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On January 21, the Massachusetts attorney general announced a $1.25 million settlement with an online marketplace lender to resolve allegations that it violated the state’s Small Loan Statute by facilitating the origination of loans with excessive interest rates to Massachusetts borrowers. According to an assurance of discontinuance (AOD) filed in the Suffolk Superior Court, the company allegedly facilitated personal loans to Massachusetts residents with interest rates exceeding the statutory interest rate cap set by the Small Loan Statute, which regulates terms for consumer loans of $6,000 or less. “Small loans” are defined by the statute as those where the disbursed amount is $6,000 or less. To determine whether a loan is a “small loan,” the Small Loan Statute provides that if, after all deductions or payments (whether on account of interest, expenses, or principal made substantially contemporaneously with the making of the loan), the amount retained by the borrower is $6,000 or less, the transaction will be deemed to be a loan in the amount of the sum retained by the borrower after deductions or payments, notwithstanding that the loan was nominally for a greater sum (the “deduction provision”). Among other things, the AG’s office claimed the company facilitated “small loans” with interest rates above the maximum permitted rate for non-licensed small loan companies, and that after the company obtained a small loan company license, it allegedly facilitated loans that exceeded the maximum permitted rate for licensed small loan companies based in part on its reading of the Act’s “deduction provision.” The company admitted no liability, agreed to pay $1.25 million to the Commonwealth, comply with Massachusetts law, and stop facilitating small loans to state residents with interest rates that exceed the maximum permissible rate based on the AG’s reading.
On February 5, the CFPB announced a settlement with a Texas-based payday lender and six subsidiaries (defendants) for allegedly assisting in the collection of online installment loans and online lines of credit that consumers were not legally obligated to pay based on certain states’ usury laws or licensing requirements. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau filed a complaint in 2017—amended in 2018—against the defendants for allegedly violating the CFPA’s prohibitions on unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices by, among other things, making deceptive demands and originating debit entries from consumers’ bank accounts for loans that the defendants knew were either partially or completely void because the loans were void under state licensing or usury laws. The defendants—who operated in conjunction with three tribal lenders engaged in the business of extending and collecting the online installment loans and lines of credit—also allegedly provided material services and substantial assistance to two debt collection companies that were also involved in the collection of these loans.
Under the stipulated final consent order, the defendants are prohibited from (i) extending, servicing, or collecting on loans made to consumers in any of the identified 17 states if the loans violate state usury limits or licensing requirements; and (ii) assisting others engaged in this type of conduct. Additionally, the settlement imposes a $1 civil money penalty against each of the seven defendants. The Bureau’s press release notes that the order “is a component of the global resolution of the [defendants’] bankruptcy proceeding in the Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Texas, which includes settlements with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office and private litigants in a nationwide consumer class action.” The press release also states that “[c]onsumer redress will be disbursed from a fund created as part of the global resolution, which is anticipated to have over $39 million for distribution to consumers and may increase over time as a result of ongoing, related litigation and settlements.”
On August 6, NYDFS announced it is leading a multistate investigation into the payroll advance industry based on allegations of unlawful online lending. According to NYDFS, the investigation will focus on whether companies are violating state banking laws, including usury limits, licensing laws, and other applicable laws regulating payday lending. NYDFS alleges that some companies appear to collect unlawful interest rates disguised as “tips” as well as monthly membership and/or excessive additional fees, and may collect improper overdraft charges.
In addition to New York, other states in the investigation include: Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, North Caroline, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas.
On April 19, the SEC announced that an online lending platform will pay a $3 million penalty to resolve allegations it miscalculated and materially overstated annualized net returns (ANR) to investors. According to the order, between 2015 and 2017, the company allegedly excluded securities linked to certain charged-off consumer loans from its calculation of ANR and allegedly failed to identify and correct the error, despite knowing that employees misunderstood the code underlying the ANR calculation and despite alleged complaints by investors. As a result, the company allegedly materially overstated the ANR to a total of more than 30,000 investors. After a large institutional investor complained to the company in April 2017, it notified investors of the misstatements and corrected the ANR in May 2017. In agreeing to a settlement, the company did not admit or deny the SEC’s findings, and the order acknowledges that the company has since instituted “a number of controls designed to prevent and detect similar errors in the future,” including new management supervision, quarterly reviews, and semi-annual testing.
On July 11, the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS or the Department) released a study of online lending in New York, as required by AB 8938. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) In addition to reporting the results of its survey of institutions believed to be engaging in online lending activities in New York, NYDFS makes a series of recommendations that would expand the application of New York usury and other statutes and regulations to online loans made to New York residents, including loans made through partnerships between online lender and banks where, in the Department’s view, the online lender is the “true lender.”
In particular, NYDFS recommends, “[a]ll New York lenders should operate under the same set of rules and be subject to consistent enforcement of those rules to achieve a level playing field for all market participants….” Elsewhere in the report, the Department states that it “disagrees with [the] position” that online lenders are exempt from New York law if they partner with a federally-chartered or FDIC-insured bank that extends credit to New York residents. NYDFS criticizes these arrangements, stating its view that “the online lender is, in many cases, the true lender” because the online lender is “typically … the entity that is engaged in marketing, solicitation, and processing of applications, and dealing with the applicants” and may also purchase, resell, and/or service the loan.
NYDFS also noted that it opposed pending federal legislation that would reverse the Second Circuit’s decision in Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC, which held that federal preemption of New York’s usury laws ceased to apply when a loan was transferred from a national bank to a non-bank. The Department expressed concern that, if passed, the bill “could result in ‘rent-a-bank charter’ arrangements between banks and online lender that are designed to circumvent state licensing and usury laws.”
Noting that many online lenders remain unlicensed in New York, the Department states that “[d]irect supervision and oversight is the only way to ensure that New York’s consumers and small business owners receive the same protections irrespective of the channel of delivery….” To this end, NYDFS recommended lowering the interest rate threshold for licensure from 16 percent to 7 percent.
Although NYDFS stressed that its survey results may be unreliable due to uneven response rates, it reported that, for respondents, the average median APR for online loans to businesses was 25.9%, the average median APR for online loans to individuals for personal use was 14.8%, and the average median APR for the underbanked customers was 19.6% (New York currently caps interest for civil liability at 16% and at 25% for criminal liability).
Overall, the report appears to forecast a more difficult regulatory and enforcement environment in New York for online lenders, as has been the case in West Virginia and Colorado.
On June 1, the New York governor signed AB 8938, which authorizes and directs the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) to study online lending institutions that conduct business in the state, and requires NYDFS to submit a report containing analysis, assessments, and recommendations pertaining to online lending institutions by July 1. As previously covered in InfoBytes, NYDFS announced plans on April 24 to issue a report, which would include an analysis of the differences between online lending products and services and those of traditional lending institutions, the risks/benefits of the products offered, and the availability of various credit products in the absence of online lending. With the enactment of AB 8938, NYDFS is also tasked with, among other things, surveying existing state and federal laws and regulations applicable to the online lending industry. The act is effective immediately and shall expire July 1—the report’s due date.
On April 24, the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) announced a study of the practices, economic impact, and operations of online lending in New York. The study will culminate in a public report with recommendations to the state legislature by July 1. NYDFS indicates that the report will cover, among other things, an analysis of the differences between online lending products and services and those of traditional lending institutions, the risks/benefits of the products offered, and the availability of various credit products in the absence of online lending. The report will also provide information on the business practices of online lenders operating in New York.
NYDFS is requesting comments and feedback on this study by May 24.
On September 25, OCC Acting Comptroller of the Currency Keith Noreika spoke before the 2017 Online Lending Policy Summit in Washington, D.C. to discuss ways the maturing banking industry can respond to changing market conditions through the adoption of new business models and adjustments to long-term strategies. “Some pundits see the growth of the online lending industry as a response to the nation’s banking industry. And some say that if the industry had been sufficiently agile and fully met the need for lending, alternative lenders would not have grown so rapidly,” Noreika stated. “I do not share that view. I see the growth of online lending and marketplace lenders as the natural evolution of banking itself.”
According to Noreika, about $40 billion in consumer and small business loans in the United States have been originated by marketplace lenders during the past decade, and since 2010, online lending has doubled each year. In fact, Noreika noted, “some analysts suggest that the market will reach nearly $300 billion by 2020, and others suggest as much as $1 trillion by 2025.” However, the online industry faces certain challenges and “adapting to new market conditions and effectively managing evolving risks” is pertinent to their success. Noreika highlighted recent innovation efforts by the OCC, such as the agency’s Office of Innovation’s “Office Hours,” which was created to facilitate discussions related to fintech and financial innovation. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) Another example is the OCC’s plan to develop “regulatory sandboxes” and bank pilot programs to “foster responsible innovation by OCC-supervised banks” as a means to expand the OCC’s own knowledge in this space. Importantly, Noreika addressed the OCC’s position concerning chartering of fintech companies that seek to expand into banking, along with the possibility of “offering special-purpose national bank charters to nondepository fintech companies engaged in the business of banking”—a concept currently being contested by both the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) and the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS). According to Noreika, the OCC has not yet decided whether it will exercise its authority to issue special purpose bank charters. (See previous InfoBytes coverage of CSBS’ and NYDFS’ challenges here and here.)
Finally, Noreika offered support for a legislative approach that would clarify the “valid when made” doctrine central to Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC by reducing uncertainty in establishing that “the rate of interest on a loan made by a bank, savings association, or credit union that is valid when the loan is made remains valid after transfer of the loan” and serving to reestablish a legal precedent that had been in place prior to the Madden decision, in which an appellate panel held that a nonbank entity taking assignment of debts originated by a national bank is not entitled to protection under the National Bank Act from state law usury claims. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.)
On May 22, the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) announced it was issuing interpretative guidance regarding the New York Banking Law requirement that mandates prior NYDFS approval for an acquisition or change of control of a banking institution. The guidance was released in response to a request by the New York Bankers Association amid concerns that some investors have been developing non-transparent methods of acquiring and controlling banking institutions without obtaining NYDFS’ review and approval. According to the guidance, “control” is achieved by having direct or indirect power to direct or cause the direction of a banking institution’s management and policies through the ownership of voting stocks or otherwise, and that control is achieved when individuals or entities work together or act in concert to acquire control of a banking institution but with each individual or entity staying below the threshold required for seeking NYDFS’ prior review and approval. The Superintendent of Financial Services, Maria T. Vullo issued a reminder to state-chartered banks that “all proposed changes of control in any banking institution must be submitted to the Department for prior approval under our mandate to safeguard the institutions we supervise and regulate, and to protect the public they serve.”
The guidance was released the same day Vullo testified at a New York State Assembly hearing on the “Practices of the Online Lending History,” which sought to “explore . . . predatory online lending practices which need to be mitigated, and potential regulatory or legislative action which may be needed to address [this issue].” Vullo urged legislators to clarify the statutory definition of “making loans” to include a wider range of companies and “to include situations where an entity, in addition to soliciting a loan, is arranging or facilitating the funding of a loan, or ultimately purchasing or acquiring the loan.”
Governor’s Proposed NY State Executive Budget Includes More Online Lending Supervision; State Assembly Budget “Rejects” Proposed Change
Article 7 of the New York State Constitution requires the Governor to submit an executive budget each year, which contains, among other things, recommendations as to proposed legislation. On February 16, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo released a proposed 2017-18 Executive Budget that includes a proposed amendment to the New York Banking Law that would provide the New York Department of Financial Services (“NYDFS” or “DFS”) expanded licensing authority over online and marketplace lenders. (See Part EE (at pages 243-44) of the Transportation, Economic Development and Environmental Conservation Bill portion of the Executive Budget).
According to a Memorandum in Support of the Governor’s Budget, the proposed amendment would (i) address “[g]aps in the State’s current regulatory authority [that] create opportunities for predatory online lending,” and (ii) “ensure that all types of online lenders are appropriately regulated,” by (a) “increase[ing] DFS’ enforcement capabilities,” and (b) “expand[ing] the definition of ‘making loans’ in New York to not only apply to online lenders who solicit loans, but also online lenders who arrange or otherwise facilitate funding of loans, and making, acquisition or facilitation of the loan to individuals in New York.” If enacted, the NYDFS’s new authority would, under the Governor’s current proposal, become effective January 1, 2018.
This proposal in the Governor’s Executive Budget has, however, been challenged by the New York State Legislature. On March 13, after several hearings on the Governor’s proposed budget, the New York State Assembly released its own 2017-18 Assembly Budget Proposal (“Assembly Budget”), which, among other things, expressly rejected the aforementioned proposed amendment to the banking law found in “Part EE.” The Senate is now expected to release its own budget proposal shortly. And, once it is released, the two house of the State Legislature will reconcile the two bills in committees and pass legislation that stakes out the House’s position on the Governor’s proposals. From there, negotiations will begin in earnest between the Legislature and the Executive, with the goal of reaching a budget agreement on or before March 31, 2017.
 See also N.Y. Banking Law § 340; N.Y. Gen. Oblig. Law § 5-501(1); N.Y. Banking Law § 14-a(1); N.Y. Gen. Oblig. Law § 5-521(3); N.Y. Ltd. Liab. Co. Law § 1104(a).
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