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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • Treasury seeks to advance CBDCs

    Federal Issues

    On March 1, Treasury Undersecretary for Domestic Finance Nellie Liang announced that the Treasury Department will lead a new senior-level working group to advance work on a U.S. central bank digital currency (CBDC). As previously discussed in a Treasury report released last September on the future of money and payments (covered by InfoBytes here), Treasury was called to lead an interagency working group to complement work undertaken by the Federal Reserve Board to consider the implications of a U.S. CBDC. The working group will consist of leaders from Treasury, the Fed, and White House offices, including the Council of Economic Advisors, National Economic Council, National Security Council, and Office of Science and Technology Policy. In the coming months the working group “will begin to meet regularly to discuss a possible CBDC and other payments innovations,” Liang said during a workshop titled “Next Steps to the Future of Money and Payments.” The working group will focus on three main policy objectives: (i) how a U.S. CBDC would affect U.S. global financial leadership; (ii) potential national security risks posed by a CBDC; and (iii) the implications for privacy, illicit finance, and financial inclusion if a CBDC is created.

    To support discussions on a possible CBDC and other payment innovations, Liang said the working group will develop an initial set of findings and recommendations. Those findings and recommendations may relate to whether a U.S. CBDC would help advance certain policy objectives, what features would be required for a U.S. CBDC to advance these objectives, choices for resolving CBDC design trade-offs, and areas where additional technological research and development might be useful.

    Liang commented that the working group will also “engage with allies and partners to promote shared learning and responsible development of CBDCs.” She pointed out that CBDC efforts are already underway in jurisdictions around the world, with 11 countries already having fully launched CBDCs, “while central banks in other major jurisdictions are researching and experimenting with CBDCs, with some at a fairly advanced stage.” Liang stressed that regardless of whether a CBDC is adopted in the U.S., the country “has an interest in ensuring that CBDCs interact safely and efficiently with the existing financial infrastructure; that they support financial stability and the integrity of the international financial system; that global payment systems are efficient, innovative, competitive, secure, and resilient; and that global payments systems continue to reflect broader shared democratic values, like openness, privacy, accessibility, and accountability to the communities that rely upon them.”

    Federal Issues Digital Assets Department of Treasury Of Interest to Non-US Persons CBDC Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security Fintech

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  • CFPB publishes BNPL borrower profiles

    Federal Issues

    On March 2, the CFPB released a report examining the financial profiles of Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) borrowers using data pulled from the agency’s Making Ends Meet survey and its access to credit bureau data. The report follows previous Bureau research conducted on the BNPL market (covered by InfoBytes here). The Bureau observed that, while many BNPL borrowers used the product without any noticeable markers of financial stress, these borrowers (as compared to non-BNPL borrowers) were, on average, more likely to have higher credit card debt and utilization rates and were more likely to have revolving balances on their credit cards. BNPL borrowers also had lower credit scores and higher utilization rates of alternative financial services such as payday loans and pawn loans that charge high interest rates and were more likely to incur bank account overdrafts. The report noted, however, that while BNPL borrowers generally have access to traditional credit products, they are more likely to borrow using retail accounts, personal loans, student loans, and auto loans compared to non-BNPL borrowers (BNPL borrowers were more than twice as likely to be delinquent on at least one of those products by 30 days or longer). The Bureau commented though “that many of these differences pre-date [BNPL] use and [the report] highlights the need for further research into whether the products have any causal impact on consumer indebtedness.” Black, Hispanic, and female consumers are also more likely than average to use BNPL products, the report found, along with consumers with income between $20,001-$50,000.

    Federal Issues CFPB Buy Now Pay Later Consumer Finance Interest Consumer Lending

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  • FHA codifies SOFR for LIBOR-based ARMs

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On March 1, FHA published a final rule in the Federal Register removing LIBOR as an approved index for adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) and replacing it with the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) as the approved index for newly-originated forward ARMs. The final rule also codifies HUD’s removal of LIBOR and approval of SOFR as an index for newly-originated home equity conversion mortgages (HECM) ARMs, and establishes “a spread-adjusted SOFR index as the Secretary-approved replacement index to transition existing forward and HECM ARMs off LIBOR.” Additionally, the final rule makes several clarifying changes and establishes a 10 percentage points maximum lifetime adjustment cap for monthly adjustable rate HECMs. The agency considered comments received to its proposed rule published last October (covered by InfoBytes here), and said the updated policy will now “generally align with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae's policies replacing LIBOR with the SOFR index.” The final rule is effective March 31. 

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues FHA HUD Mortgages LIBOR Adjustable Rate Mortgage HECM SOFR

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  • Biden administration releases National Cybersecurity Strategy

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On March 2, the Biden administration announced the release of its National Cybersecurity Strategy (Strategy) in a continued effort to provide a safe and secure digital ecosystem for Americans. The Strategy, which expands on other steps taken by the administration in this space (covered by InfoBytes here), focuses on several key pillars for building and enhancing collaboration, including:

    • Defending critical infrastructure. The Strategy will expand the use of minimum cybersecurity requirements in critical sectors, harmonize regulations to reduce compliance burdens, ensure public-private collaboration is able to defend critical infrastructure and essential services, and defend and modernize federal networks and incident response policies.
    • Disrupting and dismantling threat actors. Under the Strategy, tools will be strategically employed to disrupt adversaries, and the private sector will be used to disrupt activities. Ransomware threats will also be addressed through a comprehensive federal approach “in lockstep” with international partners.
    • Shaping market forces to drive security and resilience. In an effort “to reduce risk and shift the consequences of poor cybersecurity away from the most vulnerable,” the Strategy proposes to (i) promote privacy and security of personal data; (ii) “[shift] liability for software products and services to promote secure development practices”; and (iii) ensure investments in new infrastructure are supported by federal grant programs.
    • Investing in a resilient future. The Strategy promotes coordinated, collaborative actions for reducing systemic technical vulnerabilities across the digital ecosystem and improving resiliency against transnational digital repression. The Strategy also prioritizes cybersecurity research and development for emerging technologies, including postquantum encryption, digital identity solutions, and clean energy infrastructure, and stresses the importance of developing a diverse, robust national cyber workforce.
    • Forging international partnerships to pursue shared goals. The Strategy intends to leverage international coalitions and partnerships to counter threats to the digital ecosystem through the use of joint preparedness, response, and cost imposition, which will enable partners to better defend themselves against cyber threats. The U.S. will also work with international partners to create secure, reliable global information and communications technology supply chains and operational technology products and services.

    While “next-generation technologies are reaching maturity at an accelerating pace, creating new pathways for innovation while increasing digital interdependencies,” the announcement warned that state and non-state actors are developing and executing campaigns that threaten the digital ecosystem. The Biden administration’s Strategy aims to address those threats.

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security Federal Issues Biden Of Interest to Non-US Persons Fintech

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  • CFPB highlights problems with cash-benefit programs

    Federal Issues

    On March 1, the CFPB released an Issue Spotlight exploring the challenges that recipients of public benefits programs offering cash assistance face when accessing funds through financial products or services. According to the report, financial products used to deliver public benefits, such as Social Security and unemployment compensation, are delivered through various methods—particularly prepaid cards—that may subject consumers to high fees and reduce the amount of funds the individual is able to receive.

    The Bureau noted that some prepaid cards charge numerous fees that cut away at a consumer’s available funds. According to the Federal Reserve, $1.3 billion in transaction fees (including maintenance, balance inquiry, customer service, or ATM fees) were collected by prepaid card administrators in 2020. The report also found that due to significant variations in program structure and delivery at the state and county level, the amount and types of fees charged to access cash assistance vary. Additionally, inadequate and untimely customer service often prevents consumers from being able to correct problems with their accounts or access funds, the report said. Consumers highlighted concerns such as having inadequate protections against unauthorized transfers, paying high costs to replace a card, and experiencing insufficient or hypersensitive fraud filters that cause delays and account freezing. The report also flagged concerns about consumers being told to use a prepaid card issued by a particular financial institution, rather than being allowed to deposit funds into an account at an institution of their choice, thereby limiting competition.

    The Bureau said it will continue to monitor and take action against entities who violate federal consumer financial protection laws and will share the report’s findings with federal and state agencies that administer public benefits programs.

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Cash Assistance Programs Fees Prepaid Cards

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  • DOJ announces $9 million redlining settlement with Ohio bank

    Federal Issues

    On February 28, the DOJ announced a settlement with an Ohio-based bank to resolve allegations that the bank engaged in a pattern or practice of lending discrimination by engaging in “redlining” in the Columbus metropolitan area. The DOJ’s complaint claimed that from at least 2015 to 2021, the bank failed to provide mortgage lending services to Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in the Columbus area. The DOJ also alleged that all of the bank’s branches were concentrated in majority-white neighborhoods, and that the bank did not take meaningful measures to compensate for not having a physical presence in majority-Black and Hispanic communities.

    Under the proposed consent order, the bank will, among other things, (i) invest a minimum of $7.75 million in a loan subsidy fund for majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in the Columbus area to increase access to credit for home mortgage, improvement, and refinance loans, and home equity loans and lines of credit; (ii) invest $750,000 to go towards outreach, advertising, consumer financial education, and credit counseling initiatives; (iii) invest $500,000 to be spent in developing community partnerships to expand access to residential mortgage credit  for Black and Hispanic consumers; (iv) establish one new branch and one new mortgage loan production office in majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in the Columbus area (the bank must “ensure that a minimum of four mortgage lenders, at least one of whom is Spanish-speaking, are assigned to serve these neighborhoods” and employ a full-time community development officer to oversee lending in these neighborhoods); and (v) conduct a community credit needs assessment to identify financial services needs in majority-Black and Hispanic census tracts in the Columbus area. The announcement cited the bank’s cooperation with the DOJ to remedy the identified redlining concerns.

    Federal Issues DOJ Discrimination Redlining Fair Lending Enforcement Settlement Consumer Finance

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  • FTC, CFPB examine discriminatory background screenings

    Federal Issues

    On February 28, the FTC and CFPB issued a request for information (RFI) on background screening issues affecting consumers seeking rental housing in the U.S., including ways criminal and eviction records and algorithms may lead to discriminatory screening outcomes. (See also CFPB blog post here.) According to the agencies, information used and collected in rental-screening checks may “unfairly prevent consumers from obtaining and retaining housing.” The announcement comes as part of an effort to identify practices that unfairly prevent applicants and tenants from accessing or staying in housing. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Biden administration announced in January new actions for enhancing tenant protections and furthering fair housing principles. This marks the first time the FTC has issued an RFI that explores unfair practices in the rental market. Collected data will be used to inform enforcement and policy actions under each agency’s jurisdiction, the agencies said, adding that the FCRA (which both agencies enforce) also imposes requirements on several aspects of the tenant screening process. 

    Seeking feedback from current and prospective tenants, advocacy groups, landlords, and others who use or are subject to rental-screening checks, the RFI requests information covering a wide array of issues, including: (i) how housing decisions are impacted when criminal and eviction records (which may contain potential inaccuracies) are used; (ii) whether consumers are made aware of the criteria used in the screening process or notified about the reasons leading to a rejection; (iii) how application and screening fees are set; (iv) how the screening process uses algorithms, automated decision-making, artificial intelligence, or similar technology; and (v) ways the current screening process can be improved. Comments on the RFI are due May 30.

    Federal Issues CFPB FTC Consumer Finance Discrimination

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  • CFPB asks for comments on alternative disclosures for construction loans

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On February 27, the CFPB announced it is in the final stages of reviewing an application for alternative mortgage disclosures for construction loans submitted by a trade group representing small U.S. banks. The applicant maintains that it is not uncommon for first-time homebuyers in rural communities to build their home instead of purchasing an existing home due to the scarcity of “existing affordable ‘starter’ homes.” The applicant seeks to adjust existing mortgage disclosures to facilitate the offering of loans that finance both the construction phase and the permanent purchase of a home. According to the applicant, a consumer’s understanding of construction loans would be improved if disclosures are more specifically tailored to these types of transactions. The Bureau stated that should it approve this “template” application, individual lenders will be able to apply for enrollment in an in-market testing pilot. However, the Bureau noted that, as indicated in its Policy to Encourage Trial Disclosure Programs (covered by InfoBytes here), the mere approval of a template neither permits a lender to unilaterally conduct a trial disclosure program without further approval by the CFPB, nor does it “bind the CFPB to grant individual applications.”

    The disclosure of the application comes as a result of efforts undertaken by the Bureau to be more open and transparent when adjusting regulations for new business models. The Bureau stated that in addition to publicly releasing the application, it is seeking input from stakeholders who have experience with construction loans. Comments will be accepted through March 29.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Mortgages Disclosures Construction

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  • CFPB shutters mortgage lender, alleging deceptive advertising

    Federal Issues

    On February 27, the CFPB entered a consent order against a California-based mortgage lender (respondent) for alleged repeat violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act, TILA (Regulation Z), and the Mortgage Acts and Practices Advertising Rule (Regulation N), in relation to a 2015 consent order. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2015, the Bureau claimed the respondent (which is licensed in at least 30 states and Puerto Rico and originates consumer mortgages guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and mortgages insured by the FHA) allegedly led consumers to believe it was affiliated with the U.S. government. Specifically, respondent allegedly used the names and logos of the VA and FHA in its advertisements, described loan products as part of a “distinctive program offered by the U.S. government,” and instructed consumers to call the “VA Interest Rate Reduction Department” at a phone number belonging to the mortgage lender, thus implying that the mailings were sent by government agencies. The 2015 consent order required the respondent to abide by several prohibitions and imposed a $250,000 civil money penalty.

    The Bureau contends, however, that after the 2015 consent order went into effect, the respondent continued to send millions of mortgage advertisements that allegedly made deceptive representations or contained inadequate or impermissible disclosures, including that the respondent was affiliated with the VA or the FHA. Additionally, the Bureau alleges that the respondent misrepresented interest rates, key terms, and the amount of monthly payments, and falsely represented that benefits available to qualifying borrowers were time limited. Many of these alleged misrepresentations, the Bureau claims, were expressly prohibited by the 2015 consent order.

    The 2023 consent order permanently bans the respondent from engaging in any mortgage lending activities, or from “otherwise participating in or receiving remuneration from mortgage lending, or assisting others in doing so.” The respondent, which neither admits nor denies the allegations, is also required pay a $1 million civil money penalty.

    Federal Issues CFPB Enforcement Mortgages Military Lending Consumer Finance CFPA TILA MAP Rule Regulation Z Regulation N Department of Veterans Affairs FHA

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  • FDIC issues January enforcement actions

    On February 24, the FDIC released a list of administrative enforcement actions taken against banks and individuals in January. The FDIC made public 11 orders, including “four combined orders of prohibition and orders to pay civil money penalties, one 8(b) consent order, one order to pay civil money penalty, three orders of prohibition, one order terminating a Section 19 order, and one order terminating consent order.”

    The actions include a civil money order against a Pennsylvania-based bank related to alleged violations of the Flood Disaster Protection Act (FDPA). The FDIC determined that the bank had engaged in a pattern or practice of violating the FDPA by failing to provide required notices of lender-placed flood insurance to borrowers in 16 instances.

    Additionally, the FDIC issued a consent order against an Iowa-based bank alleging the bank engaged in “unsafe or unsound banking practices and violations of law or regulations” relating to, among other things, its process for testing a proposed debit/prepaid card program. The FDIC stipulated that before starting the testing phase of any new debit card program or similar program, the bank “must develop, adopt, and implement an effective program addressing anti-money laundering (AML) / combating the financing of terrorism (CFT) controls” for the new program and conduct an independent assessment. The bank is also ordered to revise its AML/CFT policy and conduct a review of its information security program to ensure it reflects current risks.

    Bank Regulatory Federal Issues FDIC Enforcement Flood Disaster Protection Act Flood Insurance Anti-Money Laundering Combating the Financing of Terrorism

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