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On December 4, the FTC released a request for public comment on whether the agency should make changes to its identity theft detection rules—the Red Flags Rule and the Card Issuers Rule—which require financial institutions and creditors to take certain actions to detect signs of identity theft affecting their customers. The FTC is seeking comment as part of its systematic review of all of its regulations and guides. According to the FTC, consumer complaints relating to identity theft represented the third largest category of consumer complaints made to the FTC through the first three quarters of 2018 and the second largest category in 2017. The FTC is seeking comment on all aspects of the two rules, but also poses specific questions for commenters to address, such as (i) whether there is a continuing need for the specific provisions of the rules; (ii) what significant costs have the rules imposed on consumers and businesses; and (iii) whether there are any types of creditors that are not currently covered by the Red Flags Rule but should be covered. The request for comment is due to be published in the Federal Register shortly, and comments must be received by February 11, 2019.
On November 14, the FDIC issued a request for information (RFI) seeking public comment on ways it can encourage FDIC-supervised financial institutions to offer “responsible, prudently underwritten small-dollar credit products that are economically viable and address the credit needs of bank customers.” In the RFI’s release, FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams pointed to studies showing that “[c]onsumers benefit when small-dollar credit products are available from banks” and requested “the public to use the RFI process to tell [the FDIC] how to ensure that consumers can obtain small dollar credit from banking institutions in a responsible manner.” The RFI seeks information related to the “full spectrum of issues” related to banks offering small-dollar credit, including regulatory and non-regulatory obstacles for banks, as well as actions the FDIC could take to assist banks in serving the small-dollar market. In addition to general feedback, the RFI includes a list of suggested topics and questions for commenters to address. Comments will be due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
Recently, the OCC and the CFPB have also made efforts to encourage banks to meet the small-dollar credit needs of consumers. In May, the OCC issued Bulletin 2018-14 encouraging banks to offer responsible short-term, small-dollar installment loans with typical maturities between two and 12 months (covered by InfoBytes here). In addition to applauding the OCC’s Bulletin, the CFPB announced it expects to publish proposed rules reconsidering the ability-to-repay provisions of the rule covering Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans in January 2019 (covered by InfoBytes here).
On October 1, the FDIC released a request for information (RFI) on “FDIC Communication and Transparency.” The agency is seeking comments and information on how the agency can make its “communication with insured depository institutions (IDIs) more effective, streamlined, and clear [, including] . . . maximiz[ing] efficiency and minimiz[ing] burden associated with obtaining information on FDIC laws, regulations, policies, and other materials relevant to IDIs.” The RFI requests feedback on all types of communication from the FDIC, including (i) regulations, policies, procedures, and guidance; (ii) news and updates; (iii) industry data, educational materials, and outreach; and (iv) general and direct communications, such as email subscriptions, in-person meetings, and compliance reviews. In addition to general feedback, the RFI includes a list of suggested topics and questions for commenters to address.
Comments must be received by December 4.
On September 25, the CFPB released a report on the Bureau’s data governance program, including what data the Bureau collects, from where the data is sourced, and how the data is used and reused within the Bureau. The report emphasizes that data informs a large portion of the Bureau’s work, including rule writing, supervision, enforcement, consumer education, and market monitoring. The report details the more than 188 data collections from public sources, government agencies, commercial vendors, financial institutions, and consumers that the Bureau has undertaken to date. In connection with the report, the Bureau issued a request for information (RFI) seeking feedback on the Bureau’s data governance program and data use. Specifically, the RFI requests comments on, among other things, (i) the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the Bureau’s data collections; (ii) privacy issues related to the Bureau’s data collection practices; (iii) ways the Bureau should or should not reuse data collected for one purpose to inform other work; and (iv) ways the Bureau could make data reporting less burdensome. Comments must be received by December 27.
On June 7, acting Director of the CFPB, Mick Mulvaney, dismissed the Bureau’s action against PHH, which spawned years of litigation and a constitutional challenge to the CFPB’s structure. In January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued its en banc decision concluding the CFPB’s structure is constitutional but affirmed the October 2016 panel opinion that the CFPB misinterpreted RESPA and its statute of limitations (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert). The $109 million penalty imposed on PHH by the CFPB was vacated and the case was sent back to CFPB leadership for review. On June 6, in response to an order by Mulvaney, PHH and the Bureau’s enforcement counsel filed a joint statement addressing whether further proceedings were necessary and jointly recommended dismissal of the matter.
On June 6, Mulvaney reportedly removed all current members of the Consumer Advisory Board (CAB), the Community Bank Advisory Council (CBAC), and the Credit Union Advisory Council (CUAC). In a blog post, the Bureau’s policy associate director for external affairs noted that the changes to the advisory boards were in response to the comments received from the Bureau’s Request for Information (RFI) on external engagements (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The comment period for the RFI closed on May 29. According to the blog, the Bureau will still continue its statutory obligation under the Dodd-Frank Act to convene the CAB and provide forums for the CBAC and the CUAC. The councils will be re-staffed with a smaller membership from the 2018 application and selection process. The changes come only a few days after it was reported that Mulvaney canceled his meeting with the CAB for the second time since he took on the acting director role.
On June 4, the New York Attorney General, Barbara Underwood, along with fourteen other state Attorneys General submitted a comment letter in response to the CFPB’s Request for Information (RFI) on the public reporting of consumer complaints, previously covered by InfoBytes here. The Attorneys General highlight the utility of the CFPB’s consumer complaint database, stating it “has been an invaluable resource for identifying trends and patterns,” and noting its usefulness in investigations into certain companies “whose misconduct was initially brought to [their] attention through a critical mass of complaints filed with the CFPB.” The letter also comments on the database’s benefit to the public for (i) empowering consumers to educate themselves; (ii) incentivizing companies to treat consumers fairly; and (iii) potentially revealing patterns of widespread misconduct. The coalition concludes the letter by urging the CFPB to maintain the public database.
Additionally, on the same day, the New Jersey Attorney General, Gurbir Grewal, responded to the same RFI with similar sentiments but also emphasized that eliminating or reducing the public availability of the database “would conflict with the open-government principles of the Freedom of Information Act” (FOIA) because FOIA requires government agencies to proactively disclose frequently requested records. According to Grewal, the Bureau receives a substantial number of requests for consumer complaint records and this number will likely increase without the public database.
On April 11, the CFPB released its twelfth (and apparently final) Request for Information (RFI) in a series seeking feedback on the Bureau’s operations. This RFI solicits public comment to assist the Bureau in assessing its handling of consumer complaints and consumer inquiries. Pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB is required to “facilitate the centralized collection of, monitoring of, and response to consumer complaints regarding consumer financial products or services.” According to the RFI, a “consumer complaint” relates to an issue a consumer has with an identifiable entity, whereas a “consumer inquiry” is a consumer request for information from the CFPB regarding a financial product or service, a CFPB action, or the status of a complaint. While the Bureau is seeking feedback on all aspects of its consumer complaints and consumer inquiries processes, the RFI specifically seeks comments related to (i) how the Bureau distinguishes between complaints and inquiries, including if there should be a process for companies to reclassify consumer submissions; (ii) the complaint submission process, including the channels of submission and whether consumers should be allowed to authorize a third-party to submit on their behalf; and (iii) whether the Bureau should develop a process for companies to provide responses to consumer inquiries. The RFI is expected to be published in the Federal Register on April 16. Comments will be due 90 days from publication.
On April 4, the CFPB released its eleventh Request for Information (RFI) in a series seeking feedback on the Bureau’s operations. This RFI solicits public comment to assist the Bureau in “assessing the overall efficiency and effectiveness of its consumer financial education programs.” Pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB develops education programs to educate and empower consumers to make better informed financial decisions, and to improve consumers’ financial literacy. The Bureau develops programs for the general public as well as programs designed for special populations. While the Bureau is seeking feedback on all aspects of its financial education initiatives, the RFI specifically seeks comments related to (i) the topics and delivery functions of the programs; (ii) the effectiveness of the programs, including how the Bureau should measure program success; and (iii) how to avoid duplication and improve coordination with other federal agencies. The RFI is expected to be published in the Federal Register on April 9. Comments will be due 90 days from publication.
On March 28, the CFPB released its tenth Request for Information (RFI) in a series seeking feedback on the Bureau’s operations. This RFI solicits public comment to assist the Bureau in “assessing the overall effectiveness and accessibility of its guidance materials and activities (including implementation support).” Specifically, the Bureau is seeking feedback regarding interpretive rules and general statements of policy that the CFPB determined do not need to go through the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) notice and comment process, as well as other “non-rule guidance” such as compliance guides and webinars. While the Bureau is seeking feedback on all aspects of its various guidance materials, the RFI specifically seeks comments related to (i) the regulatory inquiries function; (ii) regulatory implementation and compliance aids; (iii) official interpretations and standalone interpretive rules; (iv) SEFL guidance materials; (v) disclaimers included on non-rule guidance materials; and (vi) recommendations for new forms of written guidance. The RFI is expected to be published in the Federal Register on April 2. Comments will be due 90 days from publication.
On March 27, the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection (BCP) released its comment letter responding to the CFPB’s Request for Information (RFI) on Civil Investigative Demands (CIDs) – the first RFI in a series seeking feedback on the CFPB’s operations (previously covered by InfoBytes here). According to the BCP, good government requires an agency to use restraint both when deciding to issue compulsory CIDs and when making specific demands, because courts are deferential to an agency’s request. The BCP emphasizes the need for a balance between the enforcement of laws by an agency and the potential burden on the party whom receives the demand.
The FTC response is notable as it is not common for a federal agency to submit comments to another agency’s RFI. However, as the BCP points out, the CFPB originally used the FTC’s Rules of Practice and Procedure as a model when establishing its CID process, and in July 2017, the BCP implemented several reforms to its consumer protection CID process. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) The comment letter notes the BCP’s belief that the reforms “have been quite successful in lessening burdens on recipients and improving transparency while continuing to allow the agency to obtain the information it needs to enforce the law.” In response to the CFPB’s specific requests, the BCP outlined its internal processes and provided the Bureau with specific recommendations, while recognizing the inherent differences in each agency’s authority, mission and organizational structure. The BCP recommendations include:
- Opening/closing investigations. Increase oversight by senior agency leadership with respect to the opening and closing of investigations by staff in the Office of Enforcement.
- Issuing CIDs. Delegate authority to issue CIDs to more senior officials (as opposed to the Deputy Assistant Directors of the Office of Enforcement) or to officials who are not directly involved in the investigation.
- Explaining purpose of investigation. Ratify the Bureau’s currently informal process of articulating a more specific purpose for the CID and using the CFPB’s “meet-and-confer” requirement under 12 C.F.R. § 1080.6(c) to constructively engage with the recipient to better improve their understanding of the CID’s purpose.
- Scope of requests. Use the meet-and-confer process to resolve or narrow concerns regarding potentially broad CID requests in order to avoid unnecessary burdens on the recipient and delays caused by a petition to limit or quash a CID.
- Incorporating certain Federal Rules by reference. For the taking of testimony of an entity and the handling inadvertent production of privileged information, publicly acknowledge the intent to follow the relevant standards under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Evidence.
- Rights afforded to individuals in investigational hearings. Continue to prevent witnesses from consulting with counsel while a question is pending and counsel from objecting to a question or instructing the witness not to answer (except with regard to privilege). The BCP stated that, in addition to being consistent with its rules, these limitations are “consistent with federal court practice and are appropriate given that the investigational hearing is part of the agency’s non-public investigation to determine whether a violation has occurred and whether an action would be in the public interest.”
- Response requirements. Consider streamlining guidelines for document submission of electronically stored information
As for the process for petitions to modify or set aside CIDs, without providing a specific recommendation to the Bureau, the BCP spent considerable time outlining certain outside criticisms of its own process, including that petitioners do not receive the BCP rely brief given to the assigned Commissioner in response to a petitions and that the Commissioner’s ruling on the petition is placed on the public record, revealing the underlying non-public investigation. The BCP defended these practices, emphasizing that the reply briefs contain protected information regarding the FTC’s internal investigation process and the burden to redact the information outweighs the minimal benefit to the petitioner. Additionally, the BCP stated that publicly disclosing the Comissioner’s ruling is consistent with ensuring the government is subject to the “watchful eye” of the public.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, all comments to the CFPB RFI are now due by April 26.