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On December 6, the OCC posted Bulletin 2023-37 to provide banks with guidance on Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) loans. The OCC defined BNPL as point-of-sale or “pay-in-4” installment loan products. The OCC noted that, if BNPL products are used responsibly, they “can provide consumers with a low-cost, short-term, small-dollar financing alternative to manage cash flow.”
The OCC emphasized that the banks should offer BNPL loans in accordance with standards for safety and soundness, treat customers fairly, provide fair access to financial services, and act in compliance with applicable laws and regulations. In the bulletin, the OCC highlighted the risks to banks associated with offering BNPL lending, including credit, compliance, operational, strategic, and reputational risks to banks. In particular, the bulletin also underscores the risks that borrowers may not fully understand their BNPL repayment obligations, the challenges of underwriting BNPL applicants who have limited or no credit history, the lack of standardized disclosure language, and the risks of merchant disputes, among other risks.
The OCC recommended banks consider risk management practices, such as maintaining “underwriting, repayment terms, pricing, and safeguards that minimize adverse customer outcomes” tailored to the unique characteristics and risks of BNPL loans. The bulletin also advised banks to pay close attention to “the delivery method, timing, and appropriateness of marketing, advertising, and consumer disclosures,” in particular to ensure that all such documents clearly disclose the borrower’s obligations and any fees that may apply.
On December 7, the OCC reported key issues facing the federal banking system in its Semiannual Risk Perspective for Fall 2023. In evaluating the overall soundness of the federal banking system, the OCC emphasized the need for banks to maintain prudent risk management practices. The key themes that the OCC underscored in the report included (i) credit risk due to high interest rates, commercial real estate lending, and inflation; (ii) market risks from rising deposit rates, liquidity contraction, and reliance on wholesale funding; (iii) operational risks from cyber threats, increased digitization, and fraud; and (iv) compliance risks from equal access to credit, fair treatment of consumers, fintech partnerships, and BSA/AML risk. The OCC noted that deposit and liquid asset trends stabilized in the latter half of 2023, and the stability was sustained through a greater dependence on wholesale funding.
The report included a special discussion of emerging risks linked to artificial intelligence (AI) in banking. The OCC noted the potential benefits of widespread AI adoption, which could reduce costs, improve products, strengthen risk management, and expand access to credit. At the same time, the OCC cautioned that AI use can create risk and banks must manage its use carefully.
The OCC recently published redacted Interpretive Letter #1181, in which the OCC granted a national bank’s application for exemption from the quantitative limits under Section 23A to allow the bank to purchase an affiliate LLC that owns the premises on which the bank’s headquarters and main office are located. According to the letter, the affiliate transaction would exceed ten percent of the bank’s capital stock and surplus and would cause the aggregate amount of the bank's covered transactions with all affiliates beyond 20 percent of the bank’s capital stock and surplus. Exceeding either of these thresholds would requires an exemption, but the OCC believed a waiver was appropriate given the anticipated reduction in the bank's operating costs. Moreover, the OCC reasoned that the exemption would fortify the bank's financial standing, enhancing its ability to improve the services it provides to customers and communities. The FDIC agreed and determined that an exemption would not pose an unacceptable risk to the Deposit Insurance Fund. For these reasons, the OCC approved the exception and permitted the purchase to move forward.
On November 28, the OIG for the FDIC delivered a material loss review report. The report’s objectives were twofold: first, to determine why a bank’s issues led to a material loss to the deposit insurance fund; and second, to review the FDIC’s supervision of the bank and make recommendations to prevent similar losses in the future.
The report outlined 11 recommendations for the FDIC to implement so it can improve its supervision process over the banking sector. The recommendations include: (i) to evaluate if and why banks may wait to issue CAMELS ratings downgrades until they issue a Report of Examination; (ii) to identify whether the training curriculum should be adjusted to emphasize why timely ratings changes are important; (iii) to review FDIC examination guidance to determine if enhancements are necessary to highlight when a bank’s practices do not align with its policies, and make recommendations; (iv) to evaluate and update examination guidance to require supervisory actions when it violates its risk-appetite statement metrics; (v) to comprehensively review the FDIC manual for any updates to the examination guidance pertinent to evaluating the stability of uninsured deposits; (vi) to comprehensively review the FDIC manual to determine if any updates are required to the examination guidance pertinent to banks’ deposit outflow assumptions for liquidity stress testing; (vii) to revisit examination guidance to determine if any updates are required for monitoring other banks, horizontally, for similar risk characteristics; (viii) to revisit examination guidance to determine if any updates are required regarding incorporating shared risk characteristics that lead to risk in the FDIC’s supervisory approach; (ix) to explore research methods to monitor large bank reputational risk; (x) to evaluate if Chief Risk Officers should place more consideration on unrealized losses and declines in fair value; and (xi) to work with other federal regulators on evaluating necessary rule changes, such as the adoption of noncapital triggers.
On November 29, the FDIC released the Third Quarter 2023 Quarterly Banking Profile for FDIC-insured community banks, reporting an aggregate net income of $68.4 billion in the third quarter of 2023, which is down $2.4 billion (3.4 percent) from the previous quarter. The FDIC said higher realized losses on securities and lower noninterest income were among the causes of the decreased net income for the quarter. The FDIC emphasized, among other things, that the banking industry is still facing significant effects from current economic conditions, especially regarding commercial real estate values and other downside risks. According to the remarks provided by FDIC Chairman Gruenberg, such issues will remain areas of attention by the FDIC.
On November 16, the FDIC approved a final rule to implement a special assessment to recover Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) losses from protecting uninsured depositors, following the failure of two banks earlier this year. According to the fact sheet, banks that benefited most from assistance provided under systemic risk determination will pay to recover the losses. The FDIC aims to collect $16.3 billion from 114 financial institutions at a quarterly rate of 3.36 basis points over eight quarterly assessment periods, and an annual rate of 13.4 basis points “an increase from the 12.5 basis point annual rate in the [May] proposal.”
The FDIC stated that if enough funds were collected to cover actual or estimated losses, it could cease collection efforts early. Alternatively, if losses surpass the collected amount within the initial eight-quarter collection period, the collection period can be extended for additional quarters. The FDIC also added that if actual losses exceed the collected amounts after the receiverships for both banks end, it can impose a one-time final shortfall assessment.
The special assessment does not apply to any financial institution with less than $5 billion in total assets. The final rule will be effective April 1, 2024, and the first collection for the special assessment is due June 28, 2024.
On November 21, the Fed released a paper concluding that when mortgage rates rise on cash-out refinancings, households do not significantly increase overall borrowing, but instead switch to alternative borrowing options (i.e. credit cards, personal loans, HELOCs, and second liens). Analyzing rate increases and using monetary policy surprises from 2006 to 2021, the paper finds that changes in cash-out refinancing are balanced by shifts to alternative borrowing.
The paper’s findings further reveal that higher mortgage rates and the amount borrowed through cash-out refinancing have a positive correlation. The parallel showcases a pattern where borrowers are choosing the most cost-effective borrowing option based on the size of their liquidity need, the paper noted. The paper suggests that the way borrowers react to changes in monetary policy, like interest rate adjustments, can depend on whether they have existing mortgages and what interest rates they have on those mortgages. The paper also suggests that while some borrowers might change their mortgage terms when interest rates shift, others might choose different types of loans that don't change their original mortgage rate. This offsets the impact of changing monetary policies on refinancing decisions, the paper explained.
On November 16, the OCC released a list of recent enforcement actions taken against national banks, federal savings associations, and individuals currently and formerly affiliated with such entities. Included is a cease and desist order against an Indiana bank for allegedly engaging in unsafe or unsound practices, related to corporate governance and enterprise risk management, credit underwriting and administration, liquidity risk management, and interest rate risk management. The order requires the bank to, among other things, (i) provide quarterly reports detailing corrective action and efforts to comply with the order; (ii) develop a written strategic plan; (iii) maintain specified capital ratios; (iv) engage an independent third party to review board and management supervision; (v) submit a written concentration risk management program and a written liquidity risk management program; (vi) adopt a credit underwriting and administration program; (vii) submit and adopt a written adequate allowance for credit losses; and (viii) adopt a written credit derivatives program.
On November 13, the CFPB, OCC, and the Fed published final amendments to the official interpretations for regulations implementing Section 129H of TILA, which establishes special appraisal requirements for “higher-risk mortgages,” otherwise termed as “higher-priced mortgage loans” (HPMLs). The final rule increases TILA’s loan exemption threshold for the special appraisal requirements for HPMLs. Each year, the threshold must be readjusted based on the annual percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers. The exemption threshold will increase from $31,000 to $32,400 effective January 1, 2024.
On November 10, the Fed released its biannual Supervision and Regulation Report ahead of congressional oversight hearings next week. The report covers banking system conditions, regulatory developments, and supervisory developments. The report stated that “[t]he banking sector remains sound overall.” After learning from the recent bank failures last spring, the Fed’s report aims to improve its supervision of “liquidity and interest rate risks by conducting targeted reviews… as well as conducting focused training and outreach… for banks and examiners.” Proposed regulatory developments include the Basel III endgame, long-term debt, and discount window preparedness. For supervisory developments, the Fed created the Novel Activities Supervision Program (previously covered by InfoBytes here) in August to supervise novel banking activities such as “crypto-assets, distributed ledger technology, and complex, technology-driven partnerships with nonbanks.”