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On October 27, newly sworn in CFPB Director Rohit Chopra appeared for the first time before the House Financial Services Committee to offer some of the first insights into his priorities at the Bureau. Chopra’s opening remarks focused on concerns regarding “Big Tech” and its control over the flow of money in the economy (these comments followed the issuance of information requests to six technology companies, covered by InfoBytes here). Chopra also focused on a need to ensure robust competition in financial markets and listen to local financial institutions and nascent players about obstacles they face when seeking to challenge dominant incumbents. Chopra also stressed the importance of holding “repeat offenders” accountable, highlighted an intent to coordinate efforts with federal and state regulators, and indicated a preference for scrutinizing larger market participants over smaller entities. He noted, however, potential leniency for companies that self-identify their own issues and violations. Additional highlights of the hearing include the following:
Enforcement. Chopra noted that “markets work well when rules are easy to follow and easy to enforce.” He also expressed his view that the CFPB should focus its resources on larger industry participants and “repeat offenders” rather than “strong-arming” small businesses into settlements to create law. Chopra also expressed a preference for setting regulatory guidelines through enforcement, indicating that “markets work well when rules are easy to follow, and easy to enforce.”
Section 1033 of Dodd-Frank. With respect to implementing this set of requirements, which deals with consumers’ rights to access information about their financial accounts, Chopra indicated a desire to “unlock more competition,” but warned that there also needs to be assurance that “banks and nonbanks are operating under the same set of rules” and that there is “not regulatory arbitrage.” While Chopra did not specify a timeline for promulgating the final rule implementing this section, he noted that the process is underway and that the Bureau is consulting with various experts. (Issuance of the ANPR was covered by InfoBytes here.)
Abusive acts and practices. Chopra said that he agreed with former acting Director Dave Uejio’s decision to rescind a policy statement on “abusive” conduct issued by former Director Kathy Kraninger. Chopra stated he has “huge aspirations to create durable jurisprudence” regarding the definition of “abusive” in Dodd-Frank. He noted that “it could be a mix” of judicial decisions and “how the CFPB may use rules and guidance to help articulate those standards.”
Cryptocurrency and stablecoins. Chopra expressed concerns about the potential for big payment platforms to process stablecoins—cryptocurrencies pegged to stable commodities or currencies like the dollar. However, Chopra clarified that it is not his intention to use his regulatory authority to ban or limit the use of cryptocurrency or blockchain technology. Regarding the CFPB’s role in cryptocurrency, Chopra claimed that depending on the laws implicated, there is a “fact-based determination as to any sort of law that cryptocurrencies or digital currencies have to comply with.” He further described that this is “something that the CFPB is working with the other regulators on,” and emphasized that “where digital payments [are] involved, the Electronic Fund Transfer Act is a key law with key consumer protections.”
QM Rule. When asked about the postponement of the mandatory compliance date of the General Qualified Mortgage final rule to October 2022 (covered by InfoBytes here), Chopra said he is eager “to hear of places where it needs to be changed” but emphasized that the postponement was before his time and that the rule has gone into effect. He also stated that “QM is a key part of the mortgage market and the mortgage regulatory guidelines.” Therefore, he wants to ensure that the CFPB is always looking at it to make sure the objectives that Congress laid forward in Dodd-Frank are being carried out. When asked about his support of the proposed change in the QM rule, Chopra said he did not know but wants “to make sure he understands the full basis of it.”
Chopra echoed such sentiments in his October 28 testimony before the Senate Banking Committee.
On June 9, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Policy held a hearing titled “Building A Stronger Financial System: Opportunities of a Central Bank Digital Currency” to discuss the potential opportunities of a central bank digital currency (CBDC). Among the issues discussed at the hearing were protecting consumer privacy and security, financial inclusion, and the Federal Reserve’s authority.
The Honorable J. Christopher Giancarlo, Senior Counsel at Willkie Farr & Gallagher, was a witness on behalf of the Digital Dollar Project (DDP). The digital dollar, proposed by the Fed, would be distributed through the two-tiered banking system and operated alongside physical currency and commercial bank money. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) asked how a CBDC should be designed, implemented, and regulated to reduce the risk of fraud and ensure privacy. Giancarlo, who stated he is not convinced of the need for CBDC, but believed in the need to examine this issue, said the DDP convened a privacy subcommittee which addressed four principles: (i) economic privacy; (ii) security; (iii) inclusion; and (iv) sufficient transparency to provide settlement and payment certainty. When Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) questioned witness Dr. Neha Narula, Director of the Digital Currency Initiative at MIT, on security risks associated with cryptocurrencies, she responded that, with respect to ransomware attacks, the issue is that valuable data has not been properly secured, and suggested that a CBDC could have built-in safeguards. She also believed that open source software is critical for security.
Subcommittee Chairwoman Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) suggested that banks use “abusive” practices and that the crypto industry has promised a better and more inclusive financial system, which reduces cost and improves quality. When Warren asked if a well-designed CBDC could help people who are poorly served by the current financial system, Narula emphasized the importance of designing a CBDC with a focus on accessibility and reducing barriers to access.
Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) argued that Americans should not be subject to excessive fees to access their own money. He also noted that a CBDC may work with a solution he has proposed, called No-Fee Accounts, which would be available to every American and backed by the Fed. As previously covered by InfoBytes, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard noted in a speech that a CBDC may address concerns regarding the lack of federal deposit insurance and banking supervision for nonbank issuers of digital assets, and that “new forms of private money may introduce counterparty risk into the payments system in new ways that could lead to consumer protection threats or, at large scale, broader financial stability risks.” Ranking Member Pat Toomey (R-PA) expressed his concerns around the Fed’s position in retail banking services and was doubtful that the Fed would provide high quality customer service, while Ranking Member John Kennedy (R-LA) questioned if it is appropriate for the federal government to get entangled in the credit markets by way of a CBDC.
On March 2, FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra testified before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs where he was asked about his plans should he be confirmed as the permanent CFPB director. Chopra released prepared remarks in which he discussed challenges stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic, specifically those related to loan defaults, auto repossessions, credit reporting, debt collection, and foreclosures. Highlighting the need for “fair and effective oversight” in the mortgage market, Chopra also emphasized the importance of addressing systemic inequities faced by families of color. In opening remarks, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), in support of Chopra’s nomination, highlighted several of Chopra’s previous achievements at the Bureau as its first student loan ombudsman and emphasized his “strong record of protecting consumers and small businesses, promoting competitive markets, and holding bad actors accountable.”
Chopra fielded questions from Committee members on a range of topics, including credit reporting, student lending, servicemember protections, and mortgage lending. Chopra stressed his commitment to improving the “transparency, efficiency, and effectiveness” of the Bureau’s supervision and enforcement programs. He further emphasized the need to combat lending discrimination and that fair lending enforcement will be a priority for the Bureau, noting that the Bureau’s Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity office “is established by Congress and  should play a critical role in making sure the law is being followed.” With respect to credit reporting and debt collection, Chopra stated, “[I]f there are unlawful, egregious practices, it is important for enforcement to make sure that they stop. . . .[T]hat’s what’s best for consumers, that’s what’s best for the honest market participants and that’s the role Congress has asked the CFPB to play.”
With respect to fintech, Chopra said the Bureau needs to “take a hard look” at large technology companies’ expansion into financial services and their potential impact on consumer privacy and data security. He also raised concerns about the potential for bias in algorithm decision-making and underwriting. “[L]ooking at how big data, particularly by large platforms who have detailed behavioral data on all of us is something we must carefully look at. Because, it will change financial services fundamentally,” Chopra stressed. He also discussed the importance of providing restitution for consumers, reaffirming his commitment to ensuring that companies found to have committed violations of law are required to repay consumers for what was taken. “[W]hen victims of fraud and misconduct are not made whole, that doesn’t just hurt them. It also hurts every other business who is trying to follow the law and treat them  the right way,” Chopra stated.
If confirmed by the Senate Banking Committee, Chopra’s nomination will head to the full Senate for a vote.
On November 10, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing entitled “Oversight of Financial Regulators,” which primarily focused on Covid-19-related actions taken by the Federal Reserve Board (Fed), OCC, FDIC, and NCUA since the federal financial regulators last testified in May (covered by InfoBytes here). Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) opened the hearing by applauding the actions taken by the regulators after the passage of the CARES Act to help mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic. Crapo cautioned, however, that the regulators should continue to review and adjust their regulatory and supervisory frameworks to support economic recovery, including by “alleviat[ing] the regulatory burdens associated with a variety of asset-based regulatory thresholds on  banks and credit unions temporarily experiencing growth from participation in recovery-orientated programs” such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
In his written statement, Fed Vice Chair for Supervision Randal K. Quarles discussed actions taken by the Fed, such as (i) issuing a set of key principles concerning Covid-related credit accommodations; (ii) updating guidance on bank examinations to “consider the unique, evolving, and potentially long-term issues that institutions face”; (iii) clarifying the Fed’s approach to Covid-related activity under the Community Reinvestment Act; and (iv) supporting the ability of banks to meet customer needs by issuing PPP loans, underwriting loans in the Main Street Lending Program, and acting as counterparties in several other facilities.
OCC Acting Comptroller Brian Brooks also discussed activities undertaken by the agency, and noted that the regulators are working on an interagency basis “on a set of rule[s] that would relieve for a period of time certain asset thresholds being tripped that trigger heightened scrutiny and heightened compliance requirements at different levels.” According to Brooks, this relief would “cap out at $10 billion, most likely, based on current conversations.” Brooks agreed with Quarles that while larger banks are “fully capable of managing those risks,” smaller banks will face difficulties.
FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams also provided an update on actions undertaken to provide banks flexibility while maintaining safety and soundness. McWilliams discussed five key areas: (i) responding to Covid-19 economic risks; (ii) “enhancing  resolution readiness”; (iii) supporting communities; (iv) “fostering technology solutions and encouraging innovation”; and (v) “finalizing outstanding rulemakings,” including approving an interim final rule to provide regulatory relief to insured depository institutions that have experienced significant, but temporary, asset growth due to government stimulus efforts (covered by InfoBytes here).
NCUA Chairman Rodney E. Hood also discussed updated agency measures in response to the pandemic, such as adjusting supervision priorities to ensure that credit unions’ good-faith efforts to comply with the CARES Act are reviewed. Hood further emphasized in his written statement that “NCUA’s examiners will not criticize a credit union’s efforts to provide prudent relief for members when such efforts are conducted in a reasonable manner with proper controls and management oversight.” Hood also discussed, among other things, NCUA’s cybersecurity efforts in response to the pandemic and significant rulemaking actions, including an interim final rule that provides relief to credit unions that temporarily fall below the well-capitalized level.
The House Financial Services Committee also held a hearing later in the week to discuss the regulators' responses to the pandemic.
On October 9, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) wrote to the ranking members of the Senate Banking Committee and the House Financial Services Committee with an update on the organization’s efforts regarding the CARES Act and oversight of nonbank mortgage servicers. CSBS notes that state regulators are the primary authority over nonbank mortgage servicers, and during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, the state regulators “identified liquidity as a supervisory priority.” Thus, according to CSBS, state regulators have been actively monitoring liquidity and other business operations by seeking real time data and other updates from nonbank mortgage servicers. Moreover, CSBS discusses the efforts made in response to the CARES Act, including consumer and servicer guidance issued in conjunction with the CFPB (covered by InfoBytes here and here), as well as examination procedure guidance. Lastly, the letter highlights the organization’s recent release of proposed regulatory prudential standards for nonbank mortgage servicers. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the proposal includes baseline standards that would apply to all covered servicers and enhanced standards—covering capital, liquidity, stress testing, and living will/recovery and resolution planning—that would apply to certain larger servicers. CSBS concludes the letter with a commitment for “continued coordination and information exchange with federal agencies.”
On July 29, CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger testified at a hearing held by the Senate Banking Committee on the CFPB’s Semi-Annual Report to Congress, which covers the Bureau’s work from October 1, 2019, through March 31, 2020. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Kraninger’s testimony identified four key areas of focus for the Bureau: (i) providing financial education resources to prevent consumer harm; (ii) implementing “clear rules of the road” to encourage “competition, increase transparency, and preserve fair markets for financial products and services”; (iii) ensuring a “culture of compliance” through supervision; and (iv) following a consistent, purposeful enforcement regime. Kraninger also highlighted Bureau efforts to address discrimination, consumer confusion regarding forbearance options under the CARES Act, and a legislative proposal that would authorize the Bureau to award whistleblowers who report federal consumer financial law violations.
During the hearing, committee members focused on, among other things, the Bureau’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the agency’s recent repeal of certain underwriting provisions of its 2017 final rule covering “Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans” (covered by InfoBytes here). In response to Democratic criticism regarding the repeal of the underwriting provisions, Kraninger reiterated that a Bureau analysis of the provisions in the 2017 final rule revealed it would reduce the availability of small-dollar credit “by at least 70 percent,” and denied claims that the rulemaking process had been impacted by political appointees at the agency. Additionally, Kraninger said she intends to move ahead with putting the payment provisions of the payday rule into effect and is currently “working through” a pending legal challenge to the provisions.
Democratic committee members also questioned Kraninger regarding temporary regulatory relief to mortgage servicers and other financial services companies (covered by InfoBytes here) and the Bureau’s policy statement providing Fair Credit Reporting Act and Regulation V compliance flexibility for consumer reporting agencies and furnishers during the pandemic (covered by InfoBytes here). With regard to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling in Seila Law v. CFPB (covered by a Buckley Special Alert), Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) noted he is still advocating for “a bipartisan board of directors to oversee the CFPB” and for subjecting the Bureau to the annual appropriations process.
The next day, Kraninger appeared before the House Financial Services Committee’s hearing to discuss the semi-annual report. Similar to the Senate hearing, committee members questioned Kraninger on the payday rule, the revision to the HMDA rule, the Bureau’s pandemic-related initiatives for consumers, and on ways the Bureau is protecting struggling consumers during the pandemic, particularly with respect to the agency’s supervisory and enforcement work.
On June 9, Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) Director Mark Calabria testified before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs on the state of the housing market due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In his published statement, Calabria noted that at the start of 2020, the housing market was in a “strong position,” but “in response to Covid-19, financial markets endured a severe dislocation in March.” According to the statement, home prices have remained supported, as drops in demand have been balanced by a decrease in inventory. The statement also provides an update on FHFA’s policy responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. With regard to forbearances, Calabria acknowledged that forbearance rates were predicted to reach 25-50 percent; however, internal data indicates that “[e]nterprise forbearance rates remain manageable.” Specifically, the 30-60 day combined delinquency rate for borrowers with loans in Enterprise mortgage-backed securities “remains below the estimated rate of forbearance,” with Calabria commenting that some borrowers “who have requested forbearance are nonetheless continuing to make payments on their loan.” At the hearing, in response to a question asking if the FHFA plans to extend the foreclosure moratorium past June 30, Calabria noted that the agency is considering extending it “a month at a maximum” and would be “making that announcement certainly within a week.”
Calabria also discussed FHFA’s re-proposed capital rule for the Enterprises (covered by InfoBytes here). His statement notes that “Fannie and Freddie lack the capital to withstand a serious downturn in the housing market,” and the re-proposed rule would “help each [E]nterprise become safe and sound to fulfill its statutory mission across the economic cycle.”
On May 19, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs conducted a hearing with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin to discuss the agencies’ efforts to implement the CARES Act relief provisions to support consumers and help stabilize the infrastructure of the economic system. Topics discussed included emergency lending facilities, such as the Main Street Lending Program and the Municipal Liquidity Facility, as well as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Payroll Support Program.
Mnuchin testified that Treasury has “worked closely with the Small Business Administration on the [PPP] to ensure the processing of more than 4.2 million loans for over $530 billion[.]” He issued praise for the nearly 400 Community Development Financial Institutions and Minority Depository Institutions, as well as the many small and non-bank lenders that are participating in the program. Mnuchin noted that, while Treasury has already committed up to $195 billion of the $500 billion provided by Congress, the agency plans to use the remainder to create or expand programs as necessary after determining how best to deploy the money to help losses associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. “The only reason I have not allocated it fully is we are just starting to get these facilities up and running,” Mnuchin emphasized during the hearing. “We want to have a better idea as to which one of the facilities needs more capital as well as the potential for adding additional facilities.” Mnuchin also stated that Treasury is “fully prepared to take losses in certain scenarios on that capital.”
Powell discussed lending programs and monetary policy efforts taken by the Fed under section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act since the pandemic started, including measures to help stabilize short-term funding markets. These include lengthening the term and lowering the rate on discount window loans to depository institutions, and—together with Treasury—establishing the Commercial Paper Funding Facility and the Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility. Powell also discussed the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, which will lend against asset-backed securities “backed by newly issued auto loans, credit card loans, and other consumer and small business loans.” Powell stressed that “public input has been crucial” in the agency’s development of these facilities and that additional adjustments may occur “as we learn more” about the needs of potential borrowers.
On May 12, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing entitled “Oversight of the Financial Regulators,” which primarily focused on responses by the Federal Reserve Board (Fed), FDIC, OCC, and NCUA to the Covid-19 pandemic. Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) opened the hearing by thanking the regulators for crafting regulatory responses to assist financial institutions in meeting the needs of affected borrowers, and encouraged the regulators to find ways to provide flexibility for financial institutions that lend to households and businesses. Crapo also stressed the importance of making sure the Fed’s Main Street Lending Program (covered by a Buckley Special Alert) and the Municipal Liquidity Facility (coved by InfoBytes here) are “up and running quickly,” and expressed continued concerns that the “inclusion of population thresholds for cities and states that were not a part of the CARES Act will still impede access to smaller and rural communities.” Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH) argued, however, that the regulators’ relief measures have not favored consumers.
Fed Vice Chair for Supervision Randal K. Quarles provided an update on the Fed’s Covid-19 regulatory and supervisory efforts. When asked during the hearing when the Main Street Lending Program would be operational, he declined to give an exact date but emphasized it is the Fed’s “top priority,” and that he did not anticipate it will take months. When questioned about whether the Fed is taking measures to “ensure businesses are getting equitable access to the [lending] facilities,” Quarles stated that the Fed relies on banks to do the underwriting, but will supervise the banks to make sure the underwriting is done “safely and fairly.”
OCC Comptroller Joseph M. Otting also discussed a range of actions taken by the agency in response to the pandemic and outlined additional OCC priorities and objectives, including its proposal to modernize the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). Senator Menendez (D-NJ) asked whether the OCC should revisit the proposed CRA rewrite, citing the inability of some small businesses—particularly minority-owned businesses—to obtain relief under the Payroll Protection Program (PPP). In response, Otting argued that the rewrite (done in conjunction with the FDIC—see InfoBytes CRA coverage here) should actually be accelerated “because it will drive more dollars into low and moderate income communities” impacted by the pandemic. However, several Democrats on the Committee disagreed and called for a separate hearing to discuss the CRA proposal.
FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams also addressed actions undertaken to maintain stability and to provide flexibility to both banks and consumers. Among other things, McWilliams stated that banks should rely on borrowers’ statements certifying that their economic need is legitimate when making PPP loans. “Our instruction to banks has been to make sure these loans are not being traditionally underwritten [and] to take a look at the certification that the borrower is providing,” McWilliams said during the hearing. She also emphasized that all banks must comply with fair lending laws when making PPP loans, whether or not specific guidance has been issued.
NCUA Chairman Rodney E. Hood also outlined agency measures in response to the pandemic. Among other things, Hood noted that the NCUA has issued guidance to support credit union industry participation in the PPP and approved several regulatory changes concerning the classification of PPP loans for regulatory capital and commercial underwriting purposes.
The following day, the House Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions also held a roundtable with the federal regulators to discuss Covid-19 responses.
In April, Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID), Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, received replies to an April 8 letter he sent to the Federal Reserve (Fed), OCC, NCUA, and FDIC, which urged the regulators to “strengthen the Paycheck Protection Program” (PPP) and requested that they provide recommendations to assist the market as well as lenders and borrowers affected by Covid-19.
The Fed highlighted how it has strengthened the PPP, stating it: (i) eased “leverage requirements for community banks”; (ii) “published rules delaying the impact on regulatory capital of new loan-loss accounting standards”; (iii) created a new lending facility for the PPP; (iv) jointly with the FDIC, and OCC, “issued an interim final rule to clarify that a zero percent risk weight applies to PPP loans and to neutralize the regulatory capital effects of participating in the new PPP lending facility, helping preserve the flow of credit to small businesses”; (v) “encouraged institutions to use their capital buffers for their primary purpose: to support safe and sound lending throughout the credit cycle”; and (vi) provided suggestions for “congressional action to improve regulatory flexibility.”
The OCC’s replied that it has taken the following actions, among others, to support the PPP: (i) “encouraged banks to work with customers affected by” the pandemic; (ii) “encouraged banks to use the [Fed’s] discount window”; (iii) encouraged use of capital and liquidity buffers by banks; (iv) issued a joint statement with five regulatory agencies promoting “responsible small-dollar loans to consumers and small businesses”; (v) jointly issued interim final rules regarding regulatory capital and deferral of real estate appraisals; and (vi) coordinated listening sessions on the PPP.
The FDIC stated it is working to provide “necessary flexibility to both banks and their customers.” The agency’s response also enumerated several other actions it has taken to promote the PPP, including that it: (i) created a PPP information page on their website; (ii) shared bank questions and concerns with the Small Business Administration (SBA); (iii) created bank frequently asked questions; (iv) issued a financial institution letter referencing resources from the SBA and the Treasury; (v) continues to “provid[e]…resources to our examination teams so they” can better answer questions from regulated institutions; and (vi) jointly with other regulatory agencies, issued guidance on current expected credit losses methodology and community bank leverage ratio. The FDIC also reported possible supplementary and tier 1 leverage ratio changes.