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On November 17, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) issued an invitation for comments on proposed rulemaking under the California Consumer Financial Protection Law (CCFPL). The CCFPL provides DFPI with the authority to require companies that provide financial products and services to California consumers to register with the agency. DFPI is also able to “require registrants to generate and provide records to facilitate oversight of registrants and detect risks to California consumers.” The draft rule proposes requiring registration for industries that engage in the following financial products and services: debt settlement, student debt relief, education financing, and wage-based advances. According to DFPI’s notice, with respect to education financing, the proposed rulemaking covers providers of any form of credit where the credit’s purpose is to fund postsecondary education. It also covers “credit regardless of whether the provider labels the credit a loan, retail installment contract, or income share agreement, and regardless of whether the credit recipient’s payment obligation is absolute, contingent, or fixed.” Additionally, DFPI notes that “[w]ith respect to education financing with income-based payments, including contracts sometimes referred to as income share agreements,” DFPI proposes “reporting requirements that in some cases diverge from the reporting requirements for education financing with fixed payments.”
The proposed rulemaking provides definitions to implement the CCFPL registration regulations and addresses several registration provisions including the following:
- Provides that a person must not engage in the business of offering or providing the designated products and services without first registering with the commissioner unless exempt. The DFPI’s notice stipulates that registering with the commissioner “does not constitute a determination that other laws, including other licensing laws under the commissioner’s jurisdiction, do not apply” and the proposed rulemaking further provides that “granting registration to an applicant does not constitute a determination that the applicant’s acts, practices, or business model complies with any law or regulation.”
- Outlines registration requirements and designates NMLS to handle all applications, registrant filings, and fee payments on behalf of the commissioner. The proposed rulemaking lays out information that must be submitted and maintained as part of the registration application, as well as notices required by state law, and steps registrants must take when making changes to an application filing. An applicant’s failure to provide all or any part of the requested information may prevent approval, DFPI states.
- Outlines requirements for registrants seeking to conduct business at a new branch office or at a new location for an existing branch. Requests must be filed with NMLS within 30 calendar days of the date a registrant engages in business at the new branch office or new location.
- Addresses procedures related to annual assessments and pro rata payment requirements, as well as annual reporting requirements for registrants based on the products and services they provide.
- Outlines procedures and requirements for rescinding a summary revocation order when a former registrant submits a written request for reinstatement to the commissioner.
- Discusses procedures related to the effectiveness, surrender, and revocation of a registration. DFPI provides that a “registration issued under this subchapter is effective until it is revoked by the commissioner, is surrendered by the registrant, or becomes inoperative under subdivision (b) of Financial Code section 90009.5.”
DFPI’s notice also seeks comments on proposals to streamline the registration process and improve transparency and clarification on matters related to, among other things: (i) the types of information that may be subject to public disclosure; (ii) annual reporting requirements not included in the proposed rulemaking; and (iii) certain registration requirements that may be applicable to DFPI licensees and licensees and registrants of other state agencies. In addition, DFPI seeks stakeholder feedback on the economic impact of the draft rules on businesses and consumers in California.
Comments on the proposed rulemaking are due December 20.
On November 15, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) issued a second draft of proposed regulations under the Debt Collection Licensing Act (the Act). As previously covered by InfoBytes, California enacted the Act in 2020 to require a person engaging in the business of debt collecting in the state, as defined by the Act, to be licensed. The Act also provides for the regulation and oversight of debt collectors by DFPI. In April 2021, DFPI issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) and proposed regulations to adopt new requirements for debt collectors seeking to obtain a license to operate in the state, and issued a notice of modifications to the NPRM in June to incorporate changes to its debt collection license requirements and application. (Covered by InfoBytes here and here.) Among other things, the proposed modifications:
- Amend the definition of “branch office” to include any location other than an applicant’s or licensee’s principal place of business “if activity related to debt collection occurs at the location and the location is held out to the public as a business location or money is received at the location or held at the location.” The definition of “holding a location out to the public” includes receiving postal correspondence, meeting with the public, including the location on correspondence, letterhead, or business cards, and including signage at the location, or making any other representation that the location is a business location.
- Amend the definition of “debt collector” to align with the Act, which defines “debt collector” as “any person who, in the ordinary course of business, regularly, on the person’s own behalf or on behalf of others, engages in debt collection. The term includes any person who composes and sells, or offers to compose and sell, forms, letters and other collection media used or intended to be used for debt collection. The term ‘debt collector’ includes ‘debt buyer’ as defined in Section 1788.50 of the Civil Code.”
Comments on the second draft of modifications must be received by December 2.
Recently, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) reminded companies licensed under the California Financing Law that they must transition onto the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System & Registry (NMLS) by December 31. Licensees not currently on the NMLS must establish an account in the system and transfer information to DFPI through NMLS on or before the deadline. Applicants and transitioning licensees are required to submit IRS and Secretary of State documentation identifying the employer identification number and the state where the company is registered as a business. DFPI further stated that the time for “DFPI to process the licensee’s NMLS transition does not [affect] the licensure status of the licensee, and may occur after the licensee’s December 31, 2021 deadline to submit the licensee’s information to the DFPI through NMLS.”
Recently, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) released several new opinion letters covering aspects of the California Money Transmission Act (MTA) related to virtual currency and agent of payee rules. Highlights from the redacted letters include:
- Cryptocurrency and Agent of Payee Exemption. The redacted opinion letter reviewed whether MTA licensure is required for a company’s proposal to offer payment processing services that would enable merchants to receive payments in U.S. dollars from buyers of goods and services, automatically exchange these payments into dollar-denominated tokens on a blockchain network, and to store the tokens in a custodial digital wallet. DFPI currently does not require licensure for companies to receive U.S. dollars from a buyer for transfer to a merchant’s wallet as dollar tokens. DFPI explained that even if it did regulate this activity, the structure of the company’s payment processing services satisfies the requirements of the agent-of-payee exemption, wherein the company acts as the agent of the merchant pursuant to a preexisting written contract and the company’s receipt of payment satisfies the buyer’s obligation to the merchant for goods or services. DFPI further explained that while storing dollar tokens in a custodial digital wallet or making subsequent transfers out of a wallet do not currently require licensure under the MTA, DFPI may later determine the activities are subject to regulatory supervision.
- Asset-Backed Tokens and Other Cryptocurrency. The redacted opinion letter asked DFPI whether an MTA license is required to (i) provide technical services to enable owners of metal to create digital assets representing interests in that metal; (ii) facilitate trading in these digital assets; or (iii) provide digital wallets to customers. The company intends to create a platform to facilitate the creation, sale, and trading of metal asset-backed tokens, whereby a customer purchases metal asset-backed tokens (ABTs) or currency tokens using fiat currency stored in an FBO account. Customers will not be allowed to transmit fiat currency to each other except to facilitate the purchase of ABTs or currency tokens, to receive proceeds from ABTs, or to pay platform fees. DFPI explained that while issuing stored value is generally considered money transmission, “[p]roviding technical services to assist in the creation of a [m]etal ABT and [i]ndustrial [t]okens and issuing a digital wallet holding the [m]etal ABT does not require licensure.” DFPI noted that the company is not itself issuing the ABT or industrial tokens. DFPI further concluded that the company does not need an MTA license to issue a digital wallet holding metal ATBs because the digital wallet is not stored value nor can the wallet’s contents be redeemed for money or monetary value or be used as payment for goods or services. DFPI separately indicated that a license is not currently required to facilitate the sale of ABTs, nor the issuance and sale of currency tokens. However, DFPI warned the company that the opinion only pertains to MTA, and that the company should be aware that metal ABTs and industrial tokens “could be considered a commodity and California Corporations Code section 29520 generally prohibits the sale of a commodity, unless an exception applies.”
- Cryptocurrency-to-Precious Metals Dealer. The redacted opinion letter reviewed whether an online cryptocurrency-to-precious metals dealer, which accepts a variety of different cryptocurrencies in exchange for precious metals and also purchases precious metals from customers using different cryptocurrencies, requires MTA licensure. The company referenced a 2016 decision where DFPI determined that a company operating a software technology platform to facilitate the purchase and sale of gold was not engaged in money transmission, that gold and other precious metals were not payment instruments, that the transactions did not represent selling or issuing stored value, and that “the activity did not constitute receiving money for transmission because the sale or repurchase of gold was a bargained-for-exchange and did not involve transmission to a third party.” The company argued that purchasing and selling precious metals with cryptocurrency is similar and should not trigger MTA’s licensing requirement. DFPI agreed that the company’s business activities do not meet the definition of money transmission because precious metals are not payment instruments, and as such, purchasing and selling precious metals for cryptocurrency does not represent the sale or issuance of a payment instrument. Additionally, DFPI concluded that the company is not selling or issuing stored value, nor do the transactions “involve the receipt of money or monetary value for transmission within or outside the U.S.”
- Virtual Currency Wallet. The redacted opinion letter asked whether an MTA license is required to operate a platform that will provide customers with an account to store and transfer virtual currencies. The company will also provide customers access to an exchange where they can facilitate the purchase or sale of virtual currencies in exchange for other virtual currencies. Fiat currency will not be used on the platform. DFPI stated that it does not currently require companies to obtain an MTA license to operate a platform that provides customers with an account to store and transfer virtual currencies. DFPI further stated that a license is not required to operate a platform that gives customers access to an exchange to purchase or sell virtual currencies in exchange for other virtual currencies.
- Purchase of Cryptocurrency. The redacted opinion letter examined whether a company that offers clients a direct opportunity to buy cryptocurrency in exchange for fiat currency requires MTA licensure. The company explained, among other things, that there is no transmission of cryptocurrency to third parties and that it does not offer money transmission services. DFPI concluded that because the company’s activities are limited to directly selling cryptocurrency to clients, it “does not require an MTA license because it does not involve the sale or issuance of a payment instrument, the sale or issuance of stored value, or receiving money for transmission.”
DFPI reminded the companies that its determinations are limited to the presented facts and circumstances and that any change could lead to different conclusions. Moreover, the letters do not relieve the companies from any FinCEN or federal regulatory obligations.
On November 5, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) issued a fourth draft of proposed regulations implementing the requirements of the commercial financing disclosures required by SB 1235 (Chapter 1011, Statutes of 2018). As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2018, California enacted SB 1235, which requires non-bank lenders and other finance companies to provide written, consumer-style disclosures for certain commercial transactions, including small business loans and merchant cash advances. California released the first draft of the proposed regulations in July 2019, initiated the formal rulemaking process with the Office of Administrative Law in September 2020, and subsequently released second and third rounds of modifications in August and October of this year (covered by InfoBytes here, here, here, and here). The fourth modifications to the proposed regulations follow a consideration of public comments received on the various iterations of the proposed text. Among other things, the proposed modifications amend the term “average monthly cost” to mean the average total amount paid by the recipient (for periodic and irregular payments) over a contract’s term divided by the number of months specified in the contract. Providers may divide the number of days in the contract term by 30.4 to determine the number of months in the contract term. This calculation may also be used to determine the “estimated monthly cost.” Comments on the fourth modifications must be received by November 22.
Recently, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) released two new opinion letters covering aspects of the California Money Transmission Act (MTA) related to bitcoin automated teller machines (ATMs) and kiosks and the Agent of Payee exemption.
- Bitcoin ATM Kiosk. The redacted opinion letter explains that the sale and purchase of bitcoin through ATMs/kiosks described by the inquiring company is not activity that is subject to licensure under the MTA. DFPI states that the customer’s purchase of bitcoin directly from the company “does not involve the sale or issuance of a payment instrument, the sale or issuance of stored value, or receiving money for transmission.” In each instance, the transaction would only be between the customer using the ATM/kiosk and the company, the bitcoin would be sent directly to the customer’s virtual currency wallet, no third parties are involved in the transmission, and the company does not hold digital wallets on behalf of customers. DFPI reminds the company that its determination is limited to the presented facts and circumstances and that any change could lead to a different conclusion. Moreover, the letter does not relieve the company from any FinCEN or federal regulatory obligations.
- Agent of Payee Exemption. The redacted opinion letter analyzes a proposed future service to be provided by the inquiring company and determines whether the service meets the agent of payee exemption from the MTA. The company and its global affiliates “provide a global, fully integrated suite of back-end service, including sales compliance management, fraud prevention, risk management, tax and regulatory fee calculation, billing optimization, and remittance services to manufacturers, merchants, and retailers” (collectively, “brands”) that want to sell or license products and services to shoppers. The company proposes a future service, which will allow brands to sell products directly to shoppers and transfer the products to the shoppers. The company will not take title to or purchase the products and will continue to provide its suite of back-end services including payment processing, tax and regulatory fees calculations, and refund processing. The company’s contracts with the brands appoint the company as the agent of the brands for facilitating product sales and receiving payments and funds from shoppers. Agreements will also be entered between the company and the shoppers with terms that state a shopper’s payment to the company is considered payment to the brand, which extinguishes the shopper’s payment liability. The company will accept funds for the sale of products on behalf of the brands, and at the conclusion of the sale, will settle the funds paid by the shoppers and remit sales taxes to the appropriate authorities. The company will be the entity responsible for paying and reporting taxes accrued by the sales to shoppers.
DFPI states that the company will “receive money for transmission,” thus triggering the license requirement in the MTA, by receiving funds from the shoppers in the sales transactions. However, the company qualifies for the Agent of Payee exemption because the company will be the recipient of money from the shoppers as an agent of the brands pursuant to a written contract, and payments from the shoppers to the company as the agent will satisfy the shoppers’ payment obligation to the brands. DFPI further notes that refunds facilitated by the company on behalf of the brands will be a reversal of the original transactions with the shoppers, and therefore will not require licensure. Finally, DFPI notes that by contract, the company will be legally responsible for paying local sales taxes on transactions. According to the agreement, because the company will pay taxes on its own behalf, and will not be paying taxes owed by the shoppers, its tax payments will not constitute money transmission. DFPI reminds the company that its determination is limited to the presented facts and circumstances and that any change could lead to a different conclusion.
On October 12, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) issued a third draft of proposed regulations implementing the requirements of the commercial financing disclosures required by SB 1235 (Chapter 1011, Statutes of 2018). As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2018, California enacted SB 1235, which requires non-bank lenders and other finance companies to provide written consumer-style disclosures for certain commercial transactions, including small business loans and merchant cash advances. In July 2019, California released the first draft of the proposed regulations, initiated the formal rulemaking process with the Office of Administrative Law in September 2020, and subsequently released a second round of modifications in August (covered by InfoBytes here, here, and here). The third modifications to the proposed regulations follow a consideration of public comments received on the various iterations of the proposed text. Among other things, the proposed modifications:
- Amend several terms including “approved advance limit,” “approved credit limit,” “at the time of extending a specific commercial financing offer,” “benchmark rate,” “broker,” “provider,” and “recipient funds.”
- Define the term “specific commercial financing offer” to mean a written communication to a recipient related to specific payment amounts and costs of financing, but does not include a recipient’s name, address, or general interest in financing.
- Amend certain disclosure requirements and thresholds, including specific circumstances that a provider can disregard when making calculations and disclosures.
- Clarify APR calculation requirements and tolerances and outline disclosure criteria for specifying the amount of financing used to pay down or pay off other amounts owed by a recipient.
- Amend duties and requirements for financers and brokers.
- Amend criteria for specifying the amount of funding a recipient will receive.
Comments on the third modifications must be received by October 27.
On October 7, the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) released a report showing significant changes in consumer lending activity, likely attributable to a number of factors including the Covid-19 pandemic, state and federal financial assistance, student loan payment moratoriums, favorable interest rates, and increased reporting of alternative financing products. The 2020 annual report examined unaudited data gathered from finance lenders, brokers, and Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) administrators licensed under the California Financing Law, as well as new data from the “Buy Now, Pay Later” (BNPL) industry. Findings showed, among other things, a sharp decrease in certain types of consumer loans with BNPL products (often interest-free), decreasing overall by 41 percent in 2019. However, the report found that consumer loans, excluding BNPL, increased 94.8 percent during the same period—a result likely caused by an increase in originations of consumer loans secured by real estate. Finance lenders, including BNPL, originated nearly 12 million consumer loans in 2020 (a 530 percent increase over the prior year), with the top six BNPL lenders accounting for 91 percent of the total consumer loans originated in 2020. DFPI noted that a surge in BNPL unsecured consumer loans reported to the regulator shows that BNPL payment options are becoming increasingly popular. DFPI also discussed recent BNPL enforcement actions, which required companies to consider a consumer’s ability to repay a loan and subjected the companies to rate and fee caps.
The report also examined PACE financing data. According to findings, there was an 18 percent decline in the total number of PACE assessment contracts funded and originated in 2020, and a 30 percent decrease in gross income for PACE program administrators since 2019.
On September 22, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) announced its first enforcement action against a California-based debt collector and debt buyer for allegedly violating the California Consumer Financial Protection Law (CCFPL) by threatening to sue consumers and furnishing negative information to a credit bureau without first notifying consumers about the alleged debt—a practice commonly known as “debt parking.” According to DFPI, consumers complained that their credit scores dropped significantly as a result. The respondent also, among other things, allegedly left voicemails that did not disclose the caller’s identity, threatened illegal lawsuits and wage garnishment (even though it never actually commenced any legal proceedings), and failed to notify consumers in writing within 30 days of transmitting negative information to the credit bureau. Under the order, the respondent is required to pay a $375,000 fine and must desist and refrain from unlawful acts or practices associated with the FDCPA, the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and the Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act.
On September 13, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) issued a notice detailing a new requirement that mortgage servicers provide information to DFPI describing the actions servicers are taking to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. According to the announcement, DFPI intends to “ensure that licensees tell consumers about assistance that is or will soon be available to delinquent mortgage borrowers and document their good faith efforts toward screening borrowers for applicable loan modifications, mortgage relief funds and other protections, including the upcoming federal Homeowner Assistance Fund,” which licensees are strongly encouraged to participate in. To protect vulnerable homeowners, DFPI will require licensees handling residential mortgages, either directly or through sub-servicers, to provide information describing the servicer’s: (i) screening process for determining borrower eligibility for foreclosure aid; (ii) compliance policies and procedures regarding loss mitigation; and (iii) assessment of the “magnitude of foreclosure risk among the loans they service.”
The same day, DFPI released a social media campaign designed to educate consumers about the California Homeowner Bill of Rights, the availability of HUD-certified housing counselors, and foreclosure options, among other things. The announcement also notes that DFPI recently launched a multi-pronged communications campaign to educate consumers and protect homeowners from foreclosure.