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On February 5, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard spoke at the “Symposium on the Future of Payments” to discuss benefits and risks associated with the digitalization of payments and currency. Noting that some of the new players in this space are outside financial regulatory guardrails and offer new currencies that “could pose challenges in areas such as illicit finance, privacy, financial stability, and monetary policy transmission,” Brainard stressed the importance of assessing new approaches and redrawing existing parameters. Emphasizing, however, that no federal agency has broad authority over the payments systems, Brainard stated that Congress should review how retail payments are regulated in the U.S., given the growth in ways that money is able to move around without the need for a financial intermediary. Banking agencies may oversee nonbank payments “to the extent there is a bank nexus” or bank affiliation, Brainard noted, however, she cautioned that “this oversight will be quite limited to the extent that nonbank players reduce or eliminate the nexus to banks, such as when technology firms develop payments services connected to digital wallets rather than bank accounts and rely on digital currencies rather than sovereign currencies as the means of exchange.” According to Brainard, “a review of the nation’s oversight framework for retail payment systems could be helpful to identify important gaps.”
Among other topics, Brainard stated that the Fed is currently reviewing nearly 200 comment letters concerning the proposed FedNow Service announced last summer, which would “facilitate end-to-end faster payment services, increase competition, and ensure equitable and ubiquitous access to banks of all sizes nationwide.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Brainard also discussed the possibility of creating a central bank digital currency (CBDC). While noting that the “prospect for rapid adoption of global stablecoin payment systems has intensified calls for central banks to issue digital currencies in order to maintain the sovereign currency as the anchor of the nation’s payment systems,” Brainard stressed the importance of taking into account private sector innovations and considering whether adding a new form of central bank liability would improve the payment system and reduce operational vulnerabilities from a safety and resilience perspective. She noted that the Fed is “conducting research and experimentation related to distributed ledger technologies and their potential use case for digital currencies, including the potential for a CBDC.”
On February 5, the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing titled “Rent-A-Bank Schemes and New Debt Traps: Assessing Efforts to Evade State Consumer Protections and Interest Rate Caps” to discuss policies relating to state interest rate caps and permissible interest rates on small dollar loans such as payday and car-title loans. As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, in November, the OCC and the FDIC proposed rules meant to override the 2015 Madden v. Midland funding decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and reinforce that when a national bank or savings association, or state chartered bank, transfers a loan, the permissible interest rate after the transfer is the same as it was prior to the transfer. In January, however, a group of attorneys general from 21 states and the District of Columbia submitted a comment letter to the OCC claiming the proposed rule would encourage predatory lending through “rent-a-bank schemes.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) During the hearing, Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), expressed concern that the two agency proposals would harm consumers by allowing non-banks to partner with banks and enable non-bank lenders to “peddle harmful short-term, triple-digit interest rate loans.” Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) echoed that concern when she suggested that “rent-a-bank” schemes allow non-banks to dodge state interest rate laws. Many Republicans had views differing from those expressed by Tlaib and Waters. North Carolina Representative Patrick McHenry remarked that the proposals from the OCC and the FDIC merely formalized the “valid when made” rule that had been in use for over a century. At the hearing, HR 5050, which would cap federal interest rates on certain small loans at 36 percent, was also discussed, with several Democrats stressing that the cap may negatively affect credit availability to some consumers.
On April 10, following a nationwide fintech forum for state banking regulators and financial services executives co-hosted by the New York Department of Financial Services and the Conference of State Banking Supervisors (CSBS), CSBS issued a press release announcing that regulators from all 50 states and the District of Columbia have designated an “Innovation Staff Contact” within each of their offices to facilitate and streamline communications between state regulators and the financial services industry. Fintech topics include money transmissions, payments, lending, and licensing. According to the president of CSBS, “State regulators see how fintech is reshaping the financial services industry. And an Innovation Contact is but the latest step that states are taking to engage with industry and modernize nonbank regulation.” Last year, as previously covered in InfoBytes, CSBS introduced “Vision 2020,” an initiative geared towards streamlining the state regulatory system to support business innovation and harmonize licensing and supervisory practices, while still protecting the rights of consumers. Additionally, this past February, CSBS announced that financial regulators from seven states have agreed to a multi-state compact that will offer a streamlined licensing process for money services businesses, including fintech firms. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.)
Houses passes two bipartisan bills to ease stress test requirements and nonbank challenges to SIFI designations
On April 11, by a vote of 245-174, the House passed H.R. 4293, the “Stress Test Improvement Act of 2017,” which would amend the Dodd-Frank Act to modify stress test requirements for bank holding companies and certain nonbank financial companies. Among other things, H.R. 4293 prohibits the Federal Reserve Board’s (Board) to object to a company’s capital plan “on the basis of qualitative deficiencies in the company’s capital planning process” when conducting a Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (CCAR), and reduces the frequency of stress testing from semiannual to annual. As previously covered in InfoBytes, on April 10, the Board issued its own proposed changes intended to simplify the capital regime applicable to bank holding companies with $50 billion or more in total consolidated assets by integrating the Board’s regulatory capital rule and CCAR and stress test rules.
Separately on April, 11, the House passed H.R. 4061 by a vote of 297-121. The bipartisan bill, “Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) Improvement Act of 2017,” would require FSOC to consider the appropriateness of subjecting nonbank financial companies (nonbanks) designated as systemically important to prudential standards “as opposed to other forms of regulation to mitigate the identified risks.” Among other things, the bill would also require FSOC to allow nonbanks the opportunity to meet with FSOC to present relevant information to contest the designation both during an annual reevaluation, as well as every five years after the date of final determination.
On January 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit dismissed an appeal by the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) after both parties filed a joint stipulated motion to voluntarily dismiss the case. The litigation began in 2015 when a national insurance firm sued FSOC over its designation of the firm as a nonbank systemically important financial institution (SIFI). In March 2016, the district court issued its opinion agreeing with the insurance firm and finding the FSOC determination arbitrary and capricious because it failed to consider the financial impact the SIFI designation would have on the firm. FSOC appealed the court’s ruling but after a change in FSOC leadership, agreed to jointly dismiss the appeal with the insurance firm.
For more InfoBytes coverage on SIFIs, click here.
HUD IG Blames Ginnie Mae for Inadequate Supervision; HUD IG Concludes HUD Did Not Follow Requirements When Forgiving Debts
On September 21, the HUD Inspector General (IG) released an audit report of Ginnie Mae’s oversight of nonbanks in the mortgage servicing industry. The report found that Ginnie Mae did not adequately respond to the growth in its nonbank issuer base; a base, the report notes, that tends to have more complex financial and operating structures than banking institutions. The IG found, among other things, that Ginnie Mae may not be prepared to identify problems with nonbank issuers prior to default, requiring additional funds from the U.S. Treasury to pay back investors in the event of a large default.
On the same day, the IG also announced a report which found that HUD did not always follow applicable requirements when forgiving debts and terminating debt collections. The report determined that HUD’s review process for evaluating debt forgiveness or collection termination was not thorough enough to ensure that statutory, regulatory, and policy requirements associated with this process were met—such as ensuring DOJ approval was obtained when required.
DOJ Announces Settlements with Non-Bank Mortgage Lender to Resolve Alleged False Claims Act Violations
On August 8, the DOJ announced a $74.5 million settlement with a non-bank mortgage lender and certain affiliates to resolve potential claims that they violated the False Claims Act by knowingly originating and underwriting mortgage loans insured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Veterans Administration (VA), and by selling certain loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that did not meet applicable requirements. According to the terms of the two settlement agreements, $65 million of the settlement will be paid to resolve allegations relating to FHA loans, and $9.45 million will be paid to resolve potential civil claims relating to certain specified VA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac loans. The settlements also fully resolved a False Claims Act qui tam lawsuit that had been pending in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
The settlement included no admission of liability by the lender. The lender issued a statement responding to the settlements: “We have agreed to resolve these matters, which cover certain legacy origination and underwriting activities, without admitting liability, in order to avoid the distraction and expense of potential litigation. While we cooperated fully in these investigations since receiving subpoenas in 2013, we concluded that settling these matters is in the best interest of [the company] and its constituents.”
On July 21, the Treasury Department announced that on Friday, July 28, Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin will preside over an executive session of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC). According to a Treasury press release, the preliminary agenda includes:
- a discussion about Volcker Rule recommendations presented in the Treasury’s June 2017 report, “A Financial System That Creates Economic Opportunities: Banks and Credit Unions”;
- an update on annual reevaluation requirements for designating nonbank financial companies; and
- a discussion regarding pending litigation brought against FSOC.
Consistent with FSOC’s transparency policy, the meeting may be made available via live webcast and can be viewed after it occurs. Meeting minutes for the most recent FSOC meetings are generally approved at the next meeting and posted online soon afterwards.
Meeting minutes for past meetings are available here.
Readouts for past meetings are available here.
On December 2, 2016, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”) announced its plans to move forward with developing a special purpose national bank charter for financial technology (“fintech”) companies. Accompanying the Comptroller of the Currency, Thomas J. Curry’s announcement, the OCC published a white paper that describes the OCC’s authority to grant national bank charters to fintech companies and outlines minimum supervisory standards for successful fintech bank applicants. These standards would include capital and liquidity standards, risk management requirements, enhanced disclosure requirements, and resolution plans. Over the past several months, the OCC has taken a series of carefully calculated steps to position itself as the preeminent regulator of fintech companies in a hotly-contested race among other federal and state regulators who have similarly expressed interest in formalizing a regulatory framework for fintech companies. This proposal from the OCC reflects the culmination of those efforts.
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BuckleySandler welcomes questions regarding this new approach to fintech and banking, and would be happy to assist companies in determining whether a national bank charter would be beneficial for executing on their corporate strategies. Questions regarding the matters discussed in this Alert may be directed to any of our lawyers listed below, or to any other BuckleySandler attorney with whom you have consulted in the past.
- Jeremiah S. Buckley, (202) 349-8010
- Valerie L. Hletko, (202) 349-8054
- John P. Kromer, (202) 349-8040
- Jeffrey P. Naimon, (202) 349-8030
- Clinton R. Rockwell, (310) 424-3901
- Jonice Gray Tucker, (202) 349-8005
- Walter E. Zalenski, (202) 461-2910
- Noel M. Gruber, (202) 349-8043
On November 16, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will preside over a meeting of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC). The agenda will include both an open and an executive session. The preliminary agenda for the open session includes an update on the work of the Alternative Reference Rates Committee, an update on the council's review of the asset management industry and revisions to the council's regulations under the Freedom of Information Act. The preliminary agenda for the executive session includes a presentation on stress tests of central counterparties conducted by the CFTC, a discussion of confidential data related to the Council’s review of asset management products and activities, and an update on the annual re-evaluation of the designation of a non-bank financial company.
Open session Council meetings are made available to the public via live webcast and also can be viewed after they occur here. Meeting minutes for the most recent Council meeting are generally approved at the next Council meeting and posted online soon afterwards. Meeting minutes for past Council meetings are available here. Readouts for past Council meetings are available here.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “How the new administration sets the tone for 2021” at the American Conference Institute Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Forum on Fintech & Emerging Payment Systems
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss UDAAP in consumer finance at an American Bar Association webinar
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "What to expect: The new administration and regulatory changes" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “The future of fair lending” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Steven R. vonBerg to discuss "LO comp challenges" 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
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “The False Claims Act today” at the Federal Bar Association Qui Tam Section Roundtable