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On January 6, NYDFS issued a comment letter responding to the CFPB’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), “Small Business Lending Data Collection under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (Regulation B).” The NPRM—mandated under Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act—would require a broad swath of lenders to collect data on loans they make to small businesses, including information about the loans themselves, the characteristics of the borrower, and demographic information regarding the borrower’s principal owners. This information would be reported annually to the Bureau, and eventually published by the Bureau on its website, with some potential modifications. According to the Bureau, the statute’s stated intent is to “facilitate enforcement of fair lending laws and enable communities, governmental entities, and creditors to identify business and community development needs and opportunities of women-owned, minority-owned, and small businesses.” (Covered by a Buckley Special Alert.)
In its comment letter, NYDFS discussed its responsibilities for examining state-chartered banking institutions’ compliance with the New York Community Reinvestment Act (NYCRA), New York Banking Law § 28-b, which NYDFS noted largely mirrors the current federal Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). Additionally, NYDFS stated that it examines regulated institutions for compliance with state fair lending requirements and agreed with the Bureau that “collecting critical information about minority- and women-owned businesses (MWOBs) to address fair lending concerns and allow financial institutions to identify gaps in the market” is an important goal. To that end, NYDFS is in the process of implementing its own MWOB data collection regulation under the NYCRA, which would require New York state-chartered banking institutions to start collecting MWOB-related data. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Due to similarities between the proposed regulation and the Bureau’s NPRM, and to avoid imposing an undue burden on institutions covered by both regulations, NYDFS’s proposed regulation includes language that would “permit, but not obligate, NYDFS to treat compliance with the CFPB’s rule implementing Section 1071 as compliance with the NYCRA’s MWOB-related data collection regulation.”
Two specific issues were raised in response to the Bureau’s NPRM. First, NYDFS expressed concerns about the NPRM’s silence as to whether the Bureau intends to share more detailed data with state regulators to help states identify fair lending violations and enforce anti-discrimination laws, even if this information is not made available to the public. NYDFS urged the Bureau to include specific language stating it “may share all data submitted by financial institutions with state regulators in accordance with information sharing agreements between the CFPB and the state regulators.” Second, NYDFS asked the Bureau to reconsider its proposal to require data collection only for MWOBs with a threshold of $5 million or less in gross annual revenue. In particular, NYDFS warned of the risk of “dissimilarity in data collected by lenders for submission to the CFPB and the NYDFS” as NYDFS’s proposed regulation “requires evaluation of MWOB lending without respect to size.” NYDFS stressed that this dissimilarity “may prevent the NYDFS from deeming compliance with the CFPB regulation sufficient to comply with the NYDFS regulation.”
On January 5, the FTC announced that two defendants who allegedly participated in small business financing scheme are permanently banned from participating in the merchant cash advance and debt collection industries. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FTC filed a complaint against two New York-based small-business financing companies and a related entity and individuals (including the settling defendants), claiming the defendants engaged in deceptive and unfair practices by, among other things, misrepresenting the terms of their merchant cash advances, using unfair collection practices, and making unauthorized withdrawals from consumers’ accounts. The defendants also allegedly violated the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act’s prohibition on using false statements to obtain consumers’ financial information, including bank account numbers, log-in credentials, and the identity of authorized signers, in order “to withdraw more than the specified amount from consumers’ bank accounts.” Additionally, the defendants allegedly “engaged in wanton and egregious behavior, including laughing at consumer requests for refunds from [the defendants’] unauthorized withdrawals from customer bank accounts; abusing the legal system to seize the business and personal assets of their customers; and threatening to break their customers’ jaws or falsely accusing them of child molestation during collection calls.” Under the terms of the stipulated order, the settling defendants are required to pay a $675,000 monetary judgment, and must vacate any judgments against their former customers and release any liens against their customers’ property.
On December 13, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted summary judgment in a Freedom of Information (FOIA) case in favor of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) (defendant), resolving allegations that the agency improperly withheld loan payment status and tax-identification numbers for recipients of loans under its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). As previously covered by InfoBytes, national-news organizations filed an action against the SBA seeking disclosure of loan recipient information, after the rejection of their FOIA requests. The court previously ordered the SBA to disclose some information—loan amounts, names, addresses—but later gave the SBA a second chance to argue against disclosure of default status and tax-identification numbers.
According to the most recent opinion, the SBA ultimately satisfied Exemption 4 to FOIA (related to confidential or privileged commercial or financial information) as to the current loan status of the PPP loans by filing declarations from lenders stating that they “customarily and actually treat interim PPP loan status as confidential.” The court also concluded that disclosure would concretely cause harm to an interest protected by the FOIA exemption, accepting the agency’s arguments that identifying a delinquent borrower, even if that status is temporary or ultimately irrelevant, could “negatively impact the borrower’s reputation or creditworthiness, or adversely affect its survivability and growth,” and that “disclosure would cause ‘regulated lenders [to] lose confidence in the agency’s future ability to protect confidential information . . . creat[ing] an incentive not to participate in the agency’s programs.’” Regarding tax-identification numbers, the court accepted the SBA’s assertion that it could not separate Social Security Numbers (SSN) from Employer Identification Numbers (EIN) and only release the EINs. Withholding the identification number data set was therefore permissible under Exemption 6 to FOIA, regarding “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The SBA had attempted to get the help of the IRS and Social Security Administration to differentiate the numbers, but both agencies concluded they could not legally release that information to the SBA.
On December 13, the Office of Information And Regulatory Affairs released the CFPB’s fall 2021 rulemaking agenda. According to a Bureau announcement, the information released represents regulatory matters the Bureau plans to pursue during the period from November 2, 2021 to October 31, 2022. Additionally, the Bureau stated that the latest agenda reflects continued rulemakings intended to further its consumer financial protection mission and help advance the country’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Promoting racial and economic equity and supporting underserved and marginalized communities’ access to fair and affordable credit continue to be Bureau priorities.
Key rulemaking initiatives include:
- Small Business Rulemaking. This fall, the Bureau issued its long-awaited proposed rule (NPRM) for Section 1071 regulations, which would require a broad swath of lenders to collect data on loans they make to small businesses, including information about the loans themselves, the characteristics of the borrower, and demographic information regarding the borrower’s principal owners. (Covered by a Buckley Special Alert.) The NPRM comment period goes through January 6, 2022, after which point the Bureau will review comments as it moves to develop a final rule. Find continuing Section 1071 coverage here.
- Consumer Access to Financial Records. The Bureau noted that it is working on rulemaking to implement Section 1033 of Dodd-Frank in order to address the availability of electronic consumer financial account data. The Bureau is currently reviewing comments received in response to an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) issued fall 2020 regarding consumer data access (covered by InfoBytes here). Additionally, the Bureau stated it is monitoring the market to consider potential next steps, “including whether a Small Business Review Panel is required pursuant to the Regulatory Flexibility Act.”
- Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Financing. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau published an ANPR in March 2019 seeking feedback on the unique features of PACE financing and the general implications of regulating PACE financing under TILA (as required by Section 307 of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, which amended TILA to mandate that the Bureau issue certain regulations relating to PACE financing). The Bureau noted that it continues “to engage with stakeholders and collect information for the rulemaking, including by pursuing quantitative data on the effect of PACE on consumers’ financial outcomes.”
- Automated Valuation Models (AVM). Interagency rulemaking is currently being pursued by the Bureau, Federal Reserve Board, OCC, FDIC, NCUA, and FHFA to develop regulations for AVM quality control standards as required by Dodd-Frank amendments to FIRREA. The standards are designed to, among other things, “ensure a high level of confidence in the estimates produced by the valuation models, protect against the manipulation of data, seek to avoid conflicts of interest, require random sample testing and reviews,” and account for any other appropriate factors. An NPRM is anticipated for June 2022.
- Amendments to Regulation Z to Facilitate LIBOR Transition. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau issued a final rule on December 7 to facilitate the transition from LIBOR for consumer financial products, including “adjustable-rate mortgages, credit cards, student loans, reverse mortgages, [and] home equity lines of credit,” among others. The final rule amended Regulation Z, which implements TILA, to generally address LIBOR’s eventual cessation for most U.S. dollar settings in June 2023, and establish requirements for how creditors must select replacement indices for existing LIBOR-linked consumer loans. The final rule generally takes effect April 1, 2022.
- Reviewing Existing Regulations. The Bureau noted in its announcement that it decided to conduct an assessment of a rule implementing HMDA (most of which took effect January 2018), and referred to a notice and request for comments issued last month (covered by InfoBytes here), which solicited public comments on its plans to assess the effectiveness of the HMDA Rule. Additionally, the Bureau stated that it finished a review of Regulation Z rules implementing the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, and that “[a]fter considering the statutory review factors and public comments,” it “determined that the CARD Act rules should continue without change.”
Notably, there are 14 rulemaking activities that are listed as inactive on the fall 2021 agenda, including rulemakings on overdraft services, consumer reporting, student loan servicing, Regulation E modernization, abusive acts and practices, loan originator compensation, and TILA/RESPA mortgage disclosure integration.
On November 23, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey granted a national bank’s motion to compel arbitration in an action concerning the bank’s alleged mishandling of Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) loan applications. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit claiming the bank’s PPP loan disbursement process allegedly favored wealthy clients over smaller, less wealthy clients to maximize the bank’s origination fees. The plaintiff alleged that because the bank did not process applications on a “first-come, first-served” basis, the plaintiff did not receive its PPP loan in a timely manner. The bank moved to compel arbitration, “arguing that questions of arbitrability are for the arbitrator to decide in the first instance.” The plaintiff argued that the arbitration clauses in the bank’s agreements applied only to disputes regarding bank deposit accounts, and not to other financial products such as PPP loans. The court stayed the case and granted the bank’s motion to compel arbitration, noting that the bank’s deposit account agreement and online services agreement both include arbitration clauses. These clauses, the court stated, are “clear evidence” that the bank intended an arbitrator to decide questions related to scope. “Accordingly, Plaintiff must bring its claim before the arbitrator in the first instance, even if it contests the scope of arbitrability,” the court wrote.
On November 24, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California dismissed, with prejudice, a putative class action alleging that a nonbank lender prioritized high-dollar Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan applicants. The plaintiff’s complaint—which alleged claims of fraudulent concealment, fraudulent deceit, unfair business practices, and false advertising—claimed, among other things, that the lender (i) was not licensed to make loans in California when she applied; (ii) did not have adequate funding to make the loans; and (iii) advertised it would process loan requests on a first-come, first-served basis, but actually prioritized favored customers and higher-value loans that yielded higher lending fees. The court granted the lender’s motion to dismiss. According to the court, the plaintiff’s allegation that the parties were “transacting business in order to enter into a contractual, borrower-lender relationship” was not supported by any facts, and that while the plaintiff claimed she submitted a PPP loan application to the lender, a confirmation e-mail from the lender did not mention a submitted application—only a loan request. “This court cannot, therefore, assume the truth of Plaintiff’s allegation that she submitted a loan application, let alone her conclusory allegation that the parties entered into a borrower-lender relationship or engaged in any other transaction,” the court stated. The court also determined that the plaintiff’s fraudulent deceit claim failed because her allegation, made on information and belief, that the lender prioritized large loans had no factual foundation, and the plaintiff failed to plead the elements of that claim.
On November 22, the CFPB filed its seventh status report in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California as required under a stipulated settlement reached in February 2020 with a group of plaintiffs, including the California Reinvestment Coalition, related to the collection of small business lending data. The settlement (covered by InfoBytes here) resolved a 2019 lawsuit that sought an order compelling the Bureau to issue a final rule implementing Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires the Bureau to collect and disclose data on lending to women and minority-owned small businesses. The newest status report states that the Bureau has met its deadlines under the stipulated settlement, which included issuing its long-awaited proposed rule (NPRM) in September. As covered by a Buckley Special Alert, the NPRM would require a broad swath of lenders to collect data on loans they make to small businesses, including information about the loans themselves, the characteristics of the borrower, and demographic information regarding the borrower’s principal owners. This information would be reported annually to the Bureau and published by the Bureau on its website. Comments on the NPRM are due January 6, 2022. Among other things, the Bureau notes in its status report that once the Section 1071 NPRM comment period concludes, it will meet and confer with plaintiffs to discuss an “appropriate deadline” for issuing the final rule, consistent with the stipulated settlement.
Find continuing Section 1071 coverage here.
On November 19, the Small Business Administration (SBA) announced updated guidance for Covid-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program applicants while funding remains available. The updated guidance provided that (i) the deadline to submit EIDL loans and targeted advance applications will be December 31 (loans will continued to be processed after this date until funds are depleted); (ii) supplemental targeted advance applications will also be accepted through December 31, however SBA noted that it may not be able to process applications submitted near the deadline due to legal requirements (SBA encouraged applicants to apply by December 10 to allow for adequate processing time); (iii) borrowers may request increases “up to their maximum eligible loan amount for up to two years after their loan origination date, or until the funds are exhausted, whichever is soonest”; and (iv) appeal requests for Covid-19 EIDL applications that are received on or before December 31 will be accepted and reviewed provided they are received within the regulation’s timeframes (i.e., “six months from the date of decline for reconsiderations and 30 days from the date of reconsideration decline for appeals—unless funding is no longer available”). SBA further directed applicants to review enhancements made to the EIDL program in September.
On November 5, CFPB Deputy Director Zixta Martinez spoke before the Bureau’s Academic Research Council (ARC) meeting, in which she discussed recent research efforts taken to inform future rulemaking and identify root causes of challenges facing consumers. Martinez highlighted Section 1022 orders recently sent to several big tech payment platforms seeking information on their products, plans, and practices (covered by InfoBytes here). She noted that the evaluation of these companies’ payments platform data will help inform the Bureau on the future of the payments system as well as potential emerging risks, and will provide insights that may impact future rulemaking under Section 1033 concerning the disclosure of consumer data by regulated entities. Among other things, Martinez also discussed the importance of small business lending research to better understand whether these businesses provide fair and equitable access to credit and referred to the Bureau’s Section 1071 notice of proposed rulemaking issued in September (covered by a Buckley Special Alert). Martinez also noted that one of the Bureau’s priorities is ensuring access to fair and affordable credit for low-income, minority, or traditionally underserved communities, and said the Office of Research will solicit “suggestions and advice for ways to integrate racial and economic equity analyses into the CFPB’s research agenda.”
On October 27, newly sworn in CFPB Director Rohit Chopra appeared for the first time before the House Financial Services Committee to offer some of the first insights into his priorities at the Bureau. Chopra’s opening remarks focused on concerns regarding “Big Tech” and its control over the flow of money in the economy (these comments followed the issuance of information requests to six technology companies, covered by InfoBytes here). Chopra also focused on a need to ensure robust competition in financial markets and listen to local financial institutions and nascent players about obstacles they face when seeking to challenge dominant incumbents. Chopra also stressed the importance of holding “repeat offenders” accountable, highlighted an intent to coordinate efforts with federal and state regulators, and indicated a preference for scrutinizing larger market participants over smaller entities. He noted, however, potential leniency for companies that self-identify their own issues and violations. Additional highlights of the hearing include the following:
Enforcement. Chopra noted that “markets work well when rules are easy to follow and easy to enforce.” He also expressed his view that the CFPB should focus its resources on larger industry participants and “repeat offenders” rather than “strong-arming” small businesses into settlements to create law. Chopra also expressed a preference for setting regulatory guidelines through enforcement, indicating that “markets work well when rules are easy to follow, and easy to enforce.”
Section 1033 of Dodd-Frank. With respect to implementing this set of requirements, which deals with consumers’ rights to access information about their financial accounts, Chopra indicated a desire to “unlock more competition,” but warned that there also needs to be assurance that “banks and nonbanks are operating under the same set of rules” and that there is “not regulatory arbitrage.” While Chopra did not specify a timeline for promulgating the final rule implementing this section, he noted that the process is underway and that the Bureau is consulting with various experts. (Issuance of the ANPR was covered by InfoBytes here.)
Abusive acts and practices. Chopra said that he agreed with former acting Director Dave Uejio’s decision to rescind a policy statement on “abusive” conduct issued by former Director Kathy Kraninger. Chopra stated he has “huge aspirations to create durable jurisprudence” regarding the definition of “abusive” in Dodd-Frank. He noted that “it could be a mix” of judicial decisions and “how the CFPB may use rules and guidance to help articulate those standards.”
Cryptocurrency and stablecoins. Chopra expressed concerns about the potential for big payment platforms to process stablecoins—cryptocurrencies pegged to stable commodities or currencies like the dollar. However, Chopra clarified that it is not his intention to use his regulatory authority to ban or limit the use of cryptocurrency or blockchain technology. Regarding the CFPB’s role in cryptocurrency, Chopra claimed that depending on the laws implicated, there is a “fact-based determination as to any sort of law that cryptocurrencies or digital currencies have to comply with.” He further described that this is “something that the CFPB is working with the other regulators on,” and emphasized that “where digital payments [are] involved, the Electronic Fund Transfer Act is a key law with key consumer protections.”
QM Rule. When asked about the postponement of the mandatory compliance date of the General Qualified Mortgage final rule to October 2022 (covered by InfoBytes here), Chopra said he is eager “to hear of places where it needs to be changed” but emphasized that the postponement was before his time and that the rule has gone into effect. He also stated that “QM is a key part of the mortgage market and the mortgage regulatory guidelines.” Therefore, he wants to ensure that the CFPB is always looking at it to make sure the objectives that Congress laid forward in Dodd-Frank are being carried out. When asked about his support of the proposed change in the QM rule, Chopra said he did not know but wants “to make sure he understands the full basis of it.”
Chopra echoed such sentiments in his October 28 testimony before the Senate Banking Committee.
- Buckley Webcast: Privacy and cybersecurity outlook for 2022
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Be Your Compliance Best in 2022” at the California Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- Hank Asbill to discuss white collar ethics issues at the Stetson Law Review Symposium
- Lauren R. Randell to discuss “Significant legal developments in the Northeast” at the 37th Annual National Institute on White Collar Crime
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Small business & regulation: How fair lending has evolved & where it is heading?” at the Consumer Bankers Association Live program
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Regulators always ring twice: Responding to a government request” at ALM Legalweek
- Max Bonici to discuss “Fintech-bank partnerships and potential enforcement” at the 2022 ABA Spring Meetings
- Jonice Gray Tucker and Kari Hall to discuss “Equity, equality, regulation and enforcement – The evolving regulatory landscape of fair lending, redlining, and UDAAP” at the ABA Business Law Committee Hybrid Spring Meeting