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On March 21, member agencies of the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) announced the release of their Joint Report to Congress: Economic Growth and Regulatory Paperwork Reduction Act (the Report), which details their review of rules affecting financial institutions and the effect of regulations on smaller institutions. The review—required by the Economic Growth and Regulatory Paperwork Reduction Act to be conducted at least once every ten years—included the participation of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the National Credit Union Administration, and included the consideration of more than 230 written and 130 oral comments from financial institutions, trade associations, and consumer and community groups, as well as numerous comments obtained at outreach meetings.
The members of the FFIEC described several joint initiatives, including actions taken to:
- Simplify regulatory capital rules for community banks and savings associations;
- Streamline reports of condition and income (Call Reports);
- Increase the appraisal threshold for commercial real estate loans; and
- Expand the number of institutions eligible for less frequent examination cycles.
In addition, the Report also described actions taken by each agency to “update rules, eliminate unnecessary requirements, and streamline supervisory procedures.”
Representative Tom Emmer (R-Minn) has reintroduced the Financial Stability Oversight Council Reform Act (H.R. 1459), which is intended to increase oversight, transparency, and accountability by subjecting the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) and the Office of Financial Research (OFR) to the regular congressional appropriations process. The proposed legislation—which has been referred to the Committee on Financial Services—would also provide for certain quarterly reporting requirements for the OFR, including an “annual work plan” subject to public notice and comment.
House Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee Hearing Examines Decline in New Bank/Credit Union Charter Applications
In an afternoon hearing on March 21 entitled “Ending the De Novo Drought: Examining the Application Process for De Novo Financial Institutions,” Members of the House Financial Services Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee met to examine the impact that the Dodd-Frank Act has had on the creation of new or “de novo” financial institutions. According to a majority staff memorandum released in advance of the hearing, the number of new, or “de novo,” bank and credit union charters has declined to historic lows since the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act. From 2010 to 2016, there were only five new bank and 16 new credit union charters granted. In comparison, between 2000 and 2008, 1,341 new banks and 75 new credit unions were chartered.
Three of the witnesses – each of whom appeared on behalf of a banking industry group – generally agreed that the Dodd-Frank Act has, to some extent, had a “chilling impact” on the creation of new banks:
- Kenneth L. Burgess, speaking on behalf of the American Bankers Association noted, among other things, that “in the five years since Dodd-Frank was enacted, the pace of lending was half of what it was several years before the financial crisis. Some banks have stopped offering certain products altogether, such as mortgage and other consumer loans.”
- Keith Stone, representing the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions, noted that “[t]he compliance requirements in a post-Dodd-Frank environment have grown to a tipping point where it is nearly impossible for many smaller institutions to survive, much less start from scratch.”
- Patrick J. Kennedy, Jr., appearing on behalf of the Subchapter S Bank Association, noted that “[m]any banks exited the mortgage loan business because of the complexity and uncertainty resulting from Dodd Frank, the CFPB and related rulemaking.”
The fourth witness, Sarah Edelman, offered an alternative explanation for the decline in new bank applications to the FDIC. Ms. Edelman—who is currently the director of housing finance at the Center for American Progress—testified as to her belief that the “decline” in “[t]he number of new bank applications to the FDIC . . . is largely the result of macroeconomic factors, including, historically low interest rates reducing the profitability of new banks, as well as investors being able to purchase failing banks at a discount following the financial crisis.”
In December of last year, the FDIC released a handbook entitled Applying for Deposit Insurance – A Handbook for Organizers of De Novo Institutions, which provides an overview of the business considerations and statutory requirements that de novo organizers face as they work to establish a new depository institution and offers guidance for navigating the phases of establishing an insured institution. Rather than establish new policy or offer guidance, the Handbook instead “seeks to address the informational needs of organizers, as well as feedback from organizers and other interested parties during recent industry outreach events.” Comments were due February 20. Additional resources are available through an FDIC website dedicated to applications for deposit insurance.
On March 17, the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice (“DOJ”) filed its amicus brief in the D.C. Circuit’s en banc review of the CFPB’s enforcement action against PHH Corporation for alleged violations of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”). In October 2016, a panel of the D.C. Circuit concluded that the CFPB misinterpreted RESPA and that its single-Director structure violated the constitutional separation of powers. The DOJ brief states that, “[w]hile we do not agree with all of the reasoning in the panel’s opinion,” the DOJ agrees with the panel’s conclusion that “a removal restriction for the Director of the CFPB is an unwarranted limitation on the President’s executive power” and that “the panel correctly concluded … that the proposed remedy for the constitutional violation is to sever the provision limiting the President’s authority to remove the CFPB’s Director, not to declare the entire agency and its operations unconstitutional.”
Like the brief filed in this case by the Obama Administration DOJ before the change in administration, the current DOJ brief states that “[t]he United States takes no position on the statutory issues in this case, but in the event that the ultimate resolution of those issues results in vacatur of the CFPB’s order [against PHH], it is within this Court’s discretion to avoid ruling on the constitutional question.” However, the brief goes on to state that, because the issue is already before the en banc court and the “question is likely to recut in pending and future cases, it would be appropriate for the Court to provide needed clarity by exercising its discretion to resolve the separation-of-powers issue now.”
On March 16, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations announced it will hold a hearing on Tuesday, March 21, at 10:00 a.m., entitled “The Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection’s Unconstitutional Design.” According to a March 16 Committee Memorandum, the hearing—which will be held in room 2128 of the Rayburn House Office Building—will examine, among other things, “whether the structure of the CFPB (Bureau) violates the Constitution as well as structural changes to the Bureau to resolve any constitutional infirmities.” The following witnesses are scheduled to testify:
- The Honorable Theodore Olson, Partner, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
- Professor Saikrishna Prakash, James Monroe Distinguished Professor, University of Virginia School of Law
- Mr. Adam White, Research Fellow, Hoover Institution
- Ms. Brianne Gorod, Chief Counsel, Constitution Accountability Center
President Trump Releases Budget Plan Proposal; HUD and Treasury Among Many Who Would Face Significant Cuts
On March 16, the White House released its budget blueprint America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again, which sets forth the President’s discretionary funding proposals in advance of the “full Budget”—scheduled for release later this spring. Among the many agencies and programs that would experience substantial cuts under the President’s budget are both the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.
Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”). For HUD, the President’s 2018 budget requests $40.7 billion in gross discretionary funding for HUD, which is a $6.2 billion or 13.2 percent decrease from the 2017 annualized continuing resolution level. The White House budget also proposes that: (i) funding be eliminated or redirected to the State and Local level for the Community Development Block Grant program, which the White House estimates would save $3 billion from 2017 levels; (ii) funding be eliminated for “lower priority programs,” which the White House says include “the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, Choice Neighborhoods, and the Self-help Homeownership Opportunity Program”; (iii) funding be eliminated or redirected to the State and Local level for Section 4 Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing (at an estimated savings of $35 million from 2017 levels); (iv) support be provided for “homeownership through provision of Federal Housing Administration mortgage insurance programs.”
Department. of the Treasury. And, as for Treasury, the White House is proposing that the Department be granted $12.1 billion in discretionary resources. This proposal represents a $519 million or 4.1 percent decrease from the 2017 levels. Specifically, the White House’s budget proposes to, among other things: (i) preserve key operations of the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) to ensure that “the IRS can continue to combat identity theft, prevent fraud, and reduce the deficit through the effective enforcement and administration of tax laws,” while diverting resources away from “antiquated operations” that still rely on paper-based reviews; (ii) “strengthen cybersecurity in a Department-wide plan to strategically enhance existing security systems and preempt fragmentation of information technology management across the bureaus”; (iii) “prioritize funding for Treasury’s array of economic enforcement tools”; (iv) “eliminate funding for Community Development Financial Institutions Fund grants”; (v) “empower the Treasury Secretary, as Chairperson of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, to ‘end taxpayer bailouts and foster economic growth by advancing financial regulatory reforms that promote market discipline and ensure the accountability of financial regulators;’” and (vi) “shrink the Federal workforce” while increasing its efficiency by redirecting resources away from "duplicative" policy offices.
In response to the proposed budget, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin released the following statement:
"President Trump’s discretionary budget plan released today focuses Treasury on our core missions of collecting revenue, managing the nation’s debt, protecting the financial system from threats, and combating financial crime and terrorism financing. It will ensure that we have the resources we need to enforce the nation’s tax laws, while investing in cybersecurity and prioritizing resources on initiatives that promote technology, efficiency and modernization across the agency."
On March 5, Credit Union National Association (CUNA) President Jim Nussle submitted a letter to Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas), supporting his introduction of H.R. 1264—the Community Financial Institution Exemption Act. The bill, referred to the House Financial Services Committee on February 28, provides an exemption from rules and regulations of the CFPB for community financial institutions with under $50 billion in assets. “The rules are, in large part, implemented to address abuses perpetrated by the large institutions and other previously nonregulated providers, and not small institutions like credit unions and small banks,” Nussle wrote. “While we believe that the statute presently provides the CFPB authority to exempt credit unions under $50 billion from its rulemaking, the bureau has been unwilling to effectively use the exemption authority.”
In February, Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah) introduced the Stop Debt Collection Abuse Act of 2017 (H.R. 864)—legislation seeking to extend the scope of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) to cover the activities of private debt collectors working on behalf of federal government agencies. Specifically, the proposed bill expands the definition of debt subject to the FDCPA to cover obligations—including loans, overpayments, fines, past-due penalties, and late fees—owed to a federal agency. Under the proposed new law, a debt collector includes any person who regularly collects debts currently or originally owed or allegedly owed to a federal agency. Moreover, the bill also requires that any fees charged by private debt collectors seeking to collect debt owed to a federal agency are limited to: (i) reasonable amounts in relation to the actual costs of the collection; (ii) fees authorized by a contract between the debt collector and the federal agency; and (iii) amounts not greater than 10 percent of the amount collected by the debt collector. H.R. 864, which is currently pending before the House committee on Financial Services, is co-sponsored by Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), French Hill (R-Ark.), and Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.).
On March 13, the Trump Administration issued an Executive Order calling for a reorganization of the executive branch to improve its efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability. Specifically, the order, entitled “Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch,” mandates that Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) Director Mick Mulvaney “propose a plan to reorganize governmental functions and eliminate unnecessary agencies (as defined in section 551(1) of title 5, United States Code), components of agencies, and agency programs.” In order to assist Director Mulvaney in this task, the head of each agency is required to—within 180 days—submit to the OMB director a proposed plan “to reorganize the agency, if appropriate, in order to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of that agency.”
Notably, the order requires that the OMB Director seek public comment as to potential improvements in “the organization and functioning of the executive branch,” and requires that the OMB Director consider the comments received when formulating a proposed plan that must be submitted to the President 180 days after the deadline for agency submissions. The order also asks agencies to (as consistent with applicable law) consult with persons or entities outside of government with relevant expertise in organizational structure and management.
On March 7, President Trump announced his intent to nominate Ajit V. Pai for a second five-year term as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The five-year appointment would span from July 1, 2016, when Pai’s first term officially ended, to 2021. FCC commissioners are able to stay on at the agency for an additional year, but Pai would have to secure confirmation from the Senate to continue beyond that time. At present, two spots still remain left to be filled in order for the Commission to get it back to full capacity. Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly are the other two current commissioners.
Mr. Pai was designated acting Chairman of the FCC by President Trump in January 2017. He had previously served as Commissioner at the FCC, appointed by then-President Barack Obama and confirmed unanimously by the Senate in May 2012. Before this, Mr. Pai was a Partner at Jenner & Block, LLP from 2011 until 2012, and Deputy General Counsel, Associate General Counsel, and Special Advisor to the General Counsel at the FCC from 2007 until 2011. In a statement released by the FCC, Pai affirmed his commitment to “work[ing] with [his] colleagues to connect all Americans with digital opportunity, foster innovation, protect consumers, promote public safety, and make the FCC more open and transparent to the American people.” In a separate statement, Chairman Pai also announced the appointment of two staff members to the Office of the Chairman—Nathan Leamer, who will serve as the Chairman’s Policy Advisor, and Carlos Minnix, who will serve as a Staff Assistant.
Chairman Pai’s FCC website bio can be accessed here.