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On March 23, HUD delivered the Interagency Task Force on Property Appraisal and Valuation Equity (PAVE) Action Plan to President Biden. Created in June 2021 to address racial bias in home lending and appraisals and establish actions to root out inequity, PAVE Task Force members include HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge and White House Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice, the U.S. Attorney General, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Labor, and Veterans Affairs, the Comptroller of the Currency, the Chairmen of the Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, NCUA, Directors of the CFPB and FHFA, and the Executive Director of the Appraisal Subcommittee of the FFIEC.
According to the announcement, the Action Plan to Advance Property Appraisal and Valuation Equity (the Plan) will represent “the most wide-ranging set of reforms ever put forward to advance equity in the home appraisal process.” According to the Task Force’s executive summary, “[o]n average, homes in majority-Black neighborhoods are valued at less than half of those in neighborhoods with few or no Black residents.” The summary also reports that the impact of undervaluation on homebuyers, sellers, and communities can sometimes result in higher down payments for home buyers, often causing sales to fall through, while low valuations in a refinance transaction can reduce the cash-out available and sometimes affect the refinance interest rate and mortgage insurance premiums paid by the homeowner. The Task Force further notes that since the Fair Housing Act was passed more than 50 years ago, “the racial wealth gap is wider than ever: in 2021, the Black homeownership rate reached only 44 percent, while the white homeownership rate reached 74 percent.”
The Plan will focus primarily on actions to substantially reduce racial bias in home appraisals, as well as steps federal agencies can “take using their existing authorities to enhance oversight and accountability of the appraisal industry and empower homeowners and homebuyers to take action when they receive a valuation that is lower than expected.” Among other things, the Plan states that Task Force members will exercise broad oversight and compliance authority to strengthen “guardrails against unlawful discrimination in all stages of residential valuation.” Agencies will also issue guidance on FHA and ECOA’s application to the appraisal industry and update appraisal-specific policies to “ensure that appraisers or regulated institutions’ use of appraisals are directly included in supervisory [FHA] and ECOA compliance requirements, and are considered in every review of relevant existing and future policies and guidance.” Relevant agencies have also committed to addressing potential bias in the use of technology-based valuation tools through a rulemaking related to automated valuation models (AVMs), including the addition of a nondiscrimination quality control standard in the proposed rule. In consultation with Congress, Task Force members will also pursue legislation to modernize the governance structure of the appraisal industry.
In the coming months, the Task Force will assess: (i) the “expanded use of alternatives to traditional appraisals as a means of reducing the prevalence and impact of appraisal bias”; (ii) the use of “range-of-value estimates instead of point estimates as a means of reducing the impact of racial or ethnic bias in appraisals”; (iii) the “potential use of alternatives and modifications to the sales comparison approach that may yield more accurate and equitable home valuation”; and (iv) “public sharing of a subset of historical appraisal data to foster development of unbiased valuation methods.”
CFPB Director Rohit Chopra stated that the Bureau will take an active leadership role in the Appraisal Subcommittee and will work “to implement a dormant authority in federal law to ensure that algorithmic valuations are fair and accurate.”
Acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael J. Hsu also announced that the OCC plans to enhance its supervisory methods for identifying discrimination in property valuations and will take steps to ensure consumers are aware of their rights regarding appraisals. The agency also intends to “support research that may lead to new ways to address the undervaluation of housing in communities of color caused by decades of discrimination.”
Additionally, acting FDIC Chairman Martin J. Gruenberg noted that the agency is committed to taking several concrete actions, including collaborating with Task Force members to exercise authorities “to support a more equitable state appraisal certification and licensing system.”
On September 8, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion held a hearing entitled “Holding Financial Regulators Accountable for Diversity and Inclusion: Perspectives from the Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion.” Two panels consisting of Office of Minority and Women Inclusion directors and acting directors from the OCC, Federal Reserve Board, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, FDIC, NCUA, Treasury Department, SEC, FHFA, and CFPB answered questions posed by subcommittee members on strategies taken to promote diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the industries they regulate as well as within the agencies themselves. Panelists discussed in-house D&I areas of focus, such as improving minority recruitment and retention in the workforce and increasing diversity in leadership teams, vendor and contractor relationships, and hiring panels. Panelists also discussed efforts for mitigating unconscious bias. While the majority of the hearing focused on in-house strategies, some panelists also touched upon key steps their agencies are taking to promote D&I at regulated entities. For example, NCUA’s representative stated that it is committed to improving workforce diversity in the broader financial services sector and ensuring credit unions are offering products and services that reflect the communities they serve. FDIC’s representative noted that the agency is trying to get capital into the hands of minority small businesses, while Treasury’s representative discussed efforts taken during the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure minority depository institutions’ participation in the Paycheck Protection Program. Some of the panelists raised concerns about the low number of diversity self-assessments that lenders voluntarily provide to regulators, however they noted that there has been an increase in submissions over the past few years and that providing more information to the institutions has been beneficial. Subcommittee members also discussed proposed legislation to address D&I problems—including H.R 8160, the “Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in Banking Act,” which would require regulators to examine D&I at regulated entities to promote equality under the law.
On July 21, five U.S. financial regulators announced that they would not take action against foreign banks for qualifying foreign excluded funds, subject to certain conditions, under the Volcker Rule for a period of one year as they review the treatment of these types of funds under current implementing regulations. The regulators, which include the Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, OCC, SEC, and Commodity Futures Trading Commission, issued a joint statement to address concerns raised as to whether certain foreign excluded funds may fall within the definition of “banking entity” under the Bank Holding Company Act and therefore be subject to the Volcker Rule.
“A number of foreign banking entities, foreign government officials, and other market participants have expressed concern about the possible unintended consequences and extraterritorial impact of the Volcker Rule and implementing regulations for certain foreign funds,” according to the joint statement. The regulators noted that the review will allow time to consider the appropriate course of action to address these concerns, including whether congressional action may be necessary.
In addition, the regulators stressed that the joint statement “does not otherwise modify the rules implementing section 619 [of the Dodd-Frank Act] and is limited to certain foreign excluded funds that may be subject to the Volcker Rule and implementing regulations due to their relationships with or investments by foreign banking entities.”
On July 17, OCC Acting Comptroller Keith Noreika delivered a letter to the CFPB reiterating his request to review the supporting data used to develop the Bureau’s final arbitration rule prohibiting the use of mandatory pre-dispute arbitration clauses in certain contracts for consumer financial products and services. While the CFPB issued assurances that the final rule would not impact the safety or soundness of the financial banking system, Noreika argued that because the Bureau is not a “safety and soundness prudential regulator,” the OCC, as the prudential regulator for the federal banking system, should be allowed to review the underlying data to address potential concerns under Section 1023 in Title X of the Dodd-Frank Act. In response, CFPB Director Richard Cordray stated his team is in the process of gathering the requested data but questioned the “plausible basis” for Noreika’s claim that the final arbitration rule could pose a safety and soundness issue.
OCC Supplement Answers Frequently Asked Questions Covering Third-Party Relationships: Risk Management Guidance
On June 7, the OCC released Bulletin 2017-21, which provides answers to frequently asked questions from national banks and federal saving associations concerning third-party procedure guidance. The Bulletin, issued to supplement Bulletin 2013-29, “Third-Party Relationships: Risk Management Guidance” released October 30, 2013, highlights the OCC’s responses to the following topics:
- defines third-party relationships and provides guidance on conducting due diligence and ongoing monitoring of service providers;
- provides insight on how to adjust risk management practices specific to each relationship;
- discusses ways to structure third-party risk management processes;
- discusses advantages and disadvantages to collaboration between multiple banks when managing third-party relationships;
- outlines bank-specific requirements when using collaborative arrangements;
- provides information-sharing forums that offer resources to help banks monitor cyber threats;
- discusses how to determine whether a fintech relationships is a “critical activity” and covers risks associated with engaging a start-up fintech company;
- addresses ways in which banks and fintech companies can partner together to serve underbanked populations;
- covers criteria to consider when entering into a marketplace lending arrangement with a nonbank entity;
- clarifies whether OCC Bulletin 2013-29 applies when a bank engages a third-party to provide mobile payments options to consumers;
- outlines the OCC’s compliance management requirements;
- discusses banks’ rights to access interagency technology service provider reports; and
- answers whether a bank can rely on the accuracy of a third-party’s risk management report.
As previously covered in InfoBytes, the OCC released a supplement (Bulletin 2017-7) to Bulletin 2013-29 in January of this year identifying steps prudential bank examiners should take when assessing banks’ third-party relationship risks.
Payday Lenders Argue Case for Operation Choke Point Injunction, Claim Regulator Activities Violate Their Rights to Due Process
On May 19, a group of payday lenders filed a brief with the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia claiming a U.S. district court judge was wrong to deny their request for a preliminary injunction against regulator activities they claim violate their rights to due process. (See Advance America v. FDIC, et al, 2017 WL 2212168 (C.A.D.C.).) As previously discussed in InfoBytes, the lenders claim the DOJ’s “Operation Choke Point” initiative—designed to target fraud by investigating U.S. banks and the business they do with companies believed to be a higher risk for fraud and money laundering—is a threat to their survival. The lenders’ brief alleges that federal agencies, including the DOJ and the FDIC, began as early as June 2008 to expand the interpretation of “reputation risk.” According to the lenders, reputation risk originally referred to risk to a bank’s reputation that arose from its own actions; however, the regulators expanded that to apply to risks that could arise from activities of a bank’s customers, which meant “bank servicing businesses identified as ‘high risk’ would be required to incur significant additional regulatory compliance costs and face the risk of increased regulatory scrutiny.” This, the lenders assert, became a justification to pressure banks to sever their banking relationships with payday lenders.
Notably, the U.S. district court judge refused to issue a preliminary injunction and was not persuaded that the lenders would be able to prove that these regulatory actions caused banks to deny services the lenders needed to operate.
However, the lenders claim in their brief that they can show a violation of their procedural due process rights under three theories: “stigma-plus,” “reputation-plus,” and “broad preclusion.”
- The lenders describe the “stigma-plus” theory as requiring them to show they were stigmatized in connection with an “alteration of their background legal rights” without any due process protections. They believe they can prove this occurred because they were labeled as high-risk customers and denied access to the banking system with no legal protections.
- The “reputation-plus” theory would require a deprivation of banking services in connection with defamatory statements that harmed their reputation, the lenders claim. The lenders contend this can be proved because the “’stigmatizing charges certainly occurred in the course of the termination of the accounts, which is all that is required for a reputation-plus claim to succeed.” Each lender claims to have lost a relationship with at least one bank due to false regulator claims that the relationships could threaten the bank’s stability.
- The “broad preclusion” theory also applies, the lenders assert, because the regulators’ statements to banks have prevented them “pursuing their chosen line of business.”
Furthermore, the lenders take issue with the U.S. district court judge’s position that they are required to show they lost all access to banking services in order to show a due process violation. They also argue that a loss of their constitutional right to due process is a sufficient irreparable injury to justify a preliminary injunction.
On March 21, member agencies of the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) announced the release of their Joint Report to Congress: Economic Growth and Regulatory Paperwork Reduction Act (the Report), which details their review of rules affecting financial institutions and the effect of regulations on smaller institutions. The review—required by the Economic Growth and Regulatory Paperwork Reduction Act to be conducted at least once every ten years—included the participation of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the National Credit Union Administration, and included the consideration of more than 230 written and 130 oral comments from financial institutions, trade associations, and consumer and community groups, as well as numerous comments obtained at outreach meetings.
The members of the FFIEC described several joint initiatives, including actions taken to:
- Simplify regulatory capital rules for community banks and savings associations;
- Streamline reports of condition and income (Call Reports);
- Increase the appraisal threshold for commercial real estate loans; and
- Expand the number of institutions eligible for less frequent examination cycles.
In addition, the Report also described actions taken by each agency to “update rules, eliminate unnecessary requirements, and streamline supervisory procedures.”
On February 23, a U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a Memorandum Opinion denying a request for injunctive relief sought by a group of payday lenders to stop “Operation Choke Point” – a DOJ initiative targeting fraud by investigating US banks and the business they do with companies believed to be a higher risk for fraud and money laundering including, but not limited to, payday lenders. Payday lenders have called the initiative a coordinated effort by federal regulators to stop banks from doing business with them, thereby threatening their survival. See Advance America v. FDIC, [Memorandum Opinion No. 134] No. 14-CV-00953-GK (D.D.C. Feb. 23, 2017). According to the lenders, the Fed, FDIC, and OCC have adopted DOJ guidance on bank reputation risk and then used that guidance to exert “backroom regulatory pressure seeking to coerce banks to terminate longstanding, mutually beneficial relationships with all payday lenders.” The government has rejected this characterization, asserting that banks can do business with payday lenders as long as the risks are managed properly.
Evaluating the request under the due process “stigma-plus rule,” the Court focused on whether the payday lenders could show they were likely to succeed on the merits of their case and whether or not they were likely to suffer irreparable harm without the injunction.
Ultimately, the payday lenders were unable to convince the Court that they were likely to suffer the harm central to a “stigma-plus” claim. The Court reasoned that (i) the closure of some bank accounts would not be enough to constitute the loss of banking services, and that the lenders needed (and failed) to show that the loss of banking services had effectively prevented them from offering payday loans; and (ii) nearly all of the lenders were still in operation; and (iii) because the lenders were still able to find banks to work with, evidence of the possibility of future loss of banking services was too speculative to support an injunction.
The Court was also not persuaded that the lenders would be able to prove that regulatory actions caused banks to deny services to petitioners. Specifically, the Court determined that the lenders were “unlikely” to be able to set forth evidence of the “campaign of backroom strong-arming” underlying petitioners’ request for injunctive relief. Specifically, the Court noted that the lenders relied on “scattered statements,” some of which the Court characterized as “anonymous double hearsay,” to support their claims. The only direct evidence, according to the Court, was actually just “evidence of a targeted enforcement action against a single scofflaw.”
Though the Court explained that the two other factors—the balance of equities and the public interest—were of less significance in this situation, it noted in closing that “enjoining an agency’s statutorily delegated enforcement authority is likely to harm the public interest, particularly where plaintiffs are unable to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits.”
On February 3, President Trump signed an executive order (the Executive Order) directing the Treasury Secretary and the heads of the member agencies of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) to review financial laws and regulations—including the Dodd-Frank Act and regulations implementing that law—thereby setting into motion a process by which the 2010 financial law could be significantly scaled back.
Under the Executive Order, the Secretary of the Treasury – who has yet to be confirmed – has 120 days to review and report to the President which existing laws, treaties, regulations, guidance, reporting and recordkeeping requirements promote the “core principles” listed below and those that do not. The core principles include:
- restoring public accountability within Federal financial regulatory agencies and rationalize the Federal financial regulatory framework
- fostering economic growth and vibrant financial markets through more rigorous regulatory impact analysis that addresses systemic risk and market failures, such as moral hazard and information asymmetry
- enabling American companies to be competitive with foreign firms in domestic and foreign markets
- advancing American interests in international financial regulatory negotiations and meetings
- preventing taxpayer-funded bailouts, and
- empowering Americans to make independent financial decisions and informed choices in the marketplace, save for retirement, and build individual wealth
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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.
On December 19, the Prudential Regulators have issued guidance in the form of a cover letter (OCC 2016-45; SR 16-19; FIL-79-2016) and FAQs to assist financial institutions and bank examiners interpret and apply new accounting standards applicable to estimated allowances for credit losses. Though applicable to all financial institutions, regardless of size, there are different effective dates for the new standard depending on the institutions status as a public entity and/or SEC filer. The above-referenced FAQs summarize key elements of the new accounting standard, such as effective dates, scope, and transition, while also highlighting the specific GAAP accounting provisions affected by the new standard, including: (i) purchased credit-deteriorated financial assets; (ii) held-to-maturity debt securities; (iii) available-for-sale debt securities; (iv) troubled debt restructuring; and (v) off-balance-sheet credit exposures. The guidance also outlines steps regulators have encourage financial institutions to take to prepare for the transition to the new accounting standard, including: (i) initial supervisory views on measurement methods, (ii) the use of vendors, (iii) scalability, (iv) data needs, and (v) allowance processes.