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On January 10, the CFPB issued its second no-action letter (NAL) under the agency’s revised NAL Policy that was issued last September. The new NAL Policy’s goal is to streamline the review process to “focus[ ] on the consumer benefits and risks of the product or service in question.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau issued its first NAL under the revised policy in response to a request by HUD on behalf of more than 1,600 housing counseling agencies (HCAs) that participate in HUD’s housing counseling program.
A national bank is the recipient of the most recent NAL regarding the bank’s funding arrangements with HCAs certified by HUD. The NAL states that the Bureau will not take supervisory or enforcement actions against the bank under RESPA or UDAAP for entering into certain arrangements with HCAs for pre-purchase housing counseling services conditioned on the consumer applying for a loan from the bank, even if that activity could be construed as a referral, as long as the level of payment for the services is no more than a level that is commensurate with the services provided and is reasonable and customary for the area. The Bureau noted that the bank submitted its application to facilitate funding arrangements with HCAs through the HUD NAL application, which was made public last year.
On September 10, the CFPB issued three final innovation policies, the No-Action Letter (NAL) Policy, Compliance Assistance Sandbox (CAS) Policy, and Trial Disclosure Program (TDP) Policy. Director Kraninger noted that the new policies will “improve how the Bureau exercises its authority to facilitate innovation and reduce regulatory uncertainty. . .contribut[ing] to an environment where innovation can flourish—giving consumers more options and better choices.” In September 2018, the Bureau published the proposed TDP policy (covered by InfoBytes here), and in December 2018, the Bureau published the proposed NAL and CAS policies (covered by InfoBytes here). Highlights of the final policies include:
- NAL. The NAL policy provides a NAL recipient reassurance that the Bureau will not bring a supervisory or enforcement action against the company for providing a product or service under the covered facts and circumstances. After an application is considered complete, the Bureau will grant or deny the request within 60 days. The Bureau intends to publish NALs on its website and, in some cases, a version or summary of the application. The Bureau may also publish denials and an explanation of why the application was denied. The policy notes that disclosure of information is governed by the Dodd-Frank Act, FOIA and the Bureau’s rule on Disclosure of Records and Information, which generally would prohibit the Bureau from disclosing confidential information.
- CAS. The CAS policy will evaluate a product or service for compliance with relevant laws and will offer approved applicants a “safe harbor” from liability for certain covered conduct during the testing period under TILA, ECOA, or the EFTA. The CAS was originally proposed as the “Proposed Sandbox Policy,” and included, in addition to the now listed carve-outs, exemptions by order from statutory provisions of ECOA, HOEPA, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Act (FDIA). The final CAS policy does not include the exemption program. The Bureau noted that, based on the comments received on the proposal, it will issue, at a later date, a new proposal to establish a program for exemptions by order through a separate notice-and comment rulemaking.
- TDP. The TDP policy creates the “CFPB Disclosure Sandbox,” which carries out the requirements of Section 1032(e) of the Dodd-Frank Act. The Bureau’s first TPD policy was finalized in 2013, allowing for approved company disclosures to be deemed in compliance with, or exempted from, applicable federal disclosure requirements during the testing period. Under the previous policy, the Bureau did not approve a single company program for participation. The updated TDP policy streamlines the application process, including providing formal determinations within 60 days of deeming an application complete. The policy provides procedures for requesting extensions of successful testing programs, as the Bureau expects most testing periods will start at two-years.
The Bureau also announced the first NAL issued under its new policy in response to a request by HUD on behalf of more than 1,600 housing counseling agencies (HCAs) that participate in HUD’s housing counseling program. The NAL states that the Bureau will not take supervisory or enforcement action under RESPA against HUD-certified HCAs that have entered into certain fee-for-service arrangements with lenders for pre-purchase housing counseling services. Specifically, the Bureau will not take such action against a HCA for including and adhering to a provision in such agreements conditioning the lender’s payment for the housing counseling services on the consumer making contact or closing a loan with the lender, even if that activity could be construed as a referral under RESPA, provided that the level of payment for the services is no more than a level that is commensurate with the services provided and is reasonable and customary for the area. The Bureau issued a template for lenders to seek a NAL for such arrangements, which includes certain anti-steering certifications that (i) the consumer will choose between comparable products from at least three different lenders; (ii) the funding is based on services rendered, not on the terms or conditions of any mortgage loan or related transaction; and (iii) no endorsement, sponsorship, or other preferential treatment will be conveyed to the lender for entering into the arrangement. According to the Bureau, the NAL, “is intended to facilitate HCAs entering into such agreements with lenders and will enhance the ability of housing counseling agencies to obtain funding from additional sources.” In addition to the template, the Bureau has made the HUD NAL application publicly available as well.
On August 6, the CFPB published a blog providing an update on credit access and the Bureau’s first-issued No-Action Letter (NAL), and reporting that use of alternative data in underwriting may expand access to credit. In 2017, the CFPB announced its first NAL to a company that uses alternative data and machine learning to make credit underwriting and pricing decisions. One condition for receiving the NAL required the company to agree to a model risk management and compliance plan, which analyzed and addressed risks to consumers and the real-world impact of its service. Through specific testing, the company worked to answer two key questions: (i) “whether the tested model’s use of alternative data and machine learning expands access to credit, including lower-priced credit, overall and for various applicant segments, compared to the traditional model”; and (ii) “whether the tested model’s underwriting or pricing outcomes result in greater disparities than the traditional model with respect to race, ethnicity, sex, or age, and if so, whether applicants in different protected class groups with similar model-predicted default risk actually default at the same rate.”
According to the Bureau, the company reported that in the access to credit comparisons, the alternative data model approved 27 percent more applicants as compared to a traditional underwriting model, and yielded 16 percent lower average APRs for approved loans, with the expansion in access to credit “occur[ing] across all tested race, ethnicity, and sex segments.” For the fair lending testing, the company reported that no disparities were found in the approval rate and APR analysis results provided for minority, female, and older applicants. Additionally, the company reported significant expansion of access to credit for certain consumer segments under the tested model, including that (i) “consumers with FICO scores from 620 to 660 are approved approximately twice as frequently”; (ii) “[a]pplicants under 25 years of age are 32 [percent] more likely to be approved”; and (iii) “[c]onsumers with incomes under $50,000 are 13 [percent] more likely to be approved.” The Bureau noted that the testing results were provided by the company, and the simulations and analyses were not separately replicated by the Bureau.
On April 3, the SEC issued a no-action letter to a Delaware-based airline chartering services company not recommending enforcement action for offering and selling “tokens” without registration under the SEC Act. According to the letter, the SEC relied upon the company’s counsel’s opinion, which assured that consumers are purchasing the tokens solely for prepaid “air charter services and not for investment purposes or with an expectation to earn a profit,” in determining that the “tokens” were not securities. Additionally, the SEC’s relief considered numerous other factors such as: (i) the platform for conducting the sale of the tokens will “be fully developed and operational” at the time any tokens are sold and funds derived from token sales will not be used to develop the platform; (ii) consumers will be able to immediately use the tokens for their intended functionality (i.e., to purchase air charter services) at the time of sale; (iii) the company will restrict the transfer of tokens to company wallets only and not to external wallets; (iv) the tokens will be sold for one dollar to be used solely on the platform to purchase air charter services, and will be treated as having a value of one dollar; (v) if the company offers to repurchase tokens, it will do so at a discount to the face value of the tokens that the holder seeks to resell to the company, unless a court orders the company to liquidate the tokens; and (vi) the tokens will not be marketed in such a way that there is a perceived potential for an increase in the token’s market value.
On December 10, the CFPB released a new proposed policy on No-Action Letters (NAL) and a new federal product sandbox. The new NAL proposal, which would replace the 2016 NAL policy, is “designed to increase the utilization of the Policy and bring certain elements more in line with similar no-action letter programs offered by other agencies.” The proposal consists of six sections. Highlights include:
- Description of No-Action Letters. The letter would indicate to the applicant, that subject to good faith, substantial compliance with the terms of the letter, the Bureau would not bring a supervisory or enforcement action against the recipient for offering or providing the described aspects of the product or service covered by the letter.
- Submitting Applications. The proposal includes a description of the items an application should contain and invites applications from trade associations on behalf of their members, and from service providers and other third parties on behalf of their existing or prospective clients.
- Assessment of Applications. The Bureau intends to grant or deny an application within 60 days of notifying the applicant that the application is deemed complete.
- Issuing No-Action Letters. NALs will be signed by the Assistant Director of the Office of Innovation or other members in the office, and will be duly authorized by the Bureau. The Bureau may revoke a NAL in whole or in part, but before the Bureau revokes a NAL, recipients will have an opportunity to cure a compliance failure within a reasonable period.
- Regulatory Coordination. In order to satisfy the coordination requirements under Dodd-Frank, the Bureau notes it is interested in partnering with state authorities that issue similar forms of no-action relief in order to provide state applicants an alternative means of also receiving a letter from the Bureau.
- Disclosure of Information. The Bureau intends to publish NALs on its website and in some cases, a version or summary of the application. The Bureau may also publish denials and an explanation of why the application was denied. The policy notes that disclosure of information is governed by the Dodd-Frank Act, FOIA and the Bureau’s rule on Disclosure of Records and Information, which generally would prohibit the Bureau from disclosing confidential information.
Notable changes from the 2016 NAL policy include, (i) NALs no longer have a temporal duration—under the new proposal, there is no temporal limitation except in instances of revocation; (ii) applicants are no longer are required to commit to sharing data about the product or service covered by the application; and (iii) the letters are no longer staff recommendations, but issued by authorized officials in the Bureau to provide recipients greater assurance of the relief.
The proposal also introduces the Bureau’s “Product Sandbox,” which offers substantially the same relief as the NAL proposal but also includes: (i) approvals under one or more of three statutory safe harbor provisions of TILA, ECOA, or the EFTA; and (ii) exemptions by order from statutory provisions of ECOA, HOEPA, and FDIA, or regulatory provisions that do not mirror statutory provisions under rulemaking authority. The proposal notes that two years is the expected duration for participation in the Sandbox, but similar to the no-action relief above, the no-action relief from the Sandbox program can be of unlimited duration—if approved under the sandbox program, “the recipient would be immune from enforcement actions by any Federal or State authorities, as well as from lawsuits brought by private parties.”
Comments on the proposals are due within 60 days of publication in the Federal Register.
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