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On April 11, CFPB Director Richard Cordray delivered prepared remarks at the Operation HOPE Global Forums Annual Meeting in Atlanta addressing, among other things, financial challenges facing the “economically vulnerable”—most notably with respect to credit reporting and the handling of consumer disputes. As previously covered in InfoBytes, credit reporting was one of the top three consumer complaint categories for 2016. In his speech, Cordray cited a FTC study that found that “millions of people had an error on at least one of their credit reports that was serious enough to materially affect their credit score” and outlined the Bureau’s position for addressing these concerns such as (i) requiring credit reporting companies to improve quality control systems; (ii) creating easier access for consumer to dispute errors; and (iii) cleaning up information initially provided to the credit reporting companies by examining the ways in which banks and financial companies furnish the information.
On April 5, CFPB Director Richard Cordray appeared before the House Financial Services Committee in order to “report on the Bureau’s activities and face questions from lawmakers about the harm those activities cause consumers.” As explained in a memorandum issued by the Committee in advance of the hearing, Section 1016 of the Dodd-Frank Act requires the Bureau Director to publish a semi-annual report on the Bureau’s activities and to testify on the report before the House Financial Services and Senate Banking Committees. The April 5 hearing explored the Bureau’s most recent two reports—Spring 2016 and Fall 2016.
Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) used Wednesday’s hearing to, among other things, make a case for the firing of the Director for cause. Describing the Bureau as an “unelected, unaccountable and unconstitutional” agency, the Chairman argued that “[f]or all the harm inflicted upon consumers, [Director Cordray] should be dismissed by the President.” The Chairman thereafter “call[ed] upon the president—yet again—to do just that, and to do it immediately.” In addition to debating the constitutionality of the agency, the Committee also spent time discussing the timing (and true extent) of the Bureau’s involvement in certain recent investigations and enforcement actions the CFPB has taken credit for.
Meanwhile, the Democrats on the Committee urged Cordray to stand firm amid efforts to oust him. In her opening statement, the Panel’s Ranking Member, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) thanked the Director for his “sustained strong leadership” and for “doing exactly the job [he is] supposed to do,” and “doing it well.” Rep. Waters also characterized the Bureau as “an invaluable ally to consumers” whose “work must continue.”
As previously covered on InfoBytes, GOP committee members have been calling for the abolition of the CFPB, suggesting both that “President Trump should immediately fire CFPB Director Richard Cordray” and that “the agency must be functionally terminated,” so that “[c]onsumer protection can instead come through an accountable and constitutional process.” By contrast, Democrats on the committee have consistently urged the President to reject calls by GOP members to fire the CFPB Director noting, among other things, that an attempt by the President to fire Director Cordray “for cause” would be hard-pressed to withstand a legal challenge.
CFPB Director to Testify Before Financial Services Committee on April 5 to Discuss Semi-Annual Reports
On March 31, the Financial Services Committee announced it will hold a hearing on Wednesday, April 5 at 10:00 a.m., entitled “The 2016 Semi-Annual Reports of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.” According to the Committee Memorandum, the hearing—which will be held in room 2128 of the Rayburn House Office Building—will examine the Bureau’s Ninth and Tenth semi-annual reports covering the period of October 1, 2015 through March 31, 2016 and April 1, 2016 through September 30, 2016 respectively. Director Cordray, the only scheduled witness, will provide testimony on the reports.
In a March 15 letter to CFPB Director Richard Cordray, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) called upon the Bureau to address potential abuses by FinTech companies that may be engaged in predatory small-business lending. In so doing, he asked that the Bureau “investigate whether FinTech companies engaged in small business lending are complying with all anti-discrimination laws, including the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.” The letter also seeks responses to three questions:
- When does the CFPB anticipate finalizing regulation and guidance to fully implement Section 1071 of the ECOA (requiring financial institutions to collect and maintain loan data for women-owned, minority-owned and small business credit applicants)?
- Has the CFPB engaged in any supervisory activities over FinTech small business lenders and, if so, did the CFPB identify any ECOA-related compliance issues?
- Will the CFPB solicit complaints through its consumer complaint portal from consumers, particularly those from communities of color, who feel they have been discriminated against by a FinTech lender offering small business loans (and, if not, how can consumers formally submit a complaint)?
On March 6, CFPB Director Richard Cordray spoke at the LendIt USA Conference to outline three “areas of special interest” to the Bureau relating to innovations in consumer financial services. In his prepared remarks, Cordray highlighted the three areas as (i) the Project Catalyst initiative; (ii) issues regarding consumer control over personal financial data; and (iii) research concerning the benefits and risks of using unconventional data sources to underwrite loans as a means to open credit access for more consumers.
Project Catalyst, Cordray explained, is the Bureau’s major initiative which “operates on the principle that markets work best when they are wide open to competition from new ideas.” He further explained that the Bureau is trying to “learn about what does and does not work for consumers [as well as] potential challenges facing entrepreneurs and investors.” Project Catalyst hosts an “Office Hours” program to engage with startups, nonprofits, banks, and other financial companies, and conducts research pilot programs with companies of all sizes. It also works to devise new policies to foster innovations such as the “Trial Disclosure Waiver Policy,” which encourages the development of new technologies and approaches for designing and testing alternative consumer disclosures.
Cordray also spoke about the Bureau’s interest in understanding the ways consumers are exercising control over their personal financial data. Last November, the Bureau issued a Request for Information seeking input on the challenges consumers face when accessing, using, and securely sharing their financial records. Furthermore, Cordray emphasized at the conference that two pressing issues are (i) “how to satisfy the demands of the consumers without exposing the providers that maintain [the] data to undue costs and risks, and (ii) how to prevent consumers from subjecting themselves to undue risk, including [the misuse of their data].”
Finally, Cordray commented on the Bureau’s February Request for Information issued to better understand the potential consumer benefits and risks associated with using, applying, and analyzing “alternative data” to predict people’s creditworthiness. The request asked consumers for feedback about the difficulties they have encountered when accessing, using, and securely sharing their financial records.
On February 16, the CFPB published a Request for Information seeking information about the “use or potential use” of “alternative data” and/or modeling techniques that might help increase access to credit for consumers who otherwise lack sufficient credit history. As explained by the Bureau in a press release, and as previously covered by InfoBytes, millions of Americans have insufficient credit history to produce a credit score. Accordingly, the Bureau is seeking public feedback on the benefits and risks of utilizing alternative sources of information–such as bills for mobile phones and rent payments–that may be used to make lending decisions involving consumers whose lack of credit history might otherwise exclude them from lending opportunities.
In prepared remarks delivered at a field hearing on alternative data, CFPB Director Richard Cordray noted, among other things, that "equal access to credit means even more if overall access to credit is expanded and not constrained by lingering uncertainty about how regulators intend to apply fair lending laws. So we have crafted this Request for Information to help us better understand whether and how such uncertainty may be hindering credit access for disadvantaged populations. We also want to learn more about how the Consumer Bureau might reduce that uncertainty while holding fast to the anti-discrimination principles that are the cornerstones of federal law."
On January 31, Senators Deb Fischer, R-Nebraska, John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), reintroduced legislation that would replace the single director of the CFPB with a five-member bipartisan committee. Specifically, the proposed legislation provides that: (i) each board member would be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate; (ii) the president would appoint one of the five members of the board to serve as chairperson of the board; (iii) board members would each serve staggered five-year terms, and no more than three members would be from the same political party; and (iv) the legislation would take effect on the date on which not less than three persons have been confirmed by the Senate to serve as members of the board of directors.
Senator Fischer introduced similar legislation in both the 113th Congress and the 114th Congress.
On February 2, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., in a brief order, denied a motion by the Democratic Ranking Members of the Senate and House Committees with jurisdiction over the CFPB to intervene in PHH Corp. v. CFPB. The order also denied similar motions submitted by 16 state attorneys general and a coalition of interest groups. As previously covered on InfoBytes, the court is still considering a petition by the Bureau for rehearing an October ruling that said CFPB Director Richard Cordray may be removed by the president without cause.
On January 30, President Trump signed an Executive Order aimed at reducing the “costs associated with the governmental imposition of private expenditures required to comply with Federal regulations” and ensuring that such costs are “prudently managed and controlled through a budgeting process.” The measure requires all executive departments and agencies to cut two existing regulations for every new regulation they implement. The Order also establishes a regulatory budget of $0 for FY 2017—meaning that the total incremental cost of all new regulations, when adding the cost burden of any new regulation and then subtracting the cost savings of repealed regulations, can be no greater than $0. Thereafter, beginning in FY 2018, each agency will be required to provide the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) with its best approximation of the total costs or savings to be expected from any new regulations. To the extent such estimates predict an increase in that Agency or department’s “incremental regulatory costs,” such increase will need to be authorized by the OMB (or by congress via a new law).
Details concerning how the new budgeting process and cost-offsetting policy will be implemented are left to the Office of Management and Budget, which is directed to provide agencies with guidance. House Financial Services Subcommittee Chairman Tom Graves sent a January 30 letter to CFPB Director Richard Cordray, seeking clarification as to the Bureau’s stance on whether the Trump Administration’s January 20 “Regulatory Freeze” Memorandum—which is similarly directed at “executive agencies”—applies to the CFPB.
Special Alert: CFPB Consent Orders Address Wide Range of Real Estate Referral Practices Under Section 8(a) of RESPA
On January 31, the CFPB announced consent orders against mortgage lender Prospect Mortgage, LCC (“Prospect”), real estate brokers Willamette Legacy, LLC d/b/a Keller Williams Mid-Willamette, and RGC Services, Inc. d/b/a Re/Max Gold Coast Realtors (together, “the Brokers”), and mortgage servicer Planet Home Lending, LCC (“Planet”), based on allegations that a wide range of business arrangements between the parties violated the prohibition on “kickbacks” in Section 8(a) of RESPA.
In a press release accompanying the settlements, CFPB Director Richard Cordray stated that the Bureau “will hold both sides of these improper arrangements accountable for breaking the law, which skews the real estate market to the disadvantage of consumers and honest businesses.” The consent orders address a number of practices that have long been the source of uncertainty within the industry. Unfortunately, despite acknowledging in the orders that referrals are an inherent part of real estate transactions, the Bureau provided little constructive guidance as to how lenders, real estate brokers, title agents, servicers, and other industry participants should structure referral arrangements to comply with RESPA.
RESPA Section 8(a)
Section 8(a) of RESPA provides that “[n]o person shall give and no person shall accept any fee, kickback, or thing of value pursuant to any agreement or understanding, oral or otherwise, that business incident to or a part of a real estate settlement service involving a federally related mortgage loan shall be referred to any person.”
Notably, the CFPB’s consent orders make no reference to Section 8(c)(2), which provides that “[n]othing in this section shall be construed as prohibiting … the payment to any person of a bona fide salary or compensation or other payment for goods or facilities actually furnished or for services actually performed.” In a much discussed decision, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed the CFPB’s $109 million penalty against PHH Corporation in October 2015 based on, among other things, the CFPB’s failure to establish that payments for the service at issue (reinsurance) exceeded the fair market value of the service. The CFPB is currently seeking rehearing of this decision from the full D.C. Circuit, as discussed in our summaries of the Bureau’s petition for en banc reconsideration, responses from PHH and the Solicitor General, a motion to intervene filed by several State Attorneys General, and, most recently, PHH’s reply to both the Solicitor General and the motions to intervene.
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If you have questions about the order or other related issues, visit our Consumer Financial Protection Bureau practice for more information, or contact a BuckleySandler attorney with whom you have worked in the past.
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss UDAAP at an American Bar Association webinar
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "What to expect: The new administration and regulatory changes" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “The future of fair lending” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Steven R. vonBerg to discuss "LO comp challenges" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Major litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “The False Claims Act today” at the Federal Bar Association Qui Tam Section Roundtable