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On January 6, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation issued modified proposed regulations under the Student Loan Servicing Act (Act), which provides for the licensure, regulation, and oversight of student loan servicers by DFPI (covered by InfoBytes here). Last September, DFPI issued proposed rules to clarify, among other things, that income share agreements (ISAs) and installment contracts, which use terminology and documentation distinct from traditional loans, serve the same purpose as traditional loans (i.e., “help pay the cost of a student’s higher education”), and are therefore student loans subject to the Act. As such, servicers of these products must be licensed and comply with all applicable laws, DFPI said. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The initial proposed rules also (i) defined the term “education financing products” (which now fall under the purview of the Act) along with other related terms; (ii) amended various license application requirements, including financial requirements for startup applicants; (iii) outlined provisions related to non-licensee filing requirements (e.g., requirements for servicers that do not require a license but that are subject to the Student Loans: Borrower Rights Law, which was enacted in 2020 (effective January 1, 2021)); (iv) specified that servicers of all education financing products must submit annual aggregate student loan servicing reports to DFPI; and (v) outlined new clarifications to the Student Loans: Borrower Rights Law to provide new requirements for student loan servicers (covered by InfoBytes here).
Following its consideration of public comments on the initial proposed rulemaking, DFPI is proposing the following changes:
- Amendments to definitions. The modified regulations revise the definition of “education financing products” by changing “private loans” to “private education loans,” which are not traditional loans. DFPI explained that changing the term to what is used in TILA will provide consistency for servicers and eliminate operational burdens. While the definition of “education financing products” also no longer includes “income share agreements and installment contracts” in order to align it with TILA, both of these terms were separately defined in the initial proposed rulemaking. The definition of “traditional student loan” has also been revised to distinguish which private student loans are traditional loans and which are education financing products (in order to help servicers determine the applicable aggregate reporting and records maintenance rules). The modifications also revise the definitions of “federal student loan,” “income,” “income share agreement,” “installment contract,” “payment cap,” “payment term,” and “qualifying payments,” remove unnecessary alternative terms for “income share,” and add “maximum payments” as a new defined term.
- Time zone requirement revisions. The modified regulations revise the time zone in which a payment must be received to be considered on-time to Pacific Time in order to protect California borrowers.
- Additional borrower protections. The modified regulations specify that servicers are required to send written acknowledgement of receipt and responses to qualified written requests via a borrower’s preferred method of communication. For borrowers who do not specify a preferred method, servicers must send acknowledgments and responses through both postal mail to the last known address and to all email addresses on record.
- Examinations, books, and records requirement updates. The modified regulations revise the information that servicers must provide in their aggregate reports for traditional student loans, including with respect to: (i) loan balance and status; (ii) cumulative balances and amounts paid; and (iii) aggregate information specific to ISAs, installment contracts, and other education financing products. Additionally, DFPI clarified that while the amount a borrower will be required to pay to an ISA provider in the future is unknown, many ISAs contain an “early completion” provision to allow a borrower to extinguish future obligations, and ISA providers must give this information to borrowers. DFPI further clarified that while servicers may choose to maintain records electronically, they must also be able to produce paper records for inspection at a DFPI-designated servicer location to allow an examination to be conducted in one place.
Comments on the modified regulations are due January 26.
In December, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) issued a report identifying six recommendations for how California should engage with blockchain and Web3 industries. The report follows a May 2022 Executive Order (E.O.) from the California governor to create a regulatory and business environment for blockchain and cryptocurrency companies that balances the benefits and risks to consumers. As previously covered by InfoBytes, one of the priorities of the E.O. included for DFPI to, among other things, engage in a public process, including with federal agencies, to “develop a comprehensive regulatory approach to crypto assets harmonized with the direction of federal regulations and guidance” and “exercise its authority under the California Consumer Financial Protection Law (CCFPL) to develop guidance and, as appropriate, regulatory clarity and supervision of private entities offering crypto asset-related financial products and services” in California. The report made six recommendations to “encourage the continued growth and adoption of blockchain technology.”
- Engagement with stakeholders. The state should “continue dialogue with industry, advocates, and regulators to stay apprised of new technologies, products, definitions and risks.”
- Consumer protection and education. The state should promote consumer protection and consumer education about blockchain and crypto products, which includes, among other things: (i) training staff to better supervise regulated entities, products, and services; (ii) increasing efforts to educate Californians on how to use certain crypto-asset related financial products and services; and (iii) developing and publishing “standards for use in reviewing crypto asset-related securities to help provide more meaningful investor disclosures and to allow companies who wish to offer such securities more quickly and efficiently.”
- Legislation and regulation. The state should identify legislative gaps and clarify statutory authority regarding crypto assets. DFPI will attempt to harmonize California’s regulatory approach with federal regulators, other states, and local jurisdictions.
- Government use. The state should consider ways to use blockchain technology to “increase efficiencies, improve access, and reduce costs.”
- Environmental protection. The state should encourage more environmentally efficient blockchain technologies and explore policy interventions to reduce energy use.
- Workforce and economic development. The state should tap its higher education systems to help support and grow the blockchain sector and related technologies.
On December 22, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) released modifications to proposed regulations for implementing and interpreting certain sections of the California Consumer Financial Protection Law (CCFPL) related to consumer complaints and inquiries. As previously covered by InfoBytes, DFPI issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) last May to implement Section 90008 subdivisions (a) and (b) of the CCFPL, which authorize DFPI to promulgate rules establishing reasonable procedures for covered persons to provide timely responses to consumers and DFPI concerning consumer complaints and inquiries, as well as subdivision (d)(2)(D), which “permits covered persons to withhold nonpublic or confidential information, including confidential supervisory information, in response to a consumer request to the covered person for information regarding a consumer financial product or service.”
After considering comments received on the NPRM, changes proposed by the DFPI include the following:
- Amended definitions. The proposed regulations will not apply to, in addition to consumer reporting agencies and student loan servicers, a person or entity already exempt from the CCFPL under Section 90002. The definition of “complaint” is amended to include “an oral or written expression of dissatisfaction from a complainant regarding a specific issue or problem with a financial product or service.” Additionally, “complainant” is amended to also provide that a consumer must have been a resident of California at the time of the act, omission, decision, condition, or policy giving rise to the complaint. The proposed regulations also outline several categories that are not included in the definition of “complaint” or “inquiry.”
- Complaint procedure updates. The proposed regulations outline requirements for covered persons related to consumer disclosures and written communications covering the complaint process. The proposed regulations also require covered persons to accept all complaints, whether written or oral, provided the complaint includes a reason for filing the complaint and sufficient information to identify the complainant.
- Restrictions. Covered persons shall not (i) “[r]equest personal identifying information beyond what is reasonably necessary to identify the complainant and to send correspondence”; (ii) “[r]equest financial information unrelated to the specific complaint of the consumer:” or (iii) impose a time limit for filing a complaint that is shorter than one year from the time the complainant discovers the act, omission, decision, condition, or policy that is the subject of the complaint (if a time limit is imposed it must be stated in the required consumer disclosures).
- Complaint acknowledgements. For every complaint received, covered persons must send the complainant a written acknowledgement of receipt that is postmarked or otherwise shows that acknowledgement was sent within five business days after receiving the complaint. Within 15 business days after receiving a complaint, a covered person must provide a final decision on all issues. If additional time is required, a covered person must provide the complainant with a written update within three business days after the initial 15-business day period ends.
- Inquiry response requirements. Covered persons are required to develop and implement written policies and procedures to implement the regulations’ inquiry requirements, and must also respond to all issues raised by an inquiry within 10 business days. Covered persons must retain copies of all written inquiries and written responses for at least three years from the time the written response was issued.
- Reporting requirements. Covered persons must submit an annual complaint report to DFPI for each financial product or service offered or provided that will be made available to the public with limited exceptions. Each report shall include information regarding all complaints received by the covered person during the reporting period, and must be filed electronically with the Consumer Financial Protection Division no later than 60 business days after the end of each calendar year.
Comments on the proposed modifications are due January 20 (extended from January 13).
On December 21, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) announced it has ordered an online platform offering several crypto-related services and products to desist and refrain from violating the California Securities Law and the California Consumer Financial Protection Law. According to DFPI, the company, which is registered with the California Secretary of State, offers services including (i) a peer-to-peer loan brokering service in which it claims that loans are secured by borrowers’ crypto assets; (ii) an interest-bearing crypto asset account that promises a fixed annual percentage rate yield; and (iii) an interest-bearing fiat account that promises a fixed annual percentage interest rate return. DFPI maintained that the company engaged in unlicensed loan brokering by offering and providing brokering services for personal loans made from one consumer to another (known as peer-to-peer lending), and conducted the unregistered sale of securities, in which consumers’ assets were pooled together with the stated purpose of generating passive returns. DFPI claimed that the company was and is not registered to offer investment contracts or to operate in this capacity with any relevant authority. Finding that these peer-to-peer lending services and interest-bearing accounts violate state law, including a prohibition against engaging in unlawful acts or practices, DFPI ordered the company to stop offering the services and products in California.
Recently, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) issued a reminder that starting January 1, 2023, the agency will begin approving applications under the Debt Collection Licensing Act. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the California governor signed AB 156 in September to allow any debt collector that submits an application to the DFPI commissioner by January 1, 2023, to operate pending the approval or denial of the application. DFPI reminded applicants that background checks will be performed at a later date. The period for individuals to provide fingerprints upon request from DFPI is extended from 60 to 90 days. Written notification will be sent to applicants through the Nationwide Multi-State Licensing System 90 days prior to fingerprinting being due. Additionally, DFPI stated that due to the delay in the application process, final approvals may be delayed. Further announcements will be issued in the coming weeks concerning conditional approvals, DFPI said, noting that it will provide at least 30 days' notice before implementing any changes to existing processes.
On November 10, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) announced that it is investigating “the apparent failure” of a crypto asset platform, which recently announced that it filed for bankruptcy. According to DFPI, it takes “oversight responsibility very seriously,” and expects “any person offering securities, lender, or other financial services provider that operates in California to comply with our financial laws.”
DFPI revokes crypto lending company's license; issues notice to suspend a different crypto lending company
On Fecember 19 , the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) announced that it has moved to revoke a cryptocurrency lender’s license. According to DFPI revoking the license "is the result of the department’s examination, which found that the New Jersey-based finance lender failed to perform adequate underwriting when making loans and failed to consider borrowers’ ability to repay these loans, in violation of California’s financing laws and regulations." DFPI previously announced on November 18 an order suspending a cryptocurrency lender’s California license for 30 days pending DFPI’s investigation. The suspension follows the DFPI’s notice to suspend issued on November 11, which was prompted by the cryprocurrency lender's November 10 announcement that it would limit platform activity, including pausing client withdrawals. DFPI noted that the cryptocurrency lender confirmed its “significant exposure to [a crypto asset platform]” and affiliated entities. DFPI further noted that the cryptocurrency lender expected “that the recovery of the obligations owed to us by [the crypto company] will be delayed as [the crypto company] works through the bankruptcy process.” According to the cryptocurrency lender, withdrawals would continue to be paused. DFPI also noted that in February 2022, the respondent was ordered to desist and refrain from offering or selling unqualified, non-exempt securities in the form of its interest accounts in California.
Later, DFPI issued an order suspending a different cryptocurrency lender’s license license for 30 days pending DFPI’s investigation into the respondent’s recent announcement to limit its platform activity, including pausing client withdrawals. The respondent had sent a communication to customers signed by the CEO, stating: “I am sorry to report that the collapse of [the cryptocurrency lender that was issued a notice to suspend from DFPI on November 10] has impacted our business. Until we are able to determine the extent of this impact with specific details that we feel confident are factually accurate, we have paused deposits and withdrawals on [its own platform] effective immediately.” DFPI also noted that it is “investigating the extent to which [the cryptocurrency lender] has been affected by the bankruptcy of [the cryptocurrency lender that was issued a notice to suspend from the DFPI on November 10] and related companies.”
On November 3, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) released a new opinion letter covering aspects of the California Money Transmission Act (MTA) related to a cryptocurrency exchange’s transactions. The redacted opinion letter examines whether the inquiring company’s proposed business activities—which “will offer the purchase, sale, and trading of various cryptocurrencies using a platform provided by its affiliate and in conjunction with another affiliate that is a . . . registered broker-dealer”—are exempt from the MTA. Transactions on the company’s platform will involve the use of the company’s tokenized version of the U.S. dollar. Customers will deposit U.S. dollar funds into a company account where an equivalent amount of tokens will be created and used to facilitate a trade for cryptocurrency. The tokens can also be exchanged for U.S. dollars, or customers can hold the tokens in their wallet. According to the letter, the company says it “does not take custody of its client’s currencies or offer digital wallets,” but rather a “client’s digital wallet is directly linked to the platform and transacts on a peer-to-peer basis with other clients.” In addition to trading cryptocurrencies, the company also plans to allow customers to “trade in cryptographic representations of publicly listed securities,” thereby permitting customers to purchase, sell, or trade the securities tokens on the platform. The company will also be able to transfer customers’ shares of securities tokens from the platform to a customer’s traditional brokerage account. The company explained that these transactions of securities tokens will be covered by the company’s affiliate’s broker-dealer license.
DFPI concluded that because the Department has not yet “determined whether the issuance of tokenized versions of the U.S. Dollar or securities, or their use to trade cryptocurrencies, is money transmission,” it will not require the company to obtain an MTA license in order to perform the aforementioned services or to issue tokenized version of the U.S. dollar or securities. DFPI noted, however, that its conclusions are subject to change, and emphasized that its letter does not address whether the proposed activities are subject to licensure or registration under other laws, including the Corporate Securities Law of 1968.
On September 27, the California governor signed AB 156, which, among other things, amends various provisions of the Debt Collection Licensing Act to allow any debt collector that submits an application to the commissioner of the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation before January 1, 2023, to operate pending the approval or denial of the application. The amendments also authorize the commissioner to issue a conditional license pending the receipt and review of fingerprints and related information. Additional provisions state that a conditional license will expire under certain conditions, including the issuance of an unconditional license. The amendments also grant the commissioner authorization to deem an application abandoned. The amendments take effect January 1, 2023.
On September 27, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation issued desist and refrain orders against 11 entities, including nine crypto asset trading platforms, one metaverse software development company, and one decentralized finance platform for violating California securities laws. While each of the 11 entities allegedly offered and sold unqualified securities through their platforms and promised various fixed rates of return to investors, DFPI claimed that the entities actually engaged in Ponzi-like schemes and used investor funds to distribute supposed profits and returns to other investors. Additionally, DFPI accused the entities of “luring” new investors through referral programs that operated like pyramid schemes in which investors would be paid commissions to recruit new investors. Referring to these as “high yield investment programs (HYIPs),” DFPI claimed the entities provided investors with few details about the people operating the HYIPs, how the HYIPs make money, or how the HYIPs facilitate deposits and withdrawals with crypto assets, among other things. DFPI also accused 10 of the 11 entities of making material representations and omissions to investors about the qualifications of their securities under California law as well as the purported risks. DFPI said in its announcement that it had been directed by an executive order issued by the governor in May (covered by InfoBytes here) to initiate enforcement actions to stop violations of consumer financial laws and to increase residents’ awareness of the benefits and risks associated with crypto asset-related financial products and services.