Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On January 16, Democratic members of the House Financial Services Committee sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) inquiring about the benefits and drawbacks of using alternative data in mortgage lending, as well as the federal government’s role in overseeing the use of alternative data credit reporting agencies (CRAs) and lenders. The letter notes that while alternative data can be useful in helping lenders identify creditworthy potential borrowers who cannot be scored by CRAs through traditional measures, questions remain about how the use of alternative data may affect compliance with fair lending laws, including the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and Fair Housing Act. “While some alternative data, such as rental payment history, may provide an objective measure of creditworthiness, others might enable discrimination on the basis of a protected class, or infringe upon consumer privacy,” the letter cautions. The letter asks GAO to study the use of alternative data in expanding access to credit, with a particular focus on mortgage credit, and poses the following questions:
- How have different entities used alternative data to expand access to mortgage credit? Specifically, can alternative data determine consumer creditworthiness and whether a consumer is able to repay a mortgage? Additionally, are there certain alternative data sources that are better at predicting creditworthiness or some that are more likely to raise concerns about correlations with discriminatory factors? Furthermore, what federal activity has there been in this space?
- What are the potential benefits and risks associated with using alternative data and financial technology for access to mortgage credit, and are there variations in these benefits and risks across different groups, including minorities and younger borrowers?
- What potential risks does alternative data pose to fair lending compliance, and are the regulatory and enforcement agencies that govern the credit-granting system equipped to manage and prepare for an increased use of alternative data in mortgage lending?
- How do the benefits and trade-offs of other options for expanding access to mortgage credit compare to the use of alternative data in credit scoring?
On November 6, the CFPB held a symposium covering small business lending and Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act, which amends ECOA to require financial institutions to compile, maintain, and submit to the Bureau certain information concerning credit applications by women-owned, minority-owned, and small businesses, and also directs the Bureau to promulgate regulations to implement these requirements. In her opening remarks, Director Kraninger, noted that the symposium was being convened to assist the Bureau with information gathering for upcoming rulemaking and emphasized that the Bureau is focused on a rulemaking that would not impede small business access to credit by imposing unnecessary costs on financial institutions. The symposium consisted of two panels, with the first covering policy issues related to small business lending, while the second discussed specific aspects of the requirements of Section 1071. Highlights of the panels include:
- Panel #1. During the policy discussion, panelists focused on non-traditional lenders, namely fintech firms, that have entered the small business lending market, with most noting that these online alternative lenders have filled a necessary lending gap left by traditional banks and depository institutions. While concerns around bad actors in the online lending space were discussed, most panelists agreed that online financing may provide an opportunity for women and minority-owned businesses to avoid potential biases in underwriting, with one panelist noting that his company does not collect gender or race information in its online application.
- Panel #2. Panelists focused their discussion on specific implementation concerns of Section 1071, including compliance costs, definitions of small business and financial institutions, data elements to be reported, and privacy concerns. Among other things, panelists noted that the definition of “small business” should be limited to businesses under $1 million in revenue, which is a figure included in other regulations such as ECOA and the CRA. Panelists disagreed on whether the Bureau should exercise its exemptive authority under Section 1071 for the definition of “financial institution.” While some panelists believe that the broad definition included in the Act is necessary to hold all the players in the market accountable, others argued that large financial institutions that receive an “outstanding” CRA rating should be excluded from the reporting requirements. As for data elements, most agreed that the Bureau should only require the statutorily mandated elements and not include any others in the rulemaking, while one panelist suggested that APR must be included in order to ensure that approval rates for minority-owned small businesses are the result of actual innovation and effective business models and not just the charging of high rates. Moreover, panelists reminded the Bureau to be cognizant of the small business lending reporting requirements of the CRA and HMDA and cautioned the Bureau to keep Section 1071 data requirements compatible.
On September 30, the DOJ announced it filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland alleging that a Maryland used car dealership and its owner and manager violated ECOA by offering different terms of credit based on race to consumers seeking to finance cars. According to the complaint, between September 2017 and April 2018, compliance testing done by the DOJ concluded that the defendants’ “actions, policies, and practices discriminate against applicants on the basis of race with respect to credit transactions…by offering more favorable terms to white testers than to African American testers with similar credit characteristics.” Specifically, the complaint alleged that African American testers were, among other things, (i) told they needed higher down payment amounts than white testers for the same car; (ii) quoted higher bi-weekly payments for “buy here, pay here” financing than white testers for the same car; and (iii) not offered to fund down payments in two installments, as compared to white testers. The DOJ also alleges that the conduct was “intentional, willful, and taken in disregard of the rights of others” and seeks injunctive relief and monetary relief.
On August 8, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky granted a loan applicant’s request for partial summary judgment on allegations that a bank violated ECOA when it failed to timely send an adverse-action notice. The court ruled that the bank failed to establish its inadvertent error defense. The plaintiff’s loan application was submitted on October 30, 2018, and subsequently reviewed and denied on November 5 due to “issues with his credit report that needed to be resolved” in order for his application to be fully considered. The adverse action paperwork was then placed in a courier pouch for delivery to the lending officer responsible for notifying the plaintiff. However, the information failed to make it to the intended officer until after the plaintiff filed the action, upon which, the adverse action letter was generated on December 19. Under ECOA, notification of action must be made within 30 days of receipt.
The bank argued that partial summary judgment was inappropriate because the failure to provide notice within 30 days was an “inadvertent error” under 12 CFR 1002.16, and therefore did not constitute a violation of ECOA. The court stated that, in order to prevail on its argument on the safe-harbor provision for inadvertent errors, the bank, as the nonmoving party, must establish three elements: (i) the error was “mechanical, electronic, or clerical”; (ii) the error was unintentional; and (iii) the error “occurred ‘. . .notwithstanding the maintenance of procedures reasonably adapted to avoid such errors.” However, the bank conceded that it could not explain what caused the courier pouch error, put forth no evidence to show that the effort was clerical in nature, and also acknowledged that it “does not maintain any procedure reasonably adapted to avoid such errors.” As such, the court determined that the bank failed to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of any material fact bearing on the elements of the defense, and thus failed to qualify for the safe harbor defense.
On June 13, the DOJ announced a settlement with an Indiana bank resolving allegations the bank engaged in unlawful “redlining” in Indianapolis by intentionally avoiding predominantly African-American neighborhoods in violation of the Fair Housing Act and ECOA. In the complaint, the DOJ alleges that from 2011 to 2017, among other things, the bank (i) excluded Marion County in Indianapolis and its “50 majority-Black census tracts” from its Community Reinvestment Act assessment area; (ii) did not have any branch locations in majority-Black areas of the county; (iii) did not market in the majority-Black areas of the country; and (iv) had a residential mortgage lending policy that allegedly showed preference to the location of borrowers, not the creditworthiness. Under the settlement agreement, which is subject to court approval, the bank will, among other things, expand its business services and lending to the predominantly African-American neighborhoods in Indianapolis and will invest at least $1.12 million in a special loan subsidy fund to be used to increase credit opportunities in the specified neighborhoods. Additionally, the bank will designate a full-time Director of Community Lending and Development to oversee the continued development of the bank’s lending in the specified areas.
CFPB and Federal Reserve update HMDA examination procedures; CFPB updates ECOA baseline review procedures
On April 1, the CFPB and the Federal Reserve Board (Federal Reserve) issued revisions to the HMDA examination procedures covering data collected since January 1, 2018, under the HMDA amendments issued by the Bureau in October 2015 and August 2017, as well as section 104(a) of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (implemented and clarified by the 2018 HMDA Rule, which was covered by InfoBytes in August 2018 here.) According to the Federal Reserve’s CA 19-5, the HMDA examination updates include, (i) Narrative, Examination Objectives, and Examination Procedure sections that were developed by the Task Force on Consumer Compliance of the FFIEC; (ii) Review of Compliance Management System, Examination Conclusions and Wrap-Up, and Examination Checklist sections that were developed in consultation with the FDIC and the OCC; and (iii) sampling, verification, and resubmission procedures. With regard to HMDA data collected prior to January 1, 2018, institutions will continue to be examined according to the interagency HMDA examination procedures “transmitted with CA 09-10 and the HMDA sampling and resubmission procedures transmitted with CA 04-4.”
Additionally, in April, the CFPB also released updated ECOA baseline review procedures. The procedures consist of five modules: (i) Fair Lending Supervisory History; (ii) Fair Lending Compliance Management System (CMS); (iii) Fair Lending Risks Related to Origination; (iv) Fair Lending Risks Related to Servicing; and (v) Fair Lending Risks Related to Models. According to the Bureau, all exams will cover the Fair Lending CMS module and additional modules will be assigned depending on the scope of examination.
On March 20, the CFPB published in the Federal Register two requests to renew information collections, one on the “Report of Terms of Credit Card Plan,” which collects data from at least 150 financial institutions on credit card pricing and availability, and the other on ECOA and Regulation B. For both information collections, the Bureau is seeking comments on (i) whether the information collections are necessary for the proper function of the Bureau; (ii) if the Bureau accurately estimates the burden of the collection and how to minimize that burden; and (iii) how the Bureau can “enhance the quality, utility, and, clarity of the information” collected. Comments on both requests must be received by May 20.
On March 12, Director of the CFPB, Kathy Kraninger, testified at a hearing held by the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee on the CFPB’s Semi-Annual Report to Congress. While Kraninger’s opening statement and question responses were similar to her comments made last week during a House Financial Services Committee hearing (detailed coverage here), notable highlights include:
- Fair Lending. Kraninger did not provide a status update on the Bureau’s pre-rulemaking activities as they relate to whether disparate impact is cognizable under ECOA, but emphasized that the Bureau is committed to the fair lending mission.
- Data Collection. In response to concerns over the Bureau’s history of expansive data collection, Kraninger noted that data collection is an especially important tool for rulemaking, but stated that going-forward she would ensure the Bureau only collects the information needed to carry out the Bureau’s mission, noting that the less personally identifiable information that is collected, the less that requires protection. She acknowledged the Bureau is reviewing the comments submitted in response to its fall 2018 data governance program report (covered by InfoBytes here) and stated the Bureau remains committed to reviewing the internal processes it has for collecting and using data.
- Military Lending Act (MLA). Kraninger stated that she disagrees with the Democratic Senator’s broad interpretation of Section 1024(b)(1)(C) of the Dodd-Frank Act allowing for the Bureau to examine for compliance with the MLA because that interpretation would permit the Bureau to examine for anything that is a “risk to consumers,” including things like safety and soundness, which is not currently under the Bureau’s purview. While she acknowledged that the Bureau has the direct authority to enforce the MLA, she repeatedly rejected the notion that this would also give the Bureau the authority to supervise for the MLA, as Dodd-Frank separates the Bureau’s enforcement and supervision powers.
- Payday Rule. Kraninger repeatedly emphasized that the reconsideration of the underwriting standards in the Payday Rule was to determine if the legal and factual basis used to justify certain practices as unfair and abusive was “robust” enough. She acknowledged that the Bureau will be reviewing all the comments to the proposal and that the evidence used for the original Rule will be part of the record for the reconsideration.
- GSE Patch. In response to questions regarding the 2021 expiration of the Qualified Mortgage (QM) Rule’s 43 percent debt-to-income ratio exception for mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs), Kraninger acknowledged the “non-QM” market hasn’t materialized over the last few years, as was originally anticipated. However, Kraninger was reluctant to provide any further details, noting that she would not be making any “dramatic changes” to the mortgage market. Additionally, she acknowledged that the GSE patch has the potential to expire at the end of the conservatorship as well.
- CFPB Structure. Kraninger did not specify whether she believes the Bureau should be led by a board, rather than a single director, or whether the Bureau should be under appropriations. Specifically Kraninger stated that she would “welcome any changes Congress made that would increase the accountability and transparency of the Bureau,” and would “dutifully carry out” legislation that would place the Bureau under appropriations if the President signed it.
- Student Lending. Kraninger stated that the Bureau intends to re-engage with the Department of Education on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to assist with complaint and information sharing once a new Student Loan Ombudsmen has been hired. The MOUs were previously terminated by the Department in August 2018 (covered by Infobytes here).
On February 26, the FTC announced it had recently provided the CFPB with its annual summary of work on ECOA-related policy issues including the following FTC research and policy development initiatives:
- The FTC held a series of public hearings on competition and consumer protection in the 21st century. Session seven specifically addressed issues related to the use of algorithms, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics. Panelists addressed how fairness, bias, and discrimination may impact the use of such technologies and debated whether current legal protections such as ECOA sufficiently cover these issues.
- The FTC continued its qualitative study of consumer experiences when buying and selling automobiles at dealerships, which the agency believes will help focus initiatives, such as educating consumers about the purchase and financing process and providing business education to promote compliance with the FTC Act and ECOA.
- The FTC’s Military Task Force, which consists of a cross-section of agency representatives, continued to work on military consumer protection issues. Workshops were conducted to examine financial issues and scams targeting military consumers, including servicemembers and veterans. In addition, the FTC participated in a training program for servicemembers and their families to discuss ECOA and Regulation B protections.
- The FTC maintained its membership in the Interagency Task Force on Fair Lending, along with the CFPB, DOJ, HUD, and the federal banking regulatory agencies, and participated in the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.
Concerning fair lending, the FTC stated that it provided education on several topics, including those related to credit transactions that fall under Regulation B.
On February 12, the CFPB issued its semi-annual report to Congress covering the Bureau’s work from April 1, 2018, through September 30, 2018. The report, which is required by the Dodd-Frank Act, addresses issues including problems faced by consumers with regard to consumer financial products or services; significant rules and orders adopted by the Bureau; and various supervisory and enforcement actions taken by the Bureau when acting Director Mick Mulvaney was still in office. The report is the first to be released under Kathy Kraninger, who was confirmed as Director in December 2018. In her opening letter, Kraninger emphasized that during her tenure the Bureau will “vigorously and even-handedly enforce the law,” and will make sure the financial marketplace “is innovating in ways that enhance consumer choice.” Among other things, the report focuses on credit invisibility and mortgage shopping as two significant problems faced by consumers, noting that credit invisibility among adults tends to be concentrated in rural and highly urban areas and, based on recent studies, more than 75 percent of borrowers report applying for a mortgage with only one lender.
The report also includes an analysis of the efforts of the Bureau to fulfill its fair lending mission. The report highlights the most frequently cited violations of Regulation B (ECOA) and Regulation C (HMDA) in fair lending exams during the reporting period and emphasizes that during the reporting period the Bureau did not initiate or complete any fair lending public enforcement actions or refer any matters to the DOJ with regard to discrimination.
- Andrew W. Schilling to moderate "Expectations of in-house counsel from their law firm partners" at the ACI's 7th Annual Advanced Forum on False Claims and Qui Tam
- Sasha Leonhardt to discuss "Cybersecurity basics for compliance staff" at a NAFCU webinar
- Buckley Webcast: Tips for navigating changes to the FHA recertification process
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "A 20/20 view on 2020’s legislative and regulatory outlook" at the ACAMS Anti-Financial Crime and Public Policy Conference
- Kari K. Hall and Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Overdrafts and regulatory trends" at the CLE Alabama Banking Law Update
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Industry open forum session on NMLS usage" at the NMLS Annual Conference & Training
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Regulating innovative consumer lending products" at the NMLS Annual Conference & Training
- Daniel P. Stipano to moderate "Washington update" at the 17th Puerto Rican Symposium of Anti Money Laundering 2020 conference
- Melissa Klimkiewicz to discuss "Private flood insurance updates" at the MBA's Servicing Solutions Conference & Expo 2020
- APPROVED Checkpoint Webcast: CFL overview
- Sasha Leonhardt to discuss "MLA & SCRA" on a NAFCU webinar
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Pathway of the SARs: Tracking trajectories of suspicious activity reports from alerts to prosecution" at the ACAMS moneylaundering.com 25th Annual International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Which bud’s for you? A deep-dive into evolving marijuana laws" at the ACAMS moneylaundering.com 25th Annual International AML & Financial Crime Conference