Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On December 9, parties filed briefs in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the U.S. Supreme Court granted cert in Seila to answer the question of whether an independent agency led by a single director violates the Constitution’s separation of powers under Article II, while also directing the parties to brief and argue whether 12 U.S.C. §5491(c)(3), which sets up the CFPB’s single director structure and imposes removal for cause, is severable from the rest of the Dodd-Frank Act, should it be found to be unconstitutional. While both parties are in agreement on the CFPB’s single-director leadership structure, they differ on how the matter should be resolved.
According to Seila Law’s brief, the CFPB’s single-director leadership structure is a blatant violation of the Constitution’s separation of powers clause. Seila Law proposes that the Court eliminate the CFPB entirely, leaving Congress to determine how to address the unconstitutionality of the Bureau, rather than save the law by making the director an at-will employee of the President. Removing the director at will, Seila Law argues, “would radically reshape the CFPB, creating a mutant version of the agency that Congress envisioned—one that would still be unaccountable to Congress, yet fully within presidential control.” Discussing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s reliance in part on a 1935 Supreme Court decision in Humphrey’s Executor v. United States (which dealt with removal protections for members of a nonpartisan, multimember commission) in its May ruling which held that the Bureau’s single-director structure is constitutional (InfoBytes coverage here), Seila Law states that the Court’s ruling in Humphrey’s Executor was “badly reasoned, wrongly decided, and should be overruled,” and, in any event, is distinguishable when addressing the CFPB’s single-director leadership structure. Whether the Court distinguishes or overturns Humphrey’s Executor’s precedent, Seila Law argues, it should hold that the Bureau’s structure violates the separation of powers clause and reverse the 9th Circuit’s judgment.
“By insulating the director of the CFPB from removal at will by the President while empowering him to exercise substantial executive power, Congress breached the President’s core prerogatives under Article II of the Constitution,” Seila Law further asserts, claiming that the appropriate remedy for the constitutional violation would be to deny the CFPB’s petition to enforce the CID and ultimately let Congress determine how to address the “constitutional defect in the CFPB’s structure.” Seila Law also argues that should the Court decide to engage in severability analysis, it should invalidate all of Title X of Dodd-Frank, which does not allow the current leadership structure to be altered to a multi-member commission.
In contrast, though the CFPB concedes that Dodd-Frank’s restriction on the President’s ability to remove the Bureau’s director violates the “separation of powers” principles of the Constitution, it contends in its brief that, should the removal provision be found unconstitutional, it should be severed from the rest of the law in accordance with Dodd-Frank’s express severability clause. “Even considering only the Bureau-specific provisions contained in Title X . . . , there is no basis to conclude that Congress would have preferred to have no Bureau at all rather than a Bureau headed by a Director who would be removable like almost all other single-headed agencies,” the CFPB wrote. “Nothing in the statutory text or history of the Bureau’s creation suggests, much less clearly demonstrates, that Congress would have preferred, for example, that the regulatory authority vested in the Bureau revert back to the seven federal agencies that previously administered those responsibilities if a court were to invalidate the Director’s removal restriction.”
Oral arguments are scheduled for March 3, 2020.
On December 5, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown wrote a letter to CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger seeking information regarding the Bureau’s plans for a program to issue formal advisory opinions. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB in September announced three new policies to “improve how the Bureau exercises its authority to facilitate innovation and reduce regulatory uncertainty,” including the mention of an “advisory opinion program” in the final policy announcement for one of the new policies. According to the letter, the Senators have concerns that CFPB guidance issued through advisory opinions has the potential to “exempt companies from complying with consumer protection laws” and “allow political employees to unduly influence and restrict the application of the consumer laws.” The letter lays out a number of questions for Director Kraninger regarding the CFPB’s use of advisory opinions, including whether all opinions will be made public, whether the facts and circumstances leading to a request for an opinion will be investigated, whether all opinions will be in writing, and who will draft them. Specifically, the letter questions the role of political appointees “at each stage of the advisory opinion process.” The letter requests that the Bureau respond to the questions by December 19.
On December 10, the CFPB released the latest quarterly consumer credit trends report, which evaluated the extent to which removal of public records from credit reports affects consumer credit scores and credit performance. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the three major U.S. credit reporting agencies began using stricter guidelines when considering consumer public records, such as tax liens and civil judgments, to be included in consumer credit reports as a result of the National Consumer Assistance Plan (NCAP). The NCAP, among other things, imposed restrictions on medical debt reporting and civil public records such as tax liens, civil judgments, and bankruptcies. Observing that the “NCAP public records provision resulted in the removal of all civil judgments and almost half of tax liens from credit reports by the end of July 2017,” this report compared consumer credit scores and credit performance for consumers that had public records removed from their credit report and consumers who did not. According to the report, “there was only a slight increase in credit scores following the NCAP,” and “the NCAP did not seem to have a large effect on the relationship between credit scores and consumers’ credit performance for consumers whose credit report included a lien or judgment compared with consumers whose credit report did not.”
On December 3, the Federal Reserve, the CFPB, the FDIC, the NCUA, and the OCC (agencies) issued an Interagency Statement on alternative data use in credit underwriting, highlighting applicable consumer protection laws and noting risks and benefits. (See press release here). According to the statement, alternative data use in underwriting may “lower the cost of credit” and expand credit access, a point previously raised by the CFPB and covered in InfoBytes. Specifically, the potential benefits include: (i) increased “speed and accuracy of credit decisions”; (ii) lender ability to “evaluate the creditworthiness of consumers who currently may not obtain credit in the mainstream credit system”; and (iii) consumer ability “to obtain additional products and/or more favorable pricing/terms based on enhanced assessments of repayment capacity.” “Alternative data” refers to information not usually found in traditional credit reports or typically provided by customers, including for example, automated “cash flow evaluation” which evaluates a borrower’s capacity to meet payment obligations and is derived from a consumer’s bank account records. The statement indicates that this approach can improve the “measurement of income and expenses” of consumers with steady income over time from multiple sources, rather than a single job. The statement also recognizes that the way in which entities use alternative data—for example, implementing a “Second Look” program, where alternative data is only used for applicants that would otherwise be denied credit—can increase credit access. The statement points out that use of alternative data may increase potential risks, and that those practices must comply with applicable consumer protection laws, including “fair lending laws, prohibitions against unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices, and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.” Therefore, the agencies encourage entities to incorporate appropriate “robust compliance management” when using alternative data in order to protect consumer information.
On December 3, the CFPB issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) relating to the Remittance Transfer Rule (Rule), which implements the Electronic Fund Transfer Act’s (EFTA) protections for consumers sending international money transfers, or remittance transfers. The NPRM makes three proposals. First, the Bureau proposes to increase the Rule’s safe harbor threshold, mitigating compliance costs for financial institutions. The EFTA and the Rule consider a “remittance transfer provider” to include “any person that provides remittance transfers for a customer in the normal course of business.” However, the Rule currently includes a “safe harbor” provision that excludes persons that process 100 or fewer remittance transfers annually. The NPRM proposes increasing this threshold from 100 to 500 international remittance transfers per year. According to the Bureau’s announcement, the change would “reduce the burden on over 400 banks and almost 250 credit unions that send a relatively small number of remittances—less than .06 percent of all remittances.”
Second, the NPRM proposes adopting two permanent exceptions. The first is a permanent statutory exception that would allow certain insured institutions to estimate exchange rates and money transfer fees they are required to disclose, rather than provide consumers with exact costs when they send money abroad. Such an exemption would only apply in instances where a remittance payment is made in the local currency of the designated recipient’s country and the insured institution processing the transaction made 1,000 or fewer remittance payments to that country in the previous calendar year. An identical exemption provision is currently set to expire July 21, 2020. (Previous InfoBytes coverage here.) The NPRM proposes adopting a second permanent exception to allow insured institutions to estimate covered third-party fees for remittance transfers to a recipient’s institution provided, among other things, the insured institution made 500 or fewer remittance transfers to the recipient’s institution the prior calendar year.
Third, the NPRM requests comments on a list of safe harbor countries for which providers may use estimates for remittance transfers.
Comments must be received 45 days after publication in the Federal Register. In conjunction with the NPRM, the Bureau also released a summary of the NPRM, a table of contents, and an unofficial redline of the proposed amendments to the Rule.
On November 22, in a speech at The Clearing House + Bank Policy Institute Annual Conference, CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger noted that the Bureau is considering changes to its consent order process to “ensur[e] consent orders remain in effect only as long as needed to achieve their desired effects.” Specifically, Kraninger discussed that while most consent orders are effective for five-year periods and companies can request early termination or termination of indefinite orders, the Bureau has only terminated “a few” consent orders in the past. Similar to the Bureau’s recent changes to its Civil Investigative Demand (CID) policy (covered by InfoBytes here), Kraninger stated that the Bureau intends to announce an updated consent order policy “soon,” in order to “provide clarity and consistency.”
On November 25, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) wrote to CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger requesting a breakdown of how the Bureau enforces fair lending laws in light of recent allegations brought against a global financial services company that reportedly offered lower credit limits to women than to similarly creditworthy men. According to the Senators, the allegations raise questions as to whether a pattern of sex discrimination exists in the underwriting of the credit product and “underscore the importance of the CFPB adequately monitoring the lending practices of financial institutions . . . that are new to the consumer lending space.” The Senators also expressed concern that adjustments to the structure of the Bureau under President Trump’s administration have affected its “commitment to enforcing fair lending laws and carrying out its statutory responsibilities.” (Previous InfoBytes coverage here.) The Senators stated: “We’re concerned that this new structure, where many offices have varying degrees of authority, may allow new potentially discriminatory products to get to market without adequate oversight.” Specifically, the Senators asked the Bureau to respond to the following questions by December 9: (i) how does the Bureau “prioritize and evaluate risk when determining which financial institutions to examine for compliance with fair lending laws”; (ii) has the Bureau ever conducted a supervisory examination of the global financial services company’s fair lending compliance management system; (iii) have changes made to the Bureau’s structure affected its fair lending enforcement abilities; and (iv) are the Bureau’s standards used to determine violations of ECOA different under Director Kraninger.
On November 25, the CFPB announced a settlement with two companies that originated and serviced travel-related loans for military servicemembers and their families. According to the consent order with the lender and its principal, the lender (i) charged fees to customers who obtained financing, at a higher rate than those customers who paid in full, but failed to include the fee in the finance charge or APR; (ii) falsely quoted low monthly interest rates to customers over the phone; and (iii) failed to provide the required information about the terms of credit and the total of payments in violation of TILA and the TSR. The consent order prohibits future lending targeted to military consumers and requires the lender and its principal to pay a civil money penalty of $1. The order also imposes a suspended judgment of almost $3.5 million, based on an inability to pay.
In its consent order against the servicer, the Bureau asserts the servicer engaged in deceptive practices by overcharging servicemembers for debt-cancellation products and, in violation of the FCRA’s implementing Regulation V, never established or maintained written policies and procedures regarding the accuracy of information furnished to credit reporting agencies. The consent order issues injunctive relief and requires the servicer to (i) pay a $25,000 civil money penalty; (ii) provide redress to consumers who were allegedly overcharged for the debt-cancellation product; (iii) pay over $54,000 in restitution to borrowers with no outstanding balance on their loans and issue additional account credits to borrowers with outstanding balances; and (iv) establish reasonable policies and procedures for accurate reporting to consumer reporting agencies.
On November 22, the CFPB released a new Data Point report from the Office of Research titled “Borrower Experiences on Income-Driven Repayment,” which examines, among other things, the types of student loan borrowers who participate in income-driven repayment (IDR) plans, the evolution of borrower delinquencies, and borrower experiences with enrollment recertification processes. According to the Bureau, while student loans are currently the largest non-mortgage form of debt held by U.S. consumers, “there remains limited evidence of how this growing debt burden affects the use of other financial products and services.” Key findings of the report include:
- Delinquencies decreased 19 to 26 percent after one year into IDR enrollment for borrowers who received partial payment relief as compared to the quarter before enrollment, and the share of borrowers actively in repayment on their loans was 27 percent higher at the end of the first year of being enrolled in IDR than prior to entering IDR.
- Delinquent borrowers who enrolled in IDR showed a 17 percent reduction in their delinquencies on other credit products, however, the Bureau noted that “one in five such borrowers were still behind on their payments on these other credit products one year later, reflecting persistent financial struggles for some borrowers.”
- Roughly two-thirds of borrowers who recertified their IDR enrollment for a second year did so either immediately or within two months after the initial IDR period ended, with an additional 12 percent entering forbearance or deferment. The Bureau stated that borrowers who do not recertify on time after their first year may face persistent difficulties, and reported that delinquencies more than tripled for these borrowers.
- More than 80 percent of borrowers enrolled in IDR “sought out prolonged payment relief beyond a single year.”
According to the Bureau, the data “helps the Bureau and other researchers and policymakers understand how consumers repay their student loans and how that behavior affects their use of other financial products.”
On November 22, the CFPB announced a settlement with an employment background screening company resolving allegations that the company violated the FCRA. In the complaint, the Bureau asserts that the company failed to “employ reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy” in the consumer reports it prepared. Specifically, the Bureau claims that until October 2014, the company matched criminal records with applicants based on only two personal identifiers, which created a “heightened risk of false positives” in commonly named individuals. The company also had a practice of including “high-risk indicators,” sourced from a third party, in its consumer reports and did not follow procedures to verify the accuracy of the designations. Additionally, the Bureau asserts that the company failed to maintain procedures to ensure that adverse public record information was complete and up to date, resulting in reporting outdated adverse information in violation of the FCRA. Under the stipulated judgment, in addition to injunctive relief, the company will be required to pay $6 million in monetary relief to affected consumers and a $2.5 million civil money penalty.
- Amanda R. Lawrence and Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss "California privacy rule" on an NAFCU webinar
- Sasha Leonhardt to discuss "The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and the Military Lending Act: Common pitfalls and emerging issues" at a NAFCU webinar
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "BigLaw" at the Women in Business Law Leadership Conference
- Buckley Webcast: NYDFS mortgage servicing rules: Untangling federal and state servicing requirements
- H Joshua Kotin and Jessica M. Shannon to discuss "TILA/RESPA mortgage servicing and origination" at the NAFCU Regulatory Compliance School
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Pathway of the SARs: Tracking trajectories of suspicious activity reports from alerts to prosecution" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Which bud’s for you? A deep-dive into evolving marijuana laws" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Understanding OFAC sanctions" at a NAFCU webinar
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "RESPA 8 (TRID applied compliance)" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Major litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- John P. Kromer to discuss "Navigating the multi-state fintech regulatory regime" at the American Conference Institute Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Forum on Fintech & Emerging Payment Systems
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Leveraging big data responsibly" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Critique of direct examination; Questions and answers" at the American Bar Association Section of Litigation Anatomy of a Trial: Murder Trial of Ziang Sung Wan
- Hank Asbill to discuss "What judges want from trial lawyers" at the American Bar Association Section of Litigation Anatomy of a Trial: Murder Trial of Ziang Sung Wan
- Steven R. vonBerg to speak at the "Conference super session" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference