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CFPB Supplements Consumer Reporting Guidance, Holds Consumer Advisory Board Meeting, Issues Consumer Reporting Complaints Report
On February 27, the CFPB issued supplemental guidance related to consumer reporting and held a public meeting focused on consumer reporting issues. The CFPB also released a report on consumer reporting complaints it has received.
The CFPB issued a supervision bulletin (2014-01) that restates the general obligations under the Fair Credit Reporting Act for furnishers of information to credit reporting agencies and “warn[s] companies that provide information to credit reporting agencies not to avoid investigating consumer disputes.” It follows and supplements guidance issued last year detailing the CFPB’s expectations for furnishers.
The latest guidance is predicated on the CFPB’s concern that when a furnisher responds to a consumer’s dispute, it may, without conducting an investigation, simply direct the consumer reporting agency (CRA) to delete the item it has furnished. The guidance states that a furnisher should not assume that it ceases to be a furnisher with respect to an item that a consumer disputes simply because it directs the CRA to delete that item. In addition, the guidance explains that whether an investigation is reasonable depends on the circumstances, but states that furnishers should not assume that simply deleting an item will generally constitute a reasonable investigation.
The CFPB promises to continue to monitor furnishers’ compliance with FCRA regarding consumer disputes of information they have furnished to CRAs. Furnishers should take immediate steps to ensure they are fulfilling their obligations under the law.
Consumer Advisory Board Meeting
The public session of this week’s two-day Consumer Advisory Board (CAB) Meeting featured remarks from Director Cordray, and a discussion among CAB members, industry representatives, and consumer advocates on several major topics: (i) use of credit history in employment decisions; (ii) consumer access to credit information; and (iii) the credit dispute process.
Mr. Cordray focused on steps the CFPB has taken related to the credit reporting market, including: (i) launching a complaint portal through which consumers have submitted 31,000 consumer reporting complaints, nearly 75% of which have related to the accuracy and completeness of credit reports; (ii) beginning to supervise large credit reporting companies and many large furnishers; (iii) identifying process changes, including upgrades to the e-Oscar consumer dispute system to allow consumers to file disputes online and to provide furnishers direct access to dispute materials; and (iv) issuing guidance to furnishers on resolving consumer disputes.
Mr. Cordray also expressed support for a “major initiative” in the credit card industry to make credit scoring information more easily and regularly available to card holders. Mr. Cordray stated that he sent letters to the CEOs of the major card companies “strongly encouraging them to consider making credit scores and educational content freely available to their customers on a regular basis.” He added that he sees “no reason why this approach should not be replicated with customers across other product lines as well.”
In his CAB remarks, Mr. Cordray also identified some persistent concerns that resulted in the additional furnisher guidance issued today, discussed above. He stated that “[s]ome furnishers are taking short-cuts to avoid undertaking appropriate investigations of consumer disputes. For example, a consumer may find an error on the credit report and file a dispute about an incorrect debt or a credit card that was never opened. In response, the furnisher may simply delete that account from the information it passes along to the credit reporting company.” He stated that such practices deprive consumers of important protections.
During the discussion session, consumer advocates complained that credit reports provided to consumers are not the same as the reports provided to creditors. They claimed that consumers receive “sterilized” versions and do not, for example, get to see if their file is mixed with some else’s file. They also complained that the reports do not provide credit scores.
With regard to the CFPB’s support for creditors disclosing credit scores on a regular basis, several participants, including a representative for CRAs, stated that creditors should be free to provide the credit score of their choice, and not only FICO. Mr. Cordray and the CFPB’s Corey Stone responded that the CFPB is encouraging voluntary participation in score disclosure programs, but stated the Bureau does not believe that any one score needs to be disclosed. Instead, Mr. Stone explained that creditors should provide the score that is most relevant and useful for its customers. Mr. Cordray stressed the importance of providing educational information with the score, regardless of what score is provided.
The consumer advocates also were sharply critical of the CRAs and certain creditors’ dispute resolution processes. One participant raised specific concerns about the lack of human interaction in online dispute processes and the sale of certain add-on products offered during the dispute process.
The industry’s representative defended recent enhancements to the dispute process and highlighted the efficiency benefits of online disputes, including quicker resolution. He added that many furnishers prefer to hear directly from their customers, and that the real issue is how creditors respond.
Report on Consumer Reporting Complaints
The “credit reporting complaint snapshot” states that of the nearly 300,000 complaints the CFPB has received on a range of consumer financial products and services, approximately 31,000 or 11 percent have been about credit reporting. The CFPB accepts consumer credit reporting complaints in five categories: (i) incorrect credit report information; (ii) credit reporting company’s investigation; (iii) improper use of a credit report; (iv) inability to obtain credit report or score; and (v) credit monitoring or identity protection services. The CFPB reports that the most common complaints related to incorrect information on a credit report, while very few complaints related to identity protection or credit monitoring services. The report reviews the complaint handling process, and indicates that companies have resolved approximately 91 percent of the complaints submitted to them.
On February 19, House Financial Services Committee Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-CA) sent a letter asking Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry and National Mortgage Settlement Monitor Joseph Smith to “carefully scrutinize the sale of mortgage servicing rights from banks to nonbanks” to ensure nonbank servicers have the capacity to handle increased loan volume and that borrowers are not harmed. Representative Waters explained that consumer advocates are concerned that when a bank subject to the National Mortgage Settlement transfers MSRs to a nonbank not subject to the National Mortgage Settlement, the transferred loans are not afforded the same protections as they would be under that agreement. Ms. Waters is concerned that the CFPB rules that would apply to such transferred loans offer fewer protections than those in the National Mortgage Settlement. She also requested that the Comptroller and/or the Monitor examine the extent to which servicing transfers are potentially being used to “evade the modification of loans for borrowers who would benefit most from the terms of the Settlement.” Ms. Waters joins other policymakers, including the CFPB’s Deputy Director and New York’s banking regulator, who recently raised concerns about the impact on borrowers from the transfer of mortgage servicing rights.
On February 19, CFPB Deputy Director Steve Antonakes spoke at the Mortgage Bankers Association’s annual servicing conference and detailed the CFPB’s expectations for servicers as they implement the new servicing rules that took effect last month.
Mr. Antonakes’s remarks about the CFPB’s plans to supervise and enforce compliance with the new rules are the most assertive to date. Until now, the CFPB’s public position has been that “in the early months” after the rules took effect, the CFPB would not look for strict compliance, but rather would assess whether institutions have made “good faith efforts” to come into “substantial compliance.”
Mr. Antonakes clarified this position, stating that “[s]ervicers have had more than a year now to work on implementation” of “basic practices of customer service that should have been implemented long ago” and that “[a] good faith effort . . . does not mean servicers have the freedom to harm consumers.” He went on to state that “[m]ortgage servicing rule compliance is a significant priority for the Bureau. Accordingly, we will be vigilant about overseeing and enforcing these rules.”
Default Servicing and Foreclosures
Specifically, the CFPB expects that, “in these very early days,” servicers will (i) identify and correct “technical issues”; (ii) “conduct outreach to ensure that all consumers in default know their options”; and (iii) “assess loss mitigation applications with care, so that consumers who qualify under [a servicer’s] own standards get the loss mitigation that saves them – and the investor – from foreclosure.” Mr. Antonakes acknowledged that “foreclosures are an important part of the business, but they shouldn’t happen unless they’re necessary and they must be done according to relevant law. We expect the new rules to go a long way to reduce consumer harm for all consumers with mortgages, especially as these rules work in concert with the existing prohibition against unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices.”
Mr. Antonakes specifically detailed expectations concerning mortgage servicing rights transfers. He stated that the CFPB expects servicers to “pay exceptionally close attention to servicing transfers and understand [that the CFPB] will as well. . . . Our rules mandate policies and procedures to transfer ‘all information and documents’ in order to ensure that the new servicer has accurate information about the consumer’s account. We’re going to hold you to that. Servicing transfers where the new servicers are not honoring existing permanent or trial loan modifications will not be tolerated. Struggling borrowers being told to pay incorrect higher amounts because of the failure to honor an in-process loan modification – and then being punished with foreclosure for their inability to pay the incorrect amounts – will not be tolerated. There will be no more shell games where the first servicer says the transfer ended all of its responsibility to consumers and the second servicer says it got a data dump missing critical documents.”
On January 30, the CFPB issued a new Supervisory Highlights report. The report publicly announces changes to the CFPB’s examination reports and supervisory letters. Beginning in January 2014 the CFPB is changing the format of the Examination Reports and Supervisory Letters (collectively referred to as reports) that it sends to supervised entities after conducting compliance reviews. The changes to the report templates aim to: (i) facilitate drafting by examiners; (ii) simplify reports and reduce repetition; and (iii) facilitate follow-up reporting by supervised entities about actions they take to address compliance management weaknesses or legal violations found at CFPB reviews.
The primary template changes include:
- Elimination of Recommendations. Any recommendations for improving currently satisfactory processes will be provided orally when examiners are on-site.
- Elimination of the list of CFPB team members participating in a review. Reports will continue to be signed by the Examiner in Charge and provide regional management contact information.
- Creation of a single section in the report that includes all of the items that the CFPB expects the entity to address when the review identifies violations of law or weaknesses in compliance management. This entire section will be referred to as “Matters Requiring Attention,” regardless of whether the CFPB is requiring specific attention by an entity’s Board of Directors. The CFPB will no longer include additional “Required Corrective Actions.” The entity receiving the report will be expected to furnish periodic progress reports to the CFPB about all Matters Requiring Attention. The frequency of reporting will be tailored to the specific matters in a report.
The report also provides “supervisory observations,” which are limited to mortgage servicing. In a section on non-public supervisory actions the report states recent supervisory activities have resulted in at least $2.6 million in remediation to consumers, and that these non-public supervisory actions generally have been the product of CFPB examinations, either through examiner findings or self-reported violations during an exam.
On January 28, the House Financial Services Committee held a lengthy hearing with CFPB Director Richard Cordray in connection with the CFPB’s November 2013 Semi-Annual Report to Congress, which covers the period April 1, 2013 through September 30, 2013. The hearing came a day after the Committee launched a CFPB-like “Tell Your Story” feature through which it is seeking information from consumers and business owners about how the CFPB has impacted them or their customers. The Committee has provided an online submission form and also will take stories by telephone. Mr. Cordray’s prepared statement provided a general recap of the CFPB’s recent activities and focused on the mortgage rules and their implementation. It also specifically highlighted the CFPB’s concerns with the student loan servicing market.
The question and answer session centered on the implementation and impact of the CFPB’s mortgage rules, as well as the CFPB’s activities with regard to auto finance, HMDA, credit reporting, student lending, and other topics. Committee members also questioned Mr. Cordray on the CFPB’s collection and use of consumer data, particularly credit card account data, and the costs of the CFPB’s building construction/rehabilitation.
Mortgage Rule Implementation / Impact
Generally, Director Cordray pushed back against charges that the mortgage rules, in particular the ATR/QM rule, are inflexible and will limit credit availability. He urged members to wait for data before judging the impacts, and he suggested that much of the concerns being raised are “unreasoned and irrational,” resulting from smaller institutions that are unaware of the CFPB’s adjustments to the QM rule. He stated that he has personally called many small banks and has learned they are just not aware of the rule’s flexibility. He repeatedly stated that the rules can be amended, and that the CFPB will be closely monitoring market data.
The impact of the mortgage rules on the availability of credit for manufactured homes was a major topic throughout the hearing, On the substance of the issue, which was raised by Reps. Pearce (R-NM), Fincher (R-TN), Clay (D-MO), Sewell (D-AL), and others, Director Cordray explained that in his understanding, the concerns from the manufactured housing industry began with earlier changes in the HOEPA rule that resulted in a retreat from manufacture home lending. He stated that industry overreacted and now lenders are coming back into the market. Mr. Cordray has met personally with many lenders on this issue and will continue to do so while monitoring the market for actual impacts, as opposed to the “doomsday scenarios that are easy to speculate on in a room like this.” Still, he committed to work on this issue with manufacturers and lenders, as well as committee members.
Several committee members, including Reps. Sherman (D-CA), and Huizenga (R-MI) raised the issue of the requirement that title insurance from affiliated companies must be counted in the QM three percent cap. Mr. Cordray repeated that the CFPB believes Congress made a determination to include affiliate title protections in numerous places in the Dodd-Frank Act. That said, the CFPB is looking at the data on the impacts and meeting with stakeholders. Rep. Huizenga was most forceful, stating that while the CFPB has sought to limit the impact of the three percent cap, it is not enough. He raised again his bill, HR 1077, Rep. Meeks’ HR 3211, and ongoing work with Senators Vitter (R-LA) and Manchin (D-WV). He cited a survey conducted by the Real Estate Settlement Providers Council that found the inclusion of title charges causes 60 percent of loans under $60,000 to fail as qualified mortgages, and such loans actually become high-cost HOEPA loans. The survey also found that 45 percent of affiliated loans between $60,000 and $125,000 failed to qualify as qualified mortgages, and that 97 percent of the loans that failed as QMs were under $200,000 simply due to the inclusion of title insurance. Director Cordray did not have time to respond in full, but indicated the CFPB is waiting to see data on the actual impact.
Rep. Capito focused on the QM rule impact on Habitat for Humanity and other 501(c)(3) entities. Director Cordray stated that he spoke with the Habitat CEO prior to the hearing and believes the CFPB can address all of that organization’s concerns through rule amendments. He added that the CFPB already amended the rule to address Habitat’s first set of concerns, and that its latest concerns are new.
HMDA Rule Amendments & Small Business Fair Lending Rule
As she has done several times in the past, Rep. Velazquez (D-NY) raised the status of rulemaking required by Dodd-Frank Act section 1071 regarding small and minority/women-owned business lending. As he has in the past, Director Cordray explained that the CFPB is having difficulty addressing this rule given it is the only area in which the CFPB is required to address business lending. He added that the CFPB has determined that as it moves forward with the rule to amend HMDA data collection, which is underway now, the Bureau will attempt to fold the small business lending element into that process. He stated that the CFPB is working with the Federal Reserve Board on “overhauling that whole [HMDA] database” and “it feels to me that the right spot for this, and we've talked to a number of folks both from industry and consumer side on this, is to make [the small business lending requirements] part of the later stages of that, so it's coming, but not immediate.”
Rep. Bachus (R-AL) asked Director Cordray to specify appropriate dealer compensation alternatives. Mr. Cordray responded that the CFPB does not know all the mechanisms yet that would be satisfactory. It is “open to auto lenders and others bringing those to [the CFPB’s] attention, but [the CFPB] did say flat fees are one possibility. A flat percentage of the loan might be a possibility. Some combination of that with different durations of the loan, different levels, and potentially other things that [the CFPB has not] thought of but others in the industry may think of and bring to [its] attention. So [the CFPB is] open-minded on that.”
Reps. Scott (D-GA) and Barr (R-KY) also were critical of the CFPB’s auto finance guidance and suggested the CFPB should have met with industry stakeholders in advance or should have conducted a rulemaking. Mr. Scott asserted that auto credit is tighter and more expensive now. Mr. Cordray defended the guidance, as he has in the past, as a restatement of existing law. He does not believe the guidance has impacted or will impact the health of the auto market.
Rep. Beatty (D-OH) raised a recent proposal from the National Association of Auto Dealers on alternative dealer compensation models. Mr. Cordray acknowledged having seen it, and said that as long as all parties agree that the CFPB is respecting its jurisdictional lines in the auto context, the Bureau is willing to sit down with dealers and others to work on a “broader solution.”
Rep. Velazquez (D-NY) asked for an update on the CFPB’s efforts to regulate consumer credit reporting agencies. Director Cordray described the CFPB’s efforts to, for the first time, provide federal supervision of the major credit reporting agencies. He stated that those agencies are not used to such supervision and that, in his view, it has been an adjustment for them. The CFPB has had examination teams into each of the three largest credit reporting agencies and is discussing “various issues” with them and areas of concern. He informed the committee that as a result of the CFPB’s efforts the credit reporting agencies, for the first time, are forwarding the documentation that consumers send them about problems and potential errors in their credit reports to the furnishers to be evaluated. The CFPB still is concerned about errors and error resolution.
Prepaid & Overdraft
In response to an inquiry from Rep. Maloney (D-NY), Mr. Cordray stated that the CFPB is continuing to work on the prepaid card proposed rule to address “a hole in the fabric” of consumer protection. He said the rule likely will address disclosures and add new protections. On overdraft, he acknowledged the CFPB is not as far along—the agency is still studying the market.
Payday & Internet Lending
Rep. Luetkemeyer (R-MO) stated the FDIC and DOJ have admitted to working to shut down online lending. He confirmed that the Oversight Committee is considering investigating DOJ on Operation Choke Point (its payment processor investigations). He asked Director Cordray to support, perhaps with a letter of some sort, legitimate online lending businesses and processors. Mr. Cordray agreed that there is plenty of appropriate online lending, but declined to offer specific help absent further context.
Rep. Murphy (D-FL) later suggested that the CFPB look at the “good regulation and great enforcement” in Florida. Director Cordray responded that the CFPB is looking at “a number of states that have developed different provisions on short-term, small-dollar payday lending” including Florida, Colorado, and Washington.
Rep. Heck (D-WA) inquired as to the status of proposed Military Lending Act regulations. Director Cordray explained that the CFPB has been “actively engaged” on writing new rules with the Department of Defense, the Federal Reserve, the FDIC, the OCC, Treasury Department, and the FTC. It stated that it has been difficult to get multiple agencies to work together, and asked Congress to “keep our feet to the fire and make it clear that you want to see that quickly.”
Mobile Payments & Emerging Products/Providers
Rep. Ellison (D-MN) asked about the CFPB’s views on emerging financial service providers, citing recent reports about T-Mobile’s efforts. Mr. Cordray stated that the CFPB is watching very closely and trying to keep up with the rapidly changing products and markets. He stated that it will present challenges to the current regulatory structure, particularly when phone companies are involved, and that the CFPB will need to coordinate with other regulators and probably will need legislation from Congress. Rep. Heck asked the CFPB to conduct a front-end in-depth analysis of consumer protection issues across various emerging mobile payments platforms. Mr. Cordray did not commit.
Rep. Peters (D-MI) raised his FAIR Student Credit Act bill, HR 2561. The bill, which is co-sponsored by Reps. Bachus (R-AL), Capito (R-WV), and seven other Republicans and 11 Democrats, would amend FCRA with respect to the responsibilities of furnishers of information to consumer reporting agencies. It would provide for the removal of a previously reported default regarding a qualified education loan from a consumer report if the consumer of the loan meets the requirements of a loan rehabilitation program, where the number of consecutive on-time monthly payments are equal to the number of payments specified in a default reduction program under the Higher Education Act of 1965. The bill would limit such rehabilitation benefits to once per loan. Rep. Peters indicated the Committee will consider the legislation, and that he has met with lenders who stated they could start offering rehabilitation immediately after the bill is enacted. Director Cordray stated that without having read the bill, it sounded promising, and that he would ask Rohit Chopra to work with the Congressman.
On January 23, the CFPB proposed a rule that would allow the agency to supervise nonbank “larger participants” in the international money transfer market. The proposed rule defines “larger participant” to include any entity that provides one million or more international money transfers annually, which the CFPB estimates will extend oversight to roughly 25 of the largest providers in the market. Providers that do not meet the million-transfer threshold may still be subject to the CFPB’s supervisory authority if the Bureau has reasonable cause to determine they pose risk to consumers. Although the CFPB proposes to use aggregate annual international money transfers as the criterion for establishing which entities are “larger participants” of the international money transfer market, the CFPB also considered and has requested comment on use of annual receipts from international money transfers and annual transmitted dollar volume as potential alternatives.
The CFPB suggests that examinations of such providers will focus on compliance with the Remittance Rule—particularly with respect to new requirements addressing disclosures, cancellation options, and error corrections—and that the agency will “coordinate [examinations] with appropriate State regulatory authorities.” The CFPB released examination procedures for use in assessing compliance with the remittance transfer requirements last year.
Dodd-Frank granted the CFPB authority to supervise “larger participants” in the consumer financial space, as defined by rule. The agency has already finalized similar rules covering “larger participants” in student loan servicing, debt collection, and consumer reporting markets. The proposal, if finalized, would be the fourth larger-participant rule adopted by the CFPB.
A CFPB factsheet on the proposal is available here. The CFPB will accept comments for 60 days from publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register.
On December 3, the CFPB issued a final rule that will allow the Bureau to supervise certain nonbank student loan servicers for the first time. The CFPB already oversees student loan servicing at the largest banks. The new rule will allow the Bureau to also oversee “larger participants” in federal and private loan servicing, defined as any nonbank student loan servicer that handles more than one million borrower accounts. The Bureau estimates that its final rule will allow supervision of the seven largest student loan servicers, responsible for servicing the loans of more than 49 million borrower accounts. The final rule takes effect on March 1, 2014.
Several commenters to the Bureau’s initial proposal requested further clarification of what constitutes an “account.” The final rule, like the proposed rule issued on March 28, 2013, considers each separate stream of fees to which a servicer is entitled for servicing post-secondary education loans with respect to a given student or prior student to be an account. Commenters also requested further clarification of the inclusions and exclusions implicit in this definition. The Bureau declined to make any substantive changes and instead adopted its proposed definitions with only technical changes.
The final rule does adopt several adjustments to the proposed definition of “student loan servicing.” The Bureau changed the proposed definition to address comments related to the use of a lockbox and similar services, agreeing that the function of merely receiving and remitting payments without handling borrowers’ accounts should not itself be considered “student loan servicing” for purposes of the final rule. The final rule also further clarifies that the purpose of an interaction with a borrower is important for determining whether it is “student loan servicing” and that activities to prevent default arising from post-secondary education loans are only included if conducted to facilitate the core servicing activities identified in the definition of “student loan servicing.” In addition, the Bureau adjusted the clause of the definition that addresses periods when payments are not required on the loan to make clear that it intends the clause to apply during all periods when no payment is required on a loan, including, for example, periods of forbearance.
The Bureau did not receive any objections to the proposed method of aggregating accounts of affiliated companies for the purpose of calculating volume and therefore adopts the aggregation method as proposed. The final rule also adopts the proposed threshold of one million accounts for the student loan servicing market, despite numerous comments requesting an alternate threshold for qualifying entities as “larger participants.”
On the same date, the CFPB released updated student loan examination procedures, which the Bureau revised to account for examination of nonbank servicers under the larger participant rule. In addition, the revised procedures prepare examiners to identify potential violations outside of consumer financial service laws applicable to servicers and administered by the CFPB, including potential violations of certain Servicemember Civil Relief Act (SCRA) requirements. The procedures also were revised to emphasize student loan servicing transfer and repayment issues, two issues the CFPB has highlighted as areas of concern over the past year.
On December 3, the CFPB Ombudsman’s Office submitted its second annual report to the Director of the CFPB. The report contains an update on the systemic recommendations made last year and new recommendations stemming from the Ombudsman’s review of (i) how the CFPB shares information, (ii) caller experience with the CFPB contact center, and (iii) the supervisory examination process. The Ombudsman’s recommendations relate primarily to further standardizing and clarifying what a financial entity may expect throughout the examination lifecycle and to ensuring industry and consumer access to CFPB information in a consistent and timely manner. According to the Ombudsman, the Bureau was receptive to all suggestions and feedback.
Specifically, the Ombudsman recommended that the CFPB cite to the examination manual in written communications to examinees; describe at the onset what the financial entity can expect to receive at the end of the examination process; provide updates on examination status at regular intervals after the onsite portion of examinations; and better inform financial entities about the methods available for elevating examination concerns. The Ombudsman also recommended that the CFPB add a digest to all updates to consumerfinance.gov, along with more user-friendly subscription “sign up” options; maintain a public events calendar and announce events with consistent minimal lead time; make basic information about the CFPB speaker request process more accessible; and explain to consumers contacting the CFPB contact center that providing an email address will result in consumer complaint notifications solely via email.
In addition, the report summarizes and identifies trends in the individual inquiries submitted to the Ombudsman during the review period. The majority of inquiries related to the consumer-complaint process, and more than half of the consumer complaints received concerned mortgages. The report also addresses growth within the Ombudsman’s Office since last year and the Ombudsman’s external outreach efforts and internal dialogue with CFPB leaders across divisions and offices.
On November 20, the CFPB announced the resolution of an enforcement action against one of the largest payday lenders in the country. The consent order alleges that the lender and an online lending subsidiary made hundreds of payday loans to active duty military members or dependents in violation of the Military Lending Act, and that call center training deficiencies have allowed additional loans to be originated to spouses of active-duty members. The order also alleges unfair and deceptive debt collection practices, including so-called “robosigning” that allegedly yielded inaccurate affidavits and pleadings likely to cause substantial injury. In July, the CFPB issued a notice that it would hold supervised creditors accountable for engaging in acts or practices the CFPB considers to be unfair, deceptive, and/or abusive when collecting their own debts, in much the same way third-party debt collectors are held accountable for violations of the FDCPA.
Notably, this is the first public action in which the CFPB alleges that the supervised entities engaged in unlawful examination conduct. The Bureau asserts that the lender and subsidiary failed to comply with examination requirements, including by not preserving and producing certain materials and information required by the CFPB. Both the lender and its subsidiary are nonbanks and have not previously been subject to regular federal consumer compliance examinations; the CFPB does not allege that the exam failures were intentional violations potentially subject to criminal charges.
Pursuant to the consent order, the lender must pay $8 million in consumer redress, in addition to the more than $6 million the lender has already distributed to consumers for alleged debt collection and MLA violations. The lender also must pay a $5 million civil money penalty. The CFPB did not reveal how it determined the penalty amount or what portion of the fine is attributable to the alleged consumer-facing violations versus the alleged unlawful exam conduct. Finally, the order requires comprehensive compliance enhancement and imposes ongoing reporting and recordkeeping obligations for a period of three years.
In written remarks released by the CFPB, Director Cordray stated: “This action should send several clear messages to everyone under the jurisdiction of the Consumer Bureau. First, robo-signing practices are illegal wherever they occur, and they need to stop – period. Second, violations of the Military Lending Act harm our servicemembers and will be vigorously policed. Third, the Bureau will detect and punish entities that withhold, destroy, or hide information relevant to our exams.”
This morning, the CFPB hosted an auto finance forum, which featured remarks from CFPB staff and other federal regulators, consumer advocates, and industry representatives.
Some of the highlights include:
- Patrice Ficklin (CFPB) confirmed that the CFPB, both before issuing the March bulletin and since, has conducted analysis of numerous finance companies’ activities and found statistically significant disparities disfavoring protected classes. She stated that there were “numerous” companies whose data showed statistically significant pricing disparities of 10 basis points or more and “several” finance companies with disparities of over 20 or 30 basis points.
- Much of the discussion focused on potential alternatives to the current dealer markup system. The DOJ discussed allowing discretion within limitations and with documentation of the reasons for exercising that discretion (e.g., competition). The CFPB focus was exclusively on non-discretionary “alternative compensation mechanisms”, specifically flat fees per loan, compensation based on a percentage of the amount financed, or some variation of those. The CFPB said it invited finance companies to suggest other non-discretionary alternatives. Regardless of specific compensation model, Ms. Ficklin stated that in general, nondiscretionary alternatives can (i) be revenue neutral for dealers, (ii) reduce fair lending risk, (iii) be less costly than compliance management systems enhancements, and (iv) limit friction between dealers on the one hand and the CFPB on the other.
- There was significant debate over whether flat fee arrangements, or other potential compensation mechanisms, actually eliminate or reduce the potential for disparate impact in auto lending. There was also criticism of the CFPB’s failure to empirically test whether these “fixes” would result in other unintended consequences. Industry stakeholders asserted that such arrangements fail to mitigate fair lending risk market-wide while at the same time potentially increase the cost of credit and constrain credit availability. Industry stakeholders also questioned the validity of the large dollar figures of alleged consumer harm caused by dealer markups. When assessing any particular model, the CFPB’s Eric Reusch explained, finance companies should determine whether (i) it mitigates fair lending risk, (ii) creates any new risk or potential for additional harm, and (iii) it is economically sustainable, with sustainability viewed through the lens of consumers, finance companies, and dealers.
- Numerous stakeholders urged the CFPB to release more information about its proxy methodology and statistical analysis, citing the Bureau’s stated dedication to transparency and even referencing its Data Quality Act guidelines. The DOJ described its commitment to “kicking the tires” on its statistical analyses and allowing institutions to do the same. The CFPB referenced its recent public disclosure of its proxy methodology, noting that this was the methodology the CFPB intended to apply to all lending outside of mortgage.
- Steven Rosenbaum (DOJ) and Donna Murphy (OCC) pointedly went beyond the stated scope of the forum to highlight potential SCRA compliance risks associated with indirect auto lending.
Additional detail from each panel follows. Please note that these details are based on notes taken during the event and could differ from actual statements made during the event. The entire report is subject to alteration or clarification, particularly if a transcript or archived video are made available.
Director Cordray opened the forum. He stressed the importance of vehicles to individual consumers and to the broader economy. He stated that some consumers may be subject to discrimination that may result in millions of dollars in consumer harm each year.
As he did in a Senate hearing earlier this week, Mr. Cordray emphasized that neither the 2012 fair lending bulletin nor the March 2013 auto finance bulletin were new; they simply served as a reminder to finance companies of liability under ECOA, particularly with regard to indirect auto finance.
He stated that the CFPB uses proven statistical methods and publicly available data to assess the probability that a particular customer belongs to a particular racial group or is of a particular national origin.
The March bulletin provided guidance about steps auto finance companies might consider taking to ensure they are ECOA-compliant. One approach described by the Director is to develop robust fair lending compliance management systems to monitor for disparate impact and promptly remedy consumer harm on an ongoing basis when it is identified. The bulletin also stated that finance companies could take steps to comply with the law by adopting some other pricing mechanism that fairly compensates dealers for their work but avoids the fair lending risks that are inherent in pricing by discretionary markup. Director Cordray stated that such mechanisms include: a flat fee per transaction, or a fixed percentage of the amount financed, or other nondiscretionary approaches that market participants may devise that would work to address these concerns.
He acknowledged that dealers are entitled to fair compensation, but stressed that the CFPB wants to make sure the process is transparent. He stated it is worth considering further how the disclosure of markup practices actually works.
Patrice Ficklin (CFPB): Ms. Ficklin described and defended the March bulletin, asserting that the CFPB did not provide any new legal interpretations, but rather reminded finance companies about existing law. She noted and defended the CFPB’s proxy methodology, as described recently in letters to Congress, but did not provide additional detail. She stated that the CFPB’s supervisory and enforcement work in this area is more substantial than it was in March, and continues to indicate fair lending risk—the CFPB has found “substantial and statistically significant” disparities between African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians and similarly situated white borrowers. The CFPB has identified numerous institutions with disparities over 10 basis points, and several over 20 or 30 basis points.
Going forward, the CFPB is committed to continuing a constructive dialogue with industry, a dialogue in which alternative compensation structures has been the key theme to date.
Melissa Yap (FRB): Ms. Yap described the Fed’s ECOA authority post-Dodd-Frank. She stated that pricing remains the greatest area of risk. The Fed employs the 2009 interagency fair lending procedures and looks at (i) financial incentives, (ii) the amount of discretion, and (iii) disparities in note rate and markup over buy rate. She described the Fed’s proxy methodology, which differs slightly from the CFPB’s, but which the Fed believes is appropriate for the size and complexity of the institutions it supervises. For race, the Fed geocodes and defines majority-minority census tracts as those over 50%. She defended name proxies for gender and ethnicity, stating they are as likely to over count as under count. She also referenced two webinars the Fed and other hosted this year, which included discussion of these issues, see e.g., August webinar.
Steven Rosenbaum (DOJ): Mr. Rosenbaum described the DOJ’s broad authority to enforce ECOA and noted that it has a number of investigations ongoing, including joint investigations with the CFPB. He stated that Congress created the issue that requires the use of proxies, given that ECOA protects classes in consumer lending but does not require data collection similar to HMDA. The DOJ is using the CFPB’s method on joint investigations, but it continues to “kick the tires” on its methods and analyses and invites finance companies to do the same.
He stated, twice, that ECOA does not require nor prohibit discretion in pricing; risk from discretion can be managed, for example by setting caps or requiring justifications and documentation.
Mr. Rosenbaum added that the DOJ also enforces SCRA, and stated that if finance companies have not thought about SCRA compliance in their auto finance programs, they ought to do so. He also acknowledged the DOJ’s ongoing investigation of buy-here, pay-here dealers, though the issues differ in that those dealers may be offering predatory products in minority neighborhoods.
Keith Ernst (FDIC): Mr. Ernst similarly described the FDIC’s jurisdiction and addressed in broad terms its approach to indirect auto financing. He stated that all examination and statistical results that are consistent with a violation are subject to independent review and all statistical analyses are reviewed by a team. The FDIC provides institutions with the results, data, and methods and provides an opportunity for questions and other feedback. Mr. Ernst also noted that this dialogue includes providing institutions with the opportunity to provide non-discriminatory explanations for statistical disparities. According to Mr. Ernst, the FDIC has amended analyses as part of these processes. The FDIC believes the vast majority of its banks are effectively managing fair lending risk in auto finance, but that examinations can reveal compliance management systems concerns that fall short of a fair lending violation.
Tonya Sweat (NCUA): Ms. Sweat stated that the practices identified in the CFPB bulletin are not prevalent in the credit union industry, but NCUA still examines for fair lending risk and safety and soundness. The NCUA advises credit unions that sound practices include sampling and testing of loans, particularly to ensure third-party compliance. Credit unions should implement written policies that require written approval of any changes to underwriting criteria.
Donna Murphy (OCC): Ms. Murphy provided only brief comments, and generally referenced and incorporated what others had said on proxies. The OCC is revising and updating its methods for fair lending risk assessments and scoping based on changes in markets, the legal environment, and technology. These changes are intended to result in more consistency in examinations and the ability of the OCC to conduct more analysis across banks. For auto finance, the OCC is looking at how it gathers factors regarding use of third-parties. Ms. Murphy also noted the OCC’s attention to SCRA, stating that last year it revised examination procedures and enhanced examiner training for SCRA, including in auto finance, and that those enhancements are reflected in this year’s examination cycle.
The second panel was moderated by the CFPB’s Rohit Chopra and featured remarks from the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers (NAMAD), the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), the Consumer for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS), and the NAACP.
Stuart Rossman from the NCLC described his part in a series of class actions against auto finance companies in the 2000s. Those actions, as he described, resulted in markup caps, the last of which sunsetted last year. He asserted that the market forces that led to those actions persist, as do fundamental problems in discretionary pricing policies. Citing more restrictive class action requirements and less access to critical data, he called on the CFPB to take the lead in enforcement.
NAMAD acknowledged the possibility that bad actors exist in the market, but argued against eliminating discretion. NAMAD called for approval and documentation requirements for discretionary programs. NAMAD supports uniform data collection, enhanced proxies, training and education for dealers and consumers.
CARS noted California’s markup cap statute and reported that a proposal for a ballot proposition outlawing dealer discretion has been filed with the state attorney general. CARS also encouraged the CFPB to look at the impact of percentage rate markups in the motor home market.
Bill Himpler, American Financial Services Association (AFSA): Mr. Himpler stressed that the current indirect auto finance model is efficient and proven. He noted that auto finance complaints are at record lows, and pointed out that even the CFPB’s database shows a small number of complaints compared to other markets. Since the CFPB has refused to assess the impact of a broad market shift towards flat fee compensation structures or other alternatives, AFSA is commissioning an independent study to assess the present model and evaluate costs and benefits of alternative models.
Chris Kukla, Center for Responsible Lending (CRL): Mr. Kukla countered that the current compensation model gives rise to potential discrimination and should be ended. Consumers have no ability to know what part of their rate is based on risk and what is due to compensation. He defended the CRL’s 2011 study on indirect auto finance from attacks, including those that followed Senator Warren’s reference to the study during a Senate hearing earlier this week. That study concluded that consumers pay $26 billion each year in markups. Mr. Kukla explained that CRL never said consumers would not otherwise be charged a portion of those fees, and only sought to define the size of the market. He referenced other research that indicates a market-wide adoption of flat fee arrangements would have little impact on dealers.
Paul Metrey, National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA): Mr. Metrey outlined a preferred approach by federal regulators to unintentional disparate impact discrimination: (i) understand the market, (ii) develop appropriate methods, and (iii) if present, address in a manner that assists consumers. He called for the CFPB to pursue more open processes on this issue, including by identifying its complete statistical methodology and fully accounting for neutral legitimate factors. He presented NADA’s case against flat fee arrangements, in part on the basis that dealers still will have discretion to select among finance sources that may offer different flat fee arrangements.
Rich Riese, American Bankers Association (ABA): Mr. Riese challenged the CFPB’s post hoc approach to obtaining input on its auto finance program, stating that the forum does not substitute for the kind of engagement the issue requires. He argued that the guidance should have been proposed and subject to notice and comment. The ABA believes proxies should be viewed with skepticism; they can be useful to identify risks and can be useful in compliance programs, but they should not be used to prove violations. Citing the 1999 interagency exam procedures, he argued that discretion is not an appropriate area to apply disparate impact, and, before straying too much from prior policy, regulators should recognize that Reg. B applies to creditors determination of creditworthiness and the discretion being applied in auto finance is for compensation and is not part of a creditor’s determination of creditworthiness.
The panelists also discussed the comparison of indirect auto finance to the mortgage market, particularly the use of broker yield spread premiums. Mr. Riese pointed out that in the mortgage context, brokers were alleged to have steered borrowers into “bad” loans without considering suitability; that is not the case in the auto market where there are no option arms, teaser rates, etc. Mr. Himpler and Mr. Metrey agreed. Mr. Metrey added that the comparison is apples to oranges—the markets have performed differently; there is nothing going on in auto ABS like there was in MBS. He added that Congress directed an end to yield spread premiums and there has been no similar action in auto, and the Fed tested to see if a fix was necessary but there has been no similar testing in auto.
Mr. Kukla responded that the mechanics may be different, but the impact and incentives are the same. A broader view of “steering” covers any instance in which a consumer is provided a loan with less advantageous terms than the consumer otherwise would have received.
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