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District Court orders mortgage company to pay $260,000 in civil money penalties for deceiving veterans about refinance benefits
On December 21, the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada ordered a non-bank mortgage company to pay $268,869 in redress to consumers and a civil penalty of $260,000 in an action brought by the CFPB for engaging in allegedly deceptive lending practices to veterans about the benefits of refinancing their mortgages. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB had alleged that, during in-home presentations, the company used flawed “apples to apples” comparisons between the consumers’ mortgages and a Department of Veterans Affairs’ Interest Rate Reduction Refinancing Loan. According to the Bureau, the presentations misrepresented the cost savings of the refinance by (i) inflating the future amount of principal owed under the existing mortgage; (ii) overestimating the future loan’s term, which underestimated the future monthly payments; and (iii) overestimating the total monthly benefit of the loan after the first month. In addition to the monetary penalties, the order prohibits the company from misrepresenting the terms or benefits of mortgage refinancing and requires the company to submit a compliance plan to the Bureau.
In December, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report entitled “Financial Technology: Agencies Should Provide Clarification on Lenders’ Use of Alternative Data,” which addresses emerging issues in fintech lending due to rapid growth in loan volume and increasing partnerships between banks and fintech lenders. The report also addresses fintech lenders’ use of alternative data to supplement traditional data used in making credit decisions or to detect fraud. The report notes that many banks and fintech lenders welcome additional guidance to ease the regulatory uncertainty surrounding the use of alternative data, including compliance with fair lending and consumer protection laws. The report’s findings cover the following topics:
- Growth of fintech lending. GAO’s analysis discusses the growth of fintech lending and several possible driving factors, such as financial innovation; consumer and business demand; lower interest rates on outstanding debt; increased investor base; and competitive advantages resulting from differences in regulatory requirements when compared to traditional state- or federally chartered banks.
- Partnerships with federally regulated banks. The report addresses two broad categories of business models: bank partnership and direct lender. GAO reports that the most common structure is the bank partnership model, where fintech lenders evaluate loan applicants through technology-based credit models, which incorporate partner banks’ underwriting criteria and are originated using the bank’s charter as opposed to state lending licenses. The fintech lender may then purchase the loans from the banks and either hold the loan in portfolio, or sell in the secondary market.
- Regulatory concerns. GAO reports that the most significant regulatory challenges facing fintech lenders relate to (i) compliance with varying state regulations; (ii) litigation-related concerns including the “valid when made” doctrine and “true lender” issues; (iii) ability to obtain industrial loan company charters; and (iv) emerging federal initiatives such as the OCC’s special-purpose national bank charter, fragmented coordination among federal regulators, and the CFPB’s “no-action letter” policy.
- Consumer protection issues. The report identifies several consumer protection concerns related to fintech lending, including issues related to transparency in small business lending; data accuracy and privacy, particularly with respect to the use of alternative data in underwriting; and the potential for high-cost loans due to lack of competitive pressure.
- Use of alternative data. The report discusses fintech lenders’ practice of using alternative data, such as on-time rent payments or a borrower’s alma mater and degree, to supplement traditional data when making credit decisions. GAO notes that while there are potential benefits to using alternative data—including expansion of credit access, improved pricing of products, faster credit decisions, and fraud prevention—there are also a number of identified risks, such as fair lending issues, transparency, data reliability, performance during economic downturns, and cybersecurity concerns.
The GAO concludes by recommending the CFPB, Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, and the OCC communicate in writing with fintech lenders and their bank partners about the appropriate use of alternative data in the underwriting process. According to the report, all four agencies indicated their intent to take action to address the recommendations and outlined efforts to monitor the use of alternative data.
On December 21, the CFPB announced final policy guidance covering the loan-level HMDA data the Bureau intends to make publicly available in 2019. The proposed policy was issued in September 2017 (covered by InfoBytes here) and, after reviewing public comments, the Bureau agreed to modify certain data disclosures to address concerns regarding consumers’ privacy. The final policy now excludes from public disclosure (i) the loan identifier; (ii) application and action taken dates; (iii) the property address; (iv) the applicants’ credit scores; (v) the mortgage originator’s NMLS identifier; and (vi) the results generated by the automated underwriting system. The Bureau will also exclude free-form text fields which report data such as the applicant’s race or ethnicity. The Bureau further announced that it will publish data for (i) the applicants’ ages; (ii) the loan amount; and (iii) the number of units in the dwelling as ranges rather than specific values.
The announcement states that the Bureau intends to initiate in a separate notice-and-comment rulemaking in 2019 to incorporate any modifications of HMDA data into the text of Regulation C and will use the rulemaking to consider what HMDA data will be disclosed in future years. Additionally, the CFPB reiterated its intention to engage in a rulemaking to reconsider aspects of the 2015 HMDA rule, which was originally announced in December 2017 (covered by InfoBytes here).
CFPB releases annual adjustments to HMDA, TILA, and FCRA; agencies release CRA asset-size threshold adjustments
On December 31, the CFPB published final rules adjusting both the asset-size thresholds under HMDA (Regulation C) and TILA (Regulation Z), and the maximum amount consumer reporting agencies may charge consumers for providing the consumer the consumer’s credit file under FCRA. All rules take effect on January 1, 2019.
Under HMDA, institutions with assets below certain dollar thresholds are exempt from the collection and reporting requirements. The final rule increases the asset-size exemption threshold for banks, savings associations, and credit unions from $45 million to $46 million, thereby exempting institutions with assets of $46 million or less as of December 31, 2018, from collecting and reporting HMDA data in 2019.
TILA exempts certain entities from the requirement to establish escrow accounts when originating higher-priced mortgage loans (HPMLs), including entities with assets below the asset-size threshold established by the CFPB. The final rule increases this asset-size exemption threshold from $2.112 billion to $2.167 billion, thereby exempting creditors with assets of $2.167 billion or less as of December 31, 2018, from the requirement to establish escrow accounts for HPMLs in 2019.
Lastly, the FCRA permits consumer reporting agencies to impose a reasonable charge on a consumer when disclosing the consumer’s credit file in certain circumstances. Where the annual adjustment to this maximum charge had historically been announced via regulatory notice, the Bureau is now codifying the maximum charge in Regulation V. For 2019, the Bureau increased the maximum amount consumer reporting agencies may charge for making a file disclosure to a consumer from $12.00 to $12.50.
Separately, on December 20, the Federal Reserve Board, the OCC, and the FDIC (collectively, the “Agencies”) jointly announced the adjusted asset-size thresholds used to define “small” and “intermediate small” banks and savings associations under the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). Effective January 1, 2019, a “small” bank or savings association will be defined as an institution that, as of December 31 of either of the past two calendar years, had assets of less than $1.284 billion. An “intermediate small” bank or savings association will be defined as an institution with assets of at least $321 million as of December 31 of both of the past two calendar years, but less than $1.284 billion in assets as of December 31 of either of the past two calendar years. The Agencies published the annual adjustments in the Federal Register on December 27.
District Court approves $480 million settlement between national bank and investors over incentive compensation sales program
On December 18, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted final approval following a fairness hearing to a $480 million settlement with a national bank to resolve a consolidated class action related to the bank’s previous incentive compensation sales program. As previously covered by InfoBytes, an agreement in principle was announced last May. The court’s order resolves class action allegations stemming from the September 2016 consent order between the bank and the CFPB, which resolved allegations related to the opening of deposit and credit card accounts for consumers without consent. (See previously InfoBytes coverage here.)
On December 19, the Illinois governor signed HB 5542, which amends the state’s Residential Mortgage License Act of 1987 (the Act) to make various changes to state licensing requirements. Among other things, the amended Act (i) clarifies the definition of a “bona fide nonprofit organization”; (ii) provides a list of prohibited acts and practices; (iii) stipulates that a licensee filing a Mortgage Call Report is not required to file an annual report with the Secretary of Financial and Professional Regulation (Secretary) disclosing applicable annual activities; (iv) repeals a provision requiring the Secretary to obtain loan delinquency data from HUD as part of an examination of each licensee; (v) clarifies that the notice of change in loan terms disclosure requirements do not apply to any licensee providing notices of changes in loan terms pursuant to the CFPB’s Know Before You Owe mortgage disclosure procedure under TILA and RESPA, while removing the provision that previously excluded licensees limited to soliciting residential mortgage loan applications as approved by the Secretary from the requirements to provide disclosure of changes in loan terms; (vi) removes certain criteria concerning the operability date for submitting licensing information to the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System; and (vii) makes other technical and conforming changes. The amendments are effective immediately.
On December 19, new CFPB Director, Kathy Kraninger emailed staff stating she has decided to not move forward with changing the name of the agency to the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. Former acting Director Mick Mulvaney—to whom Kraninger previously reported at the Office of Management and Budget—had initiated the change and released an official agency seal referring to the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection on the grounds that the Dodd-Frank Act generally used that name for the agency rather than Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In an email to Bureau staff, Kraninger stated the seal and the “statutory name given in Dodd-Frank” will be used for “statutorily required reports, legal filings, and other items specific to the Office of the Director,” but “[t]he name ‘Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’ and the existing CFPB logo will continue to be used for all other materials.” The decision comes soon after an internal report allegedly calculated the name change to cost anywhere between $9 million and $19 million dollars and after a request by Senator Elizabeth Warren for the Bureau’s Inspector General to conduct an investigation into Mulvaney’s decision to change the name.
This appears to be one of the first significant decisions Kraninger has made since becoming the Bureau’s second confirmed Director. While her reversal of the course set by Mulvaney is noteworthy, her views on consumer financial protection issues are still largely unknown, and it remains to be seen whether she will continue with her predecessor’s initiatives on substantive matters.
On December 14, Maxine Waters (D-CA) and 22 other House Democrats issued a letter urging the new CFPB Director, Kathy Kraninger, to resume supervisory examinations of the Military Lending Act (MLA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, according to reports citing “internal agency documents,” the Bureau ceased supervisory examinations of the MLA, contending the law does not authorize the Bureau to examine financial institutions for compliance with the MLA. In response, a bipartisan coalition of 33 state Attorneys General sent a letter to then acting Director, Mick Mulvaney, expressing concern over the decision (covered by InfoBytes here).
The letter from Waters, who is expected to be the next chair of the House Financial Services Committee, and the other 22 Democratic members of the Committee, argues that “there is no question the [CFPB] has the authority and the responsibility to supervise its regulated entities for compliance with the MLA.” As support, the letter cites to the Bureau’s authority to oversee a “wide range of regulated entities,” the establishment of the Bureau’s Office of Servicemember Affairs, and the 2013 amendments to the MLA, which gave the Bureau the authority to enforce the act. The letter also points to the Bureau’s work obtaining $130 million in relief for servicemembers, veterans, and their families through enforcement actions, as well as the 109 complaints the Bureau has received from military consumers since 2011.
DOJ says CFPB structure is unconstitutional, but urges Supreme Court to deny writ since case is a “poor vehicle”
On December 10, the DOJ filed a brief in response to a Texas bank and two associations’ (petitioners) petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the CFPB’s structure, with the DOJ arguing that the Bureau’s structure infringes on the president’s responsibility to ensure that federal laws are faithfully executed, but urging the court to deny the writ as the case is a “poor vehicle” for the constitutionality consideration. Specifically, the DOJ argues that the decision would warrant review by the full court, which would be unlikely due to newly appointed Judge Kavanaugh’s involvement in the January 2018 D.C. Circuit en banc decision in PHH v. CFPB (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert). Additionally, the DOJ acknowledges that the petitioners’ standing to sue “is sufficiently questionable to present a significant vehicle problem,” as the Texas bank is supervised by the OCC and the two associations are not regulated by the Bureau. On the merits, however, the DOJ agrees with the petitioners that statutory restriction on the president’s authority to remove the Bureau’s director violates the constitution. Citing to Judge Kavanaugh’s dissent opinion in the PHH en banc decision, the DOJ asserts that not only does the for-cause removal restrict the president’s powers to ensure the laws are faithfully executed, a single-director lacks the attributes of a multi-member commission that would warrant a for-cause removal provision. The DOJ concludes that the proper remedy would be to sever the for-cause provision while leaving the remaining applicable portions of the Dodd-Frank Act intact. Lastly, the DOJ notes that since it would not argue in favor of constitutionality, it recommends that if the Court were to grant certiorari, it should wait until the Bureau’s new director, Kathy Kraninger, has an opportunity to decide if the Bureau would defend the judgment before appointing an amicus curiae.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the petitioners asked the Court (i) whether the CFPB as an independent agency headed by a single director that can only be removed from office for cause violates the Constitution’s separation of powers; (ii) whether a 1935 Supreme Court case upholding removal restrictions on members of the FTC should be overturned; and (iii) whether the CFPB’s “perpetual, on-demand funding streams” are permitted under the Appropriations Clause. The petition for writ resulted from a June decision by the D.C. Circuit upholding summary judgment against the petitioners, based on the D.C. Circuit en banc decision in PHH v. CFPB, which concluded the Bureau’s single-director structure is constitutional.
On December 10, the CFPB released a new proposed policy on No-Action Letters (NAL) and a new federal product sandbox. The new NAL proposal, which would replace the 2016 NAL policy, is “designed to increase the utilization of the Policy and bring certain elements more in line with similar no-action letter programs offered by other agencies.” The proposal consists of six sections. Highlights include:
- Description of No-Action Letters. The letter would indicate to the applicant, that subject to good faith, substantial compliance with the terms of the letter, the Bureau would not bring a supervisory or enforcement action against the recipient for offering or providing the described aspects of the product or service covered by the letter.
- Submitting Applications. The proposal includes a description of the items an application should contain and invites applications from trade associations on behalf of their members, and from service providers and other third parties on behalf of their existing or prospective clients.
- Assessment of Applications. The Bureau intends to grant or deny an application within 60 days of notifying the applicant that the application is deemed complete.
- Issuing No-Action Letters. NALs will be signed by the Assistant Director of the Office of Innovation or other members in the office, and will be duly authorized by the Bureau. The Bureau may revoke a NAL in whole or in part, but before the Bureau revokes a NAL, recipients will have an opportunity to cure a compliance failure within a reasonable period.
- Regulatory Coordination. In order to satisfy the coordination requirements under Dodd-Frank, the Bureau notes it is interested in partnering with state authorities that issue similar forms of no-action relief in order to provide state applicants an alternative means of also receiving a letter from the Bureau.
- Disclosure of Information. The Bureau intends to publish NALs on its website and in some cases, a version or summary of the application. The Bureau may also publish denials and an explanation of why the application was denied. The policy notes that disclosure of information is governed by the Dodd-Frank Act, FOIA and the Bureau’s rule on Disclosure of Records and Information, which generally would prohibit the Bureau from disclosing confidential information.
Notable changes from the 2016 NAL policy include, (i) NALs no longer have a temporal duration—under the new proposal, there is no temporal limitation except in instances of revocation; (ii) applicants are no longer are required to commit to sharing data about the product or service covered by the application; and (iii) the letters are no longer staff recommendations, but issued by authorized officials in the Bureau to provide recipients greater assurance of the relief.
The proposal also introduces the Bureau’s “Product Sandbox,” which offers substantially the same relief as the NAL proposal but also includes: (i) approvals under one or more of three statutory safe harbor provisions of TILA, ECOA, or the EFTA; and (ii) exemptions by order from statutory provisions of ECOA, HOEPA, and FDIA, or regulatory provisions that do not mirror statutory provisions under rulemaking authority. The proposal notes that two years is the expected duration for participation in the Sandbox, but similar to the no-action relief above, the no-action relief from the Sandbox program can be of unlimited duration—if approved under the sandbox program, “the recipient would be immune from enforcement actions by any Federal or State authorities, as well as from lawsuits brought by private parties.”
Comments on the proposals are due within 60 days of publication in the Federal Register.
- Heidi M. Bauer and Dan Ladd to discuss "'So you want to form a joint venture' — Licensing strategies for successful JVs" at RESPRO26
- Tim Lange to discuss "Update from 2019 NMLS Conference" at the California Mortgage Bankers Association Mortgage Quality & Compliance Committee webinar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to to discuss "DC policy: Everything but the kitchen sink" at CBA Live
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Small business & regulation: How fair lending has evolved & where are we heading?" at CBA Live
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from ABLV and other major cases involving inadequate compliance oversight" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "Transaction management-issues surrounding purchase & sale agreements, post acquisition integration & trailing docs" at the Investment Management Network Residential Mortgage Servicing Rights Forum
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "A year in the life of the CDD final rule: A first anniversary assessment" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss "State regulatory and disclosures" at the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association Legal Forum
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "The state of the BSA 2019: What’s working, what’s not, and how to improve it" at the West Coast Anti Money-Laundering Forum
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Creative character evidence in criminal and civil trials" at the Litigation Counsel of America Spring Conference & Celebration of Fellows
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Flood NFIP in the age of extreme weather events" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "UDAAP compliance" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "State examination/enforcement trends" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Benjamin K. Olson to discuss "LO compensation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Major state law developments" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Leveraging big data responsibly" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: Addressing prosecutions driven by hidden actors" at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers West Coast White Collar Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Mid-year policy update" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Keep off the grass: Mitigating the risks of banking marijuana-related businesses" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program