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On July 29, CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger testified at a hearing held by the Senate Banking Committee on the CFPB’s Semi-Annual Report to Congress, which covers the Bureau’s work from October 1, 2019, through March 31, 2020. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Kraninger’s testimony identified four key areas of focus for the Bureau: (i) providing financial education resources to prevent consumer harm; (ii) implementing “clear rules of the road” to encourage “competition, increase transparency, and preserve fair markets for financial products and services”; (iii) ensuring a “culture of compliance” through supervision; and (iv) following a consistent, purposeful enforcement regime. Kraninger also highlighted Bureau efforts to address discrimination, consumer confusion regarding forbearance options under the CARES Act, and a legislative proposal that would authorize the Bureau to award whistleblowers who report federal consumer financial law violations.
During the hearing, committee members focused on, among other things, the Bureau’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the agency’s recent repeal of certain underwriting provisions of its 2017 final rule covering “Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans” (covered by InfoBytes here). In response to Democratic criticism regarding the repeal of the underwriting provisions, Kraninger reiterated that a Bureau analysis of the provisions in the 2017 final rule revealed it would reduce the availability of small-dollar credit “by at least 70 percent,” and denied claims that the rulemaking process had been impacted by political appointees at the agency. Additionally, Kraninger said she intends to move ahead with putting the payment provisions of the payday rule into effect and is currently “working through” a pending legal challenge to the provisions.
Democratic committee members also questioned Kraninger regarding temporary regulatory relief to mortgage servicers and other financial services companies (covered by InfoBytes here) and the Bureau’s policy statement providing Fair Credit Reporting Act and Regulation V compliance flexibility for consumer reporting agencies and furnishers during the pandemic (covered by InfoBytes here). With regard to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling in Seila Law v. CFPB (covered by a Buckley Special Alert), Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) noted he is still advocating for “a bipartisan board of directors to oversee the CFPB” and for subjecting the Bureau to the annual appropriations process.
The next day, Kraninger appeared before the House Financial Services Committee’s hearing to discuss the semi-annual report. Similar to the Senate hearing, committee members questioned Kraninger on the payday rule, the revision to the HMDA rule, the Bureau’s pandemic-related initiatives for consumers, and on ways the Bureau is protecting struggling consumers during the pandemic, particularly with respect to the agency’s supervisory and enforcement work.
On July 16, the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing entitled “Protecting Homeowners During the Pandemic: Oversight of Mortgage Servicers’ Implementation of the CARES Act.” The subcommittee’s memorandum regarding the hearing discussed, among other things, the HUD Office of Inspector General’s report of its review of the type of forbearance information accessible to borrowers on the top 30 mortgage servicers’ websites. The report highlighted concerns that 10 of the servicers failed to have forbearance information “‘readily available’ on their websites,” 14 servicers’ websites did not provide information about the length of the forbearance period to which borrowers are entitled under the CARES Act, and certain servicers “included information giving the impression that lump sum payments were required at the end of the forbearance period.”
Witnesses discussed widespread issues in CARES Act-related mortgage servicing, with several witnesses and lawmakers highlighting how preexisting inequalities have especially imperiled black and Latinx home ownership during the Covid-19 pandemic. One witness suggested that servicers should be required to provide written notice to borrowers of their options and rights under the CARES Act and should be held accountable for failing to provide consistent, accurate forbearance information to borrowers in a timely manner. Another witness noted that housing counselors have reported servicers providing misinformation on payment and deferral options, and stressed the need for coordinated efforts between the CFPB, FHFA, and HUD, in addition to strong supervisory and enforcement activity.
Other topics discussed during the hearing included (i) the importance of providing clear guidance for borrowers, as well as the importance of loan modifications, loss mitigation options, and long term solutions once forbearance has ended; (ii) understanding what servicers of non-federally backed mortgages not covered by the CARES Act are doing to assist borrowers, and whether there should be a safe harbor for these mortgage servicers from investor liability; and (iii) the CFPB’s responsibility for overseeing servicers. One of the witnesses noted during the hearing, however, that many mortgage servicers offered homeowners forbearance options before the CARES Act, provided forbearance to homeowners with non-federally backed mortgages, and have responded to “an evolving series of program and regulatory announcements from various programs and agencies.”
On December 4, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing titled “Examining Legislative Proposals to Protect Consumer Data Privacy” to discuss how to “provide consumers with more security, transparency, choice, and control over personal information both online and offline.” Among the issues discussed at the hearing was how consumer privacy rights should be enforced. As previously covered by InfoBytes, some FTC commissioners, at a hearing earlier this year, expressed that authorization to enforce federal privacy laws should vest not only in the FTC, but also in the states’ attorneys general. At the Senate hearing, there was testimony suggesting that the FTC is spread too thin to be in charge of enforcing new privacy laws. At least one witness championed state privacy regulation, while other witnesses endorsed preemption of the state laws by the envisioned federal privacy law. Although different views were expressed regarding what the law should look like, the hearing participants generally seemed to agree that a federal privacy law may be needed now in light of recent state legislative agendas and, as one Senator raised, the growing use of artificial intelligence.
On May 21, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing entitled “Combating Illicit Financing By Anonymous Shell Companies Through the Collection of Beneficial Ownership Information.” The Committee heard from the same panel of witnesses who testified in November on the need for modernization of the Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering regime. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Committee Chairman Mike Crapo opened the hearing by stressing the need to discuss ways in which beneficial ownership information collected in an effort to deter money laundering and terrorist financing through anonymous shell companies can be made more useful. Panelists from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, the FBI, and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency all emphasized the importance of creating a regime in which beneficial ownership is collected at the corporate formation stage and, for foreign entities, upon the time of registration with U.S. states to conduct business or upon establishing an account with a U.S. financial institution.
On May 8, the FTC Commissioners participated in a subcommittee hearing before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce entitled, “Oversight of the Federal Trade Commission: Strengthening Protections for Americans’ Privacy and Data Security.” During the hearing, the Commissioners were questioned about the agency’s privacy and data security enforcement and regulatory activities, including whether they would support preemption of state privacy laws by a federal privacy statute. Using the California Consumer Privacy Act (covered by InfoBytes here) as an example, some Congressmen worried about the prospect of conflicting privacy legislation in other states, creating “confusion and uncertainty in the business community.”
Split along party lines, Democratic Commissioners expressed caution with federal preemption of state privacy laws; Commissioner Chopra, citing to federal preemption laws leading up to the mortgage crisis, warned of “unintended consequences.” Democratic Commissioner Slaughter recognized the “desire for uniformity, consistency, clarity, and predictability” that a federal law would provide, but noted that the appropriateness of preemption should be based on “whether a federal law meets or exceeds…the level of protections that states can provide and whether it allows them the opportunity to fill any gaps that may remain after a federal law is developed.” Republican Commissioners stressed the importance of having a federal law that would preempt the current “patchwork” of state laws, which Commissioner Phillips argued is “essential” in order to provide businesses clarity and reduced compliance costs, while also providing consumers with more power to understand expectations. FTC Chairman Simons noted that even if federal law preempts state privacy laws, Congress should grant concurrent enforcement authority to the states’ attorneys general.
The hearing also discussed, among other things, (i) the need for additional resources to increase agency staff focused on privacy issues; (ii) giving the FTC authority to levy civil money penalties, as Section 5 of the FTC act does not allow the Commission to seek civil penalties for first-time privacy violations; and (iii) the need for targeted rule-making authority.
On February 27, the newly formed Diversity and Inclusion Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee held its first-ever hearing to examine trends in diversity in the financial services industry, including management-level diversity and diversity among potential talent pools. The hearing reviewed the November 2017 GAO Report on “Representation of Minorities and Women in Management and Practices to Promote Diversity, 2007-2015” with the Director of Financial Markets and Community Investment of GAO, David Garcia-Diaz, as its only witness. The hearing focused on the report’s conclusion that in the financial services industry, there were marginal increases in minority representation in management positions while women’s representation remained unchanged from 2007 to 2015. Representatives noted the importance of diversity and inclusion in a financial institution’s work force and requested Garcia-Diaz discuss the best practices to increase employment diversity. Among other things, Garcia-Diaz noted that in order to increase diversity financial institutions should (i) engage in broad-based recruitment; (ii) establish mechanisms to hold managers accountable, such as linking manager compensation to diversity goals; and (iii) use data analysis to assess the diversity in the organization in order to develop an intentional plan to address the issue.
The committee memorandum is available here.
- APPROVED Webcast: Remote examinations and complaints — The “new normal”
- Sasha Leonhardt to discuss "Privacy laws clarified" at the National Settlement Services Summit (NS3)
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "New privacy legislation: Preparing for a major source of class action and enforcement activity going forward" at the American Conference Institute Consumer Finance Class Actions, Litigation & Government Enforcement Actions
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk and Lauren Frank to discuss "New CFPB interpretation on UDAAP" at a California Mortgage Bankers Association Mortgage Quality and Compliance Committee webinar
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "High standards: Best practices for banking marijuana-related businesses" at the ACAMS AML & Anti-Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Wait wait ... do tell me! Where the panelists answer to you" at the ACAMS AML & Anti-Financial Crime Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "The future of fair lending" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute