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On January 14, NYDFS Superintendent Linda Lacewell announced that former Deputy Director of the CFPB, Leandra English, will serve as Special Policy Advisor to the Department. In her role, English will report directly to Lacewell and will manage and develop NYDFS’ policy initiatives involving consumers, financial services, and other issues. English will also be responsible for spearheading NYDFS’ policy development and analysis process, and assisting in the identification of common regulatory trends and risks across industries.
On January 9, NYDFS announced the creation of the Consumer Protection Task Force, which will help the department implement the “extensive consumer protections proposals” outlined in the governor’s recent proposal to expand state oversight and enforcement of the financial services industry. (See previous InfoBytes coverage on the governor’s proposal here.) Specifically, the task force will work on measures designed to enhance (i) regulatory oversight of debt collectors; (ii) protections against elder financial abuse; (iii) access to affordable banking services; and (iv) consumer protection laws to defend state residents against unfair, deceptive and abusive practices. Individuals named to the task force were chosen “based on their extensive experience and expertise in the areas of economic justice, housing, health and debt collection, and advocacy on behalf of communities throughout New York.”
On January 9, the CFPB and the Utah attorney general’s office announced that the first of the American Consumer Financial Innovation Network’s (ACFIN) joint office hours will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah on January 30. The CFPB’s announcement states that the office hours are intended to “provide innovators with the opportunity to discuss issues such as financial technology, innovative products or services, regulatory sandboxes, no action letters, and other matters related to financial innovation with officials from the CFPB and state partners.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB, along with a number of state regulators, established ACFIN in September with the aim of reducing “regulatory burdens” and increasing “regulatory certainty for innovative financial products and services.” Members of ACFIN currently include state AGs from Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah; and state financial regulators from Florida, Georgia, Missouri, and Tennessee. ACFIN membership is open to any state and federal partners interested in joining.
On January 8, the New York governor released a proposal that would, among other things, expand the entities subject to NYDFS’ enforcement authority and harmonize state regulator authority to bring actions against entities engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices with federal authority. Proposed within the 2020 State of the State agenda are several initiatives designed to increase the state’s oversight and enforcement of the financial services industry. Key measures include:
- Abusiveness claims. The proposal would make New York consumer protection law consistent with federal law by aligning the state’s UDAAP powers with those of the CFPB, thereby empowering state authorities to bring abusiveness claims under state law.
- Eliminate certain exemptions. The proposal would end exemptions from state oversight for certain, unspecified consumer financial products and services. “With the current federal administration reducing the number and breadth of enforcement actions brought by the CFPB, it is crucial that state consumer protection laws apply to all the same consumer products and services subject to Dodd-Frank,” the proposal states.
- Closing loopholes and creating a level playing field. Under the proposal, state-licensed cryptocurrency companies would be required to pay assessment fees similar to other financial services companies. Currently, only supervised entities licensed under the state’s insurance law or banking law are required to pay assessments to NYDFS to cover examination and oversight costs.
- Fines. In order to effectively deter illegal conduct, the proposal would amend the state’s insurance law to increase fines. Additionally, instead of the current Financial Services Law (FSL) penalty of $5,000 per violation, the governor proposes “capping penalties at the greater of $5,000, or two times the damages, or the economic gain attributed to the violation,” while also updating the FSL to provide “explicit authority for [NYDFS] to collect restitution and damages.”
- Debt collection. Debt collectors under the proposal would be required to be licensed by NYDFS, thus allowing the department to examine and investigate suspected abuses. Additionally, NYDFS’ new oversight authority would allow it to bring punitive administrative actions against debt collectors, which may result in significant fines or the loss of a license. The proposal would also codify the FTC’s rule prohibiting confessions of judgment in consumer loans.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the proposal would also, among other things, expand access to safe and affordable financial services through a collaborative initiative between the state’s Community Development Financial Institutions, NYDFS, and other state agencies designed to improve outreach and financial literacy education to the unbanked and underserved communities.
California governor proposes strengthening state consumer protection authority and increasing financial innovation
On January 10, the California governor submitted his proposal for California’s 2020-2021 state budget, which would, among other things, include the creation and administration of the California Consumer Protection Law (Law). The governor’s budget summary indicates that “[t]he federal government’s rollback of the CFPB leaves Californians vulnerable to predatory businesses and leaves companies without the clarity they need to innovate.” The proposed Law is intended to provide “consumers with more protection against unfair and deceptive practices when accessing financial services and products.” To create and administer the Law, the proposed budget contemplates the expansion of the Department of Business of Oversight’s (DBO) authority to “protect consumers” and “foster the responsible development of new financial products.” In light of the expanded role, the governor also proposed renaming the DBO to the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation. The governor’s budget includes an allocation to the DBO of a $10.2 million Financial Protection Fund and 44 positions in 2020-2021, which would increase to $19.3 million and 90 positions in 2022-2023 for creating and implementing the Law.
According to the DBO’s website, the DBO currently “provides protection to consumers and services to businesses engaged in financial transactions” and “oversees the operations of state-licensed financial institutions, including banks, credit unions, money transmitters, issuers of payment instruments and travelers checks, and premium finance companies.” Under the governor’s budget proposal summary, in addition to the DBO’s current functions, the DBO will have greater authority to “pursue unlicensed financial service providers not currently subject to regulatory oversight such as debt collectors, credit reporting agencies, and financial technology (fintech) companies, among others.”
The budget proposal summary provides that the DBO’s new activities will include:
- Offering services to educate consumers (e.g., older Americans, students, military service members, and recent immigrants).
- Licensing and examining industries that are currently under-regulated.
- Analyzing market patterns and developments for evidence-based policies and enforcement.
- Enforcing against unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices.
- Establishing a new Financial Technology Innovation Office, which will be tasked with proactively promoting “responsible development of new consumer financial products.”
- Providing legal support for the administration of the Law.
- Expanding administrative and IT staff to support the DBO’s increased authority.
The details of the Governor’s budget proposal have not yet been published.
On January 4, NYDFS issued an Industry Letter warning regulated entities about the “heightened risk” of cyberattacks by hackers affiliated with the Iranian government following the killing of Iranian official Qasem Soleimani, and strongly encouraging entities to undertake preparations to ensure quick responses to any suspected cyber incidents. Specifically, NYDFS recommends that regulated entities (i) patch/remediate all vulnerabilities (especially publicly disclosed vulnerabilities); (ii) ensure employees are adequately able to handle phishing attacks; (iii) “fully implement multi-factor authentication”; (iv) “review and update disaster recovery plans”; (v) and quickly respond to further alerts from the government or other reliable sources, even outside regular business hours. The letter notes that NYDFS’ cyber regulation 23 NYCRR 500.17 (previously covered by InfoBytes here), requires regulated entities to notify NYDFS “‘as promptly as possible but in no event later than 72 hours’ after a material cybersecurity event.”
On December 30, the California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) announced the denial of a Minnesota-based point-of-sale company’s application to make loans under the California Financing Law (CFL) after determining the company had already been making unregulated loans to California consumers in violation of the CFL. According to the DBO’s Statement of Issues, the fintech company offers a product that allows consumers to enter into small installment loans in order to make online purchases at participating merchants. The company contended that it purchases credit sale contracts from merchants selling goods to consumers, and argued that these types of purchases do not qualify as loans subject to the CFL. However, following a review of the company’s application and products, the DBO concluded that the company structured its merchant partners’ purported credit sales to evade otherwise applicable consumer protections. Moreover, the DBO stated in its press release that the company’s “extensive role in its merchants’ transactions and pre-existing relationship with some consumers who were parties to the purported credit sales showed that [the company] was making loans under California law.” According to the decision, “[e]xtensive third-party involvement in the underlying credit sale may cause transactions to be deemed loans, regardless of form . . . even if the underlying credit sale is bona fide” (italics in original).
The DBO also issued a separate legal opinion advising a different, unidentified lender that its deferred payment products meet the Civil Code and case law definition of “loans” and therefore require a CFL license to be offered in the state. Among other things, the DBO argued that it is unclear as to why the lender’s products—which the lender claims “are not loans but similar to a forbearance”—would be exempt from the CFL, reiterating that loans and forbearances are both subject to usury provisions. The DOB noted that point-of-sale financing transactions may meet the definition of a loan when: (i) the transactions are treated like loans by the consumer, merchant, and third-party financer, “despite contradictory language in the applicable contracts”; (ii) there is an extensive relationship between the merchant and third-party financer; (iii) disclosures are not clearly made to the consumer about the role of the third-party financer and all financing terms; and (iv) “the financing transaction is not otherwise regulated.”
On December 23, NYDFS issued an Industry Letter (Letter) directing its regulated depository and non-depository institutions, insurers, and pension funds to outline their plans for managing the risks associated with the potential impact of LIBOR’s likely cessation at the end of 2021. NYDFS seeks assurance that regulated institutions’ board of directors and senior management fully understand the associated risks, have developed appropriate plans, and have initiated actions to facilitate transition to an alternative reference rate. The Letter does not mandate use of any particular alternative rate, but notes that “the Alternative Reference Rates Committee . . ., convened by the FRB and the [Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY)], has chosen [the Secured Overnight Financing Rate published by the FRBNY] as its recommended alternative to U.S. dollar LIBOR.” The Letter requires NYDFS-regulated institutions to describe: (i) programs that will assess financial and non-financial transition risks; (ii) “processes for analyzing and assessing alternative rates, and the potential associated benefits and risks of such rates both for the institution and its customers and counterparties”; (iii) processes to communicate with customers and counterparties; (iv) plans and processes for “operational readiness, including related accounting, tax and reporting aspects of [the] transition” from LIBOR; and (v) their governance framework, including oversight by an institution’s board of directors or its equivalent governing authority. Institutions are required to submit their transition-risk management plans to NYDFS by February 7.
On December 10, in a speech before the National Association of Attorneys General Capital Forum, CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger discussed partnership with the states, as well as recent efforts between the Bureau and states in the areas of supervision and enforcement, including innovation policies. Kraninger also discussed the Bureau’s small dollar and debt collection rules. Noting that the Bureau will “effectively enforce the law to fulfill our consumer protection mission … after thoroughly reviewing the facts,” Kraninger recapped FY 2019 enforcement actions and settlements, which have resulted in more than $777 million in total consumer relief, which included over $600 million in consumer redress and more than $174 million in other relief. These actions, Kraninger stated, have resulted in more than $185 million in civil money penalties, not taking into account suspended amounts. Kraninger also highlighted several joint efforts with states and other agencies over the past year, including (i) a multi-agency action resolving a 2017 data breach (InfoBytes coverage here); (ii) a joint action with the New York Attorney General against a network of New York-based debt collectors that allegedly engaged in improper debt collection tactics (InfoBytes coverage here); (iii) a coordinated action with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, the North Carolina Department of Justice, and the Los Angeles City Attorney concerning a student loan debt relief operation (InfoBytes coverage here); and (iv) an action with the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs against an operation that offered high-interest loans to veterans and other consumers in exchange for the assignment of some of the consumers’ monthly pension or disability payments (InfoBytes coverage here).
Kraninger also discussed the Bureau’s recently-announced American Consumer Financial Innovation Network (ACFIN), which is designed to enhance coordination among federal and state regulators to facilitate financial innovation. (InfoBytes coverage here). ACFIN currently includes nine state attorneys general and four state financial regulators. Kraninger noted that the Bureau is presently reviewing approximately 190,000 comments concerning proposed changes related to certain payday lending requirements and mandatory underwriting provisions (InfoBytes coverage here), as well as over 14,000 comments submitted in response to its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued in May concerning amendments to the debt collection rule (InfoBytes coverage here). Kraninger stressed that the Bureau plans to release a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking “very early” in 2020, and will be “interested in practical and pragmatic ideas of how to make time-barred debt disclosures work.”
On November 18, the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance issued a notice of proposed rulemaking, which would require several state specific requirements for mortgage loan originators (MLO) seeking to utilize temporary authority (Temporary Authority) in the state of Georgia pursuant to Section 106 of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act—which is set to take effect November 24. Specifically, the proposed rule outlines the following additional requirements:
- Disclosure requirements. Mortgage companies are required to provide additional written disclosures to consumers showing that the MLO is not licensed and may ultimately not be granted a license. This written disclosure shall be “made no later than the date the consumer signs an application or any disclosure, whichever event occurs first,” and must be maintained by the company. Additionally, the disclosure must state that the Department “may take administrative action against the [MLO] that may prevent such individual from acting as a [MLO]” before a loan is closed. The language in the rule must appear on the loan documentation in 10-point bold-face type.
- Education requirements. Any MLO who qualifies to utilize Temporary Authority must submit proof to the Department that they have enrolled in a class to satisfy education requirements and have registered to take the national MLO test. Both notifications must be submitted within 30 days of the MLO’s application submission.
- Advertising requirements. All advertisements must “clearly and conspicuously” indicate that MLOs operating under Temporary Authority are currently unlicensed and have pending applications with the Department. Moreover, the advertisement must state that the “Department may grant or deny the license application.”
- Transaction journal requirements. Mortgage companies must maintain a journal of mortgage loan transactions that clearly identifies when any MLO utilizes Temporary Authority at any point in the application or loan process. The transaction journal should also notate the outcome of the MLO’s license application as either “approved, withdrawn, or denied.”
- Signature requirements. Any MLO operating under temporary authority must indicate “TAO,” (temporary authority to operate) or use a substantially similar designation next to any signature on a loan document, including those that relate to the negotiation of terms or the offering of a loan.
- Administrative fines. Mortgage companies who employ a person who does not satisfy the federal Temporary Authority requirements but engages in licensable MLO activities under Georgia law will be subject to a fine of $1,000 per occurrence and the mortgage companies’ license shall be subject to suspension or revocation.
Comments on the proposed rule must be received by December 18.
Visit here for additional guidance on MLO temporary authority from APPROVED.
- 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
- 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