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On January 19, the CFPB issued a final rule amending Regulation Z, as required by the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, to exempt certain insured depository institutions and credit unions from the requirement to establish escrow accounts for certain higher-priced mortgage loans (HPMLs). Under the final rule, any loan made by an insured depository institution or credit union that is secured by a first lien on the principal dwelling of a consumer would be exempt from Regulation Z’s HPML escrow requirement if (i) the institution has assets of no more than $10 billion; (ii) “the institution and its affiliates originated 1,000 or fewer loans secured by a first lien on a principal dwelling during the preceding calendar year”; and (iii) the institution meets certain existing HPML escrow exemption criteria. The final rule essentially adopts the proposed rule (covered by InfoBytes here) without change, except the end date for the exception to the prerequisite against maintaining escrows is finalized as 120 days after the date of publication in the Federal Register, instead of the 90 days as proposed.
On January 19, the CFPB issued a final rule codifying the Interagency Statement Clarifying the Role of Supervisory Guidance issued by the CFPB, OCC, Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, and the NCUA on September 11, 2018 (2018 Statement). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the October 2018 joint proposal amended the 2018 Statement by (i) clarifying that references in the Statement limiting agency “criticisms” includes criticizing institutions “through the issuance of [matters requiring attention] MRAs and other supervisory criticisms, including those communicated through matters requiring board attention, documents of resolution, and supervisory recommendations”; and (ii) adding that supervisory criticisms should be “specific as to practices, operations, financial conditions, or other matters that could have a negative effect on the safety and soundness of the financial institution, could cause consumer harm, or could cause violations of laws, regulations, final agency orders, or other legally enforceable conditions.”
The Bureau notes that it chose to issue a final rule that is specific to the Bureau and Bureau-supervised institutions, rather than a joint version including the five agencies as it did with the proposal. However, the final rule adopts the proposed rule without substantive change. The final rule is effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On January 21, the CFPB issued its semi-annual report to Congress covering the Bureau’s work from April 1 to September 30, 2020. The report, which is required by Dodd-Frank, addresses, among other things, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on consumer credit, significant rules and orders adopted by the Bureau, consumer complaints, and various supervisory and enforcement actions taken by the Bureau. In her opening letter, former Director Kathy Kraninger discusses the Bureau’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including measures taken to educate consumers on how to navigate relief options offered through the CARES Act and related pandemic-relief laws, as well as Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) guidance provided to small businesses. Kraninger also notes that in 2020, “the Bureau filed the second-highest number of actions in the Bureau’s history, secured approximately $875 million dollars in customer relief and penalties, and opened investigations of banks and nonbanks in all of the Bureau’s markets.”
Among other topics, the report highlights two reports published by the Bureau on the effects of Covid-19: one focusing on credit applications and credit inquires (covered by InfoBytes here), and another focusing on consumer credit outcomes (covered by InfoBytes here). Results from the Bureau’s Making Ends Meet Survey (conducted prior to the pandemic) are also discussed, as are the Bureau’s efforts to understand financial challenges facing older adults. In addition to these areas of focus, the report notes the issuance of several significant notices of proposed rulemaking related to remittance transfers, debt collection practices, the transition from LIBOR, and qualified mortgage definitions under TILA. Multiple final rules were also issued concerning HMDA reporting thresholds (of which there were two final rules); remittance transfers; and payday, vehicle, title, and certain high-cost installment loans. Several other rules and initiatives undertaken during the reporting period are also discussed.
On January 15, the CFPB issued a small entity compliance guide summarizing the Bureau’s debt collection rule. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau issued a final rule last October amending Regulation F, which implements the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), to address debt collection communications and prohibitions on harassment or abuse, false or misleading representations, and unfair practices. The guide provides a detailed summary of the October final rule’s substantive prohibitions and requirements, as well as a summary of key interpretations and clarifications of the FDCPA. The Bureau noted, however, that the current small entity compliance guide does not discuss (unless specifically noted otherwise) the CFPB’s final rule issued in December (covered by InfoBytes here), which clarified consumer disclosure requirements, provided a model validation notice, and addressed required actions prior to furnishing and prohibitions concerning the collection of time-barred debt. Updates will be made to the small entity compliance guide at a later date to include provisions related to the December final rule.
On January 14, the OCC released a final rule to ensure that covered national banks, federal savings associations, and federal branches and agencies of foreign bank organizations provide fair access to financial services. The final rule is largely unchanged from the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) issued last November (covered by InfoBytes here). Among other things, the final rule codifies more than a decade of OCC guidance stating that fair access to financial services, capital, and credit should be based on the risk assessment of individual customers, rather than broad-based decisions affecting whole categories or classes of customers. Building upon the principle of nondiscrimination and implementing language included in Title III of Dodd-Frank—“which charged the OCC with ‘assuring the safety and soundness of, and compliance with laws and regulations, fair access to financial services, and fair treatment of customers by, the institutions and other persons subject to its jurisdiction’”—the OCC stressed that the final rule establishes that “a covered bank’s decision to deny services based on an objective assessment would not violate the bank’s obligation to provide fair access.” While banks are still free to make “legitimate business decisions about what and whom to serve” and may still determine their product lines and geographic markets, they are required to make the “products and services they choose to offer available to all customers in the communities they serve, based on consideration of quantitative, impartial, risk-based standards established by the bank.”
In finalizing the rule, the OCC considered stakeholder comments received in response to the NPRM. In response, the OCC stated that the final rule will not prevent banks from denying or limiting services in an effort to (i) prevent a person from entering or competing in a particular market; or (ii) disadvantage a person in order to benefit another person in which the bank has a financial interest. According to the OCC, this requirement would have created a regulatory burden outside of the primary objectives of the final rule. The final rule affects banks with more than $100 billion in assets and will take effect April 1.
Separately, the OCC announced the departure of Acting Comptroller of the Currency Brian P. Brooks. Brooks stepped down on January 14, and was replaced by Chief Operating Officer Blake Paulson.
On January 13, the CFPB released fair-lending guidance for financial institutions that provide services to borrowers with limited English proficiency (LEP). As previously covered by InfoBytes, last July the Bureau issued a request for information that sought, among other things, information on ways to provide clarity under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and/or Regulation B related to meeting the credit needs of LEP borrowers. During a 2020 roundtable focusing on LEP issues, the Bureau was also urged to publish additional guidance to assist financial institutions in expanding products and services to LEP consumers while also maintaining compliance with statutes and regulations. The Statement Regarding the Provision of Financial Products and Services to Consumers with Limited English Proficiency (Statement) incorporates feedback received from stakeholder groups, advocacy organizations, financial institutions, financial regulators, and trade associations. The Statement addresses, among other challenges, issues “related to balancing legal requirements and practical considerations” and potential UDAAP risks associated with offering support in certain non-English languages but not in others. The Statement further provides principles and guidance to assist financial institutions when making decisions related to assisting LEP consumers. Additionally, the Statement also includes key considerations and guidelines for institutions to use when developing compliance solutions for providing products and services in non-English languages to LEP consumers, while at the same time complying with Dodd-Frank, ECOA, and other applicable laws and regulations.
On January 12, the FDIC published a final rule amending 12 CFR Part 308 to codify the agency’s “practice of having certain adjudicative functions performed by an inferior officer of the United States appointed by the FDIC’s Board of Directors.” The clarification follows a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lucia v. SEC, which held that SEC administrative law judges (ALJs) are “inferior officers” subject to the Appointments Clause (Clause) of the Constitution (covered by InfoBytes here). The FDIC notes that while the Lucia decision did not directly affect the agency or FDIC ALJs, the Board has chosen to “formally appoint the ALJs that preside over FDIC enforcement proceedings.” The final rule, which also makes other technical edits to the agency’s rules of practice and procedure to update outdated references to certain position titles, becomes effective immediately.
On January 5, the CFPB Taskforce on Federal Consumer Financial Law released a two volume report with approximately 100 recommendations on ways the CFPB, Congress, and state and federal regulators can improve and modernize the legal and regulatory environment for the consumer financial services market. The report is the end-product of a request for information issued by the taskforce last March (covered by InfoBytes here). The report’s first volume provides a historical and economic overview of the legal and regulatory landscape for consumer finance, and explores issues related to consumer financial protection, competition, innovation, and financial inclusion. The second volume outlines more than 100 proposed recommendations for strengthening consumer protections and maintaining competition in the financial marketplace. Among these are recommendations related to the regulation of non-banks and fintech companies, including:
- Recommending that Congress either (i) “authorize the Bureau to issue licenses to non-depository institutions that provide lending, money transmission, and payments services,” with licenses “provid[ing] that these institutions are governed by the regulations of their home states, even when providing services to consumers located in other states,” or (ii) “clarify that the OCC has the authority to issue charters to non-depositories engaged in lending, money transmissions, or payment services.” Acting Comptroller of the Currency, Brian P. Brooks released a statement the next day endorsing the need for federal charters for fintech companies, but stressed that the OCC, not the Bureau, should be responsible for granting national charters;
- Identifying and addressing competitive barriers and making appropriate recommendations to policymakers and regulators for expanding access to the payments systems by non-bank providers;
- Recommending that the Bureau weigh the costs and benefits of preempting state law where potential conflicts “can impede provision of valuable products and services, such as the regulation of [fintech] companies engaged in money transmission”; and
- Ensuring that fintech companies with multistate operations are subject to a single set of laws to promote consistency, reducing unnecessary regulatory costs, and promoting competition.
The taskforce further recommends that the Bureau establish an independent review of its regulatory cost-benefit analyses, and calls for increased regulatory coordination between the Bureau and other federal and state regulators. Other recommendations address, among other things, the use of alternative data; suggested changes to the Bureau’s internal organization; competition in the consumer financial marketplace, including with respect to the cost of credit, the effect and burden of state licensure requirements, and settlement servicing prices; consumer credit reporting, including clarifying the obligations of credit reporting agencies and furnishers with respect to dispute investigations; consumer empowerment and education; equal access to credit and financial inclusion; disclosure requirements; electronic signatures and document requirements; disparate impact; privacy; small dollar credit; and enforcement and supervision.
On January 4, the OCC published an interpretive letter addressing the legal permissibility of certain payment-related activities involving the use of new technologies, including using independent node verification networks (INVN) and related stablecoins to conduct payment activities and other bank-permissible functions. Specifically, the letter clarifies that a national bank or federal savings association “may validate, store, and record payments transactions by serving as a node on an INVN,” and may also “use INVNs and related stablecoins to carry out other permissible payment activities” provided the bank or federal savings association complies with applicable laws and safe, sound, and fair banking practices. Due to the decentralized nature of INVNs—which not only “allows a comparatively large number of nodes to verify transactions in a trusted manner” but also “limits tampering or adding inaccurate information to the database because information is only added to the network after consensus is reached among the nodes validating the information”—the OCC believes that INVNs may enhance payment activities’ efficiency, effectiveness, and stability within the federal banking system. The letter also outlines potential risks associated with INVN-related activities, such as operational and compliance risks and fraud related to the possibility of money laundering and terrorist financing, and warns banks and federal savings associations to expand their programs to ensure compliance with Bank Secrecy Act reporting and recordkeeping requirements and to address cryptocurrency transaction risks.
On December 28, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a notice to financial institutions concerning the potential for Covid-19 vaccine-related fraud, ransomware attacks, and other types of criminal activity. Specifically, FinCEN warns financial institutions to be aware of the potential sale of unapproved and illegally marketed vaccines, as well as fraudsters offering vaccines sooner than allowed for a fee. Financial institutions should also look out for ransomware targeting vaccine delivery operations and supply chains. The notice provides instructions for filing suspicious activity reports regarding the aforementioned activity.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to moderate “Pandemic relief response and lasting impacts on access, credit, banking, and equality” at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Spring Meeting
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Post-pandemic CFPB exam preparation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Spring Conference & Expo
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Making fair lending work for you" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Spring Conference & Expo
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Reading the tea leaves of President Biden’s initial financial appointees" at LendIt Fintech
- APPROVED Webcast: Staying in the know with Buckley regtech solutions
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss “CA, NY, federal licensing and disclosure” at the Equipment Leasing & Finance Association Legal Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Compliance under Biden" at the WSJ Risk & Compliance Forum
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss UDAAP at an American Bar Association webinar
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "What to expect: The new administration and regulatory changes" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “The future of fair lending” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Steven R. vonBerg to discuss "LO comp challenges" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Major litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “The False Claims Act today” at the Federal Bar Association Qui Tam Section Roundtable