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  • CFPB’s Summer Edition of Supervisory Highlights Discloses Findings Across Many Financial Services Areas

    Consumer Finance

    On September 12, the CFPB released its summer 2017 Supervisory Highlights, which outlines its supervisory and oversight actions in areas such as auto loan servicing, credit card account management, debt collection, deposit account supervision, mortgage origination and servicing, remittances, service provider programs, short-term small-dollar lending, and fair lending. According to the Supervisory Highlights, recent supervisory resolutions have “resulted in total restitution payments of approximately $14 million to more than 104,000 consumers during the review period” between January 2017 and June 2017.

    As examples, in the area of auto loan servicing, examiners discovered vehicles were being repossessed even though the repossession should have been cancelled. Coding errors, document mishandling, and failure to timely cancel the repossession order were cited causes. Regarding fair lending examination findings, the CFPB discovered, in general, “deficiencies in oversight by board and senior management, monitoring and corrective action processes, compliance audits, and oversight of third-party service providers.” Examiners also conducted ECOA Baseline Reviews on mortgage servicers and discovered weaknesses in servicers’ fair lending compliance management systems. Findings in other areas include the following:

    • consumers were provided inaccurate information about when bank checking account service fees would be waived, and banks misrepresented overdraft protection;
    • debt collectors engaged in improper debt collection practices related to short-term, small-dollar loans, including attempts to collect debts owed by a different person or contacting third parties about consumers’ debts;
    • companies overcharged mortgage closing fees or wrongly charged application fees that are prohibited by the Bureau’s Know Before You Owe mortgage disclosure rules; and
    • borrowers were denied the opportunity to take full advantage of the mortgage loss mitigation options, and mortgage servicers failed to “exercise reasonable diligence in collecting information needed to complete the borrower’s application.”

    The Bureau also set forth new examination procedures for HMDA data collection and reporting requirements as well as student loan servicers, in addition to providing guidance for covered persons and service providers regarding pay-by-phone fee assessments.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Enforcement Auto Finance Credit Cards Debt Collection Fair Lending ECOA Compliance Mortgage Origination Mortgage Servicing HMDA Student Lending

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  • Senate Banking Committee’s Fintech Hearing Discusses Regulatory Challenges and Innovation Risks

    FinTech

    On September 12, the full Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing entitled “Examining the Fintech Landscape” to discuss topics concerning fintech innovation and the regulatory landscape. Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) opened the hearing by asserting that while fintech firms provide “new and innovative products and services in areas such as marketplace lending, digital payments and currencies, wealth management, insurance and more . . . [u]ncertainty remains around questions like data security and the proper regulatory treatment to ensure consumers and the financial system are safeguarded.” Sen. Crapo said that he welcomes the opportunity to learn more about fintech innovations, the impact on the financial system, and the current regulatory approach to this sector.

    Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), ranking member of the Committee, also released an opening statement in which he called for the need to “improve federal oversight of data collection and data security,” especially in light of the recent credit reporting data breach. (See previous InfoBytes summary here.) Sen. Brown noted that he is interested in understanding “how Congress can encourage fintech innovation to make it easier for community banks to serve their customers, comply with important safety and soundness and anti-money laundering rules.”

    The three witnesses offered numerous insights related to the fintech industry, including (i) the need to manage risk without stifling fintech innovation; (ii) the importance of creating consistent standards and a regulatory framework; (iii) the need to clearly outline the definition of fintech firms and digital lenders; (iv) challenges when using algorithms and alternative data to assess creditworthiness; and (v) concerns regarding state preemption in the fintech space. The witnesses also answered questions concerning the concept of utilizing a regulatory sandbox to allow fintech firms to operate on a limited basis to test new ideas, and offered support for an innovation office, which would help fintech firms and regulators understand the emerging landscape.

    • Mr. Lawrance Evans, Director, Financial Markets, U.S. Government Accountability Office (testimony);
    • Mr. Eric Turner, Research Analysis, S&P Global Market Intelligence (testimony); and
    • Mr. Frank Pasquale, Professor of Law, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law (testimony).

    Fintech Federal Issues Senate Banking Committee Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Data Collection / Aggregation

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  • FTC to Host Second Economic Liberty Task Force Public Roundtable to Discuss Licensure Requirements, Acting Chairman Testifies on Licensing Effects

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On September 11, the FTC announced its Economic Liberty Task Force (Task Force) will hold its second roundtable in Washington, DC on November 7, to examine the “economic and legal aspects of occupational licensing regulations” and the need for reform. The discussion will include input from economic and policy experts on licensing costs and benefits, and cover the ways licensure requirements affect employers, workers, consumers, and the overall economy. The Task Force notes that almost 30 percent of U.S. jobs now require some form of license, which, based on recent studies, causes the burden of “excessive occupational licensing” to disproportionally affect economically disadvantaged citizens—especially military families—and causes harm due to the “complexity and duplication of state-by-state licensing requirements and fees, combined with a lack of reciprocity among states.” An alternative policy approach, the Task Force notes, might include voluntary certification or other methods that would offer protection against unqualified service providers. Earlier this year, the Task Force held its first roundtable to discuss interstate license portability.

    In conjunction with the announcement of the roundtable, on September 12, Acting Federal Trade Commission Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law to describe the FTC’s efforts to study the effects of occupational licensing. Acting Chairman Ohlhausen’s written testimony emphasized the need for regulatory analysis and reform and cautioned that “excessive occupational licensing can leave consumers and workers worse off, by impeding competition without offering meaningful protection from legitimate health and safety risks.”

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FTC Licensing House Judiciary Committee

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  • District Judge Issues Order Against Bi-Weekly Payment Company, Denies Restitution Sought by CFPB

    Courts

    On September 8, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued an opinion and order against a company after a seven-day bench trial, finding that the company misrepresented its bi-weekly payment program in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). As previously covered in InfoBytes, the CFPB filed a complaint in 2015 against the company, its wholly owned subsidiary, and the company’s founder, alleging that the company’s false and misleading marketing practices were abusive and deceptive when it minimized the existence or amount of the program’s setup fee, misled borrowers on the amount of actual savings, and created the impression that the company was affiliated with the lender. The payment program allowed the defendants to contract with borrowers to make their mortgage, credit card, or other loan payments for them. The program automatically debited their accounts every two weeks in an amount equal to one-half of the monthly payment on the loan. This resulted in 26 payments per year, with the extra payments going towards paying down the principal on the loan. The judge granted the $7.9 million civil penalty proposed by the CFPB but denied the restitution of almost $74 million that the CFPB had sought—a full refund of all setup fees—because it found that “the CFPB has not proved that defendants engaged in the type of fraud commonly connoted by the well-worn phrase ‘snake oil salesmen,’” and specifically had “not shown, and could not show, that the [payment] program never provid[ed] a benefit to consumers, or that no fully-informed consumer would ever elect to pay to participate in the program.” The court found that further injunctive relief is warranted but directed the parties to meet and confer to determine the specific terms of the relief. The court noted that the CFPB had only sought civil penalties under the “basic tier” of the CFPA’s civil penalties provision and speculated that the CFPB did not propose higher penalties because it also expected to obtain a large amount of restitution. Nevertheless, the court found that higher penalties for reckless or knowing violations were not warranted because the defendants had taken “affirmative steps such as training, quality control, and seeking legal counsel, in an effort to stay on the right side of the line.”

    Courts CFPB Payment Processors UDAAP Settlement

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  • Agencies Issue Proposed Rulemaking to Amend CRA Regulations to Conform With HMDA Regulation Changes

    Lending

    On September 13, the Federal Reserve Board, the FDIC, and the OCC (Agencies) issued a joint notice of proposed rulemaking to amend Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) regulations to conform to the CFPB’s changes to Regulation C, which implements the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA). The proposed amendments revise the definition of “home mortgage loan” and “consumer loan,” update the public file content requirements to comply with recent Regulation C changes, and make various technical corrections. In addition, the proposal will eliminate obsolete references to the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), an initiative created by HUD to help stabilize communities contending with foreclosures and abandonment. In 2016, under CRA regulations, NSP-eligible activities were no longer considered “community development.” The Agencies anticipate that the proposed rule will become effective on January 1, 2018, when most of the changes to the HMDA rules go into effect.

    Home Mortgage Loan. Under the 2015 HMDA Rule changes, “most consumer-purpose transactions, including closed-end mortgage loans, closed-end home equity loans, home-equity lines of credit, and reverse mortgages will be reported under HMDA if they are secured by a dwelling.” To conform to the Regulation C amendments, effective January 1, 2018, for purposes of CRA regulations, a “home mortgage loan” will now mean a “closed-end mortgage loan” or an “open-end line of credit,” both of which will now apply only to loans that are secured by a dwelling. Financial institutions will now have the option to decide whether they want home improvement loans that are not secured by a dwelling, which will no longer be HMDA, considered for CRA purposes, although the Agencies note that they may choose to still evaluate some of these loans in certain circumstances “where the consumer lending is so significant a portion of an institution’s lending by activity and dollar volume of loans that the lending test evaluation would not meaningfully reflect lending performance if consumer loans were excluded.”

    Consumer Loan. The proposed rulemaking would no longer include “home equity loans” in the list of “consumer loan” categories for CRA purposes, as it will now be included within the proposed revised definition of a “home mortgage loan.”  

    Comments on the proposal will be accepted for 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

    Lending Agency Rule-Making & Guidance OCC Federal Reserve FDIC CFPB CRA HMDA Mortgages

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  • CFPB’s Project Catalyst Issues First “No-Action” Letter to Consumer Lending Firm

    Consumer Finance

    On September 14, the CFPB’s Project Catalyst initiative issued its first “no-action” letter to a consumer lending firm that provides an online lending platform that uses alternative data when making lending decisions. As previously discussed in InfoBytes, Project Catalyst explores innovation in the consumer financial services sector and examines the potential challenges facing consumers, entrepreneurs, and investors. With the issuance of the no-action letter—at the lender’s request—the CFPB indicated that it does not, at the present, intend to take enforcement action against the lender under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. However, the letter does not waive the Bureau’s right to choose to “conduct supervisory activities or engage in an enforcement investigation” should the lender fail to comply with the outlined terms. Further, the letter stipulates that the Bureau has the right to evaluate other matters concerning the lender. According to a press release issued by the Bureau, the lender has agreed to “share certain information with the CFPB regarding the loan applications it receives, how it decides which loans to approve, and how it will mitigate risk to consumers, as well as information on how its model expands access to credit for traditionally underserved populations.”

    Earlier this year the CFPB issued a request for information seeking input about the use of alternative data, and it believes the information it will receive under the terms of the no-action letter will help to “further its understanding of how these types of practices impact access to credit generally and for traditionally underserved populations, as well as the application of compliance management systems for these emerging practices.” (See previous InfoBytes summary here.)

    Consumer Finance CFPB Alternative Data Credit Scores Fair Lending ECOA

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  • FCPA Sting Operation Results in Conspiracy Charge for Retired U.S. Army Colonel

    Financial Crimes

    On August 29, the DOJ announced that it had unsealed a criminal complaint and FBI affidavit charging a retired U.S. Army colonel “for his alleged role in a foreign bribery and money laundering scheme in connection with a planned $84 million port development project in Haiti.” The DOJ alleges that he solicited bribes “from undercover [FBI] agents in Boston who posed as potential investors,” telling the agents “that he would funnel the payments to Haitian officials through a non-profit entity that he controlled . . . in order to secure government approval of the project.” The retired colonel allegedly received a $50,000 payment from the FBI, which he wired to his non-profit organization. While he ultimately used the payment for personal purposes, rather than his promised bribery, he allegedly “intended to seek additional money from the undercover agents to use for future bribe payments in connection with the port project.” The DOJ also alleges that FBI agents intercepted telephone calls where he “discussed bribing an aide to a senior Haitian official by giving him a job on the port development project after he left his position.”

    FCPA sting operations are relatively rare. An infamous FCPA sting operation involving Africa resulted in charges for 22 defendants, but it concluded unsuccessfully in 2012 after a series of acquittals and hung juries caused the DOJ to dismiss the remaining indictments.

    Financial Crimes DOJ Bribery Anti-Money Laundering

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  • SFO Director Urges Department to Compete With DOJ on Home Turf

    Financial Crimes

    In a September 4 speech, Serious Fraud Office (SFO) Director David Green urged the SFO to lead anti-corruption enforcement efforts against UK-connected companies, warning that “if we take our foot off the pedal . . . , others will fill the void.” Green noted that the DOJ “is not shy about enforcing the [FCPA] against foreign companies,” and emphasized that seven of the top ten highest-dollar FCPA cases since 2008 were brought against non-American companies. Green said that “it is surely right that the UK should lead enforcement in relation to UK companies or companies with strong connections here,” because it not only “demonstrates our commitment to the level playing field,” but it also “ensures that hefty financial penalties go to UK public coffers rather than elsewhere.”

    Financial Crimes UK Serious Fraud Office DOJ FCPA

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  • District Court Grants Preliminary Settlement Approval in SCRA Class Action Suit

    Courts

    On September 13, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina granted preliminary approval to settle a class-action suit resolving allegations that a national bank overcharged military families on interest and fees related primarily to mortgage and credit card accounts in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The order also, in the context of the proposed settlement only, preliminarily certifies the class, which is comprised of members who—after September 11, 2001—were entitled to “additional compensation related to military reduced interest rate benefits from [the bank].” The plaintiffs filed the complaint against the bank in 2015 claiming alleged violations of the SCRA, TILA, and the North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. In May 2016, the court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the first amended complaint, and at the end of 2016, the parties agreed to mediation. A second amended complaint—now the operative complaint—was filed just prior to the motion for preliminary approval. While the bank has not admitted any wrongdoing, it has agreed to refrain from using an “interest subsidy method for interest benefits calculations for a five-year period,” which, plaintiffs pleaded, can lead to higher costs.

    According to the terms of the memorandum in support of the motion for preliminary approval, class members will receive payments based on the strength of their individual claims, considering such factors as: (i) loan type; (ii) whether they previously received remediation from the bank, and how much; and (iii) the eligible period for interest rate refunds. The memorandum further stipulates that approximately $15.4 million of the nearly $42 million overall settlement will be provide to class members who have not received or deposited any payments from the bank. Unclaimed amounts from the first round will be pooled with the remainder of the settlement to be allocated as outlined in the distribution plan. A final approval hearing is scheduled for February of next year.

    Courts SCRA TILA Servicemembers Mortgages Credit Cards Class Action Litigation Settlement

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  • China Bans Commercial Trading of Initial Coin Offerings

    Securities

    On September 4, the People’s Bank of China and several Chinese regulators reportedly jointly announced plans to ban the commercial trading of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. This measure, announced in a statement issued by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of the People’s Republic of China, will outlaw all fundraising Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), and declares ICOs and the sale of virtual currency as unauthorized illegal financing behavior, suspected of illegal sale tokens, illegal securities issuance, and illegal fund-raising, including financial fraud, pyramid schemes and other criminal activities. The statement reportedly stresses that virtual currency in China will not be recognized as a legal form of currency and must not be circulated as currency when financing activities. Furthermore, going forward, all cryptocurrency trading platforms are prohibited in China from acting as central counterparties to facilitate the exchange of tokens for virtual currencies. Additionally, one of China’s bitcoin exchanges reportedly published an announcement on its website saying it will close its bitcoin currency trading platform in the country on September 30.

    The SEC recently released an investor bulletin about ICO investment risks and offered fraud prevention guidance. (See previous InfoBytes summary here.) ICO sales are often used to raise capital, and the SEC is monitoring companies who use this method for fraudulent purposes.

    Securities Fintech ICO International Cryptocurrency Bitcoin Fraud Virtual Currency

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