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On July 29, the U.S. House of Representatives passed by voice voteH.R. 5062, a bipartisan bill that would amend the Consumer Financial Protection Act with respect to the supervision of nondepository institutions, to require the CFPB to coordinate its supervisory activities with state regulatory agencies that license, supervise, or examine the offering of consumer financial products or services. The bill declares that the sharing of information with such state entities does not waive any privilege claimed by nondepository institutions under federal or state law regarding such information as to any person or entity other than the CFPB or the state agency. The following day, the House Financial Services Committee approved numerous bills, including two mortgage-related bills. The first, H.R. 4042, would require the Federal Reserve Board, the OCC, and the FDIC to conduct a study to determine the appropriate capital requirements for mortgage servicing assets for any banking institution other than an institution identified by the Financial Stability Board as a global systemically important bank. The bill also would prohibit the implementation of Basel III capital requirements related to mortgage servicing assets for non-systemic banking institutions from taking effect until three months after a report on the study. A second bill, H.R. 5148, would exempt creditors offering mortgages of $250,000 or below from certain property appraisal requirements established by the Dodd-Frank Act.
On July 17, the FHFA Office of Inspector General (OIG) published a report on risks to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises) related to purchasing mortgages from smaller lenders and nonbank mortgage companies. The report states such lenders present elevated risk in the following areas: (i) counterparty credit risk—smaller lenders and nonbank lenders may have relatively limited financial capacity, and the latter are not subject to federal safety and soundness oversight; (ii) operational risk—smaller or nonbank lenders may lack the sophisticated systems and expertise necessary to manage high volumes of mortgage sales to the Enterprises; and (iii) reputational risk—the report cites as an example an institution that was sanctioned by state regulators for engaging in allegedly abusive lending practices. The report notes that in 2014 the FHFA’s Division of Enterprise Regulation’s plans to focus on Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s controls for smaller and nonbank sellers, which will include assessments of the Enterprise’s mortgage loan delivery limits and lender eligibility standards and assessment of the counterparty approval process and counterparty credit risk resulting from cash window originations. The report also notes FHFA guidance to the Enterprises last year on contingency planning for high-risk or high-volume counterparties, and states that the FHFA plans to issue additional guidance on counterparty risk management. Specifically, the Division of Supervision Policy and Support plans to issue an advisory bulletin focusing on risk management and the approval process for seller counterparties. The OIG did not make any recommendations to supplement the FHFA’s planned activities.
This afternoon, the CFPB issued policy guidance on supervision and enforcement considerations relevant to mortgage brokers transitioning to mini-correspondent lenders. The CFPB states that it “has become aware of increased mortgage industry interest in the transition of mortgage brokers from their traditional roles to mini-correspondent lender roles,” and is “concerned that some mortgage brokers may be shifting to the mini-correspondent model in the belief that, by identifying themselves as mini-correspondent lenders, they automatically alter the application of important consumer protections that apply to transactions involving mortgage brokers.”
The guidance describes how the CFPB evaluates mortgage transactions involving mini-correspondent lenders and confirms who must comply with the broker compensation rules, regardless of how they may describe their business structure. In announcing the guidance, CFPB Director Richard Cordray stated that the CFPB is “putting companies on notice that they cannot avoid those rules by calling themselves by a different name.”
The CFPB is not offering an opportunity for the public to comment on the guidance. The CFPB determined that because the guidance is a non-binding policy document articulating considerations relevant to the CFPB’s exercise of existing supervisory and enforcement authority, it is exempt from the notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act.
The CFPB explains that generally, a correspondent lender performs the activities necessary to originate a mortgage loan—it takes and processes applications, provides required disclosures, sometimes underwrites loans and makes the final credit approval decision, closes loans in its name, funds them (often through a warehouse line of credit), and sells them to an investor. The CFPB’s focus here is on mortgage brokers who are attempting to move to the role of a correspondent lender by obtaining a warehouse line of credit and establishing relationships with a few investors. The CFPB believes that some of these transitioning brokers may appear to be the lender or creditor in each transaction, but in actuality have not transitioned to the mini-correspondent lender role and are continuing to serve effectively as mortgage brokers, i.e. they continue to facilitate brokered loan transactions between borrowers and wholesale lenders.
RESPA (Regulation X) and TILA (Regulation Z) include certain rules related to broker compensation, including RESPA’s requirement that lender’s compensation to the mortgage broker be disclosed on the Good-Faith Estimate and HUD-1 Settlement Statement, and TILA’s requirements that broker compensation be included in “points and fees” calculations, and its restrictions on broker compensation and prohibition on steering to increase compensation. Those requirements do not apply to exempt bona fide secondary-market transactions, but do apply to table-funded transactions, the difference between which depends on the “real source of funding” and the “real interest of the funding lender.”
The CFPB states that the requirements and restrictions that RESPA and TILA and their implementing regulations impose on compensation paid to mortgage brokers do not depend on the labels that parties use in their transactions. Rather, under Regulation X, whether compensation paid by the “investor” to the “lender” must be disclosed depends on determinations such as whether that compensation is part of a secondary market transaction, as opposed to a “table-funded” transaction. And under Regulation Z, whether compensation paid by the “investor” to the “creditor” must be included in the points-and-fees calculation and whether the “creditor” is subject to the compensation restrictions as a mortgage broker depends on determinations such as whether the “creditor” finances the transaction out of its own resources as opposed to relying on table-funding by the “investor.”
CFPB’s Factors For Assessing Mini-Correspondent Lenders
The guidance advises lenders that in exercising its supervisory and enforcement authority under RESPA and TILA in transactions involving mini-correspondents, the CFPB considers the following questions, among others, to assess the true nature of the mortgage transaction:
- Beyond the mortgage transaction at issue, does the mini-correspondent still act as a mortgage broker in some transactions, and, if so, what distinguishes the mini-correspondent’s “mortgage broker” transactions from its “lender” transactions?
- How many “investors” does the mini-correspondent have available to it to purchase loans?
- Is the mini-correspondent using a bona fide warehouse line of credit as the source to fund the loans that it originates?
- Is the warehouse line of credit provided by a third-party warehouse bank?
- How thorough was the process for the mini-correspondent to get approved for the warehouse line of credit?
- Does the mini-correspondent have more than one warehouse line of credit?
- Is the warehouse bank providing the line of credit one of, or affiliated with any of, the mini-correspondent’s investors that purchase loans from the mini-correspondent?
- If the warehouse line of credit is provided by an investor to whom the mini-correspondent will “sell” loans to, is the warehouse line a “captive” line (i.e., the mini-correspondent is required to sell the loans to the investor providing the warehouse line or to affiliates of the investor)?
- What percentage of the mini-correspondent’s total monthly originated volume is sold by the mini-correspondent to the entity providing the warehouse line of credit to the mini-correspondent, or to an investor related to the entity providing the warehouse line of credit?
- Does the mini-correspondent’s total warehouse line of credit capacity bear a reasonable relationship, consistent with correspondent lenders generally, to its size (i.e., its assets or net worth)?
- What changes has the mini-correspondent made to staff, procedures, and infrastructure to support the transition from mortgage broker to mini-correspondent?
- What training or guidance has the mini-correspondent received to understand the additional compliance risk associated with being the lender or creditor on a residential mortgage transaction?
- Which entity (mini-correspondent, warehouse lender, or investor) is performing the majority of the principal mortgage origination activities?
- Which entity underwrites the mortgage loan before consummation and otherwise makes the final credit decision on the loan?
- What percentage of the principal mortgage origination activities, such as the taking of loan applications, loan processing, and pre-consummation underwriting, is being performed by the mini-correspondent, or an independent agent of the mini-correspondent?
- If the majority of the principal mortgage origination activities are being performed by the investor, is there a plan in place to transition these activities to the mini-correspondent, and, if so, what conditions must be met to make this transition (e.g. number of loans, time)?
The CFPB cautions that (i) the inquiries described in the guidance are not exhaustive, and that the CFPB may consider other factors relevant to the exercise of its supervisory and enforcement authorities; (ii) no single question listed in the guidance is necessarily determinative; and (iii) the facts and circumstances of the particular mortgage transaction being reviewed are relevant.
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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.
- Jeffrey P. Naimon, (202) 349-8030, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Clinton R. Rockwell, (310) 424-3901, email@example.com
- John P. Kromer, (202) 349-8040, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Joseph M. Kolar, (202) 349-8020, email@example.com
- Jeremiah S. Buckley, (202) 349-8010, firstname.lastname@example.org
New York DFS Superintendent Promises Scrutiny Of Nonbank Servicer Affiliates, Previews Originator Licensing Changes
On May 20, New York DFS Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky spoke during the Mortgage Bankers Association’s National Secondary Market Conference and extended his recent focus on nonbank mortgage servicers. As detailed in excerpts from the remarks he delivered, Mr. Lawsky specifically addressed concerns about ancillary services offered by nonbank mortgage servicer affiliates—e.g. vacant property inspections, short sales marketed through online auctions, foreclosure sales, and debt collection. He asserted that such arrangements put borrowers and investors at risk of becoming “fee factories” and promised to expand DFS’s investigation of ancillary services. Though not reflected in the excerpts released by the DFS, Mr. Lawsky also previewed changes intended to streamline the DFS’s application process for mortgage originator licenses and branch locations in an effort to reduce burden on licensees and improve processing times.
On May 22, the CFPB published its Spring 2014 Supervisory Highlights report, its fourth such report to date. In addition to reviewing recent guidance, rulemakings, and public enforcement actions, the report states that the CFPB’s nonpublic supervisory actions related to deposit products, consumer reporting, credit cards, and mortgage origination and servicing have yielded more than $70 million in remediation to over 775,000 consumers. The report also reiterates CFPB supervisory guidance with regard to oversight of third-party service providers and implementation of compliance management systems (CMS) to mitigate risk.
The report specifically highlights fair lending aspects of CMS, based on CFPB examiners’ observations that “financial institutions lack adequate policies and procedures for managing the fair lending risk that may arise when a lender makes exceptions to its established credit standards.” The CFPB acknowledges that credit exceptions are appropriate when based on a legitimate justification. In addition to reviewing fair lending aspects of CMS, the CFPB states lenders should also maintain adequate documentation and oversight to avoid increasing fair lending risk.
Nonbank Supervisory Findings
The majority of the report summarizes supervisory findings at nonbanks, particularly with regard to consumer reporting, debt collection, and short-term, small-dollar lending:
Following its adoption of its larger participant rule for consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) in July 2012, CFPB examiners reviewed CRAs’ dispute handling processes and CMS, and found among other things that (i) some CRAs lacked a formal or adequate CMS, and/or their boards and senior managers exercised insufficient oversight of the CMS; (ii) some CRAs failed to establish sufficient FCRA compliance policies, including with regard to dispute-handling procedures, and (iii) some failed to adequately supervise vendors, including call center and ancillary product vendors. CFPB examiners also found that (i) at least one CRA did not monitor or track consumer complaints; (ii) at least one CRA failed to forward all relevant consumer dispute materials to the furnisher, as required by FCRA; and (iii) at least one refused to accept disputes from certain consumer submitted online or by phone.
The CFPB finalized its debt collector larger participant rule in October 2012 and since that time its examiners have observed debt collectors engaged in the following allegedly illegal or unfair and deceptive practices: (i) intentionally misleading consumers about litigation; (ii) making excessive calls to consumers; and (iii) failing to investigate consumer credit report disputes.
Short-term, Small-dollar Lending
The Dodd-Frank Act grants the CFPB supervisory authority over payday lenders without having first to adopt a larger participant rule. The CFPB launched its payday lender supervision program in January 2012 and reports that its examiners have found, among other things, that in seeking to collect payday loan debt some lenders engaged in the following allegedly unfair or deceptive practices: (i) threatening to take legal actions they did not actually intend to pursue; (ii) threatening to impose additional fees or to debit borrowers’ accounts, regardless of contract terms; (iii) falsely claiming they were running non-existent promotions to induce borrowers to call back about their debt; and (iv) calling borrowers multiple times per day or visiting borrowers’ workplaces.
On May 14, Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry spoke to the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, urging state regulators to, among other things, avoid regulatory capture and ensure balanced supervision of nonbanks and banks. Mr. Curry stated that “[r]egulatory capture is a real threat” to federal and state banking agencies and the system more broadly, and that regulators should never employ chartering authority to compete for “market share.” He also cautioned about the potential rise of the “shadow banking system”—the shift of assets from regulated depository institutions to less-regulated, non-depository institutions—as bank regulators become more rigorous in pursuing enhanced safety and soundness and consumer protection at depository institutions. He specifically identified the transfer of mortgage servicing rights as an example of that shift of assets, which “could carry with it the seeds for the next financial crisis.” He called on state regulators to make nonbank supervision, including with regard to mortgage servicing, a top priority.
On May 1, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) published its 2013 annual report, which aggregates and reviews the organization’s activities in the prior year, identifies future goals for the organization, and outlines specific priorities for 2014. Those priorities include, among others, continuing to coordinate with federal regulators on cybersecurity and with the CFPB on complaint sharing. The report also includes more detailed reports on past and future activities by various CSBS divisions and boards, including a report from the Policy and Supervision Division that reviews the CSBS’s legislative and regulatory policy positions, and its bank supervision and consumer protection and non-bank supervision activities.
On April 30, the CFPB published its second annual report to Congress on its fair lending activities. According to the report, in 2013 federal regulators referred 24 ECOA-related matters to the DOJ—6 by the CFPB—as opposed to only 12 referrals in 2012. The report primarily recaps previously announced research, supervision, enforcement, and rulemaking activities related to fair lending issues, devoting much attention to mortgage and auto finance. However, the Bureau notes that it is conducting ongoing supervision and enforcement in other product markets, including credit card lending. The Bureau also identifies the most frequently cited technical Regulation B violations.
With regard to housing finance supervision and enforcement, the CFPB reports that while many lenders have strong compliance management systems and no violations, the CFPB’s ECOA baseline reviews have identified factors that indicate heightened fair lending risk at some institutions, including weak or nonexistent fair lending CMS, underwriting and pricing policies that consider prohibited bases in a manner that presents fair lending risk, and inaccurate HMDA data. The CFPB referred three mortgage-related cases to the DOJ. Two of those involved findings that a mortgage lender discriminated on the basis of marital status; the DOJ deferred to the Bureau’s handling of the merits of both. The third contained findings that a mortgage lender discriminated on the basis of race and national origin in the pricing of mortgage loans. That referral led to a joint DOJ-CFPB enforcement action.
In the area of auto finance, the report highlights the CFPB’s auto finance forum and March 2013 auto finance bulletin, and again defends the CFPB’s proxy methodology, which has been challenged by members of Congress and industry since the CFPB issued its auto finance bulletin. The CFPB states that it is currently investigating whether a number of indirect auto financial institutions unlawfully discriminated in the pricing of automobile loans, particularly in their use of discretionary dealer markup and compensation policies using a disparate impact analysis. During the reporting period, the Bureau made one referral to the DOJ, and subsequently took joint enforcement action with the DOJ against that indirect auto financial institution for alleged violations of ECOA.
The report indicates that the Bureau has expanded its focus beyond mortgage and auto finance, noting that the CFPB is conducting ECOA Baseline Reviews and ECOA Targeted Reviews of consumer financial services providers of other products, singling out credit cards as an example. The report adds that the CFPB also referred to DOJ three matters related to unsecured consumer lending, but that DOJ declined to act upon such referrals.
On April 1, the Federal Reserve Board’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), which also is responsible for auditing the CFPB, issued a report that is critical of the CFPB’s supervisory activities and recommends that the CFPB take specific actions to strengthen its supervision program. The report shares concerns raised by entities having been through the examination process.
The report covers the CFPB’s supervisory activities from July 2011 through July 2013, including 82 completed examinations (excluding baseline reviews), which yielded 35 reports of examination and 47 supervisory letters. Of those 82 completed examinations, 63 were of depository institutions, and 19 were of nondepository institutions.
Among the findings, the OIG concludes that:
- The CFPB failed to meet reporting timelines. CFPB staff routinely failed to meet internal timeliness requirements for submitting draft examination products to headquarters. These failures resulted in a “significant number of examinations outstanding for longer than 90 days,” which the OIG believes creates unacceptable uncertainty for supervised institutions.
- The CFPB failed to consistently use standard compliance rating definitions. In two out of eight examinations sampled, CFPB staff edited standard ratings definitions to omit information and add qualifying language, including in one ECOA examination report altering the FFIEC’s definition for a 3 rating to state that no “overt” discriminatory acts or practices were identified. In that instance, examiners flagged as a potential fair lending violation the discretion accorded the institution’s customer service representatives to grant fee waivers. The CFPB required the institution to create policies and procedures that limit the discretion of customer service representatives to grant fee waivers, but the examination report did not indicate “whether the CFPB identified any discriminatory acts or practices, suggesting that the CFPB did not reach a definitive conclusion as to whether fee waivers had been granted on a discriminatory basis.” The OIG concluded that “inserting the word ‘overt’ creates the appearance that the CFPB deviated from the standard template language to qualify its rating of the supervised institution, calling into question the appropriateness of the assigned rating.” The report states that the CFPB has since reviewed examination ratings and determined that adjustments were not necessary.
- The CFPB failed to timely record examination milestones. The report states that the CFPB has not adopted a requirement for the timely recording of examination data. To assess timeliness, the OIG used seven days as a standard. The OIG found that at least 25% of examination milestones were not recorded within seven days, and that in eight instances, examination milestones were not recorded for more than 200 days after their occurrence. In addition, CFPB staff entered dates before the milestone occurred 109 times.
- The CFPB’s examination reporting policy is not current. The report states that the CFPB has not updated its examination reporting policy since the CFPB reorganized its supervision offices in December 2012. In addition, the policy does not reflect the CFPB’s current definition for the “completion of field work”, which is a key milestone because it initiates the reporting process. Notably, a senior CFPB official advised the OIG that the CFPB is still determining the most effective process for reviewing examination reports.
- The CFPB and prudential regulators can improve coordination. The report notes that the CFPB and prudential regulators do not formally share supervisory actions documented outside of an examination report, which excludes prudential regulators from commenting on other supervisory actions. The OIG notes that only 19% of closed examinations of depository institutions resulted in reports of examination, and that of the CFPB’s examinations of depository institutions that resulted in a matter requiring attention, only 30% were documented in reports of examination. The remaining 70% were documented in supervisory letters or baseline reviews and, therefore, were not formally shared with the prudential regulators. Further, for institutions subject to continuous monitoring, the CFPB states that it shares findings with the prudential regulator at the end of the examination cycle. The OIG observes, however, that as of July 2013, none of the continuous full-scope examinations had been finalized or shared with the prudential regulators. The OIG believes that the CFPB’s current approach increases the risk that regulators will not receive important supervisory information and increases the likelihood of duplication of efforts and other inefficiencies.
The OIG also found that (i) the CFPB did not consistently retain evidence of required communication with prudential regulators; (ii) the CFPB regions use different and inconsistent practices for scheduling examination staff and do not track examination staff hours; and (iii) the CFPB has not finalized its examiner commissioning program.
The report states that since the OIG completed its field work in October 2013, the CFPB has assured the OIG that it has taken steps to address certain of the findings, including streamlining the report review process and reducing the number of examination reports that have not been issued. The OIG plans to conduct follow-up activities to assess whether the CFPB’s subsequent actions address the OIG’s findings and recommendations.
On February 28, the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced final rules for consumer credit providers, including new protections for consumers in credit transactions. The FCA states that the most drastic changes relate to payday lending and debt management. For example, with regard to “high-cost short-term credit,” the new rules will (i) limit to two the number of loan roll-overs; (ii) restrict to two the number of times a firm can seek repayment using a continuous payment authority; and (iii) require creditors to provide a risk warning. Among other things, the new rules also establish prudential standards and conduct protocols for debt management companies, peer-to-peer lending platforms, and debt advice companies. The policy statement also describes the FCA’s risk-based and proactive supervisory approach, which the FCA states will subject firms engaged in “higher risk business” that “pose a potentially greater risk to consumers” to an “intense and hands on supervisory experience” and will allow the FCA to levy "swift penalties” on violators. The new rules take effect April 1, 2014. The FCA plans next to propose a cap on the cost of high-cost, short-term credit.
- 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