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On December 2, the Federal Reserve Board finalized clarifying and technical updates to its Policy on Payment System Risk (PSR). The changes, which are adopted largely as proposed in May 2021 (covered by InfoBytes here), expand depository institutions’ eligibility to request collateralized intraday credit from the Federal Reserve Banks (FRBs), and ease the process for submitting such requests. The final updates also clarify eligibility standards for accessing uncollateralized intraday credit; modify the PSR policy to support the launch of the FedNow instant-payments platform, which is scheduled for mid-year 2023 (covered by InfoBytes here); and simplify and incorporate the related Overnight Overdrafts policy into the PSR policy. Updates related to FedNow and the Overnight Overdrafts policy will take effect once the FRBs start processing live transactions for FedNow. The remaining updates are effective 60 days following publication in the Federal Register.
On November 30, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) sent a letter urging Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to join forces on drafting legislation that will “create authorities for regulators to have visibility into, and otherwise supervise, the activities of the affiliates and subsidiaries of crypto asset entities.” Recognizing the “troubling risks” within the crypto asset markets and pointing to the recent collapse of a major crypto exchange, Brown suggested that Treasury develop a broad framework for all crypto assets to ensure risks “are contained and do not spillover into traditional financial markets and institutions.” Copying the heads of the SEC, CFTC, Federal Reserve Board, NCUA, CFPB, FDIC, and OCC, Brown encouraged the agencies to enforce existing laws as well as supervisory and regulatory authorities in order to “take on the significant noncompliance with current law among crypto asset firms and minimize, if not eliminate, the opportunities for regulatory arbitrage.” Brown further asked the regulators to “assess the impact of vertical integration in crypto asset markets,” and to coordinate efforts to improve entity and crypto-asset disclosures, market integrity, and transparency.
On November 30, the CFPB’s Office of Research published a blog post regarding the recent increase of mortgage interest rates. The Bureau combined the quarterly data of 55 financial institutions reporting mortgage activities for the first and second quarters of 2022 with annual data from past years. The Bureau limited the analyses to closed-end home-purchase loans secured by site-built, single-family, and first-lien principal residences, and excluded reverse mortgage loans from its analysis. Among other things, the Bureau found that after two years of decline, the mortgage interest rate began rising in 2021, with a sharp increase in 2022. The Bureau explained that a “direct consequence of higher interest rates is the higher monthly payments borne by borrowers,” and that “though monthly payment information is not reported in HMDA data, using the reported loan amount, loan term and interest rate, [the Bureau] can impute the monthly principal and interest payment of loans at origination.” The Bureau also reported that Hispanic white and Black borrowers reached new debt burden levels, specifically the average debt-to-income (DTI) ratio for Hispanic white borrowers reached over 40 percent, while the average DTI for Black borrowers rose to 39.4 percent. The Bureau noted that increasing interest rates could also affect whether consumers qualify for mortgage loans. For many mortgage applicants who are on the margin of qualifying, the higher projected DTI could potentially lead to their applications being rejected. Compared to 2021, DTI has become more likely to be reported as a denial reason for denied Black, Hispanic white and non-Hispanic white applications in 2022. Indeed, by the end of the second quarter of 2022, the Bureau reported that over 45 percent of all Black and Hispanic white applicants who were denied had DTI reported as a denial reason.
On November 28, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent letters to the six largest cryptocurrency exchanges requesting information about their finances, internal controls, and how customers’ funds are used. The inquiry follows the recent bankruptcy of a major crypto exchange accused of engaging in widespread mismanagement and misusing customers’ funds. Wyden asked the exchanges to respond to a series of questions related to, among other things, (i) the number of subsidiaries that fall under an exchange’s umbrella; (ii) whether customer assets are segregated from corporate or institutional assets; (iii) the treatment of customers’ funds; (iv) safeguards for preventing market manipulation; (v) the use of customer data for proprietary trading purposes; (vi) debt-to-asset and debt-to equity ratios, balance sheets, reserves, and audit procedures; (vii) insurance coverage; and (viii) steps taken by the exchanges to work with other crypto companies to develop protections for investors and customers. Senator Wyden further announced, “As Congress considers much-needed regulations for the crypto industry, I will focus on the clear need for consumer protections along the lines of the assurances that have long existed for customers of banks, credit unions and securities brokers.”
On December 1, the Federal Reserve Board announced a civil money penalty against a New-York based bank. In its order, the Fed alleged that the bank violated the National Flood Insurance Act (NFIA) and Regulation H. The order assesses a $105,500 civil money penalty against the bank in connection with its “alleged pattern or practice of violations of Regulation H,” but does not specify the number or the precise nature of the alleged violations. The maximum civil money penalty under the NFIA for a pattern or practice of violations is $2,392 per violation.
On December 1, the OCC released its 2023 assessment schedule. Among other things, the OCC noted that it would reduce the rates in the general assessment fee schedule and maintain assessment rates from 2022 for the independent trust and independent credit card fee schedules. The changes include reductions by 40 percent for all banks on their first $200 million in total balance sheet assets, and a 20 percent reduction for balance-sheet assets above $200 million and up to $20 billion. The OCC also noted that it is not adjusting the assessment rates for inflation. Additionally, the OCC said that it will increase the hourly fee for special examinations from $155 to $161. The OCC also highlighted that assessments are due March 31 and September 30, based on Call Report information as of December 31 and June 30. The OCC further explained that the schedule continues to include a surcharge for national banks, federal savings associations, and federal branches and agencies of foreign banks that require increased supervisory resources.
On December 1, HUD announced the 2023 loan limits for Single Family Title II Forward and Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) insurance programs. (See also Mortgagee Letter 2022-20 and Mortgagee Letter 2022-21). For FHA case numbers assigned on or after January 1, 2023, the maximum loan limits for FHA forward mortgages will increase in 3,222 counties and remain unchanged in 12 counties. The HECM maximum claim amount will also increase from $970,800 to $1,089,300.
On November 29, FHFA announced that it will raise the maximum conforming loan limits (CLL) for mortgages purchased in 2023 by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from $647,200 to $726,200 (the 2022 CLL limits were covered by InfoBytes here). In most high-cost areas, the maximum loan limit for one-unit properties will be 1,089,300. According to FHFA, due to generally rising home values, “the CLLs will be higher in all but two U.S. counties or county equivalents.” A county-specific list of 2023 conforming loan limits for all counties and county-equivalent areas in the U.S. can be accessed here.
On November 22, the CFPB denied a petition by a cryptocurrency lender to set aside a civil investigative demand (CID) issued by the Bureau last December. According to the Bureau, the lender (which states on its website that it is licensed by various state regulators to engage in consumer lending and money transmitting) and its affiliates market a range of products, including interest-accruing accounts and lines of credit. The CID informed the lender that a company representative was required to provide oral testimony at an investigational hearing into whether the lender's conduct is subject to federal consumer financial law, whether the lender had violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act and Regulation E, and whether an enforcement action would be in the public interest.
The lender petitioned the Bureau in March to modify or set aside the CID, arguing, among other things, that the Bureau lacks authority to investigate its Earn Interest Product because the SEC had previously made clear in a different matter (covered by InfoBytes here) that interest-bearing crypto lending products like the lender’s Earn Interest Product are securities. Accordingly, the lender contended that the Earn Interest Product fell outside of the Bureau’s jurisdiction. Furthermore, the lender asserted that in light of the SEC’s action, it stopped offering its Earn Interest Product to new U.S. customers and “began working to implement other changes by which current users would no longer earn interest on new funds in their Earn Interest Product accounts.”
In rejecting the lender’s arguments, the Bureau said that lender “is trying to avoid answering any of the Bureau’s questions about the Earn Interest Product (on the theory that the product is a security subject to SEC oversight) while at the same time preserving the argument that the product is not a security subject to SEC oversight. This attempt to have it both ways dooms [the lender’s] petition from the start.” The Bureau also emphasized that unresolved facts related to the lender’s Earn Interest Product make it impossible to determine whether any of the challenged conduct is subject to an exclusion from the Bureau’s authority under the CFPA or an exemption to Regulation E. The Bureau further noted that courts have established that the recipient of a CID cannot challenge an agency investigation by contesting facts that the agency might find, at least in situations “where the investigation is not patently outside the agency’s authority.”
On December 1, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York entered a stipulated final judgment and order against a Delaware financial-services company operating in Florida and New York along with its owner (collectively, “defendants”) for engaging in deceptive acts under the Consumer Financial Protection Act related to its misleading marketing representations when advertising high-yield healthcare savings CD accounts. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Bureau’s 2020 complaint alleged that defendants engaged in deceptive acts or practices by: (i) falsely representing that consumers’ deposits into the high yield CD accounts would be used to originate loans for healthcare professionals, when in fact, the company never used the deposits to originate loans for healthcare professionals, never sold a loan to a bank or secondary-market investor, and never entered into a contract with a buyer or investor to purchase a loan; (ii) concealing the company’s true business model by falsely representing that the consumers’ deposits, when not being used to originate healthcare loans, would be held in an FDIC- or Lloyd’s of London-insured account or a “cash alternative” or “cash equivalent” account, when in reality, consumers’ deposits were, among other things, invested in securities; (iii) misleading consumers into believing that the accounts their funds were being deposited into functioned like traditional savings accounts when in fact, consumers’ deposits were actively traded in the stock market or used in securities-backed investments; and (iv) falsely representing that past high yield CD accounts allegedly paid interest at rates between 5 percent and 6.25 percent prior to 2019 when in fact, the company did not offer CDs until August 2019, and “consumers’ principals was neither guaranteed nor insured.” The complaint noted that since August 2019, the company took more than $15 million from at least 400 consumers.
The proposed settlement, if approved, provides for a comprehensive consumer redress plan that would require defendants to refund approximately $19 million to approximately 400 depositors. Further, pursuant to the order, the defendants would be required to return the money that each affected consumer deposited into a certain account in a manner consistent with the advertised terms of the product, namely, the principal along with an average per year interest rate of about 6 percent. The proposed order also permanently bans the defendants from engaging or assisting others in any deposit taking activities and requires defendants to pay a civil money penalty to the Bureau in the amount of $391,530.