorandum points to some commonly used alternative data factors, including (i) utility bill payments; (ii) online behavioral data, such as shopping habits; (iii) educational or occupational attainment; and (iv) social network connections. The memorandum notes that while there are potential benefits to using this data, “its use in financial services can also pose risks to protected classes and consumer data privacy.” The committee also presented two draft bills from its members that address relevant issues, including a draft bill from Representative Green (D-TX) that would establish a process for providing additional credit rating information in mortgage lending through a five-year pilot program with the FHA, and a draft bill from Representative Gottheimer (D-N.J.) that would amend the FCRA to authorize telecom, utility, or residential lease companies to furnish payment information to CRAs.
During the hearing, a range of witnesses commented on financial institutions’ concerns with using alternative data in credit decisions without clear, coordinated guidance from federal financial regulators. Additionally, witnesses discussed the concerns that using alternative data could produce outcomes that result in disparate impacts or violations of fair lending laws, noting that there should be high standards for validation of credit models in order to prevent discrimination resulting from neutral algorithms. One witness argued that while the concern of whether using alternative data and “algorithmic decisioning” can replicate human bias is well founded, the artificial intelligence model their company created “doesn’t result in unlawful disparate impact against protected classes of consumers” and noted that the traditional use of a consumer’s FICO score is “extremely limited in its ability to predict credit performance because its narrow in scope and inherently backward looking.” The key to controlling algorithmic decision making is transparency, another witness argued, stating that if the machine is deciding what credit factors are more important or not, the lender has “got to be able to put it on a piece of paper and explain to the consumer what was more important,” as legally required for “transparency in lending.”
On June 25, the House Financial Services Committee’s Task Force on Financial Technology held its first-ever hearing, entitled “Overseeing the Fintech Revolution: Domestic and International Perspectives on Fintech Regulation.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Committee created the task force to explore the use of alternative data in loan underwriting, payments, big data, and data privacy challenges. The hearing’s witness panel consisted of high-ranking innovation officials across various agencies and associations, including the CFPB, OCC, SEC, CSBS, and the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority. Among other things, the hearing discussed whether digital currency is considered a security, the OCC’s special purpose national bank charter, and the U.K.’s regulatory sandbox approach.
SEC representative, Valerie Szczepanik, stated that she believes the SEC has been “quite clear” with regard to initial coin offerings, noting that “[e]ach digital asset is its own animal. It has to be examined on its facts and circumstances to determine what in fact it is. It could be a security, it could be a commodity, it could be something else. So we stand ready to provide kind of guidance to folks if they want to come and talk to us. We encourage them to come talk to us before they do anything so they can get the benefit of our guidance.”
While much of the OCC special purpose bank charter discussion focused on a social media’s plan to launch its own virtual currency, CSBS representative, Charles Clark, emphasized that “[s]tate regulators oppose the special purpose charter because it lacks statutory authority” and that it should be up to Congress to decide whether the OCC can regulate non-bank entities. Clark noted that a federal system would create an unlevel playing field compared to a state system where “a small company can enter the system, scale up, and be competitive with an innovative idea.”
Lastly, the FCA representative, Christopher Woolard, emphasized that fintech firms participating in the country’s sandbox program are “fully regulated” and probably the U.K.’s “most heavily supervised,” noting that the FCA believes “sandbox firms have to work in the real world from day one.” Additionally, Woolard asserted that the sandbox program is making a difference in the market stating that of their 110 tests, 80 percent of the firms that enter the program go on to fully operate in the market. He concluded asserting, “we believe that around millions of consumers have  access to new products  geared around better value or greater convenience.”
On June 11, Len Wolfson, the Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations at HUD sent a letter to Representative Pete Aguilar (D-CA) specifying that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients are not eligible for FHA loans. According to the letter, HUD has not implemented any new policies changes during the current Administration with respect to FHA eligibility requirements for DACA recipients. Wolfson asserts that, “Since at least October 2003, FHA has maintained published policy that non-U.S. citizens without lawful residency ‘are not eligible for FHA-insured loans,’” and determination of immigration status is not the responsibility of HUD. Therefore, Wolfson argues, “because DACA does not confer lawful status, DACA recipients remain ineligible for FHA loans.”
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