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On February 6, CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger testified at a House Financial Services Committee hearing on the CFPB’s Semi-Annual Report to Congress. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The hearing covered the semi-annual report to Congress on the Bureau’s work from April 1, 2019, through September 30, 2019. In her opening remarks, Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters argued, among other things, that the Bureau’s recent policy statement on the “abusiveness” standard in supervision and enforcement matters “undercuts” Dodd-Frank’s prohibition on unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices. Waters also challenged Kraninger on her support for the joint notice of proposed rulemaking issued by the OCC and FDIC to strengthen and modernize Community Reinvestment Act regulations (covered by a Buckley Special Alert), arguing that the proposal would lead to disinvestment in communities, while emphasizing that Kraninger’s actions have not demonstrated the Bureau’s responsibility to meaningfully protect consumers. However, in her opening statement and written testimony, Kraninger highlighted several actions recently taken by the Bureau to protect consumers, and emphasized the Bureau’s commitment to preventing harm by “building a culture of compliance throughout the financial system while supporting free and competitive markets that provide for informed consumer choice.”
Additional highlights of Kraninger’s testimony include:
- Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with the Department of Education (Department). Kraninger discussed the recently announced information sharing agreement (covered by InfoBytes here) between the Bureau and the Department, intended to protect student borrowers by clarifying the roles and responsibilities for each agency and permitting the sharing of student loan complaint data analysis, recommendations, and data analytic tools. Kraninger stated that the MOU will give the Department the same near real-time access to the Bureau’s complaint database enjoyed by other government partners, and also told the Committee that the Bureau and Department are currently discussing a second supervisory MOU.
- Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans. Kraninger told the Committee that a rewrite of the payday lending rule—which will eliminate requirements for lenders to assess a borrower’s ability to repay loans—is expected in April. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Kraninger noted that the Bureau is currently reviewing an “extensive number of comments” and plans to address a petition on the rule’s payments provision. “[F]inancial institutions have argued that there were some products pulled into that that were, you know, unintended,” she stated. “[W]orking through all of that and. . .moving forward in a way that is transparent in. . .April is what I am planning to do.”
- Ability-to-Repay and Qualified Mortgages (QM). Kraninger discussed the Bureau’s advanced notice of proposed rulemaking that would modify the QM Rule by moving away from the 43 percent debt to income ratio requirement and adopt an alternative such as a pricing threshold to ensure responsible, affordable mortgage credit is available to consumers. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) She stated that the Bureau would welcome legislation from Congress in this area.
- Supervision and Enforcement. Kraninger repeatedly emphasized that supervision is an important tool for the Bureau, and stated in her written testimony that during the reporting period discussed, “the Bureau’s Fair Lending Supervision program initiated 16 supervisory events at financial services institutions under the Bureau’s jurisdiction to determine compliance with federal laws intended to ensure the fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory access to credit for both individuals and communities, including the Equal Credit Opportunity Act  and HMDA.” In addition to discussing recent enforcement actions, Kraninger also highlighted three innovation policies: the Trial Disclosure Program Policy, No-Action Letter Policy, and the Compliance Assistance Sandbox Policy. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
- Military Lending Act (MLA). Kraninger reiterated her position that she does not believe Dodd-Frank gives the Bureau the authority to supervise financial institutions for military lending compliance, and repeated her request for Congress to grant the Bureau clear authority to do so. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Congressman Barr (R-KY) noted that while he introduced H.R. 442 last month in response to Kraninger’s request, the majority has denied the mark up.
- UDAAP. Kraninger fielded a number of questions on the Bureau’s recent abusiveness policy statement. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Several Democrats told Kraninger the new policy will put unnecessary constraints on the Bureau’s enforcement powers, while some Republicans said the policy fails to define what constitutes an abusive act or practice. Kraninger informed the Committee that the policy statement is intended to “clarify abusiveness and separate it from deceptive and unfairness because Congress explicitly gave us those three authorities.” Kraninger reiterated that the Bureau will seek monetary relief only when the entity has failed to make a good faith effort to comply, and that “[r]estitution for consumers will be the priority in these cases.” She further emphasized that “in no way should that policy be read to say that we would not bring abusiveness claims.” Congresswoman Maloney (D-NY) argued, however, that a 2016 fine issued against a national bank for allegedly unfair and abusive conduct tied to the bank’s incentive compensation sales practices “would have been substantially lower if the [B]ureau hadn’t charged [the bank] with abus[ive] conduct also.” Kraninger replied that the Bureau could have gotten “the same amount of restitution and other penalties associated with unfairness alone.”
- Constitutionality Challenge. Kraninger reiterated that while she agrees with Seila Law on the Bureau’s single-director leadership structure, she differs on how the matter should be resolved. “Congress obviously provided a clear mission for this agency but there are some questions around. . .this and I want the uncertainty to be resolved,” Kraninger testified. “Congress will have the opportunity to make any changes or respond to that and I think that’s appropriate,” she continued. “I would very much like to see a resolution on this question because it has hampered the CFPB’s ability to carry out its mission, virtually since its inception.” (Continuing InfoBytes coverage on Seila Law LLC v. CFPB here.)
On February 3, the CFPB and the Department of Education (Department) announced a new agreement to share student loan complaint data. (See press releases here and here.) The newly signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is the first information sharing agreement between the agencies since the Department terminated two MOUs in 2017. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Department cancelled the “Memorandum of Understanding Between the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection and the U.S. Department of Education Concerning the Sharing of Information” and the “Memorandum of Understanding Concerning Supervisory and Oversight Cooperation and Related Information Sharing Between the U.S. Department of Education and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,” and at the time rebuked the Bureau for overreaching and undermining the Department’s mission to serve students and borrowers.
The new MOU clarifies the roles and responsibilities for each agency and permits the sharing of student loan complaint data analysis and other information and recommendations. Among other responsibilities, the Department will direct complaints related to private loans governed by TILA to the Bureau, and both agencies will discuss complaints regarding federal student loans with program issues that may have an impact on federal consumer financial laws. The agencies will also conduct quarterly meetings to discuss complaint observations and borrower characteristics, as well as complaint resolution information when available. Additionally, the MOU addresses permissible uses and confidentiality of exchanged information and the development of tools for sharing data analytics.
The MOU was released a few days after Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) sent a letter to CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger expressing frustration with the Bureau’s oversight of federal student loan servicers and delay in reestablishing an MOU with the Department that would allow the Bureau to resume examining federal student loan servicers.
On July 18, Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) sent a letter to CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger and U.S. Department of Education (Department) Secretary Betsy DeVos requesting an explanation as to why a statutorily required Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) terminated by the Department in 2017 has not been reestablished. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the terminated MOU allowed the sharing of information connected with the oversight of federal student loans. The Senators’ letter raises questions concerning the disagreement between the agencies over why the MOU was terminated, as well as “conflicting explanations” provided to Congress regarding the delay in reestablishing the MOU. According to the Senators, Kraninger previously commented in April that creating a new MOU with the Department was a priority for the Bureau (see InfoBytes coverage here). However, the Senators note that this statement conflicts with formal responses from the Department for a hearing record received three weeks after Kraninger’s comments, in which the Department claimed the Bureau “has not formally attempted to reestablish an MOU.” The Senators asked the agencies to provide a written explanation addressing (i) the basis for terminating the MOU; (ii) whether an attempt to reestablish the MOU has been made; (iii) any outstanding unresolved issues preventing reestablishment of the MOU; and (iv) an expected timeline for reestablishing the MOU. The Senators strongly encouraged the agencies “to reestablish the MOU immediately.”
On March 20, the CFPB and the FTC released (here and here) their annual report to Congress on the administration of the FDCPA, which highlights the 2018 efforts of the agencies. The agencies coordinate in enforcement; share supervisory and consumer complaint information; and collaborate on education under a memorandum of understanding that was reauthorized in February. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) In the report, the Bureau acknowledges its intent to release a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on debt collection covering issues such as “communication practices and consumer disclosures” in spring 2019. In addition to highlighting the Bureau’s debt collection education efforts, the report also states that in 2018 the Bureau (i) received approximately 81,500 debt collection complaints related to first-party and third-party collections; (ii) initiated six public enforcement actions alleging violations of the FDCPA, one resulting in an $800,000 civil money penalty; and (iii) identified one or more violations of the FDCPA through supervisory examinations.
As for the FTC, in addition to education efforts, the report states that in 2018 the agency (i) initiated or resolved seven enforcement actions, three of which were related to phantom debt collection, obtaining more than $58.9 million in judgments; (ii) returned money to thousands of consumers who were targeted by phantom debt collection operations; and (iii) banned 32 companies and individuals from working in the debt collection market.
On February 26, the FTC announced its coordination with the CFPB to reauthorize their memorandum of understanding (MOU), which outlines the two agencies’ cooperation under the Consumer Financial Protection Act to prevent duplication of efforts and ensure consistency. The interagency agreement outlines processes for, among other things, coordinated law enforcement activities; consultation on rulemaking activities, including rulemaking regarding prohibitions on unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts or practices; and coordinated sharing of supervisory and examination information, strategic and operational planning, consumer complaint information, and consumer education efforts. The MOU also addresses provisions related to information sharing and claims of confidentiality.
CFTC, NASAA enter cryptocurrency, fraud information sharing partnership; CFTC releases virtual currency derivative guidance
On May 21, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced it had signed a mutual cooperation agreement with the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) to increase cooperation and information sharing on cryptocurrencies and other potential market fraud. The memorandum of understanding (MOU) is designed to “assist participants in enforcing the Commodity Exchange Act, which state securities regulators and state attorneys general are statutorily authorized to do alongside the CFTC,” leading to the possibility of additional enforcement actions brought under other areas of law. In order to receive the benefits—including investigative leads, whistleblower tips, complaints, and referrals provided to NASAA members by the CFTC—individual jurisdictions will be required to sign the MOU.
The same day, the CFTC’s Division of Market Oversight and Division of Clearing and Risk (DCR) issued a joint staff advisory providing guidance on several enhancements to which CFTC-registered exchanges and clearinghouses should adhere when listing derivatives contracts based on virtual currencies. The advisory addresses the following five key areas for market participants: (i) “[e]nhanced market surveillance”; (ii) “[c]lose coordination with CFTC staff’; (iii) “[l]arge trader reporting”; (iv) “[o]utreach to member and market participants”; and (v) “Derivatives Clearing Organization risk management and governance.” According to the DCR director, the information provided is intended in part, “to aid market participants in their efforts to design risk management programs that address the new risks imposed by virtual currency products . . . [and] to help ensure that market participants follow appropriate governance processes with respect to the launch of these products.”
Department of Education Terminates Student Loan Sharing Agreements with CFPB, Announces Expanded Focus on Enforcement and Consumer Protection
On August 31, the U.S. Department of Education submitted a letter notifying the CFPB that it intends to terminate two Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) between the agencies regarding the sharing of information in connection with the oversight of federal student loans. The MOUs that will terminate on September 30, 2017, are the “Memorandum of Understanding Between the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection and the U.S. Department of Education Concerning the Sharing of Information” (Sharing MOU), dated October 19, 2011, and the “Memorandum of Understanding Concerning Supervisory and Oversight Cooperation and Related Information Sharing Between the U.S. Department of Education and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,” dated January 9, 2014.
The letter rebukes the CFPB for overreaching and undermining the Education Department’s mission to serve students and borrowers, and states that it “takes exception to the CFPB unilaterally expanding its oversight role to include the Department's contracted federal student loan servicers.” The letter also accuses the CFPB of failing to share all complaints related to Title IV federal student loans within 10 days of receipt as required by the MOUs, and that the Bureau’s intervention in these cases “adds confusion to borrowers and servicers who now hear conflicting guidance related to Title IV student loan services for which the Department is responsible.”
In a press release issued by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on September 1, Representative Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) praised the Department’s decision stating, “[t]he Department of Education has made it clear that its partnership with the CFPB is doing more harm than good when it comes to how it can best serve students and borrowers.” However, advocacy groups such as Americans for Financial Reform and the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) criticized the Department’s decision, with the NCLC calling it “outrageous and deeply troubling” and refuting the Department’s claims that the CFPB “’unilaterally’ expanded its oversight role over servicers and collectors of federal student loans.” Instead it argued that the Department’s “failures are what led Congress to give the CFPB authority to help students.”
On the same day, the Education Department issued a press release announcing “a stronger approach to how Federal Student Aid (FSA) enforces compliance by institutions participating in the Federal student aid programs by creating stronger consumer protections for students, parents and borrowers against ‘bad actors.’” The strategy will focus on illegitimate debt relief organizations and schools that defraud students, and FSA will engage in “comprehensive communications and executive outreach to ensure parties and their leadership understand their responsibilities, the consequences of non-compliance and appropriate remedies.” The CFPB was notably absent, however, from the release’s reference to FSA’s continued stakeholder coordination, which listed the FTC and the DOJ.
On September 7, the CFPB responded to the CFPB’s letter to request time to “engage in a constructive conversation” with the Department to determine a path for continued collaboration to best serve the needs of student loan borrowers. Director Richard Cordray noted that because the Department has access to the CFPB’s Government Portal as part of the agencies’ arrangement, the Department is able to view borrower complaints in “near real-time.” According to Director Cordray, the Department has accessed the portal 80 times over the past three months. Several examples of the Bureau’s supervisory examinations are also provided to highlight the CFPB’s position that its actions have not been “inconsistent with the Department’s directives or [in conflict with the] shared goal of protecting student loan borrowers.”
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