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On March 17, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) released a list of administrative enforcement actions taken against banks and bank officers in February. Several of the reported actions included payment of civil money penalties (CMPs) for, among other things, violations of the Federal Trade Commission Act, Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) deficiencies, and unsafe or unsound practices by institution-affiliated parties for breaches of fiduciary duty. Among the actions containing CMPs a Tennessee bank fined $1 million for deficiencies related to billing practices with regard to an identity protection product consumers paid for but never received, and a California bank fined $1 million for continuous non-compliance with a 2010 Consent Order for BSA deficiencies including “inadequate risk assessment process[es], inadequate system of internal controls, inadequate suspicious activity monitoring and reporting process[es], inadequate customer due diligence and enhanced due diligence programs, ” as well as having a “BSA/AML independent audit [that] failed to identify . . . significant internal control weaknesses.”
Department of Education Withdraws Student Loan Guidance; Bipartisan Legislation Introduced to Require APR Disclosure on Federal Student Loans
On March 16, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) Acting Assistant Secretary Lynn B. Mahaffie notified relevant agencies that the Department is withdrawing statements of policy and guidance regarding repayment agreements and liability for collection costs on Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) loans as previously stated in its July 10, 2015 Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) GEN 15-14. GEN 15-14 barred a "guaranty agency from charging collection costs to a defaulted borrower who (i) responds within 60 days to the initial notice sent by the guaranty agency after it pays a default claim and acquires the loan from the lender; (ii) enters into a repayment agreement, including a rehabilitation agreement; and (iii) honors that agreement.” The Department emphasized that the "position set forth in the DCL would have benefited from public input on the issues discussed in the DCL,” and as a result, the Department has withdrawn the DCL and will not require compliance without the opportunity for the public to provide comments.
Earlier in the month, Representatives Randy Hultgren (R-IL), Luke Messer (R-IN), and David Scott (D-GA) reintroduced the Transparency in Student Lending Act (H.R. 1283)—bipartisan legislation requiring the disclosure of the annual percentage rate on federal loans issued by the Department of Education. In 2008 the Truth in Lending Act disclosure requirements were applied to private loans, but not to federal student loans—an omission that does a “gross disservice” to borrowers according to Hultgren. “The Department of Education is the largest consumer lender in the United States, and should provide the most transparent and helpful information to borrowers. Helping borrowers understand their debt obligations is an important first step to ensuring they are able to make their payments, and also helps prevent taxpayers from being on the hook for delinquent borrowers,” noted Hultgren.
On March 21, member agencies of the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) announced the release of their Joint Report to Congress: Economic Growth and Regulatory Paperwork Reduction Act (the Report), which details their review of rules affecting financial institutions and the effect of regulations on smaller institutions. The review—required by the Economic Growth and Regulatory Paperwork Reduction Act to be conducted at least once every ten years—included the participation of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the National Credit Union Administration, and included the consideration of more than 230 written and 130 oral comments from financial institutions, trade associations, and consumer and community groups, as well as numerous comments obtained at outreach meetings.
The members of the FFIEC described several joint initiatives, including actions taken to:
- Simplify regulatory capital rules for community banks and savings associations;
- Streamline reports of condition and income (Call Reports);
- Increase the appraisal threshold for commercial real estate loans; and
- Expand the number of institutions eligible for less frequent examination cycles.
In addition, the Report also described actions taken by each agency to “update rules, eliminate unnecessary requirements, and streamline supervisory procedures.”
On March 20, the CFPB issued a request for comment on its plan for assessing the effectiveness of its May 2013 final rule governing consumer remittance transfers. According to a March 17 blog post on the CFPB’s website, the self-assessment—which is required under Section 1022(d) of the Dodd-Frank Act—will focus on, among other things: (i) “whether the market for remittances has evolved . . . in ways that promote access, efficiency, and limited market disruption”; and (ii) whether the Remittance Rule (and other CFPB regulatory activity) has “brought more information, transparency, and greater predictability of prices to the market.” In describing the approach it planned to take in conducting its evaluation, the CFPB explained that it would seek to “compare consumer outcomes to a baseline that would exist if the Remittance Rule’s requirements were not in effect.” Comments on the plan will be due 60 days following the notice’s publication in the Federal Register.
House Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee Hearing Examines Decline in New Bank/Credit Union Charter Applications
In an afternoon hearing on March 21 entitled “Ending the De Novo Drought: Examining the Application Process for De Novo Financial Institutions,” Members of the House Financial Services Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee met to examine the impact that the Dodd-Frank Act has had on the creation of new or “de novo” financial institutions. According to a majority staff memorandum released in advance of the hearing, the number of new, or “de novo,” bank and credit union charters has declined to historic lows since the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act. From 2010 to 2016, there were only five new bank and 16 new credit union charters granted. In comparison, between 2000 and 2008, 1,341 new banks and 75 new credit unions were chartered.
Three of the witnesses – each of whom appeared on behalf of a banking industry group – generally agreed that the Dodd-Frank Act has, to some extent, had a “chilling impact” on the creation of new banks:
- Kenneth L. Burgess, speaking on behalf of the American Bankers Association noted, among other things, that “in the five years since Dodd-Frank was enacted, the pace of lending was half of what it was several years before the financial crisis. Some banks have stopped offering certain products altogether, such as mortgage and other consumer loans.”
- Keith Stone, representing the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions, noted that “[t]he compliance requirements in a post-Dodd-Frank environment have grown to a tipping point where it is nearly impossible for many smaller institutions to survive, much less start from scratch.”
- Patrick J. Kennedy, Jr., appearing on behalf of the Subchapter S Bank Association, noted that “[m]any banks exited the mortgage loan business because of the complexity and uncertainty resulting from Dodd Frank, the CFPB and related rulemaking.”
The fourth witness, Sarah Edelman, offered an alternative explanation for the decline in new bank applications to the FDIC. Ms. Edelman—who is currently the director of housing finance at the Center for American Progress—testified as to her belief that the “decline” in “[t]he number of new bank applications to the FDIC . . . is largely the result of macroeconomic factors, including, historically low interest rates reducing the profitability of new banks, as well as investors being able to purchase failing banks at a discount following the financial crisis.”
In December of last year, the FDIC released a handbook entitled Applying for Deposit Insurance – A Handbook for Organizers of De Novo Institutions, which provides an overview of the business considerations and statutory requirements that de novo organizers face as they work to establish a new depository institution and offers guidance for navigating the phases of establishing an insured institution. Rather than establish new policy or offer guidance, the Handbook instead “seeks to address the informational needs of organizers, as well as feedback from organizers and other interested parties during recent industry outreach events.” Comments were due February 20. Additional resources are available through an FDIC website dedicated to applications for deposit insurance.
On March 17, GOP members of the House Financial Services Committee sent a letter to Acting Labor Secretary Ed Hugler expressing their support for the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) proposal to delay the implementation of its Fiduciary Rule from April 10 until June 9. The letter asserts, among other things, that a delay is “necessary to review the rule’s scope and assess potential harm to investors, disruptions within the retirement services industry, and increases in litigation, as required by the Presidential Memorandum signed by President Trump on February 3, 2017.” The GOP Members also note that they “have long been concerned with the DOL Fiduciary Rule's impact on retail investors and the U.S. capital markets,” and, have therefore “advocated that the expert regulator—the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)—should craft an applicable rule.”
Later that day, House Democrats sent their own letter to the Acting Labor Secretary expressing opposition to the DOL’s proposed 60-day delay of its Fiduciary Rule. Specifically, the Democratic members contend that “the rule is reasonable and workable for advisers,” because, among other reasons, “the DOL provided appropriate relief that mitigates industry concerns and compliance costs.”
House Financial Services Committee Holds Hearing to Consider the “Unconstitutional Structure of the CFPB”
On March 21, the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing entitled “The Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection's (CFPB's) Unconstitutional Design.” The majority staff memorandum issued prior to hearing stated that its purpose was to: (i) “examine whether the structure of the [CFPB] violates the Constitution,” and (ii) consider potential “structural changes to the Bureau to resolve any constitutional infirmities.”
Chairwoman Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) introduced the proceeding by describing the CFPB as a “an unconstitutional behemoth” with a 'Washington knows best' mindset,” that “side-steps accountability to Congress and the President.” Three of the four witnesses called to testify before the panel shared the general position that the CFPB is unconstitutional as currently structured.
- The Honorable Theodore Olson , a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP and lead counsel for PHH in its suit against the CFPB, shared his personal opinion that the Bureau, “[m]ore than any other administrative agency ever created by Congress,” is “far outside of our constitutional structure, holds the potential for tyrannical governance, and obscures the lines of governmental accountability. [T]he CFPB’s structure is the product of aggregating some of the most democratically unaccountable and power-centralizing features of the federal government’s administrative state.” Particularly with respect to the President, Mr. Olson noted that “by preventing the President from removing the head of the Bureau except for very limited circumstances,” the President is effectively “stripped of the power to faithfully execute the laws in these circumstances.”
- Professor Saikrishna Prakash, a Law Professor at the University of Virginia School of Law questioned the Bureau’s constitutionality, characterizing the Director of the CFPB as “the second most powerful officer in the government for he serves under no one’s supervision, enjoys a vast budget not subject to the appropriations process, and exerts enormous influence over several prominent aspects of the economy.”
- Adam White, a Research Fellow with the Hoover Institution similarly urged Congress to reform the CFPB while also cautioning against allowing the “CFPB’s original structure to . . . become the new benchmark for the next generation of ‘independent agencies.’”
Meanwhile, offering several arguments in support of the Bureau’s current structure was Brianne Gorod – a public interest attorney who has helped prepare briefing in the PHH v CFPB matter on behalf of “current and former members of Congress, who were sponsors of Dodd-Frank” and “participated in drafting it,” and “serve or served on committees with jurisdiction over the [CFPB].” (See, e.g., Motion for Leave to Intervene in Support of the CFPB). Ms. Gorod argued, among other things, that “the President’s ability to remove the Director [of the CFPB] only for cause does not ‘impede the President’s ability to perform his constitutional duty[,]’” but rather, to the contrary, “provides the Executive with substantial ability to ensure that the laws are ‘faithfully executed.’” For this reason and others, Ms. Gorod argued that “the CFPB’s leadership structure . . . is consistent with the text and history of the Constitution, as well as Supreme Court precedent.”
On March 15, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors released a statement from its president, John W. Ryan, in response to last December’s OCC white paper titled Exploring Special Purpose National Bank Charters for FinTech Companies (the Proposal). As previously covered in an InfoBytes Special Alert, the white paper outlines the authority of the OCC to grant national bank charters to FinTech companies and describes minimum supervisory standards for successful FinTech bank applicants. CSBS’s statement follows a comment letter submitted to the OCC in January (along with several other letters submitted by stakeholders—see previously posted InfoBytes summary) in which numerous concerns about the federal charters were raised. Ryan stated that the OCC’s Proposal "sets a dangerous precedent [by demonstrating that] the OCC has acted beyond the legal limits of its authority [and has] bypassed and ignored bipartisan objections from Congress, [thereby] creat[ing] new risks to consumers.” He asserted that the proposed charter would “preempt existing state consumer protections without a comparable mechanism to replace them. It also exposes taxpayers to the risk of inevitable [F]inTech failures." Furthermore, state regulators oversee "a vibrant system of non-depository regulation," he noted. Many mortgage, debt collection, and consumer finance companies operate under state charters, and non-banks have access to a streamlined process to obtain licenses to operate in more than one state via a nationwide licensing system. “State regulators continuously improve this process—having slashed approval times by half in recent years—and lead the way in developing model frameworks and consumer protections for cutting-edge areas like virtual currency. And by its very nature, state regulation limits systemic risk.”
FDIC Releases Presentation Materials Explaining New Streamlined “FFIEC 051 Call Report” for Eligible Small Institutions
Earlier this month, the FDIC released presentation materials used during a recent webinar hosted by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) for the purpose of explaining the new streamlined “FFIEC 051 Call Report” for eligible small institutions. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Federal banking agencies – including the FDIC, the Fed, and the OCC – are implementing a new Call Report for financial institutions with only domestic offices and less than $1 billion in total assets (see FIL-82-2016). The proposed changes – which go into effect on March 31 – modify the existing “FFIEC 041” and “FFIEC 031” versions of the Call Report as part of an ongoing initiative to reduce the burden associated with Call Report requirements for community banks. Among other things, the streamlined Call Report reduces the existing Call Report from 85 to 61 pages, resulting from the removal of approximately 950 (or about 40 percent) of the nearly 2,400 data items in the Call Report.
CFPB’s Credit Union Advisory Council to Hold Public Meeting on March 30; Will Discuss Alternative Data and Consumer Access to Financial Records
In a Notice of Public Meeting published in the March 14 Federal Register, the CFPB announced that its Credit Union Advisory Council will hold a public meeting on March 30 from 3:15 to 4:45 pm EDT. According to the Notice, the Advisory Council plans to focus on “alternative data and consumer access to financial records.” Attendees should RSVP by noon on March 29.