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On November 27, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, affirmed an order requiring arbitration between a consumer and the buyer of the consumer’s debt (debt collector) in a lawsuit filed by the consumer claiming that the debt collector was not licensed to collect debts in New Jersey. According to the decision, the consumer had opened a credit card account with a bank, which included an arbitration agreement, then defaulted on the account. The debt collector then bought the debt and collected the consumer’s debt. The consumer subsequently sued the debt collector for its purported unlicensed collection of debts, but the trial court dismissed the complaint and compelled arbitration between the parties. The consumer appealed, arguing in part that the trial court erred by allowing an arbitrator to decide the validity of the assignment to the debt collector, and, therefore, the enforceability of the arbitration agreement. The appellate division court sided with the trial court that the arbitration clause “clearly and expressly stated claims relating to the ‘application, enforceability or interpretation of this Agreement, including this arbitration provision’ are subject to arbitration.” Moreover, the court concurred that the agreement did not violate the state’s plain language statute. However, the appellate division remanded the case to the trial court for issuance of an order to stay—rather than dismiss—the matter pending arbitration.
On December 3, the Federal Reserve, the CFPB, the FDIC, the NCUA, and the OCC (agencies) issued an Interagency Statement on alternative data use in credit underwriting, highlighting applicable consumer protection laws and noting risks and benefits. (See press release here). According to the statement, alternative data use in underwriting may “lower the cost of credit” and expand credit access, a point previously raised by the CFPB and covered in InfoBytes. Specifically, the potential benefits include: (i) increased “speed and accuracy of credit decisions”; (ii) lender ability to “evaluate the creditworthiness of consumers who currently may not obtain credit in the mainstream credit system”; and (iii) consumer ability “to obtain additional products and/or more favorable pricing/terms based on enhanced assessments of repayment capacity.” “Alternative data” refers to information not usually found in traditional credit reports or typically provided by customers, including for example, automated “cash flow evaluation” which evaluates a borrower’s capacity to meet payment obligations and is derived from a consumer’s bank account records. The statement indicates that this approach can improve the “measurement of income and expenses” of consumers with steady income over time from multiple sources, rather than a single job. The statement also recognizes that the way in which entities use alternative data—for example, implementing a “Second Look” program, where alternative data is only used for applicants that would otherwise be denied credit—can increase credit access. The statement points out that use of alternative data may increase potential risks, and that those practices must comply with applicable consumer protection laws, including “fair lending laws, prohibitions against unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices, and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.” Therefore, the agencies encourage entities to incorporate appropriate “robust compliance management” when using alternative data in order to protect consumer information.
On December 3, the CFPB issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) relating to the Remittance Transfer Rule (Rule), which implements the Electronic Fund Transfer Act’s (EFTA) protections for consumers sending international money transfers, or remittance transfers. The NPRM makes three proposals. First, the Bureau proposes to increase the Rule’s safe harbor threshold, mitigating compliance costs for financial institutions. The EFTA and the Rule consider a “remittance transfer provider” to include “any person that provides remittance transfers for a customer in the normal course of business.” However, the Rule currently includes a “safe harbor” provision that excludes persons that process 100 or fewer remittance transfers annually. The NPRM proposes increasing this threshold from 100 to 500 international remittance transfers per year. According to the Bureau’s announcement, the change would “reduce the burden on over 400 banks and almost 250 credit unions that send a relatively small number of remittances—less than .06 percent of all remittances.”
Second, the NPRM proposes adopting two permanent exceptions. The first is a permanent statutory exception that would allow certain insured institutions to estimate exchange rates and money transfer fees they are required to disclose, rather than provide consumers with exact costs when they send money abroad. Such an exemption would only apply in instances where a remittance payment is made in the local currency of the designated recipient’s country and the insured institution processing the transaction made 1,000 or fewer remittance payments to that country in the previous calendar year. An identical exemption provision is currently set to expire July 21, 2020. (Previous InfoBytes coverage here.) The NPRM proposes adopting a second permanent exception to allow insured institutions to estimate covered third-party fees for remittance transfers to a recipient’s institution provided, among other things, the insured institution made 500 or fewer remittance transfers to the recipient’s institution the prior calendar year.
Third, the NPRM requests comments on a list of safe harbor countries for which providers may use estimates for remittance transfers.
Comments must be received 45 days after publication in the Federal Register. In conjunction with the NPRM, the Bureau also released a summary of the NPRM, a table of contents, and an unofficial redline of the proposed amendments to the Rule.
On November 22, in a speech at The Clearing House + Bank Policy Institute Annual Conference, CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger noted that the Bureau is considering changes to its consent order process to “ensur[e] consent orders remain in effect only as long as needed to achieve their desired effects.” Specifically, Kraninger discussed that while most consent orders are effective for five-year periods and companies can request early termination or termination of indefinite orders, the Bureau has only terminated “a few” consent orders in the past. Similar to the Bureau’s recent changes to its Civil Investigative Demand (CID) policy (covered by InfoBytes here), Kraninger stated that the Bureau intends to announce an updated consent order policy “soon,” in order to “provide clarity and consistency.”
On November 25, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) wrote to CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger requesting a breakdown of how the Bureau enforces fair lending laws in light of recent allegations brought against a global financial services company that reportedly offered lower credit limits to women than to similarly creditworthy men. According to the Senators, the allegations raise questions as to whether a pattern of sex discrimination exists in the underwriting of the credit product and “underscore the importance of the CFPB adequately monitoring the lending practices of financial institutions . . . that are new to the consumer lending space.” The Senators also expressed concern that adjustments to the structure of the Bureau under President Trump’s administration have affected its “commitment to enforcing fair lending laws and carrying out its statutory responsibilities.” (Previous InfoBytes coverage here.) The Senators stated: “We’re concerned that this new structure, where many offices have varying degrees of authority, may allow new potentially discriminatory products to get to market without adequate oversight.” Specifically, the Senators asked the Bureau to respond to the following questions by December 9: (i) how does the Bureau “prioritize and evaluate risk when determining which financial institutions to examine for compliance with fair lending laws”; (ii) has the Bureau ever conducted a supervisory examination of the global financial services company’s fair lending compliance management system; (iii) have changes made to the Bureau’s structure affected its fair lending enforcement abilities; and (iv) are the Bureau’s standards used to determine violations of ECOA different under Director Kraninger.
Federal and state banking regulators confirmed in a December 3 joint statement that banks are no longer required to file a suspicious activity report on customers solely because they are “engaged in the growth or cultivation of hemp in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.”
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Click here to read the full special alert.
For questions about the alert and related issues, please visit our Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering practice page, or contact a Buckley attorney with whom you have worked in the past.
On November 27, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) updated two existing Iran-related FAQs: FAQ 303, which discusses insurance, reinsurance, and underwriting activities; and FAQ 804, which discusses whether sanctions on certain shipping tankers apply to their corporate parent and affiliates. Additionally, OFAC issued three new Iran-related FAQs (FAQ 805-807) covering the sanctions exposure of non-U.S. persons, the types of activities considered “maintenance” in General License K, and the processing of transactions involving a specific shipping tanker under General License K.
On November 22, the DOJ announced that it entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with a South Korean engineering company, in which the company agreed to pay more than $75 million in criminal penalties to resolve an investigation into alleged violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions. Half of the penalty amount will be paid to the DOJ, and the remaining half will be paid either to Brazilian authorities or also to the United States. According to the DOJ announcement, between 2007 and 2013, the company allegedly paid approximately $20 million in commissions to a Brazilian intermediary, “knowing that portions of the money would be paid as bribes to officials” at Brazil’s state-owned and controlled oil and energy firm. The bribes were allegedly intended to ensure that the state-owned entity entered into a contract to charter a drill ship from a separate Houston-based offshore oil drilling company, which would then be able to purchase that vessel from the Korean company.
As part of the deferred prosecution agreement, the company agreed to cooperate with the DOJ’s ongoing investigations and prosecutions, to improve its compliance program, and to report to the DOJ on those improvements. The company received partial credit for cooperating with the investigation and taking remedial measures, including (i) enhancing its compliance program; (ii) hiring additional compliance staff; (iii) “implementing enhanced anti-corruption policies and heightened due diligence controls over third party vendors”; (iv) instituting mandatory anti-corruption training; and (v) improving its whistleblower policies.
On November 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated the dismissal of a relator’s qui tam action, concluding that allegedly fraudulent loan requests made to one or more of the Federal Reserve Banks (FRBs) qualify as claims within the meaning of the False Claims Act (FCA). In the case, two qui tam relators brought an action under the FCA against a national bank and its predecessors-in-interest (defendants), alleging the defendants presented false information to FRBs in connection with their applications for loans. However the district court dismissed the action, holding that allegations of false or fraudulent claims being presented to the FRBs cannot form the basis of an FCA action because the FRBs cannot be characterized as the federal government for purposes of the FCA. In addition, the district court agreed with the defendants’ argument that the bank’s loan requests did not create FCA liability for claims, because the relators did not, and could not, “allege that the [g]overnment either provided any portion of the money loaned to the defendants, or reimbursed FRBs for making the loans.” (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.)
On appeal, the 2nd Circuit concluded that although the FRBs are not a “part of any executive department or agency,” the FRBs still act as agents of the U.S. because the U.S. “created the FRBs to act on its behalf in extending emergency credit to banks; the FRBs extend such credit; and the FRBs do so in compliance with the strictures enacted by Congress and the regulations promulgated by the [Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System], an independent agency within the executive branch.” The 2nd Circuit also held that the loan requests qualified as claims under the FCA because the money requested by the defendants is provided from the Federal Reserve System’s (Fed’s) emergency lending facilities and “is to be spent to advance a [g]overnment program or interest.” In supporting its conclusion, the appellate court stated that the U.S. “is the source of the purchasing power conferred on the banks when they borrow from the Fed’s emergency lending facilities.” The 2nd Circuit also referred to a U.S. Supreme Court holding in Rainwater v. United States, which stated that “the objective of Congress was broadly to protect the funds and property of the government from fraudulent claims, regardless of the particular form or function, of the government instrumentality upon which such claims were made.”
On November 25, the CFPB announced a settlement with two companies that originated and serviced travel-related loans for military servicemembers and their families. According to the consent order with the lender and its principal, the lender (i) charged fees to customers who obtained financing, at a higher rate than those customers who paid in full, but failed to include the fee in the finance charge or APR; (ii) falsely quoted low monthly interest rates to customers over the phone; and (iii) failed to provide the required information about the terms of credit and the total of payments in violation of TILA and the TSR. The consent order prohibits future lending targeted to military consumers and requires the lender and its principal to pay a civil money penalty of $1. The order also imposes a suspended judgment of almost $3.5 million, based on an inability to pay.
In its consent order against the servicer, the Bureau asserts the servicer engaged in deceptive practices by overcharging servicemembers for debt-cancellation products and, in violation of the FCRA’s implementing Regulation V, never established or maintained written policies and procedures regarding the accuracy of information furnished to credit reporting agencies. The consent order issues injunctive relief and requires the servicer to (i) pay a $25,000 civil money penalty; (ii) provide redress to consumers who were allegedly overcharged for the debt-cancellation product; (iii) pay over $54,000 in restitution to borrowers with no outstanding balance on their loans and issue additional account credits to borrowers with outstanding balances; and (iv) establish reasonable policies and procedures for accurate reporting to consumer reporting agencies.