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On June 29, the American University Washington College of Law held a symposium centered in part around the CFPB’s new approach for examining institutions for unfair conduct. During the CFPB’s New Approach to Discrimination: Invoking UDAAP symposium, CFPB Assistant Director for the Office of Enforcement Eric Halperin answered questions related to updates recently made to the Bureau’s Unfair, Deceptive, or Abusive Acts or Practices Examination Manual. These updates detail the agency’s view that its broad authority under UDAAP allows it to address discriminatory conduct in the offering of any financial product or service as an unfair act or practice. (Covered by a Buckley Special Alert here.) The Bureau published a separate blog post by its enforcement and supervision heads explaining that they were “cracking down on discrimination in the financial sector,” and that the new procedures would guide examiners to look “beyond discrimination directly connected to fair lending laws” and “to review any policies or practices that exclude individuals from products and services, or offer products or services with different terms, in an unfairly discriminatory manner.”
Assistant Director Halperin’s remarks were followed by a discussion of the Bureau’s revisions to its Examination Manual by a panel that consisted of David Silberman of the Center for Responsible Lending, Kitty Ryan of the American Bankers Association, and John Coleman of Buckley LLP, which was moderated by Jerry Buckley. Topics covered included a June 28 letter that trade associations sent to the CFPB urging recission of revisions to the Examination Manual.
In his interview with American University Law School Professor V. Gerard Comizio, Halperin stated that the CFPB’s Examination Manual updates provide guidance on how examiners will implement the Bureau’s statutory authority to examine whether an act or practice is unfair because it may cause or is likely to cause substantial injury to consumers that is not reasonably avoidable and not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or competition. He stressed that the update does not create a new legal standard under the three prongs of the unfairness standard. Halperin also discussed how the Bureau’s UDAAP authority interacts with laws enacted specifically to prevent discriminatory conduct such as ECOA and the Fair Housing Act, and touched on steps institutions should consider taking to ensure compliance. Notably, when asked whether the Bureau intends to pursue disparate impact claims under the CFPA, Halperin stated that disparate impact, along with disparate treatment, are wholly distinct concepts from Dodd-Frank’s prohibition on unfair acts and practices. He added that in assessing an unfair act and practice, the key is to examine the substantial injury prong and then assess the reasonable avoidability and the countervailing benefits prongs. He further explained that the unfairness test does not contain an intentional standard and noted that there have been cases brought by both the FTC and the Bureau where there was injurious conduct that was not intentional or specifically known to the party engaging in this practice. According to Halperin, substantial injury alone is not sufficient to prove unfairness and using disparate impact as the mechanism of proof is not what the Bureau uses to prove an unfairness claim.
Halperin reiterated that the CFPB Examination Manual is designed to provide transparency to financial institutions about the types of issues that examiners will be inquiring about in furtherance of determining whether there has been an unfair act or practice under the current framework, and does not extend or create new law. In terms of practical compliance implications, Halperin said most financial institutions should already have robust UDAAP compliance systems in place and should already be looking for potential unfair acts or practices and examining patterns and group characteristics to identify the root cause of any issues, and to avoid substantial injury to consumers. With respect to a white paper recently sent to CFPB Director Rohit Chopra from several industry groups and the U.S Chamber of Commerce urging the Bureau to rescind the UDAAP exam manual (covered by InfoBytes here), Halperin commented that he has not had time to fully digest the white paper in detail but hoped that some of what was discussed during the symposium, particularly on the legal principles that will be used both in the exam manual and in any supervision and enforcement actions, clarifies that the Bureau is looking for conduct that violates the unfairness test.
On June 29, the CFPB issued a report analyzing the impact of credit card line decreases (CLD) on consumers. The report is a part of a CFPB series that examines consumer credit trends using a longitudinal sample of approximately five million de-identified credit records maintained by one of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies. The report described how credit card companies increasingly used credit line decreases during both the Great Recession and at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the Bureau, in issuing the report it “sought to examine the importance and impact of these decisions by credit card companies” because of the “critical role credit plays in financial resiliency, especially during a downturn.” Key findings of the report include, among other things, that: (i) 67 percent of consumers who had CLDs did not show evidence of a recent delinquency on any credit card, and 83 percent had no delinquency on the card that received the CLD; (ii) the median amount of credit decreased by approximately 75 percent for consumers across different credit score tiers; (iii) the median deep subprime, subprime, near-prime, and prime account utilization reached 94 percent when the CLD was applied; and (iv) the median credit scores for consumers with a recent card delinquency on any card decreased between 33 and 87 points.
On June 29, Freddie Mac announced that it will begin considering on-time rent payments as part of its loan purchase decisions to increase homeownership opportunities for first-time homebuyers. Starting July 10, with a borrower’s permission, mortgage lenders and brokers will be able to submit bank account data showing 12-months of on-time rent payments through Freddie’s automated underwriting system. According to Freddie, bank account data will be “obtained from designated third-party service providers using the same automated process used to verify assets, income and employment” using its asset and income modeler. Freddie explained that eligible rent payment data includes checks, electronic transactions, or digital payments made through specific payment apps. “These automated capabilities provide greater efficiencies to lenders and allows them to deliver a better borrower experience while continuing to meet Freddie Mac’s strong credit underwriting standards,” the announcement said. Additional requirements for submitting rent payment data to Freddie’s underwriting system will be announced in an upcoming July Single-Family Seller/Servicer Guide Bulletin.
On June 30, the CFPB issued an order terminating a financial services company’s sandbox approval order related to its earned wage access (EWA) lending model. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau issued a two-year approval order to the company in December 2020, which provided the company safe harbor from liability under TILA and Regulation Z (to the fullest extent permitted by section 130(f) as to any act done in good faith compliance with the order). The company’s product allowed employees access to their earned but unpaid wages prior to payday and granted employees of a participating employer the ability to download the company’s app and agree to the company’s terms prior to engaging in an EWA program. The Bureau said in its announcement that it had informed the company earlier in June “that it was considering terminating the approval order in light of certain public statements the company made wrongly suggesting a CFPB endorsement of its products.” According to the Bureau, the company then requested termination of the order in order, citing the need to make changes to its fee model that would have required modifying the existing approval order. The Bureau noted that the company “requested termination of the order so it could make fee model changes quickly and flexibly.” The Bureau’s announcement indicated that it plans to issue guidance “soon” regarding earned wage access products and the definition of “credit” under TILA and Regulation Z.
On June 29, the CFPB issued an advisory opinion to state its interpretation that Section 808 of the FDCPA and Regulation F generally prohibit debt collectors from charging consumers “pay-to-pay” fees for making payments online or by phone. “These types of fees are often illegal,” the Bureau said, explaining that its “advisory opinion and accompanying analysis seek to stop these violations of law and assist consumers who are seeking to hold debt collectors accountable for illegal practices.”
These fees, commonly known as convenience fees, are prohibited in many circumstances under the FDCPA, the Bureau said. It pointed out that allowable fees are those authorized in the original underlying agreements that consumers have with their creditors, such as with credit card companies, or those that are affirmatively permitted by law. Moreover, the Bureau stressed that the fact that a law does not expressly prohibit the assessment of a fee does not mean a debt collector is authorized to charge a fee. Specifically, the advisory opinion interprets FDCPA Section 808(1) to permit collection of fee only if: (i) “the agreement creating the debt expressly permits the charge and some law does not prohibit it”; or (ii) “some law expressly permits the charge, even if the agreement creating the debt is silent.” Additionally, the Bureau’s “interpretation of the phrase ‘permitted by law’ applies to any ‘amount’ covered under section 808(1), including pay-to-pay fees.” The Bureau further added that while some courts have adopted a “separate agreement” interpretation of the law to allow collectors to assess certain pay-to-pay fees, the agency “declines to do so.”
The Bureau also opined that a debt collector is in violation of the FDCPA if it uses a third-party payment processor for which any of that fee is remitted back to the collector in the form of a kickback or commission. “Federal law generally forbids debt collectors from imposing extra fees not authorized by the original loan,” CFPB Director Rohit Chopra said. “Today’s advisory opinion shows that these fees are often illegal, and provides a roadmap on the fees that a debt collector can lawfully collect.”
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau finalized its Advisory Opinions Policy in 2020. Under the policy, entities seeking to comply with existing regulatory requirements are permitted to request an advisory opinion in the form of an interpretive rule from the Bureau (published in the Federal Register for increased transparency) to address areas of uncertainty.
On June 28, the FDIC, Federal Reserve Board, and OCC (collectively, "the agencies") released the current host state loan-to-deposit ratios for each state or territory, which the agencies use to determine compliance with Section 109 of the Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act of 1994 (Interstate Act). Under the Interstate Act, banks are prohibited from establishing or acquiring branches outside of their home state for the primary purpose of deposit production. Branches of banks controlled by out-of-state bank holding companies are also subject to the same restriction. Determining compliance with Section 109 requires a comparison of a bank’s estimated statewide loan-to-deposit ratio to the estimated host state loan-to-deposit ratio. If a bank’s statewide ratio is less than one-half of the published host-state ratio, an additional review is required by the appropriate agency, which involves a determination of whether a bank is reasonably helping to meet the credit needs of the communities served by the bank’s interstate branches.
On June 28, the CFPB issued an interpretive rule addressing states’ authority to pass consumer-reporting laws. Specifically, the Bureau clarified that states “retain broad authority to protect people from harm due to credit reporting issues,” and explained that state laws are generally not preempted unless they conflict with the FCRA or “fall within narrow preemption categories enumerated within the statute.” Under the FCRA, states have flexibility to enact laws involving consumer reporting that reflect challenges and risks affecting their local economies and residents and are able to enact protections against the abuse and misuse of data to mitigate these consequences.
Stating that the FCRA’s express preemption provisions have a narrow and targeted scope, the Bureau’s interpretive rule provided several examples such as (i) if a state law “were to forbid consumer reporting agencies [(CRA)] from including information about medical debt, evictions, arrest records, or rental arrears in a consumer report (or from including such information for a certain period of time), such a law would generally not be preempted; (ii) a state law that prohibits furnishers from furnishing such information to a CRA would generally not be prohibited; and (iii) if a state law requires a CRA to provide information required by the FCRA at the consumer’s requests in a language other than English, such a law would generally not be preempted. The interpretive rule is effective upon publication in the Federal Register.
The issuance of the interpretive rule arises from a notice received by the Bureau from the New Jersey attorney general concerning pending litigation that involves an argument that the FCRA preempted a state consumer protection statute. The Bureau stated that it “will continue to consider other steps to promote state enforcement of fair credit reporting along with other parts of federal consumer financial protection law,” including “consulting with states whenever interpretation of federal consumer financial protection law is relevant to a state regulatory or law enforcement matter, consistent with the State Official Notification Rule." As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau issued an interpretive rule last month, clarifying states’ authority to bring enforcement actions for violations of federal consumer financial protection laws, including the CFPA.
On June 28, industry groups and the U.S Chamber of Commerce (collectively, “groups”) released a White Paper, Unfairness and Discrimination: Examining the CFPB’s Conflation of Distinct Statutory Concepts, urging the CFPB to rescind the recently released unfair, deceptive and abusive acts or practices (UDAAP) examination manual. As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, in March, the CFPB announced significant revisions to its UDAAP exam manual, in particular highlighting the CFPB’s view that its broad authority under UDAAP allows it to address discriminatory conduct in the offering of any financial product or service. The White Paper, among other things, explained the groups’ position that the Bureau’s UDAAP authority cannot be used to extend the fair lending laws beyond the limits of existing statutory law. The White Paper stated that the Bureau “conflated” concepts of “unfairness” and “discrimination” “by announcing, via a UDAAP exam manual ‘update,’ that it would examine financial institutions for alleged discriminatory conduct that it deemed to be ‘unfair’ under its UDAAP authority.” The groups stated that the agency has “taken the law into its own hand” arguing that “the Bureau did not follow Administrative Procedure Act requirements for notice-and-comment rulemaking.” The groups said the change in the examination manual is “contrary to law and subject to legal challenge” as well as legislative repeal under the Congressional Review Act. Additionally, the groups argued that the Bureau’s interpretation exceeds the agency’s statutory authority, and that the Bureau’s “action should be held unlawful and set aside.” The groups further stated that “[c]hanges that alter the legal duties of so many are the proper province of Congress, not of independent regulatory agencies, and the CFPB cannot ignore the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act and Congressional Review Act. The CFPB may well wish to fill gaps it perceives in federal antidiscrimination law. But Congress has simply not authorized the CFPB to fill those gaps.”
In a letter sent to CFPB Director Rohit Chopra, the groups conveyed that Congress did not intend for the Bureau to “fill gaps” between the clearly articulated boundaries of antidiscrimination statutes with its UDAAP authority. The groups urged Director Chopra to rescind the exam manual update and stated that “[s]hould [he] believe additional authority is necessary to address alleged discriminatory conduct, we stand ready to work with Congress and the CFPB to explore that possibility and to ensure the just administration of the law.
On June 28, CFPB Deputy Director Zixta Martinez spoke before the FDIC Meeting of the Advisory Committee on Economic Inclusion to discuss expanding access to affordable payments, credit, and other financial products and services. In her remarks, Martinez first discussed electronic payments, which she considers to be “quickly supplanting cash and are now an essential part of the economy.” She then discussed the role of banks, noting that they have an “obligatory and leading role” in expanding electronic payments. Martinez stated that with “their obligations to increase banking access and reduce banking and financial inequities, banks can play a key role, for example, in reducing the persistent and growing homeownership gap between Black and white families and closing the economic gap between the banked and the under- and un-banked.” She also stated that having access to electronic payments will “low[er] monthly fees and further reduc[e] the cost of overdraft and non-sufficient fund fees” and will service banking deserts in rural areas and within communities of color. Martinez further discussed actions to build out banking access and described a recent proposal to update the Community Reinvestment Act’s (CRA) regulatory framework (covered by InfoBytes here). Martinez stated that the proposal will; (i) take steps to address problems with grade inflation on CRA exams (i.e., meaning that “almost every bank” passes”); (ii) “rely upon small business lending data, which will allow for a more in-depth understanding of small business lending issues,” race, and ethnicity; (iii) “increase incentives for banks to finance community development projects in areas experiencing persistent poverty”; and (vi) “recognize banks that assist low- and moderate-income communities with clean energy transition and climate resiliency.” Additionally, Martinez noted that the Bureau “is working to ensure that banking access and access to credit is not unfairly affected by algorithmic models.” In conclusion, she said the Bureau’s recently released guidance “confirm[s] that it is unlawful to use black box models that do not allow for clear understanding of adverse actions, such as denial of credit.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
On June 28, the FTC filed a complaint against a national retailer for allegedly allowing its money-transfer services to facilitate fraud. The complaint alleges the retailer knew about the role money transfer services play in scams but failed to properly secure the services offered at its stores, thus allowing money to be sent to “domestic and international fraud rings.” According to the FTC, at least 226,679 complaints totaling more than $197 million were received by several money transfer services companies about fraud-induced money transfers that were sent from or received at one of the retailer’s stores between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2018. An investigation by the FTC purportedly revealed that the retailer’s practices allegedly harmed consumers by, among other things, (i) allowing the payout of suspicious money transfers, which allowed scammers to retrieve fraud proceeds at one of the retailer’s stores; (ii) failing to have in place a written anti-fraud policy or consumer protection program until November 2014; (iii) allowing cash pickups for large payments, often through the use of fake IDs; (iv) failing to display or provide materials warning consumers about potential frauds; (v) failing to effectively train or retrain employees; and (vi) allowing money transfers to be used for telemarketing purchases, which are prohibited under the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) due to the high risk of fraud.
According to the complaint, the retailer “is well aware that telemarketing and other mass marketing frauds, such as ‘grandparent’ scams, lottery scams, and government agent impersonator scams, induce people to use [the retailer’s] money transfer services to send money to domestic and international fraud rings. Nevertheless, [the retailer] has continued processing fraud-induced money transfers at its stores—funding telemarketing and other scams—without adopting policies and practices that effectively detect and prevent these transfers.”
The complaint seeks a permanent injunction, monetary relief, civil penalties, restitution, and other relief for each violation of the FTC Act and the TSR. The FTC also requests the “rescission or reformation of contracts, the refund of money, the return of property, the payment of damages, public notification, or other relief necessary to redress injury to consumers damages.”
The retailer issued a press release following the FTC’s announcement, stating that it considers the agency’s claims to be “misguided and legally flawed,” and that the civil lawsuit “was approved by the FTC by the narrowest of margins after Chair Lina Khan refused [the retailer] the due process of hearing directly from the company.” The retailer noted that the FTC’s decision comes after DOJ declined to pursue the case in court. Among other thing, the retailer contended that because it maintains robust anti-fraud measures there is no need for injunctive relief requiring the retailer to change its practices. The retailer pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in AMG Capital Management LLC v. FTC, which limited the FTC’s ability to obtain monetary relief in federal court (covered by InfoBytes here), to argue that the FTC “pivoted their focus in this case after AMG to a distorted interpretation of the TSR to effectively try and hold [the retailer] strictly liable for money transfers that third-party criminals reportedly persuaded some consumers to send.” The retailer added that “[s]witching their main legal theory to the TSR is an obvious attempt to get around the Supreme Court’s ruling in AMG.”
- Jedd R. Bellman to discuss “The CFPB’s crackdown on collection junk fees and the growing anti-CFPB rhetoric” at an Accounts Recovery webinar
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Latest on AML regulations and impact of economic sanctions” at a Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Fundamentals of financial crime compliance” at the Practicing Law Institute
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Ongoing CDD: Operational considerations” at NAFCU’s Regulatory Compliance & BSA Seminar