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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • SEC reminds registrants of privacy notices and safeguard policies

    Securities

    On April 16, the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations issued a Risk Alert to discuss compliance issues related to Regulation S-P—the SEC’s primary rule regarding privacy notices and safeguard policies—and to provide assistance to registered investment advisors and broker-dealers (registrants) when issuing compliant privacy and opt-out notices. Regulation S-P requires registrants to provide customers with a clear and conspicuous notice accurately reflecting its privacy policies and practices, plus any options to opt out of sharing certain non-public personal information with nonaffiliated third parties. The notice must be sent annually throughout the duration of the customer relationship. Regulation S-P also requires registrants to implement written policies and practices reasonably designed to ensure that customer records and information are secure and protected against unauthorized access. The Risk Alert provides examples of common Regulation S-P compliance deficiencies and weaknesses, and advises registrants to “review their written policies and procedures, including implementation of those policies and procedures, to ensure that they are compliant with Regulation S-P.”

    Securities SEC Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Compliance Consumer Protection

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  • Treasury sanctions Venezuela’s central bank and official connected to Maduro regime; sanctions Nicaraguan bank and official

    Financial Crimes

    On April 17, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against Venezuela’s central bank, along with an individual determined to be a current or former official of the Government of Venezuela, for providing support to former President Maduro’s regime. OFAC states that the U.S. “has taken steps to ensure that regular debit and credit card transactions can proceed and personal remittances and humanitarian assistance continue unabated and are able to reach those” affected by the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network advisories FIN-2017-A006, FIN-2017-A003, and FIN-2018-A003 provide additional information concerning the efforts of Venezuelan government agencies and individuals to use the U.S. financial system and real estate market to launder corrupt proceeds, as well as human rights abuses connected to foreign political figures and their financial facilitators. OFAC concurrently issued amendments to existing Venezuela-related general licenses as well as two new general licenses in connection with the designations, including “authorizations to ensure that U.S. persons may continue to engage in and facilitate non-commercial, personal remittances and the provision of humanitarian assistance to the people of Venezuela.”

    Additionally the same day, OFAC designated the Nicaraguan president’s son along with a Nicaraguan bank for actions supporting the Ortega regime. According to OFAC, the bank has, among other things, provided material, technical, and financial support to the previously sanctioned vice president, as well as money laundering assistance to the regime. OFAC also cited to the president’s son’s involvement with foreign investors to provide “preferential access to the Nicaraguan economy.” As a result, all property and interests in property of the sanctioned entities and individuals, and of any entities owned 50 percent or more by them subject to U.S. jurisdiction, are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. U.S. persons are also generally prohibited from entering into transactions with the sanctioned entities and individuals. 

    Financial Crimes Of Interest to Non-US Persons OFAC Department of Treasury Venezuela Nicaragua Sanctions

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  • FATF releases permanent mandate to combat money laundering and other proliferate financing

    Financial Crimes

    On April 12, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) agreed to a permanent mandate for the FATF to continue its work against combating money laundering, terrorist financing, and the financing of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. FATF ministers agreed to meet every two years, starting in 2022, to support the commitment to implementing the mandate. Among other things, the mandate states the FATF will (i) develop and refine international standards for combating money laundering; (ii) respond to significant new and emerging threats to the global financial system; (iii) maintain engagement with other international organizations and bodies; and (iv) consult the private sector on matters relating to FATF’s work. The mandate also provides a detailed layout of the organization’s membership composition and internal organization.

    Financial Crimes Of Interest to Non-US Persons FATF Anti-Money Laundering Combating the Financing of Terrorism

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  • Maryland settles with reverse mortgage servicer for alleged illegal inspection fees

    State Issues

    On April 16, the Maryland Attorney General announced a settlement with a reverse mortgage servicer for allegedly charging homeowners illegal inspection fees. According to the Attorney General, from 2010 through 2016, the servicer passed the cost of inspecting properties in default on to homeowners, which Maryland law does not allow. In 2013, the Maryland Commissioner of Financial Regulation put the servicer on notice that it was charging prohibited inspection fees, but the servicer did not cease the activity until January 1, 2017. The servicer has since refunded or reversed nearly $44,000 in property inspection fees charged to consumers. The settlement agreement requires the servicer to (i) refund inspection fees that have not yet been refunded; (ii) provide notice to any sub-servicer that the inspection fees should be refunded or not collected; (iii) pay $5,000 to the state for costs associated with the investigation; and (iv) pay $50,000 in civil money penalties.

    State Issues State Attorney General Settlement Reverse Mortgages Fees

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  • California settles with rental car companies over artificially inflated vehicle repair charges

    State Issues

    On April 15, the California Attorney General announced a $4.6 million settlement with a rental car company and affiliate resolving a joint investigation with the district attorneys into the company’s violation of state consumer protection laws. According to the AG, the companies, among other things, overcharged customers for rental vehicle repairs and failed to disclose material damage to the rental cars at the time of sale or disposal. Under state law, rental car companies are prohibited from charging customers more than the actual cost of repair, which includes any discounts the company receives according to the complaint. However, the companies frequently billed customers charges that were higher than the actual cost of the repair through the use of third-party repair estimates. Under the terms of the stipulated judgment, which also include comprehensive injunctive terms to prevent future misconduct, the companies—which did not admit liability—have agreed to comply with California laws and are required to pay (i) $1 million in restitution to affected customers; (ii) $3.3 million in civil penalties; and (iii) $300,000 in investigative costs.

    State Issues State Attorney General Consumer Protection

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  • District Court rejects business owners’ Do Not Call Registry TCPA claims

    Courts

    On April 16, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted in part and denied in part a telemarketing company’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the plaintiff did not have standing to bring some of his claims under the TCPA. According to the opinion, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the company for various claims under the TCPA, alleging that he received ten calls from the company to a phone number he had listed on the “National Do Not Call Registry” (Registry), nine of which were allegedly placed using an automatic dialing system (autodialer). The plaintiff requested orally, and later in writing, that the company cease calling the number, but the company allegedly continued to do so. The company moved to dismiss the action, arguing that the plaintiff created a business model to “encourage telemarketers to call his cellphone number so that he can later sue the telemarketers under the TCPA,” and therefore, has not suffered an injury-in-fact that the TCPA was designed to protect. The court agreed with the company on two claims related to the Registry, holding that the plaintiff does not have standing to bring claims under the TCPA’s prohibition of contacting numbers on the Registry because the phone was for business use and “business numbers are not permitted to be registered on the [Registry].” The court denied the motion to dismiss as to the remaining TCPA claims and ordered the company to respond.

    Courts TCPA Do Not Call Registry Autodialer

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  • District Court approves final $7.5 million TCPA class action settlement with payment processor

    Courts

    On April 16, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted final approval to a $7.5 million class action settlement resolving allegations that a payment processor and its sales representative violated the TCPA by using an autodialer for telemarketing purposes without first obtaining consumers’ prior express consent. The settlement terms also require the defendants to pay roughly $1.8 million in attorneys’ fees. According to the second amended complaint, the sales representative placed pre-recorded calls to potential clients on behalf of the payment processor through the use of an autodialer, including consumers who had not consented to receiving the calls. The plaintiff further alleged that the payment processor also violated the TCPA by sending facsimile advertisements that did not contain a “Compliant Opt Out Notice” to recipients. The parties reached a preliminary settlement last August following discovery and mediation.

    Courts TCPA Payment Processors Class Action Settlement Autodialer

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  • FDIC considers modifying living will requirements

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On April 16, the FDIC issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) and request for comment on modifications to its resolution planning framework (known as living wills) for insured depository institutions with over $50 billion in assets. According to the FDIC, the ANPR is considering three changes to streamline the process: (i) creating tiered planning requirements for living wills based on an institution’s size, complexity, and other factors; (ii) revising the frequency and required content of resolution plan submissions, including eliminating living will submission requirements for certain smaller and less complex institutions; and (iii) improving communication between the FDIC and banks on resolution planning. According to a statement issued by FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams, the ANPR also proposes two alternative concepts for consideration: “Broadly, either approach would require large, complex institutions to continue to submit periodic resolution plans, streamlined compared to the existing plans. Institutions that are relatively smaller and less complex but still subject to the rule would no longer need to submit actual plans, but would still be subject to periodic engagement and capabilities testing.” Comments on the ANPR are due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Reserve FDIC Living Wills Supervision

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  • Kraninger’s focus is preventing consumer harm, clarifying “abusive”

    Federal Issues

    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.”

    Federal Issues CFPB Supervision Enforcement Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Consumer Education Examination FDCPA Abusive UDAAP

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  • Federal regulators discuss national bank’s remediation progress

    Federal Issues

    On April 9, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) released responses to inquiries sent last month to the Federal Reserve Board, the OCC, and the CFPB, which expressed, among other things, concern about the level of response taken by a national bank regarding its auto-lending practices, as well as the bank’s remediation plans and compliance risk management efforts. In response, the regulators individually discussed the bank’s progress to satisfy its obligations under existing consent orders.

    Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell wrote that the asset cap imposed on the bank will remain in place until the bank has implemented—to the Board’s satisfaction—remedies to address risk management breakdowns. Powell noted that the bank and the Board are comprehensively addressing the progress.

    OCC Comptroller Joseph Otting emphasized that the agency continues “to monitor the bank’s work to remediate deficiencies” identified in previously issued orders, and commented that while the OCC is disappointed with the bank’s current corporate governance and risk management programs, it “is fully engaged and prepared to bring [the bank’s] matters to resolution.”

    CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger stated that “while the Bureau is working with [the bank] to ensure its compliance with the consent order, I am not satisfied with the [b]ank’s progress to date and have instructed staff to take all appropriate actions to ensure the [b]ank complies with the consent order and [f]ederal consumer financial law.”

    Federal Issues U.S. Senate Federal Reserve OCC CFPB Compliance Risk Management

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