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On January 19, the OCC announced an updated version of the “Branches and Relocations” booklet of the Comptroller’s Licensing Manual. According to Bulletin 2023-04, the revised booklet replaces booklet of the same title issued in October 2019. The revised booklet, among other things: (i) reflects recent updates to 12 CFR 5 and other regulations, as applicable; (ii) removes references to outdated guidance and provides current references; and (iii) makes other minor modifications and corrections throughout.
On January 2, the Ohio governor signed SB 131, which, among other things, requires “an occupational licensing authority to issue a license or government certification to an applicant who holds a license, government certification, or private certification or has satisfactory work experience in another state under certain circumstances.” The Act eases licensing burdens by allowing licensed professionals to apply for and be granted a license to work provided they meet certain criteria. Specifically, a licensing authority shall issue a license or government certification to an applicant if the authority determines that the applicant meets several conditions, including: (i) the applicant holds either a “substantially similar out-of-state occupational license that authorizes the applicant to engage in the same profession, occupation, or occupational activity as the license or government certification for which the applicant is applying in this state” or a “government certification in the same profession, occupation, or occupational activity as the license or government certification for which the applicant is applying in this state from one of the uniformed services or a state that does not issue an out-of-state occupational license for the respective profession, occupation, or occupational activity”; (ii) the applicant possesses a valid out-of-state license for at least one year immediately preceding the date the application is submitted and has been actively engaged in the profession (a licensing authority may choose to waive this requirement); (iii) the applicant is in good standing; (iv) the applicant satisfied minimum education, training, or experience requirements or passed an examination to receive an out-of-state occupational license or government certification (this provision is waived if applicable law does not require these requirements); (v) the applicant has not surrendered or had revoked a license, out-of-state occupational license, or government certification, and does not have any disqualifying criminal history or is the subject of a complaint, allegation, or investigation related to unprofessional conduct or a violation of a law; and (vi) the applicant pays the required fees. The Act also discusses additional pathways for licensure through private certification.
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.
Recently, the Washington Department of Financial Institutions adopted regulations implementing amendments to the Consumer Loan Act and the Mortgage Broker Practices Act. The amendments, among other things, allow licensed companies, subject to enumerated conditions, to permit licensed mortgage loan originators to work from their residence without licensing the residence as a branch. The amended regulations also clarify that a licensed loan originator may originate loans from any licensed location or their residence, whether located in Washington or not, so long as the mortgage loan originator’s sponsoring company is licensed to do business in Washington. The amendments are effective January 1, 2023.
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.
On December 1, the Connecticut Department of Banking (Department) fined a collection law firm $100,000 and ordered it to cease and desist from collection activity for operating without a valid license. According to the order, in August, the Department issued a temporary order to cease and desist, a notice of intent to issue order to cease and desist, a notice of intent to impose a civil penalty, and a notice of a right to a hearing, which provided the firm 14 days to respond to request a hearing. Furthermore, the firm was warned that if a request for hearing was not made, a cease and desist order would likely be forthcoming. During its investigation, the state discovered that in 2019, the firm was conducting unlicensed collection agency activity for about 10,000 Connecticut accounts with a total balance of about $1.4 million. The firm allegedly collected approximately $81,000 of that amount. In late 2019, the state sent the firm a certified letter regarding its collection activity and asked for a response, which was never provided. In the August order, the firm was asked to supply the state with a list of all the creditors with whom the firm has entered into agreements for consumer collection services since July 2018, including copies of all the agreements with those creditors, and an itemized list of each Connecticut debtor account that the firm had attempted collections on for the same time period.
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.
Recently, NYDFS announced it is seeking public comment on a proposed rule establishing how certain licensed virtual currency businesses would be assessed for the costs of their supervision and examination. According to NYDFS, the proposed regulation establishes a provision in the state budget granting NYDFS new authority to collect supervisory costs from virtual currency businesses that are licensed pursuant to the Financial Services Law, and will permit NYDFS “to continue adding top talent to its virtual currency regulatory team.” The proposed regulation states that it will apply only to licensed persons engaged in virtual currency business activity and that the fees will only cover the costs and expenses associated with NYDFS's oversight of each licensee. Specifically, the draft regulation states that a licensee's total annual assessment fee will be the “sum of its supervisory component and its regulatory component” and that each licensee will be billed five times per fiscal year. According to the regulation, there will be four quarterly fees, each approximately 25 percent of the anticipated annual amount, and a final fee based on the actual total operating cost for the fiscal year. Comments on the proposed regulation are due March 20.
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.”