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On November 15, FHFA released its annual performance report, titled “FHFA FY 2023 Performance and Accountability Report” to detail how it regulated the FHLBank system, as well as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, during the past fiscal year. The report refers to its FY 2022-2026 Strategic Plan with the goals of securing the safety of regulated entities, fostering equitable housing finance markets, and stewarding FHFA’s infrastructure. For FY 2023, FHFA identified 35 performance targets to help guide it toward achieving its strategic goals. Of the 35 targets, the FHFA met 31 of them––an 89 percent success rate. Table 2 from page 15 of the report displays the goals and ones that have not been met, including (i) “Improve Time-to-Hire” within 80 days; and (ii) “Develop FHFA Information Technology Strategic Plan” by the time the report had been published.
Looking forward, FHFA wishes to implement an “Enterprise Fair Lending Rating System to annually assess each Enterprise’s compliance with fair lending and fair housing standards.” For fintech initiatives, FHFA will publish a summary on Velocity TechSprint, a problem-solving event with “mortgage industry leaders and fintech entrepreneurs to address mortgage market issues.”
On October 31, the GAO opined that the SEC’s Staff Accounting Bulletin 121 (SAB 121) is a rule, and thus the SEC was required to submit it for congressional review. SAB 121 describes how SEC staff would expect entities to account for and disclose their custodial obligations for engaging in crypto-asset services, noting that crypto companies may have to present such obligations as a liability on their balance sheets. The GAO found that SAB 121 provides interpretive guidance, but the SEC failed to submit a report as required under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) before a rule can take effect.
The GAO’s opinion notes that the SEC maintains a different position than the GAO on the nature of SAB 121, arguing that SAB 121 is not a rule (and thus subject to CRA review), but instead is “guidance” indicating “how the Office of the Chief Accountant and the Division of Corporation Finance would recommend that the agency act,” and is not an agency statement from the full Commission. However, the GAO’s found that “[SAB 121] is a statement made by the SEC,” and that “a statement issued by a subset of the agency may still constitute an agency statement for CRA purposes.”
The Chairman of the Financial Services Committee, Patrick McHenry (R-NC), and Representative Andy Barr (R-KY), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Monetary Policy, sent a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting the GAO to “examine the role U.S. federal banking agencies played in work at the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision to develop the recent Basel III Endgame proposal, which calls for massive increases in capital requirements for already well-capitalized U.S. financial institutions.”
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the federal banking agencies issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that would substantially revise the capital requirements of large U.S. banking organizations. According to the letter, Congress has very little insight into the basis of such policy changes that “would fundamentally change the policy of the U.S. banking system.”
The letter requests the GAO to evaluate each federal banking agency’s participation in the development of Basel III Endgame. GAO’s evaluation should include: (i) a summary of each material proposal submitted by a federal banking agency to the Basel Committee; and (ii) a summary of concerns raised by a federal banking agency with respect to a consultative document or other proposal considered by the Basel Committee.
Further, the letter requests the GAO prioritize each proposal or concern from the federal banking agencies related to:
- Any proposals or concerns from the federal banking agencies that did not receive a fulsome response by the Basel Committee.
- Any evidence or rationale supporting the requirement that a “corporate entity (or parent) must have securities outstanding on a recognized securities exchange for an exposure to that entity (or parent) to be eligible for the reduced risk weight for investment-grade corporate exposures;”
- The absence of a tailored approach to “high-fee revenue banks under the Basel III Endgame business-indicator approach to operational risk capital”;
- The calibration of the “scaling factor, multiplier, dampener, and other coefficients for that business-indicator approach”; and
- The calibration of the “correlation factors and the profit-and-loss attribution test thresholds for the models-based measure of market risk capital.”
On August 8, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released letters sent to the OCC, SEC, FDIC and the Fed to provide an update on GAO’s “priority open recommendations” for each regulator. Priority open recommendations refer to suggestions from GAO to bank regulators that have the potential for cost savings, elimination of mismanagement, fraud, and abuse, or addressing high-risk or duplication issues. GAO suggested that all four agencies follow its recommendation to coordinate oversight of blockchain technology. GAO referenced recent “volatility, bankruptcies, and instances of fraud in the crypto asset markets” and underscored the dangers to consumers and investors without safeguards. GAO suggests regulators jointly establish a formal coordination method to promptly identify and address risks tied to blockchain.
For the three banking regulators in particular—the OCC, FDIC, and Fed—GAO noted that in 2011 it recommended that the three banking regulators implement noncapital triggers for early regulatory intervention tied to risky banking practices, but that such triggers had not yet been implemented. GAO also suggested that banking regulators and the “communicate the appropriate use of alternative data in the underwriting process with banks that engage in third-party relationships with fintech lenders.”
GAO’s letter to the Fed restated GAO’s 2016 recommendation that the Fed design “a process to communicate information about the uncertainty surrounding post-stress capital ratio estimates” and “articulate tolerance levels for key risks identified through sensitivity testing and for the degree of uncertainty in the projected capital ratios.” GAO also recommended that the Fed revisit its “prompt corrective action framework” by “adopting noncapital triggers that would require early and forceful regulatory actions tied to unsafe banking practices.”
On March 27, Republican lawmakers Representative Bob Good (R-VA) and Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) introduced a joint resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act to overturn the Department of Education’s (DOE) student loan debt relief program, which has yet to take effect. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the three-part debt relief plan was announced last August to provide, among other things, up to $20,000 in debt cancellation to Pell Grant recipients with loans held by the DOE, and up to $10,000 in debt cancellation to non-Pell Grant recipients for borrowers making less than $125,000 a year or less than $250,000 for married couples.
Opponents of the debt relief program immediately filed legal challenges after the plan was introduced last August. On December 1, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the Biden administration’s appeal of an injunction entered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit that temporarily prohibited the Secretary of Education from discharging any federal loans under the agency’s student debt relief plan (covered by InfoBytes here). In a brief unsigned order, the Supreme Court deferred the Biden administration’s application to vacate, pending oral argument. Shortly after, the Supreme Court also granted a petition for certiorari in a challenge currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, announcing it will consider whether the respondents (individuals whose loans are ineligible for debt forgiveness under the plan) have Article III standing to bring the challenge, as well as whether the DOE’s debt relief plan is “statutorily authorized” and was “adopted in a procedurally proper manner” (covered by InfoBytes here). The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in both cases at the end of February.
Good noted in his announcement that more than 120 members of the House signed an amicus brief expressing concerns about the constitutionality of the debt relief program. And last month, the Government Accountability Office issued a letter of opinion stating that the final waivers and modification rules submitted by the DOE last October to streamline and improve targeted debt relief programs (covered by InfoBytes here) constitute rules under the CRA and shall have no force or affect.
Last month, the Government Accountability Office delivered a report at the request of Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) on the CFPB’s oversight and enforcement of fair lending laws after the agency’s 2018 reorganization which moved the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity from the Supervision, Enforcement, and Fair Lending Division to the Office of the Director and shifted certain responsibilities. GAO’s investigation focused on how the Bureau (i) “managed the reorganization of its fair lending activities”; (ii) “monitored and reported on its fair lending performance”; and (iii) used new HMDA data reported by some lenders since 2018 in its fair lending activities. The investigation team examined documents related to the Bureau’s fair lending activities, including strategic and performance reports and policies and procedures, and interviewed Bureau staff. GAO concluded that the Bureau “did not substantially incorporate key practices for agency reform efforts GAO identified in prior work” during the reorganization, and identified challenges related to the reorganization such as “loss of fair lending expertise and specialized data analysts,” which “may have contributed to a decline in enforcement activity in 2018.” The report also pointed out that the Bureau’s decision to stop reporting fair lending supervision and enforcement performance goals and measures has reduced transparency. However, the report noted that the Bureau has incorporated loan-level HMDA data to support its fair lending activities and that the new data points have improved the agency’s ability to compare how different institutions price loans, helping staff identify potentially discriminatory lending practices.
GAO’s report recommended that the Bureau: (i) collect and analyze information on the outcomes of its fair lending reorganization and use that assessment to address any related challenges or unintended consequences; and (ii) “develop and implement performance goals and measures specific to its efforts to supervise and enforce fair lending laws.” The Bureau agreed with both recommendations and affirmed its commitment to implementing them.
On January 16, Democratic members of the House Financial Services Committee sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) inquiring about the benefits and drawbacks of using alternative data in mortgage lending, as well as the federal government’s role in overseeing the use of alternative data credit reporting agencies (CRAs) and lenders. The letter notes that while alternative data can be useful in helping lenders identify creditworthy potential borrowers who cannot be scored by CRAs through traditional measures, questions remain about how the use of alternative data may affect compliance with fair lending laws, including the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and Fair Housing Act. “While some alternative data, such as rental payment history, may provide an objective measure of creditworthiness, others might enable discrimination on the basis of a protected class, or infringe upon consumer privacy,” the letter cautions. The letter asks GAO to study the use of alternative data in expanding access to credit, with a particular focus on mortgage credit, and poses the following questions:
- How have different entities used alternative data to expand access to mortgage credit? Specifically, can alternative data determine consumer creditworthiness and whether a consumer is able to repay a mortgage? Additionally, are there certain alternative data sources that are better at predicting creditworthiness or some that are more likely to raise concerns about correlations with discriminatory factors? Furthermore, what federal activity has there been in this space?
- What are the potential benefits and risks associated with using alternative data and financial technology for access to mortgage credit, and are there variations in these benefits and risks across different groups, including minorities and younger borrowers?
- What potential risks does alternative data pose to fair lending compliance, and are the regulatory and enforcement agencies that govern the credit-granting system equipped to manage and prepare for an increased use of alternative data in mortgage lending?
- How do the benefits and trade-offs of other options for expanding access to mortgage credit compare to the use of alternative data in credit scoring?
On July 16, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) submitted a report to the ranking members of the Senate Banking Committee and the House Committee on Financial Services recommending that the CFPB improve communications to consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) and furnishers about the Bureau’s supervisory expectations. Specifically, the report—based on a CRA performance audit conducted by GAO from July 2018 to July 2019—presents two recommendations to the CFPB director on communicating expectations to CRAs concerning: (i) “reasonable procedures for assuring maximum possible accuracy of consumer report information;” and (ii) “reasonable investigations of consumer disputes.” According to the report, there are various causes for consumer report inaccuracies: errors in the data collected by CRAs and data not being matched to the correct consumer by CRAs. While the Bureau has “generally focused on assessing compliance with Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requirements,” GAO notes that the CFPB “has not defined its expectations for how CRAs can comply with key statutory requirements.” For instance, under the FCRA, CRAs must follow reasonable procedures for ensuring maximum possible accuracy and reasonably investigate consumer disputes. However, although the CFPB has identified deficiencies concerning these requirements in its CRA examinations, the Bureau “has not defined its expectations—such as by communicating information on appropriate practices—for how CRAs can comply with these requirements.” Therefore, GAO concluded, there exist opportunities for the Bureau to improve its oversight of CRAs. The CFPB neither agreed nor disagreed with GAO’s recommendations, and stressed that “it has made oversight of the consumer reporting market a top priority and that its supervisory reviews of CRAs have focused on evaluating their systems for assuring the accuracy of data used to prepare consumer reports.” The Bureau also commented on CRAs’ significant advances in promoting greater accuracy.
U.S. government watchdog studies fintech lending trends, recommends need for clarity on use of alternative data
In December, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report entitled “Financial Technology: Agencies Should Provide Clarification on Lenders’ Use of Alternative Data,” which addresses emerging issues in fintech lending due to rapid growth in loan volume and increasing partnerships between banks and fintech lenders. The report also addresses fintech lenders’ use of alternative data to supplement traditional data used in making credit decisions or to detect fraud. The report notes that many banks and fintech lenders would benefit from additional guidance to ease the regulatory uncertainty surrounding the use of alternative data, including compliance with fair lending and consumer protection laws. The report’s findings cover the following topics:
- Growth of fintech lending. GAO’s analysis discusses the growth of fintech lending and several possible driving factors, such as financial innovation; consumer and business demand; lower interest rates on outstanding debt; increased investor base; and competitive advantages resulting from differences in regulatory requirements when compared to traditional state- or federally chartered banks.
- Partnerships with federally regulated banks. The report addresses two broad categories of business models: bank partnership and direct lending. GAO reports that the most common structure is the bank partnership model, where fintech lenders evaluate loan applicants through technology-based credit models, which incorporate partner banks’ underwriting criteria and are originated using the bank’s charter as opposed to state lending licenses. The fintech lender may then purchase the loans from the banks and either hold the loan in portfolio, or sell in the secondary market.
- Regulatory concerns. GAO reports that the most significant regulatory challenges facing fintech lenders relate to (i) compliance with varying state regulations; (ii) litigation-related concerns including the “valid when made” doctrine and “true lender” issues; (iii) ability to obtain industrial loan company charters; and (iv) emerging federal initiatives such as the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s (OCC) special-purpose national bank charter, fragmented coordination among federal regulators, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) “no-action letter” policy.
- Consumer protection issues. The report identifies several consumer protection concerns related to fintech lending, including issues related to transparency in small business lending; data accuracy and privacy, particularly with respect to the use of alternative data in underwriting; and the potential for high-cost loans due to lack of competitive pressure.
- Use of alternative data. The report discusses fintech lenders’ practice of using alternative data, such as on-time rent payments or a borrower’s alma mater and degree, to supplement traditional data when making credit decisions. GAO notes that while there are potential benefits to using alternative data—including expansion of credit access, improved pricing of products, faster credit decisions, and fraud prevention—there are also a number of identified risks, such as fair lending issues, transparency, data reliability, performance during economic downturns, and cybersecurity concerns.
The GAO concludes by recommending that U.S. federal financial regulators, including the CFPB, Federal Reserve Board of Governors, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the OCC communicate in writing with fintech lenders and their bank partners about the appropriate use of alternative data in the underwriting process. According to the report, all four agencies indicated their intent to take action to address the recommendations and outlined efforts to monitor the use of alternative data.
On May 8, the House voted to repeal, under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), CFPB Bulletin 2013-02 (Bulletin) on indirect auto lending and compliance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Senate approved the resolution on April 18 and the White House issued a Statement of Administrative Policy supporting the Senate resolution; it is expected that President Trump will sign the measure soon.
If the measure is successful, this would be the first time that Congress has used the CRA to repeal a regulatory issuance outside the statute’s general 60-day period. In December 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a letter to Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa) stating that “the Bulletin is a general statement of policy and a rule” that is subject to override under the CRA, which allowed for the Senate to introduce the resolution measure years after the CFPB released the Bulletin.