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On November 22, the Democratic members of the House Financial Services Committee sent a letter to Secretary of HUD Ben Carson, opposing the agency’s proposed rule amending its interpretation of the Fair Housing Act’s (FHA) disparate impact standard (also known as the “2013 Disparate Impact Regulation”). The letter argues that the proposed rule would “make it harder for everyday Americans who find themselves victims of housing discrimination to get justice.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, in August, HUD issued the proposed rule in order to bring the rule “into closer alignment with the analysis and guidance” provided in the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (covered by a Buckley Special Alert) and to codify HUD’s position that its rule is not intended to infringe on the states’ regulation of insurance. Specifically, the proposed rule codifies the burden-shifting framework outlined in Inclusive Communities, adding five elements that a plaintiff must plead to support allegations that a specific, identifiable policy or practice has a discriminatory effect. Moreover, the proposal provides methods for defendants to rebut a disparate impact claim.
The letter urges Secretary Carson to “immediately rescind” the proposed rule, calling the proposal a “huge departure from a standard and framework that has been expressly supported by HUD…[and] a deviation from decades of legal precedent, including a Supreme Court decision affirming the legitimacy of the disparate impact standard under the [FHA].” Moreover, the letter argues that “[i]n 2018, Black homeownership rates reached the lowest they had since before the [FHA] was passed,” and that HUD’s mission to build inclusive and sustainable communities will be “seriously compromised” with this proposed rule.
On October 17, House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif) and Senate Banking Committee Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) wrote to the heads of the Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, OCC, SEC, and CFTC to oppose the federal financial regulators’ recent approval of changes to the Volcker Rule. (Previous InfoBytes coverage here.) According to Waters and Brown, the final revisions—which are designed to simplify and tailor compliance with Section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act’s restrictions on a bank’s ability to engage in proprietary trading and own certain funds—“open the door to the very risky, speculative activities that Congress sought to prohibit.” Specifically, the letter addresses rollback concerns such as (i) narrowing the definition of a “trading account,” which would weaken the short-term intent prong; (ii) “eliminating metrics reporting”; (iii) “removing activity restrictions on non-U.S. banks”; and (iv) “expanding permitted activity related to covered funds.” Waters and Brown urged the regulators to reconsider their decision to adopt the revisions, and requested that they be provided with the data and metrics used by the regulators during their analysis, as well as the regulators’ justification for “eliminating or reducing the information and data reported by banking entities.”
On October 17, CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger testified at a hearing held by the Senate Banking Committee on the CFPB’s Semi-Annual Report to Congress. (Previous InfoBytes coverage here.) Pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act, the hearing covered the semi-annual report to Congress on the Bureau’s work from October 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019. While Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) praised recent key initiatives undertaken by Kraninger pertaining to areas such as innovation, small dollar lending underwriting provisions, and proposed amendments to the Ability to Repay/Qualified Mortgage Rule, he stressed the importance of reconsidering the fundamental structure of the Bureau. Conversely, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) argued that Kraninger’s leadership has led to zero enforcement actions taken against companies for discriminatory lending practices, and that her initiatives have, among other things, failed to protect consumers. In her opening testimony, Kraninger reiterated her commitment to (i) providing clear guidance; (ii) fostering a “‘culture of compliance’” through the use of supervision to prevent violations; (iii) executing “vigorous enforcement”; and (iv) empowering consumers. Notable highlights include:
- Constitutionality challenges. The Bureau recently filed letters in pending litigation arguing that the for-cause restriction on the president’s authority to remove the Bureau’s single Director violates the Constitution’s separation of powers, and on October 18, the U.S. Supreme Court granted cert in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB, to answer the question of whether an independent agency led by a single director violates Article II of the Constitution. (InfoBytes coverage here.) Senator Brown challenged, however, Kraninger’s “credibility as a public official,” arguing that she changed her original position about not speaking on constitutionality issues.
- Supervision of student loan servicers. Kraninger addressed several Senators’ concerns about the Department of Education reportedly blocking the Bureau from obtaining information about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program for supervisory examinations, as well as and the need for a stronger response from the Bureau to obtain the requested information. Kraninger stressed that the CFPB will move forward with a statutorily required Memorandum of Understanding between the two agencies, and emphasized that the Bureau continues to examine private education loans and is collaborating with the Department of Education to ensure consumer protection laws are followed.
- Proposed revisions to Payday Rule. Several Democratic Senators questioned the Bureau’s notice of proposed rulemaking to rescind the Payday Rule’s ability-to-repay provisions. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) Specifically, one Senator argued that the Bureau has failed to “present any new research in defense of the change.” Kraninger replied that while she defends the Bureau’s proposal, “a final decision has not been made in this issue.” Kraninger also addressed questions as to why—if the Bureau does not believe there is a reason to delay the effective date of the Payday Rule’s payment provisions—the Bureau has not yet filed a motion to lift a stay and allow payment provision to be implemented. Kraninger indicated that the CFPB had not done so because the payday loan trade groups were also challenging the Bureau’s constitutionality (InfoBytes here).
- Clarity on abusive practices under UDAAP. Kraninger noted the Bureau intends to, “in the not too distant future,” provide an update as to whether more guidance is necessary in order to define what constitutes an abusive act or practice.
A day earlier, Kraninger also presented testimony at the House Financial Services Committee’s hearing to discuss the semi-annual report, in which committee members focused on, among other things, constitutionality questions and concerns regarding recent Bureau settlements. Similar to the Senate hearing, Democratic committee members questioned Kraninger’s change in position concerning the Bureau’s constitutionality, and argued that for her “to second-guess Congress’ judgment on [the] constitutionality of the CFPB and to argue against the CFPB structure in court is disrespectful to Congress.” With regard to recent Bureau enforcement actions, many of the committee members’ questions revolved around consumer restitution, as well as a recently released majority staff report, which detailed the results of the majority’s investigation into the CFPB’s handling of consumer monetary relief in enforcement actions since Richard Cordray stepped down as director in November 2017. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.)
On October 9, the OCC responded to a letter written by 26 Republican members of the House Financial Services Committee urging the agency to update its interpretation of the definition of “interest” under the National Bank Act (NBA) to limit the impact of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s 2015 decision in Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here). The representatives’ letter (covered by InfoBytes here) argued that Madden deviated from the longstanding valid-when-made doctrine—which provides that if a contract that is valid (not usurious) when it was made, it cannot be rendered usurious by later acts, including assignment—and has “caused significant uncertainty and disruption in many types of lending programs.” The representatives urged the OCC to prioritize a rulemaking to address the issue. In response, the OCC agreed with the letter’s concerns, and stated that “administrative solutions to mitigate the consequences of the Madden decision may be available.” The OCC noted that it has filed amicus briefs in the past, reiterating the view that Madden was wrongly decided, but did not elaborate any further on potential plans for a rulemaking to address the issue.
On October 16, Maxine Waters, Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, released a majority staff report titled, “Settling for Nothing: How Kraninger’s CFPB Leaves Consumers High and Dry,” which details the results of the majority’s investigation into the CFPB’s handling of consumer monetary relief in enforcement actions since Richard Cordray stepped down as director in November 2017. The report argues that, under the leadership of Acting Director Mick Mulvaney and Director Kathleen Kraninger, the Bureau’s enforcement actions “have declined in volume and failed to compensate harmed consumers adequately.” Specifically, the report states that under Cordray’s leadership, “the average enforcement action by the [Bureau] returned $59.6 million to consumers, as compared to an average $31.4 million per action under Mulvaney,” but notes that $335 million of the $345 million in consumer relief obtained during Mulvaney’s tenure resulted from one settlement with a national bank (previously covered by InfoBytes here). With respect to Director Kraninger, the report acknowledges that the pace of enforcement actions increased compared to Mulvaney; however, the Bureau ordered “only $12 million in consumer relief” during her first six months, as compared to “approximately $200 million in consumer relief” during a similar six months of Cordray’s tenure.
The report highlights specifics from the investigation into settlements announced in early 2019, which resulted in civil penalties but not consumer monetary relief. The report argues that, based on the review of the internal documents received from the Bureau, the lack of consumer relief was due to the “politicization of the [Bureau],” which “contributed to the decline in the [Bureau]’s enforcement activity” rather than the merits of the enforcement actions, notwithstanding that the internal documents reflect the assessment of certain weaknesses in the Bureau’s positions. The report attributes such politicization to the introduction of political appointee positions throughout the Bureau that oversee each of the divisions. The report concludes by urging Congress to pass the Consumers First Act (HR 1500), which, among other things, seeks to limit the number of political appointees at the Bureau.
On September 19, 26 Republican members of the House Financial Services Committee wrote to the OCC, urging the agency to update its interpretation of the definition of “interest” under the National Bank Act (NBA) to limit the impact of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s 2015 decision in Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here). The letter argues that Madden deviated from the longstanding valid-when-made doctrine—which provides that if a contract that is valid (not usurious) when it was made, it cannot be rendered usurious by later acts, including assignment—and has “caused significant uncertainty and disruption in many types of lending programs.” Specifically, the letter asserts that the decision “threatens bank-fintech partnerships” that may provide better access to capital and financing to small business and consumers. The letter acknowledges the recently filed amicus brief in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado by the OCC and the FDIC, which criticized the Madden decision for disregarding the valid-when-made doctrine and the “stand-in-the-shoes-rule” of contract law (previously covered by InfoBytes here), and requests that the OCC prioritize rulemaking to address the issue.
On August 23, House Financial Services Committee Chair, Maxine Waters (D-Calif) and 101 other members of Congress wrote to CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger to express concern over the Bureau’s recent amendment of and delay to certain ability-to-repay provisions of the agency’s 2017 final rule covering “Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans” (the Rule), previously covered by InfoBytes here and here. Specifically, the letter opposes the CFPB’s decision to remove certain ability-to-repay requirements, as well as the Bureau’s June 2019 decision to delay the August 19 compliance date for the mandatory underwriting provisions of the Rule until November 19, 2020. The letter cites to an April 30 subcommittee hearing that examined the payday lending industry and argues that “payday and car-title lenders lack the incentive to make loans that borrowers have the ability to repay while still being able to afford basic necessities of life.” The agency, according to the letter, is betraying “its statutory purpose and objectives to put consumers, rather than lenders, first” by delaying the Rule’s implementation.
Additionally, in the press release announcing the letter, Waters also expressed concern that the CFPB had not yet asked the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas to lift a stay of compliance so that the payment provisions of the Rule could be implemented. As previously covered by InfoBytes, two payday loan trade groups initiated the suit against the Bureau in April 2018, asking the court to set aside the Rule on the grounds that, among other reasons, the Bureau is unconstitutional and the rulemaking failed to comply with the Administrative Procedures Act. The court recently ordered the stay of the full Rule’s compliance date to remain in full force and effect and requested another joint status report from the parties by December 6.
On August 23, House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters released an overview of the Committee’s fall 2019 priorities and highlighted efforts undertaken during the 116th Congress so far. Upcoming areas of focus will include (i) holding hearings to examine the state of minority depository institutions, review stock buybacks, and analyze innovations for loan instruments; (ii) conducting an ongoing review of a social media company’s proposed cryptocurrency and digital wallet; (iii) continuing oversight of federal financial agencies through testimony from Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger, FHFA Director Mark Calabria, and Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Randal K. Quarles; (iv) examining the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program; (v) analyzing workforce diversity improvements; and (vi) increasing homeownership access through Federal Housing Administration improvements and housing finance reform. The Committee will also continue its task forces on data privacy, the use of artificial intelligence in the financial services market, and the evolution of payments and cash.
On July 25, the House Financial Services Committee’s Task Force on Financial Technology held a hearing, entitled “Examining the Use of Alternative Data in Underwriting and Credit Scoring to Expand Access to Credit.” As noted by the hearing committee memorandum, credit reporting agencies (CRAs) have started using alternative data to make lending decisions and determine credit scores, in order to expand consumer access to credit. The memorandum points to some commonly used alternative data factors, including (i) utility bill payments; (ii) online behavioral data, such as shopping habits; (iii) educational or occupational attainment; and (iv) social network connections. The memorandum notes that while there are potential benefits to using this data, “its use in financial services can also pose risks to protected classes and consumer data privacy.” The committee also presented two draft bills from its members that address relevant issues, including a draft bill from Representative Green (D-TX) that would establish a process for providing additional credit rating information in mortgage lending through a five-year pilot program with the FHA, and a draft bill from Representative Gottheimer (D-N.J.) that would amend the FCRA to authorize telecom, utility, or residential lease companies to furnish payment information to CRAs.
During the hearing, a range of witnesses commented on financial institutions’ concerns with using alternative data in credit decisions without clear, coordinated guidance from federal financial regulators. Additionally, witnesses discussed the concerns that using alternative data could produce outcomes that result in disparate impacts or violations of fair lending laws, noting that there should be high standards for validation of credit models in order to prevent discrimination resulting from neutral algorithms. One witness argued that while the concern of whether using alternative data and “algorithmic decisioning” can replicate human bias is well founded, the artificial intelligence model their company created “doesn’t result in unlawful disparate impact against protected classes of consumers” and noted that the traditional use of a consumer’s FICO score is “extremely limited in its ability to predict credit performance because its narrow in scope and inherently backward looking.” The key to controlling algorithmic decision making is transparency, another witness argued, stating that if the machine is deciding what credit factors are more important or not, the lender has “got to be able to put it on a piece of paper and explain to the consumer what was more important,” as legally required for “transparency in lending.”
On June 25, the House Financial Services Committee’s Task Force on Financial Technology held its first-ever hearing, entitled “Overseeing the Fintech Revolution: Domestic and International Perspectives on Fintech Regulation.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Committee created the task force to explore the use of alternative data in loan underwriting, payments, big data, and data privacy challenges. The hearing’s witness panel consisted of high-ranking innovation officials across various agencies and associations, including the CFPB, OCC, SEC, CSBS, and the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority. Among other things, the hearing discussed whether digital currency is considered a security, the OCC’s special purpose national bank charter, and the U.K.’s regulatory sandbox approach.
SEC representative, Valerie Szczepanik, stated that she believes the SEC has been “quite clear” with regard to initial coin offerings, noting that “[e]ach digital asset is its own animal. It has to be examined on its facts and circumstances to determine what in fact it is. It could be a security, it could be a commodity, it could be something else. So we stand ready to provide kind of guidance to folks if they want to come and talk to us. We encourage them to come talk to us before they do anything so they can get the benefit of our guidance.”
While much of the OCC special purpose bank charter discussion focused on a social media’s plan to launch its own virtual currency, CSBS representative, Charles Clark, emphasized that “[s]tate regulators oppose the special purpose charter because it lacks statutory authority” and that it should be up to Congress to decide whether the OCC can regulate non-bank entities. Clark noted that a federal system would create an unlevel playing field compared to a state system where “a small company can enter the system, scale up, and be competitive with an innovative idea.”
Lastly, the FCA representative, Christopher Woolard, emphasized that fintech firms participating in the country’s sandbox program are “fully regulated” and probably the U.K.’s “most heavily supervised,” noting that the FCA believes “sandbox firms have to work in the real world from day one.” Additionally, Woolard asserted that the sandbox program is making a difference in the market stating that of their 110 tests, 80 percent of the firms that enter the program go on to fully operate in the market. He concluded asserting, “we believe that around millions of consumers have  access to new products  geared around better value or greater convenience.”
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