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On June 25, the CFPB held its “Abusive Acts or Practices Symposium,” the first event in a symposia series covering a range of consumer financial services topics. The event had two panels of experts discussing unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts and practices (UDAAP)—the first was a policy discussion, moderated by Tom Pahl, CFPB’s Policy Associate Director, Research, Markets and Regulation; and the second, examined how the “abusive” standard has been used in practice in the field and was moderated by David Bleicken, CFPB Deputy Associate Director, Supervision, Enforcement and Fair Lending. Director Kraninger began the symposium noting that it will help to “inform the Bureau’s thinking as to whether the Bureau should use its rulemaking or other tools to provide clarity about the general meaning of abusiveness—and, if so, which principles should be applied to determine the scope of abusiveness.”
The policy panel focused on whether consumer harm was required for a practice to be considered abusive. One panelist noted that while the Dodd-Frank Act statutory definition of abusive does not specifically require proof of consumer harm, it would be surprising if consumer harm wasn’t a priority in weighing enforcement claims. As for what principles the Bureau should apply in determining the scope of abusive acts and practices, one panelist identified three: “fidelity, autonomy, and modesty,” meaning the Bureau should follow the statutory language, protect autonomy of consumer decision-making, and be careful not to tie its hands prematurely based on current market information.
The practitioners’ panel focused on whether there was even a need to clarify the abusive standard, as it is already statutorily defined. Most panelists agreed that a guidance document or policy statement would be an important first step for the Bureau in providing clarity to the industry. Specifically, the panelists noted that the industry has struggled with examples of how abusiveness is different from unfairness or deception, arguing the Bureau has been “inconsistent at times” in the application of the abusive standard. One panelist explained that the Bureau often brings abusive claims in connection with a claim of deception or unfairness, stating “while this may work for the Bureau’s litigation strategy the market looks to enforcement for guidance on the policy. Standalone abusiveness claims that show how abusiveness is different from deception and unfairness would provide direction to staff and industry.” Because the standard is unclear to industry, a panelist argued that many companies choose to limit products or offerings to avoid unknown compliance risks.
An archived copy of the webcast will be available on the Bureau’s website.
On June 14, the CFPB announced a proposed settlement, subject to approval by a federal district court, with a company that manages student loans for a defunct for-profit educational institution resolving allegations it provided substantial assistance to the institution in engaging in unfair acts and practices in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). As previously reported by InfoBytes, the Bureau filed suit against the now-defunct for-profit institution in February 2014. The Bureau’s complaint against the institution alleged that the institution offered first-year students no-interest short-term loans to cover the difference between the costs of attendance and federal loans obtained by students. The complaint asserts that the institution then forced borrowers into “high-interest, high-fee” private student loans without providing borrowers an adequate opportunity to understand their loan obligations, when their short-term loans became due. In the complaint in the current matter, filed the same day as the proposed stipulated judgment, the Bureau alleges that the management company: (i) was substantially involved in the creation and operation of the loan program, including raising money and overseeing the origination and servicing of the loans; and (ii) knew, or was reckless in not knowing, the risks associated with the loan program. The proposed stipulated judgment requires the company to (i) cease enforcement and collection efforts on all outstanding loans associated with the program; (ii) discharge all outstanding loans associated with the program; and (iii) direct credit reporting agencies to delete consumers’ trade lines associated with the loan program. The company must also provide notice of these actions to affected consumers. The proposed judgment does not include a monetary penalty or require refunds to consumers.
On June 11, the CFPB announced that its first symposium, regarding the meaning of “abusive acts or practices” under Section 1031 of the Dodd-Frank Act, will be held on June 25. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB announced a symposia series that will convene to discuss consumer protections in “today’s dynamic financial services marketplace.” The June 25 symposium will be a public forum with two panels of experts discussing unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts and practices (UDAAP). The first panel will be a policy discussion, moderated by Tom Pahl, CFPB’s Policy Associate Director, Research, Markets and Regulation. The second panel will examine how the “abusive” standard has been used in practice in the field and will be moderated by David Bleicken, CFPB Deputy Associate Director, Supervision, Enforcement and Fair Lending.
In addition to the June 25 symposium, the series will have future events discussing behavioral law and economics, small business loan data collection, disparate impact and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, cost-benefit analysis, and consumer authorized financial data sharing.
On May 15, a group of 25 Democratic Attorneys General submitted a comment letter in response to the CFPB’s February proposal to rescind certain provisions related to the underwriting standards of the “Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans” (the Rule) (covered by InfoBytes here). In the comment letter, the Attorneys General argue, among other things, that the elimination of the underwriting provisions of the Rule: (i) is inconsistent with the Bureau’s obligations to protect consumers under the Dodd-Frank Act; (ii) ignores state experiences with payday and vehicle title lending; and (iii) would reduce states’ ability to protect their residents from predatory lending.
Specifically, the letter argues that the Bureau’s reasoning for repealing the underwriting requirements—that the findings of the Rule “were not supported by sufficiently ‘robust and reliable’ evidence”—would saddle the Bureau with an unreasonably high evidentiary standard that would prevent the Bureau from regulating unfair and abusive practices. Additionally, the letter states that the Bureau’s conclusion that the underwriting requirements would harm consumers by reducing consumer’s access to credit and ability to choose lenders offering credit ignores “the experiences of numerous states that have implemented restrictions on payday and vehicle title lending—restrictions that have protected consumers without unreasonably limiting consumers’ access to credit.” States’ restrictions on payday and vehicle title lending, according to the letter, have “benefited consumers and expanded access to manageable credit.” Lastly, the letter asserts that maintaining a federal regulatory floor on lending activities is “crucial to supporting and complementing state oversight,” and removal of the floor will “enable lenders to continue trying to avoid state regulation and continue marketing expensive and often unlawful products to consumers without providing borrowers an opportunity for negotiation or comparison.”
The comment letter was written by the Attorneys General of the District of Columbia, New Jersey, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the same group of Attorneys General had urged the CFPB via a previous comment letter not to delay the August 19, 2019 compliance date for any aspect of the Rule, and had warned that they would consider taking legal action if the Bureau did so.
On May 1, the CFPB announced a $3.9 million settlement with a student loan servicing company. The settlement resolves allegations that the company engaged in unfair practices by failing to make adjustments to loans made under the Federal Family Education Loan Program to account for circumstances such as deferment, forbearance, or entrance into the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) program. According to the consent order, between 2005 and 2015, certain accounts requiring manual adjustments to principal loan balances based on program participation were allegedly placed in “queues” to process the adjustments, which took, in some cases, years to process. The servicer allegedly did not inform affected borrowers that it did not complete the processing of their principal balances associated with the deferment, forbearance, or IBR participation. The queues allegedly resulted in some borrowers paying off incorrect loan amounts and other borrowers experiencing delays in loan consolidation while waiting for the servicer to adjust principal balances. In addition to the $3.9 million civil money penalty, the consent order requires the servicer to make the proper adjustments to the principal balances of the affected accounts or pay restitution to borrowers who paid off loans with inaccurate loan balances. The servicer is also required to comply with certain compliance monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements.
On April 17, Kathy Kraninger, Director of the CFPB, spoke before the Bipartisan Policy Center where she reiterated the Bureau’s focus on prevention of harm and announced a symposium that will explore the meaning of “abusive acts or practices” under Section 1031 of the Dodd-Frank Act. In her remarks, Kraninger touched on the four “tools” the Bureau has at its disposal to execute its mission: education, rulemaking, supervision, and enforcement.
- Education. The Bureau wants to help consumers protect their own interests and choose the right products and service to help themselves. Specifically, the Bureau is focusing on ensuring that American consumers learn to save to be able to absorb a financial shock.
- Rulemaking. The Bureau will comply with Congressional mandates to promulgate rules or address specific issues through rulemaking, but when the Bureau has discretion, it will focus on “preventing consumer harm by maximizing informed consumer choice, and prohibiting acts or practices which undermine the ability of consumers to choose the products and services that are best for them.” In the coming weeks, the Bureau will release its proposed rules to implement the FDCPA, which will include (i) bright line limits on the number of calls consumers can receive from debt collectors on a weekly basis; (ii) clarity on how collectors may communicate through new technology such as, email and text messages; and (iii) requiring more information at the outset of collection to help consumers better identify debts and understand payment and dispute options. Kraninger stated, “the CFPB must acknowledge that the costs imposed on regulated entities absolutely affect access to, and the availability of, credit to consumers.”
- Supervision. This tool is the “heart of the agency,” according to Kraninger, as it helps to prevent violations of laws and regulations from happening in the first place. The Bureau will keep in mind that it is not the only regulator examining most entities and will focus on coordination and collaboration with the other regulators so as not to impose unmanageable burdens in examinations.
- Enforcement. The Bureau will continue to enforce against bad actors that do not comply with the law, as enforcement is “an essential tool that Congress gave the Bureau.” The Bureau will have a “purposeful enforcement regime” to foster compliance and help prevent consumer wrongs. Kraninger is “committed to ensuring that enforcement investigations proceed carefully and purposefully to ensure a fair and thorough evaluation of the facts and law… [and ensuring they] move as expeditiously as possible to resolve enforcement matters, whether through public action or a determination that a particular investigation should be closed.”
Kraninger also touched on how the Bureau plans to measure success going forward. Kraninger noted that in the past, the Bureau touted its outgoing statistics as a measurement, such as amount of consumer redress and number of complaints handled. However, according to Kraninger, if the Bureau succeeds in fostering a goal of prevention of harm, certain outputs like meritorious complaints would actually be lower. Therefore, the Bureau’s success should be based on how it uses all of its tools. Lastly, Kraninger announced a symposia series that would convene to discuss consumer protections in “today’s dynamic financial services marketplace.” The first will explore the meaning of “abusive acts or practices” under Section 1031 of the Dodd-Frank Act, specifically, to address issues with the “reasonableness” standard. There are no additional details on the date for the symposium but Kraninger noted that this would be the next step in exploring future rulemaking on the issue. The series will also have future events discussing behavioral law and economics, small business loan data collection, disparate impact and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, cost-benefit analysis, and consumer authorized financial data sharing.
Additionally, on April 9, acting Deputy Director, Brian Johnson, spoke at the George Mason University Law & Economics Center's Ninth Annual Financial Services Symposium. In his prepared remarks, Johnson emphasized that regulatory rules should be “as simple as possible” when dealing with complex markets as they are easier for a greater portion of actors to understand and adapt to and also promote compliance, “which has the ancillary benefit of making it easier for consumers (not to mention regulators) to distinguish between good and bad actors.” Johnson argued that regulators should not try and dictate specific outcomes in rulemaking. Instead, Johnson stated that “financial regulators should recognize that complex market systems are not a means to accomplish their specific goals” and should “narrowly-tailor rules to address a discrete market failure.” Johnson also touched on the Bureau’s new Office of Innovation, noting that the Bureau’s proposed No Action Letter Program and Product Sandbox will offer firms “the opportunity to expand credit while still preserving important consumer protections,” while assisting the Bureau in learning about new technologies and potential consumer risks. As for the Bureau’s cost-benefit analysis, Johnson said that this activity will not be limited to future actions, but will also be used for “periodic retrospective analysis” because financial markets are “constantly changing, requiring constant reappraisal and verification of the rules that govern the system.”
On March 27, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a consent judgment ending a CFPB lawsuit against a group of affiliated law firms and their managing attorneys. As previously covered by InfoBytes in 2017, the Bureau’s enforcement action alleged that the defendants violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule by, among other things, (i) collecting improper fees in advance of providing debt relief services; (ii) misrepresenting that advance fees would not be charged; and (iii) providing substantial assistance to another company it knew or should have known was engaged in acts or practices that violated the rule. Under the terms of the consent judgment, the defendants—who have neither admitted nor denied the Bureau’s allegations or the factual findings outlined in the judgment—agreed to pay approximately $35.3 million in redress to affected consumers and a $40 million civil money penalty. However, based on the defendants’ inability to pay this amount, full payment is suspended subject to the defendants’ paying $50,000 to affected consumers and $1.00 toward the CMP.
On March 6, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s denial of an auto dealership’s motion to dismiss a proposed class action alleging the dealership violated the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act (the Consumer Act). According to the opinion, consumers filed the proposed class action alleging that the dealership charged document preparation fees that exceeded the actual costs incurred by the dealership for preparation and that the fees were not affirmatively disclosed or negotiated with the consumers. The proposed class action argued the charging of the fees was an “unfair, abusive, or deceptive act, omission, or practice in connection with a consumer transaction” under the Consumer Act and quoted a statutory provision from the Indiana Motor Vehicle Dealer Services Act (the Dealer Act). The dealership moved to dismiss the action, arguing there was no private right of action under the Dealer Act and that the consumers failed to state a claim for relief under the Consumer Act. The consumers conceded there was no private right under the Dealership Act, but noted the quoted reference was used to merely describe an unfair practice that is prohibited by the Consumer Act. The lower court denied the motion, concluding that the non-disclosure claim fell within the “catch-all” provision of the Consumer Act.
On appeal, the appellate court noted that in order to state a claim under the Consumer Act, the consumer must have alleged the dealership “committed an uncured or incurable deceptive act.” The appellate court acknowledged that the allegations that the dealership charged an unfair fee and “did not state its intention as part of the bargaining process” generally fell within the realm of the Consumer Act, and determined that, even without specifics, the complaint’s “general allegations of uncured and incurable acts are adequate to withstand dismissal.”
On February 6, the CFPB announced a settlement with an Indiana-based payday retail lender and affiliates (companies) in seven states to resolve alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), Truth in Lending Act (TILA), and Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) privacy protections. The CFPB alleges that the companies engaged in unfair acts or practices, failed to properly disclose annual percentage rates, and failed to provide consumers with required initial privacy notices.
Specifically, the Bureau alleges that the companies violated CFPA’s UDAAP provisions by, among other things, (i) failing to implement processes to prevent unauthorized charges, including those resulting from unauthorized draws on borrowers’ bank accounts; (ii) requiring loan applicants to provide contact information for their employers, supervisors, and four personal references, and then repeatedly calling employers to seek payments when borrowers became delinquent; (iii) disclosing the borrower’s financial information during those calls and, in certain instances, asking the third party to make payments on the loan; (iv) misusing personal references for marketing purposes; and (v) advertising check-cashing and telephone reconnection services they were no longer providing.
While the companies have not admitted to the allegations, they have agreed to pay a $100,000 civil money penalty and are prohibited from continuing the illegal behavior.
On October 17, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs released the CFPB’s fall 2018 rulemaking agenda. According to the Bureau’s preamble, the information presented is current as of August 30 and represents regulatory matters it “reasonably anticipates” having under consideration during the period of October 1, 2018, to September 30, 2019. The Bureau also states it plans on “reexamining the requirements of [ECOA] in light of recent Supreme Court case law and the Congressional disapproval of a prior Bureau bulletin concerning indirect auto lender compliance with ECOA and its implementing regulations.”
Key rulemaking initiatives include:
- Property Assessed Clean Energy Loans (PACE): The Bureau is planning to complete an assessment of its 2013 rules for assessing consumers’ ability to repay mortgage loans by January 2019, which will inform the drafting of a request for information or advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) on PACE issues to facilitate the Bureau’s rulemaking process.
- HMDA/Regulation C: The Bureau plans to follow-up on its action in August 2017 to amend Regulation C to increase the threshold for collecting and reporting data with respect to open-end lines of credit for a period of two years so that financial institutions originating fewer than 500 open-end lines of credit in either of the preceding two years would not be required to begin collecting such data until January 1, 2020.
- Debt Collection: The Bureau states it plans to issue an ANPR addressing issues such as communication practices and consumer disclosures by March 2019, and has received support from industry and consumer groups to engage in rulemaking to explore ways to apply the FDCPA to modern collection practices.
- Small Dollar Lending: The Bureau anticipates it will issue a proposed rule on small dollar lending in January 2019.
- Payday Rule: The Bureau estimates it will issue an ANPR in January 2019 to reconsider the merits and compliance date for its final payday/vehicle title/high-cost installment loan rule.
- FCRA: Comments must be submitted by November 19 on the changes and underlying disclosures implemented by its interim final rule, which amended certain model forms under the FCRA and took effect September 21. (See previous InfoBytes coverage on the interim final rule here.)
Long term priorities now include rulemaking addressing (i) small business lending data collection; (ii) consumer reporting; (iii) amendments to FIRREA concerning automated valuation models; (iii) consumer access to financial records; (iv) rules to implement the the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, concerning various mortgage requirements, student lending, and consumer reporting; and (v) clarity for the definition of abusive acts and practices.
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "Navigating the challenges of the latest data protection regulations and proven protocols for breach prevention and response" at the ACI National Forum on Consumer Finance Class Actions and Government Enforcement
- Tim Lange to discuss "Ease your pain at the state level: Recommendations for navigating the licensing issues in the states" at the Online Lenders Alliance Compliance University
- Amanda R. Lawrence, Aaron C. Mahler, and Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Expanded role for the FTC ahead: Implications for bank and nonbank financial institutions" at an American Bar Association Banking Law Committee Webinar
- Buckley Webcast: Flirting with alternatives — Opportunities and challenges created by alternative data, modeling, and technology
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Reporting requirements for credit unions: CTRs and SARs" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions BSA Seminar
- Daniel P. Stipano and Moorari K. Shah to discuss "Vendor management: What is the NCUA looking for?" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions BSA Seminar
- Sasha Leonhardt and John B. Williams to discuss "Privacy" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions Summer Regulatory Compliance School
- Warren W. Traiger to discuss "CRA modernization" at the National Association of Industrial Bankers and the Utah Association of Financial Services Annual Convention
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Ethical guidance in conducting internal investigations – The intersection of Yates and Upjohn" at the American Bar Association Southeastern White Collar Crime Institute
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "RESPA Section 8/referrals: How do you stay compliant?" at the New England Mortgage Bankers Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Risk management in enforcement actions: Managing risk or micromanaging it" at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Annual Meeting
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Navigating the conflicting federal and state laws for doing business with cannabis companies" at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Annual Meeting
- Tim Lange to discuss "Services and value" at the North American Collection Agency Regulatory Association Annual Conference
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "Data privacy litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "How to ace your TRID exam" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "HMDA data is out, now what?" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Assessing the CDD final rule: A year of transitions" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from recent enforcement actions and CMPs" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Melissa Klimkiewicz to discuss "Navigating FHA rules and regs" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "The state’s role in fintech: Providing an industry framework for innovation" at Lend360
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "How to balance a successful (and stressful) career with greater personal well-being" at the American Bar Association Women in Litigation Joint CLE Conference