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On March 12, the U.S. Department of Education published an Interpretation in the Federal Register, which takes the position that state regulation of servicers of loans made under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program (Direct Loans) and the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFEL Program Loans) is preempted by Federal law. Specifically, the Department noted that state “regulation of the servicing of Direct Loans” is preempted because it “impedes uniquely Federal interests,” and state regulation of the servicing of FFEL Program Loans “is preempted to the extent that it undermines uniform administration of the program.” The Interpretation was issued in response to several states having recently enacted regulatory regimes, or sought to apply existing consumer protection statutes, imposing additional requirements on such student loan servicers. The Ranking Member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Representative Bobby Scott, D-VA, issued a statement following the notice of publication on March 9, disagreeing with the Department’s Interpretation: “Congress has not given the Secretary the authority to preempt state consumer protection law for student borrowers. . . . I urge the Secretary to reverse this egregious overreach of Federal authority to rescind states’ ability to protect student borrowers and hold unscrupulous servicers accountable.”
On March 6, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced a proposed rule to modify the Federal Home Loan Banks’ (FHLBanks) Affordable Housing Program (AHP). Under the Federal Home Loan Bank Act, FHLBanks are required to establish an AHP that provides subsidies to low-income consumers to purchase a home; for long-term, low- and moderate-income rental housing; and for the purchase, construction or rehabilitation of qualifying rental housing. According to the FHFA, the proposed amendments are intended to assist FHLBanks in better aligning their AHP funds with the affordable housing needs of their districts. Among other things, the proposed amendments would (i) provide FHLBanks additional authority to allocate their AHP funds; (ii) authorize FHLBanks to establish “special competitive funds” for specific district needs; (iii) allow FHLBanks to create their own project selection criteria; and (iv) align the AHP project monitoring requirements with other federal funding programs. Comments on the proposed rule will be due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On March 7, the CFPB released its seventh Request for Information (RFI) in a series seeking feedback on the Bureau’s operations. This RFI solicits public comment regarding “the overall efficiency and effectiveness of its rulemaking processes.” The RFI emphasizes that the Bureau is not seeking information related to the particular content of any proposed or final rule—existing rules will be addresses in separate RFIs—or information related to elements of the rulemaking process which are required by law. Specifically, the RFI requests feedback regarding the discretionary aspects of the Bureau’s rulemaking processes, including (i) mechanisms (such as RFIs) the Bureau uses to gather information from stakeholders in advance of initiating a rulemaking; (ii) the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) panel process; (iii) the content and structure of notices of proposed rulemaking (NPRMs); (iv) the NPRM comment process, including time periods and feedback mechanisms; and (v) the content and structure of notices of final rules. The RFI is expected to be published in the Federal Register on March 9. Comments will be due 90 days from publication.
On February 22, the FCC formally published its Restoring Internet Freedom Order (Order) to overturn the 2015 Title II Order (known as, “Net Neutrality” rules). As previously covered in InfoBytes, the FCC voted last December to remove the restrictions barring internet service providers (ISPs) from slowing down or speeding up web traffic based on business relationships. Among other things, the Order’s “light-touch regulatory framework” will require ISPs to “publicly disclose accurate information regarding the network management practices, performance characteristics, and commercial terms of its broadband internet access services sufficient to enable consumers to make informed choices regarding the purchase and use of such services and entrepreneurs and other small businesses to develop, market, and maintain internet offerings. Such disclosure shall be made via a publicly available, easily accessible website or through transmittal to the Commission.” The Order takes effect April 23. The FCC will publish a separate document in the Federal Register announcing the effective date of certain delayed amendatory instructions and the Declaratory Ruling, Report and Order, and Order.
As discussed previously in InfoBytes, two governors signed executive orders last month designed to protect net neutrality in their states.
FinCEN proposes measure against Latvian bank for alleged money laundering schemes, blocks U.S. accounts
On February 13, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a finding and notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), pursuant to Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act, seeking to prohibit the opening or maintaining of correspondent accounts in the United States for, or on behalf of, a Latvian-based bank. The NPRM is being issued based on findings that the bank has “institutionalized money laundering as a pillar of [its] business practices.” According to the NPRM, the bank’s management (i) “permits the bank and its employees to orchestrate and engage in money laundering schemes”; (ii) “solicits the high-risk shell company activity that enables the bank and its customers to launder funds”; (iii) “maintains inadequate controls over high-risk shell company accounts”; and (iv) “seeks to obstruct enforcement of Latvian anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) rules in order to protect these business practices.” Specifically, Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin asserted that the bank’s failure to implement effective AML/CFT and sanctions policies and procedures has become a conduit for widespread illicit activity, “including activity linked to North Korea’s weapons program and corruption connected to Russia and Ukraine.” The measures set forth under the NPRM are designed to protect the U.S. financial system from money laundering and terrorist financing threats. Comments are due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
FinCEN issues requests for comments on renewal of BSA currency transaction and suspicious activity reporting requirements
On February 9, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued two notices and requests for comments in the Federal Register seeking renewals without change of currently approved Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) regulatory requirements for covered financial institutions. The first notice concerns the continuance of currency transaction reporting requirements, and the second notice addresses suspicious activity reporting requirements. Comments must be received by April 10.
See here for additional BSA InfoBytes coverage.
CFPB succession update: CFPB requests zero funding; seeks public comment regarding Bureau’s activities; & more
On January 17, in a letter to Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney requested zero dollars for the Bureau’s quarterly operating funds. Each fiscal quarter, as required by law, the CFPB formally requests that the Federal Reserve transfer a specified amount of money to the Bureau so it can perform the functions outlined in its budget. In his letter, Mulvaney stated that the prior Director maintained a “reserve fund” for the CFPB, and the money in this fund is sufficient to cover the CFPB’s expenses for the second quarter. This will be the first time in the history of the CFPB that its Director has requested no additional amount to fund quarterly operations. The CFPB also announced its plan to publish a series of Requests for Information (RFIs) in the Federal Register seeking public input on the way the Bureau is performing its statutory obligations. These RFIs will request “comment on enforcement, supervision, rulemaking, market monitoring, and education activities.” The first RFI will seek information regarding the Bureau’s Civil Investigative Demand processes and procedures.
On January 18, the CFPB voluntarily dismissed its case against four online installment lenders for allegedly deceiving customers by collecting debts that were not legally owed, previously covered by InfoBytes here. The complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleged, among other things, that the lenders engaged in unfair, abusive, and deceptive acts—a violation of the Dodd-Frank Act—by collecting on installment loans that are partially or wholly void under state law. In September 2017, the case was transferred to Kansas, where the Bureau’s notice of dismissal was filed. The notice does not specify a reason for the dismissal.
On December 21, the Federal Reserve, the OCC, and the FDIC (collectively, the “Agencies”) jointly announced the adjusted thresholds for asset-size used to define “small” and “intermediate small” banks and savings associations under the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). Effective January 1, 2018, a small bank or savings association will be defined as an institution that, as of December 31 of either of the past two calendar years, had assets of less than $1.252 billion. Additionally, an “intermediate small” bank or “intermediate small” savings association will be defined as an institution with at least $313 million and less than $1.252 billion in assets as of December 31 of either of the past two calendar years. The agencies published the annual adjustments in the Federal Register on December 27.
On December 20, the Federal Reserve Board (Fed) issued a final rule amending Regulation A (Extensions of Credit by Federal Reserve Banks) to reflect its December 13 approval of a one-quarter percent increase in the primary credit rate at each Federal Reserve Bank. Additionally, because the formula for the secondary credit rate references the primary rate, the secondary credit rate also increased by one-quarter percentage point. The rate changes took effect on December 14, and the final rule became effective on December 20.
The same day, the Fed also issued a final rule amending Regulation D (Reserve Requirements of Depository Institutions) to reflect its December 13 approval of a one-quarter percent increase to the “rate of interest paid on balances maintained to satisfy reserve balance requirements (“IORR”) and the rate of interest paid on excess balances (“IOER”) maintained at Federal Reserve Banks by or on behalf of eligible institutions.” The rate changes took effect on December 14, and the final rule became effective on December 20.
CFTC Issues Proposed Interpretation of “Actual Delivery” in Virtual Currency Transactions; Launches Virtual Currency Resource Page
On December 15, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced a proposed interpretation concerning its authority over transactions involving virtual currency, which includes its view regarding the term “actual delivery” in the context of retail virtual currency transactions. According to the proposed interpretation, the CFTC claims that it has “explicit oversight authority” over “retail commodity transactions” under Section 2(c)(2)(D) of the Commodity Exchange Act. Applying a broad definition of the term virtual currency, the CFTC believes that these type of currencies are commodities, which means that certain transactions in virtual currencies are subject to CFTC oversight.
The proposed interpretation sets forth two primary factors that market participants must demonstrate to prove “actual delivery” of virtual currency in connection with retail commodity transactions:
- a customer has the ability to “(i) take possession and control of the entire quantity of the commodity, whether it was purchased on margin, or using leverage, or any other financing arrangement, and (ii) use it freely in commerce (both within and away from any particular platform) no later than 28 days from the date of the transaction”; and
- “the offeror and counterparty seller (including any of their respective affiliates or other persons acting in concert with the offeror or counterparty seller on a similar basis) does not retain any interest in or control over any of the commodity purchased on margin, leverage, or other financing arrangement at the expiration of 28 days from the date of the transaction.”
Comments on the proposed regulation must be received on or before March 20, 2018.
In October, the CFTC’s LabCFTC released “A CFTC Primer on Virtual Currencies,” which discusses potential use-cases for virtual currencies, outlines the agency’s role and oversight of virtual currencies, and highlights the risks associated with virtual currencies. The CFTC also launched its own webpage with virtual currency resources and a customer advisory warning of the risks of virtual currency trading.