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On August 1, the FTC released a staff report on the agency’s review of shopping apps—those used for comparison shopping, to collect and redeem deals and discounts, and to complete in-store purchases. The FTC staff examined information available to consumers before they download the software onto their mobile devices—specifically, information describing how apps that enable consumers to make purchases dealt with fraudulent or unauthorized transactions, billing errors, or other payment-related disputes. The staff also assessed information on how the apps handled consumer data. The FTC staff determined that the apps studied “often failed to provide pre-download information on issues that are important to consumers.” For example, according to the report, few of the in-store purchase apps provided any information prior to download explaining consumers’ liability or describing the app’s process for handling payment-related disputes. In addition, according to the FTC, most linked privacy policies “used vague language that reserved broad rights to collect, use, and share consumer data, making it difficult for readers to understand how the apps actually used consumer data or to compare the apps’ data practices.” The FTC staff recommends that companies that provide mobile shopping apps to consumers: (i) disclose consumers’ rights and liability limits for unauthorized, fraudulent, or erroneous transactions; (ii) clearly describe how they collect, use, and share consumer data; and (iii) ensure that their strong data security promises translate into strong data security practices. The report also includes recommended practices for consumers.
Recently, the Federal Reserve Board released two payments-related reports: (i) a report to Congress on government-administered general use prepaid cards; and (ii) a detailed report on the Federal Reserve’s 2013 payments study. The report on government-administered prepaid cards analyzes the $502 million in fee revenue collected by issuers in 2013, a majority of which was attributable to interchange fees. For consumer-related fees, the report indicates such fees derived primarily from ATM-related charges. The second report details findings from the 2013 Federal Reserve Payments Study, the fifth in a series of triennial studies conducted by the Federal Reserve System to comprehensively estimate and study aggregate trends in noncash payments in the United States. The paper expands on the 2013 summary findings originally published last December, and includes, among many other things, the following new findings: (i) credit cards are more prevalent than other general-purpose card types; (ii) among general-purpose cards with purchase activity in 2012, consumers preferred debit cards, with an average use of 23 payments per month, compared with an average of 11 payments per month for general-purpose credit cards and 10 payments per month for general-purpose prepaid cards; (iii) although the number of ATM cash withdrawals using debit cards and general-purpose prepaid cards dropped slightly, growth in the value of ATM withdrawals continued to exceed inflation; (iv) the number of online bill payments reported by major processors, which included those initiated through online banking websites and directly through billers and settled over ACH, exceeded three billion in 2012; and (v) there were more than 250 million mobile payments made using a mobile wallet application, and at least 205 million person-to-person or money transfer payments.
On June 11, the CFPB released a request for information (RFI) about how consumers are using mobile financial services (MFS) to access products and services, manage finances, and achieve financial goals, with a focus on “economically vulnerable” consumers. The request does not cover point of sale payments, except with respect to mobile payment products targeted to underserved consumers. The request states that the information will be used to inform the CFPB’s “consumer education and empowerment strategies.” On June 12, the CFPB hosted a field hearing on MFS, which included presentations from consumer advocates and emerging mobile services providers regarding the future potential of MFS to reach the underserved.
To start the field hearing, Director Corday described the growth of technology in financial services and stressed the importance of understanding and encouraging the benefits of innovation without undermining the equally important goal of protecting consumers in the marketplace. He acknowledged that the FDIC and Federal Reserve have already done substantial work in the area of mobile banking services, and explained that the CFPB is now seeking to further those efforts through the RFI, which will help the CFPB: (i) explore how mobile services provide access to consumers that cannot easily access current financial services; and (ii) learn more about the real time money management opportunities mobile devices provide.
The CFPB’s inquiry also will review potential risks to consumers presented by MFS. For example, parts of the field hearing related to consumer data security, and panelists broadly described other potential risks related to online disclosures,along with the potential for mobile products or services to circumvent other existing consumer protections. In addition, the RFI seeks information that could serve regulatory and enforcement purposes. For example, the CFPB asks (i) whether there is a “risk that data will be used to direct underserved consumers to higher-cost products and services than they would otherwise be eligible to purchase and that may pose greater risk of financial harm;” and (ii) whether “low income consumers are less likely to detect hidden fees, and, if so, whether special attention needs to be provided to the design of mobile payments products targeted at low income consumers.”
Comments in response to the RFI are on or before September 10, 2014.
On May 16, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors Emerging Payments Task Force held a public hearing to examine the changing payments landscape and opportunities and risks presented by current and emerging technologies. The Legacy Payment Systems panel focused on continued efforts to improve efficiency and speed while simultaneously “preserving consumer confidence and system stability.” The Retail Payments Innovations panelists described innovative electronic and mobile payment systems and suggested that further innovation would be best supported by existing regulatory framework, which offers sufficient consumer protections. Finally, the Virtual Currencies panel urged state and federal regulators to “provide clear and consistent regulatory expectations and guidance without restricting innovation.” The event was the most recent of a number held by federal and state policymakers to address the proliferation of emerging financial technologies used to move money and transfer funds, which range from enhancements of traditional ACH or credit and debit methods of payment to virtual currencies that disrupt the traditional model. The CSBS is expected to use public hearings like this one to develop a proposed regulatory framework for state agencies.
On February 20, the CSBS announced the formation of an Emerging Payments Task Force to study changes in payment systems—including virtual currencies and other innovations—to determine the potential impact on consumer protection, state law, and banks and nonbank entities chartered or licensed by the states. The Task Force is comprised of nine state regulators, including New York State Department of Financial Services Superintendent Lawsky who has recently indicated New York will seek to become the first state to directly address virtual currency through new regulations. The Task Force will be chaired by David Cotney, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Division of Banks, who testified on these issues on behalf of the CSBS last fall before the Senate Banking Committee. The CSBS stated that the Task Force will “take a comprehensive approach to studying the changing payment systems” by engaging with a broad range of federal, state, and industry stakeholders to understand how new entrants and technologies affect the stability of payment systems and the broader financial marketplace and “to develop ideas for connecting the emerging payments landscape to the financial regulatory fabric.”
On January 28, the House Financial Services Committee held a lengthy hearing with CFPB Director Richard Cordray in connection with the CFPB’s November 2013 Semi-Annual Report to Congress, which covers the period April 1, 2013 through September 30, 2013. The hearing came a day after the Committee launched a CFPB-like “Tell Your Story” feature through which it is seeking information from consumers and business owners about how the CFPB has impacted them or their customers. The Committee has provided an online submission form and also will take stories by telephone. Mr. Cordray’s prepared statement provided a general recap of the CFPB’s recent activities and focused on the mortgage rules and their implementation. It also specifically highlighted the CFPB’s concerns with the student loan servicing market.
The question and answer session centered on the implementation and impact of the CFPB’s mortgage rules, as well as the CFPB’s activities with regard to auto finance, HMDA, credit reporting, student lending, and other topics. Committee members also questioned Mr. Cordray on the CFPB’s collection and use of consumer data, particularly credit card account data, and the costs of the CFPB’s building construction/rehabilitation.
Mortgage Rule Implementation / Impact
Generally, Director Cordray pushed back against charges that the mortgage rules, in particular the ATR/QM rule, are inflexible and will limit credit availability. He urged members to wait for data before judging the impacts, and he suggested that much of the concerns being raised are “unreasoned and irrational,” resulting from smaller institutions that are unaware of the CFPB’s adjustments to the QM rule. He stated that he has personally called many small banks and has learned they are just not aware of the rule’s flexibility. He repeatedly stated that the rules can be amended, and that the CFPB will be closely monitoring market data.
The impact of the mortgage rules on the availability of credit for manufactured homes was a major topic throughout the hearing, On the substance of the issue, which was raised by Reps. Pearce (R-NM), Fincher (R-TN), Clay (D-MO), Sewell (D-AL), and others, Director Cordray explained that in his understanding, the concerns from the manufactured housing industry began with earlier changes in the HOEPA rule that resulted in a retreat from manufacture home lending. He stated that industry overreacted and now lenders are coming back into the market. Mr. Cordray has met personally with many lenders on this issue and will continue to do so while monitoring the market for actual impacts, as opposed to the “doomsday scenarios that are easy to speculate on in a room like this.” Still, he committed to work on this issue with manufacturers and lenders, as well as committee members.
Several committee members, including Reps. Sherman (D-CA), and Huizenga (R-MI) raised the issue of the requirement that title insurance from affiliated companies must be counted in the QM three percent cap. Mr. Cordray repeated that the CFPB believes Congress made a determination to include affiliate title protections in numerous places in the Dodd-Frank Act. That said, the CFPB is looking at the data on the impacts and meeting with stakeholders. Rep. Huizenga was most forceful, stating that while the CFPB has sought to limit the impact of the three percent cap, it is not enough. He raised again his bill, HR 1077, Rep. Meeks’ HR 3211, and ongoing work with Senators Vitter (R-LA) and Manchin (D-WV). He cited a survey conducted by the Real Estate Settlement Providers Council that found the inclusion of title charges causes 60 percent of loans under $60,000 to fail as qualified mortgages, and such loans actually become high-cost HOEPA loans. The survey also found that 45 percent of affiliated loans between $60,000 and $125,000 failed to qualify as qualified mortgages, and that 97 percent of the loans that failed as QMs were under $200,000 simply due to the inclusion of title insurance. Director Cordray did not have time to respond in full, but indicated the CFPB is waiting to see data on the actual impact.
Rep. Capito focused on the QM rule impact on Habitat for Humanity and other 501(c)(3) entities. Director Cordray stated that he spoke with the Habitat CEO prior to the hearing and believes the CFPB can address all of that organization’s concerns through rule amendments. He added that the CFPB already amended the rule to address Habitat’s first set of concerns, and that its latest concerns are new.
HMDA Rule Amendments & Small Business Fair Lending Rule
As she has done several times in the past, Rep. Velazquez (D-NY) raised the status of rulemaking required by Dodd-Frank Act section 1071 regarding small and minority/women-owned business lending. As he has in the past, Director Cordray explained that the CFPB is having difficulty addressing this rule given it is the only area in which the CFPB is required to address business lending. He added that the CFPB has determined that as it moves forward with the rule to amend HMDA data collection, which is underway now, the Bureau will attempt to fold the small business lending element into that process. He stated that the CFPB is working with the Federal Reserve Board on “overhauling that whole [HMDA] database” and “it feels to me that the right spot for this, and we've talked to a number of folks both from industry and consumer side on this, is to make [the small business lending requirements] part of the later stages of that, so it's coming, but not immediate.”
Rep. Bachus (R-AL) asked Director Cordray to specify appropriate dealer compensation alternatives. Mr. Cordray responded that the CFPB does not know all the mechanisms yet that would be satisfactory. It is “open to auto lenders and others bringing those to [the CFPB’s] attention, but [the CFPB] did say flat fees are one possibility. A flat percentage of the loan might be a possibility. Some combination of that with different durations of the loan, different levels, and potentially other things that [the CFPB has not] thought of but others in the industry may think of and bring to [its] attention. So [the CFPB is] open-minded on that.”
Reps. Scott (D-GA) and Barr (R-KY) also were critical of the CFPB’s auto finance guidance and suggested the CFPB should have met with industry stakeholders in advance or should have conducted a rulemaking. Mr. Scott asserted that auto credit is tighter and more expensive now. Mr. Cordray defended the guidance, as he has in the past, as a restatement of existing law. He does not believe the guidance has impacted or will impact the health of the auto market.
Rep. Beatty (D-OH) raised a recent proposal from the National Association of Auto Dealers on alternative dealer compensation models. Mr. Cordray acknowledged having seen it, and said that as long as all parties agree that the CFPB is respecting its jurisdictional lines in the auto context, the Bureau is willing to sit down with dealers and others to work on a “broader solution.”
Rep. Velazquez (D-NY) asked for an update on the CFPB’s efforts to regulate consumer credit reporting agencies. Director Cordray described the CFPB’s efforts to, for the first time, provide federal supervision of the major credit reporting agencies. He stated that those agencies are not used to such supervision and that, in his view, it has been an adjustment for them. The CFPB has had examination teams into each of the three largest credit reporting agencies and is discussing “various issues” with them and areas of concern. He informed the committee that as a result of the CFPB’s efforts the credit reporting agencies, for the first time, are forwarding the documentation that consumers send them about problems and potential errors in their credit reports to the furnishers to be evaluated. The CFPB still is concerned about errors and error resolution.
Prepaid & Overdraft
In response to an inquiry from Rep. Maloney (D-NY), Mr. Cordray stated that the CFPB is continuing to work on the prepaid card proposed rule to address “a hole in the fabric” of consumer protection. He said the rule likely will address disclosures and add new protections. On overdraft, he acknowledged the CFPB is not as far along—the agency is still studying the market.
Payday & Internet Lending
Rep. Luetkemeyer (R-MO) stated the FDIC and DOJ have admitted to working to shut down online lending. He confirmed that the Oversight Committee is considering investigating DOJ on Operation Choke Point (its payment processor investigations). He asked Director Cordray to support, perhaps with a letter of some sort, legitimate online lending businesses and processors. Mr. Cordray agreed that there is plenty of appropriate online lending, but declined to offer specific help absent further context.
Rep. Murphy (D-FL) later suggested that the CFPB look at the “good regulation and great enforcement” in Florida. Director Cordray responded that the CFPB is looking at “a number of states that have developed different provisions on short-term, small-dollar payday lending” including Florida, Colorado, and Washington.
Rep. Heck (D-WA) inquired as to the status of proposed Military Lending Act regulations. Director Cordray explained that the CFPB has been “actively engaged” on writing new rules with the Department of Defense, the Federal Reserve, the FDIC, the OCC, Treasury Department, and the FTC. It stated that it has been difficult to get multiple agencies to work together, and asked Congress to “keep our feet to the fire and make it clear that you want to see that quickly.”
Mobile Payments & Emerging Products/Providers
Rep. Ellison (D-MN) asked about the CFPB’s views on emerging financial service providers, citing recent reports about T-Mobile’s efforts. Mr. Cordray stated that the CFPB is watching very closely and trying to keep up with the rapidly changing products and markets. He stated that it will present challenges to the current regulatory structure, particularly when phone companies are involved, and that the CFPB will need to coordinate with other regulators and probably will need legislation from Congress. Rep. Heck asked the CFPB to conduct a front-end in-depth analysis of consumer protection issues across various emerging mobile payments platforms. Mr. Cordray did not commit.
Rep. Peters (D-MI) raised his FAIR Student Credit Act bill, HR 2561. The bill, which is co-sponsored by Reps. Bachus (R-AL), Capito (R-WV), and seven other Republicans and 11 Democrats, would amend FCRA with respect to the responsibilities of furnishers of information to consumer reporting agencies. It would provide for the removal of a previously reported default regarding a qualified education loan from a consumer report if the consumer of the loan meets the requirements of a loan rehabilitation program, where the number of consecutive on-time monthly payments are equal to the number of payments specified in a default reduction program under the Higher Education Act of 1965. The bill would limit such rehabilitation benefits to once per loan. Rep. Peters indicated the Committee will consider the legislation, and that he has met with lenders who stated they could start offering rehabilitation immediately after the bill is enacted. Director Cordray stated that without having read the bill, it sounded promising, and that he would ask Rohit Chopra to work with the Congressman.
On October 1, three payment network providers proposed that industry stakeholders collaborate on a token-based global security standard for online and mobile commerce. To meet growing consumer demand for secure digital transactions, the providers propose replacing traditional account numbers with a digital payment “token” for online and mobile transactions. They argue that tokens provide an additional layer of security and eliminate the need for merchants, digital wallet operators or others to store account numbers. The proposed standard used to generate tokens would be based on existing industry standards and would be available to all payment networks and other payment participants. The providers identify the following as key elements of the proposed standard: (i) new data fields to provide richer information about the transaction, which can help improve fraud detection and expedite the approval process, (ii) consistent methods to identify and verify a consumer before replacing the traditional card account number with a token, and (iii) a common standard designed to simplify the process for merchants for contactless, online or other transactions. The proposed standard incorporates comments from card issuers and merchants, and the participants intend to seek further collaboration from standard-setting bodies and other stakeholders.
On September 10, the Federal Reserve Banks issued a public consultation paper that identifies “key gaps and opportunities” in the U.S. payment system. They include: (i) payment recipients prefer other forms of payments than checks but exercise little control over the sender to request a preferred form of payment, (ii) the system lacks a “near-real-time” payment capability, (iii) innovations have not gained significant market penetration while legacy systems tend to be more ubiquitous, (iv) legacy systems lack certain desired features, including, for example, assurance that a payment will not be returned or reversed, (v) cross-border payments are slow and costly, and lack fee and timing transparency, (vi) some digital wallet applications reduce the visibility and choice of payment instrument at the point of sale, (vii) businesses’ legacy payment and accounting systems make straight-through processing difficult, but are costly to change, and (viii) data security fears inhibit adoption of electronic payments. The paper outlines certain desired outcomes and seeks input on strategies and tactics to address the perceived gaps and shape the future of the domestic payment system. Interested stakeholders can submit comments until December 13, 2013.
As the technology continues to grow and become a part of day-to-day life, smartphones and tablets are reshaping the delivery of financial services to consumers. The mobile device is quickly becoming a full-fledge platform for electronic financial services, especially for mobile payments.
The variety and number of mobile devices and service providers to support them has introduced new and different stakeholders – all of whom are competing with traditional financial institutions for dominance in the mobile commerce/mobile payment space. This new and rapidly evolving environment presents new and operational risks for consumers, payment providers, and the recipients of the payments. It will be vital to identify who has legal responsibility and liability for the various risks associated with payment platforms and payment transactions.
To learn more about the mobile technology issues impacting the financial services industry, please review some of our recent articles on the issue. In “Federal Regulators Issue Guidance on Social Media and Mobile Privacy” Ian Spear discussed the recent guidance and flexible guidelines issued by the FFIEC and FTC.
On March 27, the Federal Reserve Board presented the findings of a November 2012 online survey of consumers’ use of mobile technology to access financial services and make financial decisions. The report follows a related March 2012 Federal Reserve Board report, and includes the Board’s general findings that (i) mobile phones and mobile Internet access are in widespread use, (ii) the ubiquity of mobile phones is changing the way consumers access financial services, (iii) mobile phones are also changing the way consumers make payments, (iv) security and usefulness concerns continue to be the main impediments to the adoption of mobile financial services, (v) smartphones are changing the way people shop, and (vi) mobile phones are prevalent among unbanked and underbanked consumers. The report points out that the use of mobile phones to make payments at the point of sale has increased more rapidly than the use of mobile phones for banking, and that there is “substantial growth potential” for mobile payments as the ability to make them becomes more widespread.
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