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On June 11, House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters and 64 other Democratic House members sent a letter to the CFPB urging rescission of its May proposal to permanently raise the coverage thresholds for collecting and reporting HMDA data and to retire its HMDA Explorer tool. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) In the letter, members argue that recent data “showed widespread discrimination in bank lending” and that redlining continues to be a pervasive problem. They note that HMDA data is an important tool for public officials to understand access to credit in their communities, and that the Bureau’s proposal would exempt “about half of lending institutions from reporting data about closed-end mortgages … [and] sacrifice information that can make a difference in the lives of creditworthy, lower-income consumers.” The members also ask for information regarding the new Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) query tool that is to be used as a replacement for the HMDA Explorer tool and Public Data Platform API that the Bureau plans to retire, as previously covered by InfoBytes here.
On May 9, the House Financial Services Committee announced the creation of a Task Force on Financial Technology as well as a Task Force on Artificial Intelligence. Representative Stephen Lynch (D-MA) will chair the Task Force on Financial Technology, which will explore the use of alternative data in loan underwriting, payments, big data, and data privacy challenges. Representative Bill Foster (D-IL) will chair the Task Force on Artificial Intelligence, which will focus on understanding ways to utilize AI within the financial services industry. It will also examine issues related to algorithms, digital identities, and combatting fraud. Both task forces will expire on December 9.
On April 2, House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) spoke before the American Bankers Association’s Washington Summit to discuss several priorities and emerging issues, including comprehensive housing reform, diversity in financial services, fintech regulation, cannabis banking, and Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) reform.
- Housing finance reform. Waters discussed resolving the long-term status of GSEs and several core principles underlying housing finance reform including, among other things, (i) maintaining access to the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage; (ii) ensuring sufficient private capital is available to protect taxpayers; (iii) requiring transparency and standardization that ensures a level-playing field for all financial institutions especially community banks and credit unions; (iv) maintaining credit access for all qualified borrowers; and (v) ensuring access to affordable rental housing. “Many of the proposals for housing finance reform exclude small financial institutions from being able to access the secondary mortgage market. I believe that the inclusion of small financial institutions must be a critical part of any conversations about GSE reform,” Waters stated.
- Diversity in financial services. Waters discussed the newly formed Diversity and Inclusion Subcommittee (previously covered by InfoBytes here) when noting that minority representation in financial services management positions remains underrepresented. The new subcommittee will examine diversity trends to promote inclusion. “Diverse representation in these institutions, and particularly at the management level, is essential to ensure that all consumers have fair access to credit, capital, and banking and financial services,” Waters stated.
- Fintech regulation. Waters commented that fintech regulation is a committee priority. Waters stated that it is important “we encourage responsible innovation with the appropriate safeguards in place to protect consumers and without displacing community banks.”
- Cannabis banking. Waters highlighted her committee's work last month in advancing HR 1595, which would create protections for financial institutions that provide services to state-sanctioned cannabis-related businesses. The bill would create a safe harbor for depository institutions that would bar federal banking regulators from terminating banks’ deposit insurance or otherwise penalize them if they provide services to a cannabis-related legitimate business or service provider.
- BSA/AML reform. Waters discussed a hearing that was held to look at “common sense” improvements that could be made to the current BSA/AML framework. She further stated that the committee is considering beneficial ownership legislation, in addition to exploring ways to work with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network regarding BSA/AML reporting.
On March 12, Director of the CFPB, Kathy Kraninger, testified at a hearing held by the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee on the CFPB’s Semi-Annual Report to Congress. While Kraninger’s opening statement and question responses were similar to her comments made last week during a House Financial Services Committee hearing (detailed coverage here), notable highlights include:
- Fair Lending. Kraninger did not provide a status update on the Bureau’s pre-rulemaking activities as they relate to whether disparate impact is cognizable under ECOA, but emphasized that the Bureau is committed to the fair lending mission.
- Data Collection. In response to concerns over the Bureau’s history of expansive data collection, Kraninger noted that data collection is an especially important tool for rulemaking, but stated that going-forward she would ensure the Bureau only collects the information needed to carry out the Bureau’s mission, noting that the less personally identifiable information that is collected, the less that requires protection. She acknowledged the Bureau is reviewing the comments submitted in response to its fall 2018 data governance program report (covered by InfoBytes here) and stated the Bureau remains committed to reviewing the internal processes it has for collecting and using data.
- Military Lending Act (MLA). Kraninger stated that she disagrees with the Democratic Senator’s broad interpretation of Section 1024(b)(1)(C) of the Dodd-Frank Act allowing for the Bureau to examine for compliance with the MLA because that interpretation would permit the Bureau to examine for anything that is a “risk to consumers,” including things like safety and soundness, which is not currently under the Bureau’s purview. While she acknowledged that the Bureau has the direct authority to enforce the MLA, she repeatedly rejected the notion that this would also give the Bureau the authority to supervise for the MLA, as Dodd-Frank separates the Bureau’s enforcement and supervision powers.
- Payday Rule. Kraninger repeatedly emphasized that the reconsideration of the underwriting standards in the Payday Rule was to determine if the legal and factual basis used to justify certain practices as unfair and abusive was “robust” enough. She acknowledged that the Bureau will be reviewing all the comments to the proposal and that the evidence used for the original Rule will be part of the record for the reconsideration.
- GSE Patch. In response to questions regarding the 2021 expiration of the Qualified Mortgage (QM) Rule’s 43 percent debt-to-income ratio exception for mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs), Kraninger acknowledged the “non-QM” market hasn’t materialized over the last few years, as was originally anticipated. However, Kraninger was reluctant to provide any further details, noting that she would not be making any “dramatic changes” to the mortgage market. Additionally, she acknowledged that the GSE patch has the potential to expire at the end of the conservatorship as well.
- CFPB Structure. Kraninger did not specify whether she believes the Bureau should be led by a board, rather than a single director, or whether the Bureau should be under appropriations. Specifically Kraninger stated that she would “welcome any changes Congress made that would increase the accountability and transparency of the Bureau,” and would “dutifully carry out” legislation that would place the Bureau under appropriations if the President signed it.
- Student Lending. Kraninger stated that the Bureau intends to re-engage with the Department of Education on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to assist with complaint and information sharing once a new Student Loan Ombudsmen has been hired. The MOUs were previously terminated by the Department in August 2018 (covered by Infobytes here).
On March 7, Director of the CFPB, Kathy Kraninger, testified at a hearing held by the House Financial Services Committee entitled “Putting Consumers First? A Semi-Annual Review of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.” Pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act, the hearing covered the semi-annual report to Congress on the Bureau’s work from April 1, 2018 through September 30, 2018. Kraninger was confirmed as Director in December 2018, and this was her first testimony before the Committee in that role. In her opening remarks, Chairwoman Maxine Waters expressed concern with the changes that took place at the Bureau under former acting Director Mick Mulvaney’s time in office and announced a draft bill titled the “Consumers First Act,” which directs the Bureau to, among other things, “promptly reverse all anti-consumer actions taken during Mr. Mulvaney’s tenure.” In her opening testimony, Kraninger emphasized that she is committed to “stability, consistency, and transparency” in the Bureau’s actions and believes the Bureau’s focus should be on the prevention of harm, specifically emphasizing the importance of the Bureau’s mission to educate consumers. Additionally, highlights of Kraninger’s testimony include:
- Supervision and Enforcement. Kraninger repeatedly emphasized that supervision is an important tool in the Bureau’s toolkit to assist companies working to comply with laws and regulations. She asserted that enforcement is a tool that should only be used for bad actors who have “no intention” to comply with the law, and should not be used against entities seeking to comply and self-report compliance concerns. When asked to discuss the Bureau’s reported 35 open enforcement investigations, which include investigations opened under former Director Richard Corday, Kraninger noted that she reviews the actions as they come to a decision point but believes that the Bureau’s enforcement staff is carrying out the agency’s mission and following her guidance on how to proceed.
- Office Reorganizations. Kraninger fielded a number of questions regarding former acting Director Mick Mulvaney’s actions, including the reorganization of the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity and the dismantling of the Office of Students and Younger Consumers. As for fair lending, Kraninger emphasized that moving the office to be part of the Office of the Director helps to facilitate its policy interests across the Bureau and enhances the mission of fair lending. Concerning the Bureau’s work regarding student loans, Kraninger noted that there is still dedicated staff working on student loan issues in the Bureau’s Consumer Education and Engagement section and that they are currently looking to fill the vacant role for the Student Loan Ombudsman.
- Military Lending Act (MLA). Kraninger reiterated her position that she does not believe Dodd-Frank gives the Bureau the authority to supervise for compliance with the Act under Section 1024(b)(1)(C)—which many state Attorneys General and Democratic congressional leaders have contended it does—and repeated her request for Congress to grant the Bureau with the clear authority to do so (previously covered by InfoBytes here).
- UDAAP. Kraninger noted that the Bureau’s regulatory agenda includes a consideration of a pre-rulemaking activity covering the definition of “abusive,” stating that while the current statute has a definition that prevents companies from taking “unreasonable advantage” of a consumer, she believes there should be clarity on what is considered a “reasonable” advantage.
- Congressional Changes to CFPB. Kraninger stated that she will continue to undertake the responsibilities allocated to the Director under Dodd-Frank but welcomes Congressional action that would provide additional “accountability and transparency” to the agency.
The second part of the hearing consisted of testimony from industry and consumer group representatives in which they discussed the CFPB’s previous actions and their suggestions for actions Bureau leadership should take going forward. Copies of each witnesses’ testimony are available here.
On March 4, proposed legislation, H.R. 1491, was introduced by its co-sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives to provide federal financial regulatory clarity for fintech startups. According to a press release issued by Congressman David Scott (D-GA), the FINTECH Act of 2019 would: (i) mandate U.S. federal financial regulators harmonize and coordinate conflicting regulations that would cover fintech operations; and (ii) establish a Fintech Council to serve as a “single point of entry” for approving fintech charters before assigning approved fintechs to one or more designated U.S. regulators. The bill's co-sponsors are members of the House of Representatives' Financial Services Committee and co-chair the Fintech and Payments Caucus.
On February 21, Maxine Waters released a discussion draft version of the “Comprehensive Consumer Credit Reporting Reform Act of 2019,” which would significantly amend the FCRA. The draft legislative proposal was released as supporting material for the February 26 House Financial Services Committee hearing titled, “Who's Keeping Score? Holding Credit Bureaus Accountable and Repairing a Broken System.” The CEOs of the three major credit reporting agencies and a panel of officials from major consumer groups testified at the hearing.
The draft bill— versions of which Waters has also introduced in previous Congressional sessions—includes (i) significant changes to the dispute process, such as allowing consumers to appeal determinations; (ii) banning the use of credit information for certain employment decisions; (iii) removing adverse information for certain private education loan borrowers who demonstrate positive payment history; (iv) shortening the time period that most adverse credit information stays on a credit report from seven to four years; and (v) establishing federal oversight over the development of credit scoring models.
On February 21, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, sent a letter to CFPB employees, reminding Bureau staff of the protections under The Whistleblower Protection Act and encouraged anyone who witnesses “waste, fraud, abuse or gross mismanagement” to reach out to her or her staff. Waters cited to the recent reports of a significant drop in Bureau staff morale and reiterated her concern with the changes that took place at the agency during acting Director Mick Mulvaney’s tenure. Waters emphasized the importance of the Bureau’s work to protect consumers and stated that she will conduct careful oversight of the agency as part of her Chairwoman duties.
Waters announces subcommittee chairs, including newly formed Subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion
On January 24, Chair of the House Financial Services Committee, Maxine Waters, announced that Joyce Beatty (D-OH) will serve as the first Chair of the newly formed Subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion. According to Waters’ policy speech on January 17, the new Subcommittee will be “dedicated to looking at diversity and inclusion issues under the Committee’s jurisdiction.” Specifically, Waters cited to low representation of minorities and women in the financial services industry, particularly at the management level, as a reason for the creation of the subcommittee. Using the Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion of the federal financial services regulators as an example, Waters suggested that the subcommittee be responsible for overseeing diversity in management, employment, and business activities in the financial industry. In addition to diversity and inclusion, Waters noted that, among other things, fair housing, including conducting “robust oversight” of HUD, and fintech would be top priorities for the subcommittee.
On January 25, top Democratic Congressional leaders, Maxine Waters and Sherrod Brown, wrote to acting Director of the FHFA, Joseph Otting, requesting that he clarify and expand on his reported remarks concerning the administration’s plan to move Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (collectively, “GSEs”) out of conservatorship. Specifically, Otting reportedly told FHFA employees that he would soon announce a plan to move the GSEs out from under government control and that he was given a “clear mission” outlined by Treasury and the White House of “what they want to accomplish” with the agency. Waters and Brown expressed concern about Otting’s ability to lead the agency independently based on these comments, as well as a recent filing of the agency with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit stating that the agency would no longer defend the constitutionality of the FHFA’s structure. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Waters and Brown also requested that Otting submit by February 1 a copy of the “mission that Treasury and the White House have outlined.” In response, Otting stated that he appreciated the Democratic leaders’ interest in housing finance, outlined the statutory duties of the FHFA, and welcomed input as they “begin the journey of evaluating the Enterprises and developing a framework for ending conservatorship.”
As previously covered by InfoBytes, in June 2018, the White House announced a government reorganization plan titled, “Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century: Reform Plan and Reorganization Recommendations.” The plan covers a wide-range of government reorganization proposals, including a proposal to end the conservatorship of the GSEs and fully privatize the companies.
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