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On September 22, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing entitled “Annual Oversight of the Nation’s Largest Banks” where chief executive officers from the seven largest U.S. retail banks testified on bank activities related to topics including peer-to-peer (P2P) payment networks; mortgage practices; overdraft fees; forced arbitration; and environmental, social, and governance agendas. Among other things, senators pushed the CEOs to take more aggressive action to eliminate overdraft fees and compensate P2P payment fraud victims.
- Overdraft fees. Democratic senators stressed that charges still fall too heavily on low-income and minority customers, with Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) saying that there is “no reasonable explanation to continue to charge overdraft fees on working families.” The CEOs discussed their respective efforts to relax overdraft policies to reduce fees, with one CEO noting that “there are a lot of occasions where if [overdraft protection] is not used, [customers] would be charged a higher fee on the other side.” These fees, he noted, “can often reduce the cost on the other side and stop them from going to payday lenders.” Another CEO added that he believes “giving people a choice and letting them opt in or out is the proper thing to do.” One bank CEO noted that his bank offers two accounts with no fees and provides customers the opportunity to choose in the moment if they want to return or pay for an item.
- P2P platforms. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) asked the CEOs if they would give customers their money back if they are defrauded on a certain P2P platform and complain to the bank. The CEOs emphasized that their banks currently reimburse customers for fraud and “unauthorized transactions” and are taking measures to reduce the incidence of fraud, including educating consumers on how to detect scams. “There’s a tremendous amount that we can do as owners of the network to drive down the ability for thieves to take advantage of the network,” one CEO said when asked if banks believe it is their responsibility to make a consumer whole again. “That is what we're working on. That’s what we have to do.” Another CEO pointed out that other P2P platforms have “15 times the number of disputes” coming into the bank than the highlighted platform. One CEO also stressed that banks need to work through partnerships with law enforcement and regulatory agencies “to actually catch the criminals who are perpetuating this fraud against our customers.”
The previous day, the same CEOs discussed similar topics during the House Financial Services Committee’s hearing entitled “Holding Megabanks Accountable: Oversight of America’s Largest Consumer Facing Banks.” Several proposed bills containing provisions that would impact the banks if enacted were also discussed, including those that would (i) improve dispute procedures and disclosures related to reinvestigations of consumer reports (see H.R. 4120); (ii) amend and modernize bank merger laws (see H.R. 5419); and (iii) amend Community Reinvestment Act provisions to improve the assessment process for financial institutions (see H.R. 8833).
During the hearing (see committee memorandum here), committee members questioned the CEOs on a broad range of topics related to consumer protection compliance, enforcement, diversity initiatives, capital standards, emerging technologies and cybersecurity, merchant category codes for firearm purchases, and banking deserts. The CEOs addressed ways their banks have engaged in “responsible growth” and spoke on measures they have taken to bolster customer relations, including modifying overdraft practices. They also noted they are working on improving data protection and cybersecurity. In discussing P2P digital payment services, one CEO emphasized that “scams are growing daily” and regulators and legislators need to respond. He added that “[i]t’s not enough that we apportion blame after the fact. We need to stop fraud and scams before they occur. Secure [P2P] networks, real-time payments, and potentially FedNow allow for direct authentication with a host bank. They also allow members of the network to identify  and police against scam accounts. This is not the case with nonbank networks. These networks are not held to the same security standards as banks.” He stated that banks “have zero visibility into where the money went, zero capability to recover the money, and zero capability to close the bad account.”
On September 1, five Senate Democrats sent a letter to CFPB Director Rohit Chopra urging the Bureau to issue guidance to provide better tools to protect older Americans and their families from the increased prevalence of P2P fraud. The letter discussed that, according to the FTC, P2P apps are used by scammers because “the ease with which consumers may make payments to individuals they have never met on P2P platforms facilitates quick purchasing decisions.” The FTC also found that older adults are increasingly using payment apps or services, noting that P2P-related complaints received by the FTC tripled from 2019 to 2020, and older adults reported $10 million in losses associated with complaints related to payment apps and services in 2020 alone. The letter concluded that the CFPB should “move forward with the guidance under consideration, keeping in mind the disproportionate effect that frauds and scams have on communities of color and people with Limited English Proficiency.”
On February 23, the FTC announced a proposed settlement with a global online payments system company (company) to resolve a complaint filed in 2016 concerning allegations that its payment and social networking service (service) violated the FTC Act when it, among other things, failed to adequately disclose to consumers that transfers to external bank accounts were subject to review and that funds could be frozen or removed based on a review of the underlying transaction. According to FTC allegations, many consumers who relied on notifications from the service that funds were available for transfer found themselves unable to pay rent or other bills. In some instances, the service reversed transactions after initially notifying consumers the funds were available. Additionally, the service allegedly violated the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act’s Privacy and Safeguard Rules (GLBA Rules) by misleading consumers about protections for their accounts when it claimed to use “bank-grade security systems” and failed to have a written security program or implement basic security safeguards. As a result, the FTC claims unauthorized users were able to, in certain cases, withdraw funds from consumer accounts or change passwords and/or associated email addresses without consumers being notified.
Under the proposed settlement, the company—which did not admit or deny liability and is not required to pay a fine—has agreed that it will not misrepresent any material restrictions on the use of its service, the extent of control provided by any privacy settings, and the extent to which it “implements or adheres to a particular level of security.” The company will also, among other things, make certain disclosures to consumers about its transaction and privacy practices, obtain biennial third-party assessments of its compliance with these rules for 10 years, and refrain from violating any provisions of the GLBA Rules.
On April 18, Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jeffrey Merkley (D-OR), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting that it complete a study on the fintech industry. Under the Dodd-Frank Act, the GAO is required to examine the regulatory structure of person-to-person (P2P) lending. While the letter recognizes that the GAO issued a report on P2P lending in 2011, the senators urged the GAO to recognize that the lending platforms of financial technology firms (often called fintech) “has changed dramatically and evolved beyond consumer lending,” and that “P2P lending, now generally called marketplace lending, is not the only form of fintech that has developed over the last several years.” The letter further cautions that, “gaps in understanding and regulation of emerging financial products may result in predatory lending, consumer abuse, or systemic issues.” Finally, Senators Brown, Merkley, and Shaheen urged the GAO to provide responses to questions relating to, among other things, (i) the size and structure of the loan portfolios maintained by privately owned fintech lenders; (ii) how fintech lenders’ relationships with financial institutions impact both the financial system at large and regulatory framework; (ii) whether the risks that may arise from the investor base shifting from individual investor to institutional investor have grown since this issue was first noted in the GAO’s 2011 report; and (iii) the anti-money laundering, data security, and privacy requirements fintech companies are subject to.
- Jedd R. Bellman to provide an “Attorney exemption/medical debt update” at the North American Collection Agency Regulatory Association annual conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss “What should crypto regulation look like: Legislation, regulation and consumer issues” at WCL's First Annual Virtual Currency Law Institute
- Elizabeth E. McGinn to discuss “How to mitigate and manage third-party risks: Leveraging tools and best practices” at The Knowledge Group’s webcast
- Elizabeth E. McGinn, Benjamin W. Hutten, and James C. Chou to discuss “The evolving regulatory landscape: Third-party and cyber risk management” at the 2022 mWISE Conference
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss “For your eyes only: Privacy updates for 2022-2023” at CCFL’s Annual Consumer Financial Services Conference
- James T. Parkinson to present a “Global anti-corruption update” at IBA’s annual conference