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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.
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.”
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.
On March 17, the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice (“DOJ”) filed its amicus brief in the D.C. Circuit’s en banc review of the CFPB’s enforcement action against PHH Corporation for alleged violations of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”). In October 2016, a panel of the D.C. Circuit concluded that the CFPB misinterpreted RESPA and that its single-Director structure violated the constitutional separation of powers. The DOJ brief states that, “[w]hile we do not agree with all of the reasoning in the panel’s opinion,” the DOJ agrees with the panel’s conclusion that “a removal restriction for the Director of the CFPB is an unwarranted limitation on the President’s executive power” and that “the panel correctly concluded … that the proposed remedy for the constitutional violation is to sever the provision limiting the President’s authority to remove the CFPB’s Director, not to declare the entire agency and its operations unconstitutional.”
Like the brief filed in this case by the Obama Administration DOJ before the change in administration, the current DOJ brief states that “[t]he United States takes no position on the statutory issues in this case, but in the event that the ultimate resolution of those issues results in vacatur of the CFPB’s order [against PHH], it is within this Court’s discretion to avoid ruling on the constitutional question.” However, the brief goes on to state that, because the issue is already before the en banc court and the “question is likely to recut in pending and future cases, it would be appropriate for the Court to provide needed clarity by exercising its discretion to resolve the separation-of-powers issue now.”
On March 10, 2017, the SEC issued an Order disapproving of a proposed rule change by the BATS BZX Exchange (“the Proposal”), which proposed to list and trade “commodity-based trust shares” issued by the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust. The Proposal, if approved, would have established a bitcoin exchange-traded fund (“ETF”) that market participants could invest in through the BATS BZX Exchange platform. Specifically, in rejecting the Proposal, the Commission emphasized the lack of regulation in the bitcoin market, noting both (i) that the BATS BZX Exchange platform “would currently be unable to enter into, the type of surveillance-sharing agreement that helps address concerns about the potential for fraudulent or manipulative acts and practices in the market for the Shares”; and (ii) that bitcoin regulation, at present, would leave a bitcoin ETF more susceptible to manipulation than an ETF comprised of other commodities, such as gold and silver. Ultimately, the Commission concluded that, “[a]bsent the ability to detect and deter manipulation of the Shares—through surveillance sharing with significant, regulated markets related to the underlying asset—the [Commission] does not believe that a national securities exchange can meet its” regulatory obligations.
Comments submitted in response to the original BATS BZX Exchange proposed rule change can be accessed here.
OCC Releases Draft “Licensing Manual Supplement” to be Used for Evaluating Fintech Bank Charter Applications; Will Accept Comments Through April 14
On March 15, the OCC released both a Draft Licensing Manual Supplement for Evaluating Charter Applications From Financial Technology Companies (“Draft Fintech Supplement”) and a Summary of Comments and Explanatory Statement (“March 2017 Guidance Summary”) (together, “March 2017 Guidance Documents”) in which it provides additional detail concerning application of its existing licensing standards, regulations, and policies in the context of Fintech companies applying for special purpose national bank charters. The Draft Fintech Supplement is intended to supplement the agency’s existing Licensing Manual. The March 2017 Guidance Summary addresses key issues raised by commenters, offers further explanation as to the OCC’s decision to consider applications from Fintech companies for an Special Purpose National Bank (“SPNB”) charter, and provides guidance to Fintech companies that may one day wish to file a charter application.
The March 2017 Guidance Documents emphasize, among other things, certain “guid[ing]” principles including: (i) “[t]he OCC will not allow the inappropriate commingling of banking and commerce”; (ii) “[t]he OCC will not allow products with predatory features nor will it allow unfair or deceptive acts or practices”; and (iii) “[t]here will be no “light-touch” supervision of companies that have an SPNB charter. Any Fintech companies granted such charters will be held to the same high standards that all federally chartered banks must meet.” Through its commitment to (and alignment with) these principles, the OCC “believes that making SPNB charters available to qualified [FinTech] companies would be in the public interest.”
Notably, the OCC emphasized that its latest Fintech guidance “is consistent with its guiding principles published in March 2016” and “also reflects the agency’s careful consideration of comments received (covered by InfoBytes here) on its December 2016 paper discussing issues associated with chartering Fintech companies.” As covered in a recent InfoBytes Special Alert, the OCC has, over the past several months, taken a series of carefully calculated steps to position itself as a leading regulator of Fintech companies.
Finally, although it does not ordinarily solicit comments on procedural manuals or supplements, the OCC will be accepting comments on the aforementioned Fintech guidance through close of business April 14.
FHFA Includes New Classifications for Reporting Adverse Examination Findings; Amends FOIA Regulations
On March 14, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (“FHFA”) issued an Advisory Bulletin establishing classifications of adverse examination findings for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Federal Home Loan Banks (“FHLBs”), and the FHLB’s Office of Finance (AB 2017-01). Effective for the 2017 examination cycle, the bulletin establishes three designated “classifications,” which can be used by examination staff to communicate adverse examination findings more effectively. The three classifications are meant both to identify priorities for remediation and also to guide FHFA in the development of supervisory strategies. These supervisory strategies include: (i) Matters Requiring Attention—both high-priority critical supervisory matters that pose substantial risk to safety and soundness and deficiencies that, if not corrected, have the potential to escalate and negatively affect a regulated entity or the Office of Finance; (ii) Recommendations—advisory suggestions regarding changes to a policy, procedure, practice, or control; and (iii) Violations—non-compliance with laws, regulations, or orders that requires action by a regulated entity or the Office of Finance to correct, if possible.
On March 15, FHFA issued an interim final rule, amending its FOIA regulations (12 CFR Part 1202) in an effort to bring its internal policies into accord with guidelines established through the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 (Pub. L. No. 114-185) and the “OPEN FOIA Act of 2009” (Pub. L. No. 111-83, 123 Stat. 2142, 2184 (2009)). The new FOIA rules – which are effective as of March 15—require agencies to, among other things, provide a minimum of 90 days (rather than 30 days) for requesters to file an administrative appeal; and provide notification to requesters about the availability of dispute resolution services.