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On September 26, the CFPB entered into a consent agreement with a Georgia-based automobile-title lender and its affiliates, based on allegations that the lender violated the Unfair and Abusive prongs of the Consumer Financial Protection Act. The CFPB alleged that the lender “lur[ed] consumers into costly loan renewals by presenting them with misleading information about the deals’ terms and costs.” The CFPB specifically indicated the lender’s use of a “Payback Guide” that focused the consumer’s attention on the monthly payment, and not on the total cost of the transaction, including the costs to roll over the loan to an additional period, materially interferes with the consumer’s ability to understand the terms of the transaction. The CFPB also alleged that the lender committed unfair debt-collection practices by visiting consumers’ homes, references, and places of employment, and revealing information about past-due debt to third parties, including neighbors, roommates, family members, supervisors, and co-workers. Under the terms of the consent order, the lender is prohibited from using the Payback Guide and from encouraging consumers to exceed the original term of repayment. The order also prohibits the lender from making in-person visits to collect payments. Under the agreement, the lender must pay $9 million as a civil penalty to the CFPB.
On September 22, the CFPB filed a complaint in federal district court against a credit repair company, claiming that the company charged consumers a series of illegal fees, including a fee to access the consumer’s credit report, a fee to set up the consumer’s account, and a monthly fee that continues to accrue until the consumer affirmatively cancels the service. The CFPB also alleged that the company misrepresented the cost and effectiveness of its services, stating that it could “remove virtually any negative information from a consumer’s credit report,” and that it raises customer’s credit scores by an average of more than 100 points, without proper substantiation for either claim. The CFPB alleged that the company’s actions violate the Telephone Sales Rule, and the deceptive prong of the Consumer Financial Protection Act.
On September 29, the Federal Reserve released the interagency examination procedures for the DOD’s Military Lending Act (MLA) final rule published in July of 2015. Also on September 29, the CFPB released its own examination procedures under the final rule, providing guidance as to how the CFPB will conduct reviews under what will be a broader scope of coverage under the MLA, including credit cards, deposit advance products, overdraft lines of credit (not traditional overdraft services), and certain types of installment loans. The final rule goes into effect on Monday, October 3 for most extensions of consumer credit to active duty servicemembers and their dependents.
On September 26, the Federal Reserve released a proposed rule that would essentially remove bank holding companies defined to be “large and noncomplex” from the qualitative portion of annual Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (CCAR) assessment process (“stress tests”). Under the proposed rule, large and noncomplex bank holding companies are those with total consolidated assets of at least $50 billion, but less than $250 billion, less than $10 billion in foreign exposure, and less than $75 billion in average nonbank assets. Currently, the Fed applies the CCAR process to bank holding companies with more than $50 billion in total consolidated assets. Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo indicated that the Fed was also considering adoption of a “stress capital buffer” approach for larger, global systemically important banks (GSIB). The new approach would replace the uniform 2.5-percent capital conservation buffer, and would instead require GSIBs to retain capital “equal to the maximum decline in a firm's common equity tier 1 capital ratio under the severely adverse scenario of the supervisory stress test before the inclusion of the firm's planned capital distributions.”
On September 23, the Federal Reserve released a proposed rule outlining new risk-based capital and other regulatory requirements for banks that transact in physical commodities. Among other things, the proposed rule would require financial holding companies to retain additional capital if the company is engaged in activities involving commodities for which existing laws impose certain environmental liability. The rule also looks to accomplish the following: (i) to restrict the amount of physical commodity trading activity firms may conduct; (ii) to rescind authorizations that allow firms to engage in physical commodity activities involving power plants; (iii) to remove copper from the list of precious metals that all bank holding companies are permitted to own and store; and (iv) to establish reporting requirements on the nature and extent of firms' physical commodity holdings and activities. In the memo discussing the proposal, the Fed indicated that it was addressing circumstances where “damages can exceed the market value of the physical commodity involved in the catastrophic events, and can exceed the committed capital and insurance policies of the organization.” The deadline to submit comments is set at December 22.
On September 26, the DOJ announced charges against a Chinese trading company and its executives for conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), and to defraud the United States; as well as for conspiracy to launder monetary instruments through U.S. financial institutions. The criminal complaint alleges that the company served as a third-party payer, using an illicit network of front companies, financial facilitators, and trade representatives to purchase sugar and fertilizer for a banking entity based in North Korea that OFAC had designated as a Specially Designated National (SDN) in 2009. The civil forfeiture complaint seeks forfeiture of funds spread out across 25 different bank accounts located in China and connected to the affairs of the company. In addition, OFAC imposed sanctions on the company, which is located near the North Korean border and openly worked with the SDN banking entity after 2009.
On September 29, the DOJ announced a settlement with a large regional bank, whereby the bank agreed to pay $83 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by originating and underwriting mortgage loans insured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that did not meet applicable FHA requirements. In addition to underwriting defects, the DOJ alleged deficiencies in the bank’s quality control function, especially during periods of increased loan volume, as well as failures to adequately self-report loans with material defects. The settlement is not an admission of liability by the bank. BuckleySandler represented the bank in this matter.
On September 29, the DOJ and OCC announced separate settlement agreements with a major U.S. bank regarding alleged violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The DOJ’s complaint alleged that the bank repossessed vehicles owned by active duty servicemembers without the required court orders. Under the DOJ consent order, the bank agreed to pay $10,000 to each affected servicemembers whose vehicles were repossessed between from January 2008 to July 2015 not in compliance with SCRA, plus any lost equity in the repossessed vehicle, with interest. The DOJ identified 413 affected servicemembers and the bank agreed to set aside $4,130,000 (or more if needed) to pay the required compensation. The bank also agreed to pay a $60,000 civil penalty. The DOJ acknowledged that the bank had in 2014, prior to the investigation, taken steps to ensure SCRA compliance with a full-scale review of its portfolio to identify servicemembers for SCRA protection, and had previously and voluntarily commenced efforts to compensate any affected borrowers. In the OCC consent order, the OCC found errors and deficiencies by the bank in four areas: (i) applying the 6% interest rate cap; (ii) filing accurate military status affidavits; (iii) repossessing servicemembers automobiles while they were on active duty; and (iv) implementing its SCRA compliance program. Under the consent order for a civil money penalty, the bank agreed to pay a civil money penalty of $20 million, to create a remediation plan for affected servicemembers, and to bolster its SCRA-related policies and procedures.
On September 27, the House Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee heard testimony on HR 4116, a bill that would affect how the FDIC determines the amount of deposits at insured banks that qualify as “brokered deposits.” The Federal Deposit Insurance Act currently requires larger premiums for banks with higher ratios of brokered deposits as compared to traditional deposits. This bill would exclude reciprocal deposits from the definition of brokered deposits where the condition of the institution at its most recent examination was adjudged either good or outstanding, or where the total reciprocal deposits of the institution do not exceed either $10 billion or 20% of its total liabilities. This narrowed scope of brokered deposits would come on the heels of the FDIC’s decision to exclude smaller community banks from including reciprocal deposits are brokered deposits announced earlier this year.
On September 28, OCC Comptroller Thomas J. Curry announced Wednesday during a speech at the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS) conference that the OCC is developing guidance for banks to manage AML/BSA risks in their foreign correspondent banking relationships.