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On April 7, CFPB Director Rohit Chopra expressed concerns that “contracts written by the major core services providers are making it harder for local financial institutions to switch providers or use add-ons from outside technology providers.” In remarks to the CFPB’s Community Bank and Credit Union Advisory Councils, Chopra discussed downstream effects created by the heavily consolidated core services provider market on relationship banking and consumers. Chopra explained that these contracts “come with costly and unnecessary extra non-core banking services, longer contract periods, and stiff penalties and fees for ending contracts early or making other contract changes,” discourage smaller financial institutions from quickly adapting their own products and services to fit within the ever-evolving banking tech landscape, and overall make it more difficult for smaller financial institutions to compete with larger companies. Chopra announced that Bureau staff will work with core service providers and other federal agencies to examine the concentrated core platform marketplace’s impact on consumers and banks, and respond to questions related to banks’ collective bargaining on core services’ contracts. The Bureau also plans to collaborate with other agencies to examine third-party service providers and the potential referral of complaints.
On February 17, the FDIC released its 2021 Annual Report, providing an overview of the agency’s goals and agenda over the past year, and describing the financial health of the agency, its funds, and insured financial institutions. The report highlighted areas of focus for the FDIC over the past year, such as:
- Financial inclusion. According to the report, the FDIC “has seen meaningful improvements in recent years in reaching the ‘last mile’ of unbanked households in this country. Based on the results of our biennial survey of households, the proportion of U.S. households that were banked in 2019 – 94.6 percent – was the highest since the survey began in 2009.” The report noted several FDIC-led initiatives related to inclusive banking. In June 2021, the FDIC’s technology lab, FDiTech, announced a tech sprint, Breaking Down Barriers: Reaching the Last Mile of Unbanked U.S. Households, which challenged participants to “explore new technologies and techniques that would help expand the capabilities of banks to meet the needs of unbanked individuals and households.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The FDIC also expanded its #GetBanked public awareness campaign into the Los Angeles, Dallas, and Detroit metropolitan areas in continuation of the agency’s efforts to increase financial inclusion to the unbanked population. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
- Mission-Driven Banks. According to the report, the FDIC increased Minority Depository Institutions (MDI) representation on the agency’s Community Bank Advisory Committee (CBAC), which “established a new MDI subcommittee of the CBAC to highlight the work of MDIs in their communities and to provide a platform for MDIs to exchange best practices, and enabled MDIs to review potential purchases of a failing MDI before non-MDI institutions are given this opportunity.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, these efforts were incorporated in a Statement of Policy.
- Competitiveness of Community Banking. According to the report, the FDIC held a “rapid phased prototyping competition” where more than 30 technology firms were invited to participate in the competition "to develop tools for providing more timely and granular data to the FDIC on the health of the banking sector while also making such reporting less burdensome for banks. Of those 30 firms, we asked four participants to move forward in the competition by proposing a proof of concept for their technologies – either independently or jointly.” The FDIC also facilitated the development of “a public/private standard-development organization to establish standards for due diligence of vendors and for the technologies they develop.”
- Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF). According to the report, the DIF balance increased to a record $123.1 billion in 2021–a $5.2 billion increase from the year-end 2020 balance. No insured financial institutions failed in 2021 and “contingent liability for anticipated failures declined to $20.8 million as of December 31, 2021, compared to $78.9 million as of December 31, 2020.”
On January 21, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) issued a statement presenting the results of the final phase of its Examination Modernization Project. The project, which was initiated to identify and assess measures to improve the community bank safety and soundness examination process, sought feedback on examination processes from select supervised institutions and examiners. FFIEC released previous project updates, which focused on meaningful supervisory burden reduction and tailoring examination plans and procedures based on risk (covered by InfoBytes here). The final phase addressed feedback related to examination requests and authentication requirements for FFIEC members’ supervision systems. Identified best practices include that: (i) information requests should be risk-focused and relevant to an examination; (ii) supervised institutions should be allowed sufficient time to produce requested information; (iii) examiners should coordinate information requests among the exam team to avoid duplication and redundancy; (iv) requests should be made through an institution’s designated regulatory examination point-of-contact; and (v) requests should be clearly articulated in writing. With respect to feedback received related to authentication requirements, FFIEC noted that its Task Force on Supervision has approved a common authentication solution to allow member agencies and supervised institutions “to securely authenticate to supervision systems, while eliminating the need for multiple credentials to access regulator systems.”
On December 21, the Federal Reserve Board, the OCC, and the FDIC released an interagency statement regarding the optional community bank leverage ratio (CBLR) framework. According to the announcement, temporary relief measures affecting the framework are set to expire on December 31, 2021, and the CBLR requirement will revert to greater than 9 percent, as established under the 2019 final rule, starting January 1, 2022. The announcement further noted that “[t]he community bank leverage ratio framework includes a two-quarter grace period that allows a qualifying community bank to continue reporting under the framework and be considered ‘well capitalized’ as long as its leverage ratio falls no more than 1 percentage point below the applicable community bank leverage ratio requirement.” Other highlights of the announcement include, among other things: (i) if a banking organization elects the CBLR framework when submitting its March 31, 2022 Call Report, it will be subject to the greater than 9 percent CBLR requirement and must utilize total consolidated assets as of the report date to determine eligibility; and (ii) starting January 1, 2022, “a banking organization in the CBLR framework must report a leverage ratio greater than 8 percent to use the two-quarter grace period.”
On December 6, the OCC reported in its Semiannual Risk Perspective for Fall 2021 the key issues facing national banks and federal savings associations and the effects of Covid-19 on the federal banking industry. The agency reported that although banks showed resilience in the current environment with satisfactory credit quality and strong earnings, weak loan demand and low net interest margins continue to affect performance.
The OCC identified elevated operational risk as banks continue to face increasingly complex cyberattacks, pointing to an increase in ransomware attacks across financial services. While innovation and technological advances can help counter such risks, the OCC warned they also come with additional concerns given the expansion of remote financial services offered through personally owned computers and mobile devices, remote work options due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the reliance on third-party providers and cloud-based environments. “The adoption of innovative technologies to facilitate financial services can offer many benefits to both banks and their customers,” the report stated. “However, innovation may present risks. Risk management and control environments should keep pace with innovation and emerging trends and a comprehensive understanding of risk should be achieved to preserve effective controls. Examiners will continue to assess how banks are managing risks related to changes in operating environments driven by innovative products, services, and delivery channels.”
The report calls on banks to “adopt robust threat and vulnerability monitoring processes and implement stringent and adaptive security measures such as multi-factor authentication or equivalent controls” to mitigate against cyber risks, adding that critical systems and records must be backed up and stored in “immutable formats that are isolated from ransomware or other destructive malware attacks.”
The report further highlighted heightened compliance risks associated with the changing environment where banks serve consumers in the end stages of various assistance programs, such as the CARES Act’s PPP program and federal, state, and bank-initiated forbearance and deferred payment programs, which create “increased compliance responsibilities, high transaction volumes, and new types of fraud.”
The report also discussed credit risks, strategic risk challenges facing community banks, and climate-related financial risks. The OCC stated it intends to request comments on its yet-to-be-published climate risk management framework for large banks (covered by InfoBytes here) and will “develop more detailed expectations by risk area” in 2022.
On October 22, the FDIC adopted a final rule amending the Interagency Guidelines for Real Estate Lending Policies to include consideration of the capital framework established in the community bank leverage ratio (CBLR) rule into the method of calculating the ratio of loans in excess of the supervisory loan-to-value limits (LTV limits), which applies to all FDIC-supervised financial institutions. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FDIC issued the proposed rule to amend the Interagency Guidelines for Real Estate Lending Policies in June by proposing to establish supervisory LTV criteria for certain real estate lending transaction types and allowing exceptions to the supervisory LTV limits. Among other things, the final rule: (i) “revises the Appendix so that all FDIC-supervised institutions calculate the ratio of loans in excess of the supervisory LTV limits using tier 1 capital plus the appropriate allowance for credit losses in the denominator, regardless of an institution’s CBLR election status”; and (ii) “provides a consistent approach for calculating the ratio of loans in excess of the supervisory LTV limits at all FDIC-supervised institutions,” and “would approximate the historical methodology . . . for calculating the ratio of loans in excess of the supervisory LTV limits.” The final rule is effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On October 22, Federal Reserve Governor Michelle W. Bowman spoke at the 2021 Community Bankers Symposium: Banking on the Future regarding why there have been so few de novo bank formations over the last decade and what can be done to encourage more de novo banks. Bowman discussed “the importance of community banks,” noting that they “provide critical financial services to their communities and to many customers who might have limited geographic access to banking services.” She pointed out that community banking has been declining in both rural and urban communities due in part to an increased need to hire experienced staff, which is challenging to attract and retain. To encourage more de novo banks, Bowman stated it is “crucial to provide a balanced, transparent, and effective regulatory framework that promotes a vibrant community bank sector.” She also emphasized that policymakers should “appropriately refine the regulatory and supervisory framework to minimize unnecessary compliance costs for smaller banks and address impediments to bank formations.”
On September 29, Federal Reserve Governor Michelle W. Bowman spoke at the Community Banking in the 21st Century Research and Policy Conference held in St. Louis, Missouri on creating a new model for the future of supervision in banking. Bowman stated that the Fed has “actively explored ways to reduce regulatory burden and provide greater transparency into the work of bank supervisors,” including a reassessment of disproportionate regulatory burdens on small institutions. Bowman noted there was a systematic movement to FDIC-insured deposits in state or nationally chartered banks during the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, total deposits at all FDIC-insured institutions increased by 22 percent in comparison to deposit data from 2019 to 2020, and small business lending increased significantly. Bowman pointed out that community banks played a large role in allocating credit through the Paycheck Protection Program during the pandemic. She also discussed ways the Fed has evolved since the start of the pandemic, such as utilizing technology that enabled the opportunity to remotely supervise the safety and soundness of institutions and adjusting supervisory practices, among other things.
For the future of supervision, Bowman announced an initiative to investigate the implications of banking evolutions for the Fed’s supervision function, which will ensure the Fed’s supervisory approaches “accommodate a much broader range of activities” while also ensuring it does not “create an unlevel playing field with unfair advantages, or unfair disadvantages, for some types of firms versus others.” Bowman said that when there is significant uncertainty around a new regulation, supervisory expectation, or practice, the Fed “will look beyond [its] traditional communications tools to find innovative ways to reduce that uncertainty.” She also shared some underlying principles, among other things, that she believes will guide future supervisory approaches, such as (i) committing to preserving the stability, integrity, functionality, and diversity of the banking system; (ii) maintaining consumer protection and ensuring banks can safely offer financial products and services; (iii) avoiding adding new burdens on banks; (iv) enhancing transparency around supervisory expectations for safety and soundness and consumer compliance matters; (v) providing timelier feedback to banks; and (vi) having the ability to adjust supervisory expectations effectively and efficiently to enable banks to be more flexible in serving different communities.
On September 24, the FDIC released the second quarter 2021 Quarterly Banking Profile for FDIC-insured institutions, reporting an aggregate net income of $70.4 billion in the second quarter 2021, which is an increase of $51.9 billion (281 percent) from the same quarter a year ago. The FDIC emphasized, among other things, that community banks reported year-over-year quarterly net income growth of $1.9 billion (28.7 percent) in second quarter 2021, despite a narrower net interest margin. In addition, the FDIC noted that the Deposit Insurance Fund totaled $120.5 billion at the end of second quarter 2021, an increase of $1.2 billion from the previous quarter. The featured article, The Importance of Technology Investments for Community Bank Lending and Deposit Taking During the Pandemic, reported that community banks that invested more in technology generally noted quicker loan and deposit growth in 2020 than banks with less technology investment did. Faster loan growth for community banks with greater technology investment stemmed from participation in the Paycheck Protection Program, according to the article.
On September 9, the Federal Reserve Board published a paper describing the landscape of community banks and fintech partnerships. The paper, Community Bank Access to Innovation through Partnerships, is not guidance but is intended to promote and support “responsible innovation” through access and understanding to financial technology, as well as appropriate third-party risk management and compliance guardrails. The paper follows interagency guidance released last month by the Fed, OCC, and FDIC, which addressed several key due diligence topics for community banks considering relationships with prospective fintech companies, as well as interagency proposed guidance on third party risk management—signals of the regulators’ continued and increased focus on third-party relationships. (Covered by InfoBytes here and here.) The paper provides anecdotal observations shared with the Fed by outreach participants and discusses the benefits and risks of different broad partnership types (operational technology partnerships, customer-oriented partnerships, and front-end fintech partnerships), and key considerations for engaging in such partnerships. According to the report, outreach participants presented a general belief that “fintech partnerships were most effective when three elements were present: a commitment to innovation across the community bank; alignment of priorities and objectives of the community bank and its fintech partner; and a thoughtful approach to establishing technical connections between key parties, including the bank, fintech, and the bank’s core services provider.”
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "State licensing and NMLS challenges" at MBA’s Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Fair lending and equal opportunity laws” at the MBA Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss “Contemplating the boundaries of UDAAP” at the MBA Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Steven vonBerg to speak at closing “super session“ on compliance topics at MBA Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Buckley Webcast: Fifth Circuit muddles CFPB’s plans to use in-house judges in enforcement proceedings
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss “Understanding the ESG impact on compliance” at the ABA’s Regulatory Compliance Conference