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On December 11, the FTC entered into a proposed settlement with an Arizona-based company and its officer (defendants) relating to an allegedly deceptive credit card telemarketing operation. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FTC alleged that the defendants—as part of a larger group of 12 defendants comprised of an independent sales organization, sales agents, payment processors, and identified principals—violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule by assisting a telemarketing company in masking its identity by processing the company’s credit card payments and laundering credit card transactions on behalf of multiple fictitious companies. The proposed settlement, among other things, prohibits the defendants from engaging in credit card laundering and bans them from telemarketing, processing payments, or acting as an independent sales organization or sales agent. The order also stipulates a judgment of $5.7 million, which will be suspended unless it is determined that the financial statements submitted by the defendants contain any inaccuracies.
In March 2018, the FTC reached settlements with two of the other defendants (see InfoBytes coverage here). Litigation continues against the remaining defendants.
Earlier this fall, the HUD Office of Inspector General (HUD-OIG) published an annual report, which examines top management challenges facing the agency in 2019 and beyond. According to HUD-OIG, the six top challenges are a result of “critical unaddressed internal or external risks” that impede the success of HUD’s programs. Identified challenges impacting HUD’s performance relate to (i) the availability of safe, affordable housing; (ii) the ability to protect FHA’s mortgage insurance funds due to, among other things, a lack of sufficient safeguards, losses due to home equity conversion mortgages, increases in Ginnie Mae’s nonbank issuers, and emerging digital mortgage risks attributed to technology and information security problems; (iii) the inability to implement and institute adequate monitoring and oversight of its operations and program participants; (iv) identified inefficiencies in administering disaster recovery assistance; (v) a failure to modernize technology and properly oversee the information technology infrastructure, which leaves the agency vulnerable to data breaches; and (vi) the ability to institute sound financial management governance, internal controls, and systems due to a “lack of strong, consistent leadership over an extended period.” HUD-OIG states it will continue to identify challenges and assist in implementing solutions to remediate weaknesses.
On December 10, the CFPB announced the beta release of the new HMDA Platform. The beta version enables financial institutions to become familiar with the platform and permits entities to establish log-in credentials, upload sample files, validate data, and confirm their submissions of test data. Entities can test and retest throughout the beta period, and any test data will be removed from the system when the 2018 filing period opens on January 1, 2019. The announcement reminds institutions that in order to use the beta version of the HMDA Platform as well as to file HMDA data collected in 2018, financial institutions must have a Legal Entity Identifier (LEI) and that LEI must be recognized by the HMDA Platform in order to create a new account or test data with an existing account.
On December 6, Freddie Mac issued Bulletin 2018-25 (Bulletin), announcing temporary selling requirements for certain mortgages secured by properties located in identified zip codes that were impacted by the California wildfires. With respect to properties located in the eligible areas with a mortgage application date on or before November 12, 2018 and a note date on or before May 12, 2019, the Bulletin, among other things, provides (i) age of documentation requirements that will remain in effect for six months; (ii) specific collateral requirements and guidance; and (iii) seller reimbursement for certain property inspections.
CFPB’s latest fair lending report focuses on promoting fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory access to credit
On December 4, the CFPB issued its sixth fair lending report to Congress, which outlines the Bureau’s efforts in 2017. According to the report, in 2017, the Bureau continued to focus on promoting fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory access to credit, highlighting several fair lending priorities such as redlining, mortgage and student loan servicing, and small business lending. The report also addresses the Bureau’s risk-based prioritization approach to supervisory examinations and enforcement activity relating to underwriting, pricing, steering, servicing, and HMDA data integrity. Specifically, the report covers fair lending supervision and enforcement activities, guidance and rulemaking, and interagency coordination efforts, including (i) taking enforcement actions against a bank for alleged credit card lending discrimination, and a mortgage lender that allegedly failed to accurately report consumer application and loan data; (ii) issuing its first no-action letter to a company that uses alternative, non-traditional data and modeling techniques “to make credit and pricing decisions to support innovation and enable people with limited credit history, among others, to obtain credit or obtain credit on better terms”; (iii) collaborating with other federal banking regulators to issue, among other things, the “HMDA Examiner Transaction Testing Guidelines,” which present uniform guidelines for examiners when evaluating whether covered mortgage lenders are reporting accurate data; and (iv) communicating fair lending information to the public through various platforms. Notably, the report is silent regarding plans for upcoming fair lending activities in 2019, unlike previous reports that included future actions. (See InfoBytes coverage on the 2016 report here.)
On December 5, Freddie Mac released Guide Bulletin 2018-24 (Bulletin) announcing selling and servicing updates, including updates to the Single-Family Seller/Servicer Guide to reflect 2019 loan limit increases for both base conforming and super conforming mortgages. (As previously covered by InfoBytes, on November 27, the FHFA raised the maximum base conforming loan limits for mortgages purchased in 2019 by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.) The Bulletin notes that Freddie Mac’s Loan Quality Advisor and Loan Product Advisor have been updated to allow sellers to immediately begin evaluating and originating mortgages with these new loan amounts. However, the Bulletin states that qualifying mortgages may not be sold to Freddie Mac until on or after January 1, 2019.
Among other things, the Bulletin also provides (i) single security initiative updates; (ii) updates to 10-day pre-closing verification requirements for union members; (iii) revised master insurance policy requirements for unaffiliated condominium projects or planned unit developments; and (iv) updates for document custodian requirements.
On December 4, Fannie Mae issued SEL-2018-09, which announces updates to the Selling Guide, including a new self-employment income calculation tool and an updated policy for appraisal waivers for disasters. Specifically, the guide now addresses the use of an approved vendor tool to assist lenders in calculating self-employment income: Fannie Mae “will provide representation and warranty enforcement relief on the accuracy of the calculation of the amount of self-employment income” to lenders that use this tool and enter the income calculated into Fannie Mae’s Desktop Underwriter. Additionally, the guide now allows lenders to exercise appraisal waiver offers on loans in process at the time of a disaster. If a property was damaged during a disaster, but the damage does not affect the safety, soundness, or structural integrity of the property and the repair items are covered by insurance, the lender may still deliver the loan to Fannie Mae; however, the lender must obtain a cost estimate for the repair and ensure that funds are available to the borrower to guarantee the completion of the repairs. The appraisal waiver change is available starting on or after the weekend of December 8. Among other things, the updates also include changes to (i) commission income and unreimbursed business expenses; (ii) Desktop Underwriter Version 10.3; (iii) small business administration loans; and (iv) duplicative provisions regarding flood insurance coverage.
On December 4, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced that a New York foreclosure law firm and its wholly-owned affiliates—a process server and a title search company (defendants)—have agreed to pay $4.6 million to resolve False Claims Act allegations claiming that between 2009 and 2018 the defendants systematically generated false and inflated bills for foreclosure-related and eviction-related expenses and caused those expenses to be paid by Fannie Mae. The settlement also resolves claims arising from the same misconduct pertaining to eviction-related expenses that were submitted to and ultimately paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The DOJ alleges that the process server and title search company both added “additional charges to the costs charged by independent contractors and otherwise took actions that increased costs and expenses,” which were then submitted by the law firm for reimbursement. According to the DOJ, “[l]awyers are not above the law. For years, the [law firm] submitted bills to Fannie Mae and the VA that contained inflated and unnecessary charges. This Office will continue to hold accountable those who seek to achieve profits by fraudulent conduct.” The DOJ states that Fannie Mae’s Servicing Guide requires “all foreclosure costs and expenses be ‘actual, reasonable, and necessary,’ and that foreclosure law firms ‘must make every effort to reduce foreclosure-related costs and expenses in a manner that is consistent with all applicable laws.’”
The DOJ further notes that the defendants agreed to pay an additional $1,518,000 to resolve separate False Claims Act claims pursued by the whistleblower.
On December 6, the U.S. Senate confirmed, in a 50 to 49 vote, Kathy Kraninger as the new Director of the CFPB for a five year term. Kraninger replaces acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney, under whom she served at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as the associate director for general government. Prior to OMB, Kraninger worked at the Department of Homeland Security and in Congress on the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations. In July, Kraninger testified before the Senate Banking Committee where she fielded questions covering a range of topics and notably stated that, “Congress, through [the] Dodd-Frank Act, gave the Bureau incredible powers and incredible independence from both the president and the Congress in its structure. . . . My focus is on running the agency as Congress established it, but certainly working with members of Congress. I’m very open to changes in that structure that will make the agency more accountable and more transparent.” (Detailed coverage on Kraninger’s hearing available here.)
While her views on consumer financial protection issues are largely unknown, Kraninger is expected to continue with Mulvaney’s initiatives, at least in the near term. Currently, the Bureau is, among other things, (i) expected to release a proposed rule 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); (ii) fighting three constitutional challenges to its single-director structure (InfoBytes coverage here and here and here); and (iii) receiving pushback from state Attorneys General on its reported decisions to no longer supervising financial institutions for compliance with the Military Lending Act (MLA) and reexamine the requirements and enforcement of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) (covered by InfoBytes here and here).
In a press statement released shortly after the vote, Mulvaney praised the Senate for confirming Kraninger and spoke of his time as acting Director, “[t]his last year has been an important step in the history of the Bureau as we take our place among the most notable regulatory bodies of our country -- and frankly the world. Like all transitions, it was not always as smooth as we would've all liked, but the Bureau has emerged stronger for it.”
On December 3, the OCC released its Semiannual Risk Perspective for Fall 2018, identifying and reiterating key risk areas that pose a threat to the safety and soundness of national banks and federal savings associations. The report focuses on risks to the federal banking system based on five areas: the operating environment, bank performance, special topics in emerging risk, trends in key risks, and supervisory actions. Overall, loans and bank profitability grew in 2018 as the U.S. economy continued to grow. Moreover, recent examination findings indicate incremental improvements in banks’ general risk management practices. Specific risk areas of concern noted by the OCC include: (i) the origination quality of new loans and potential embedded risks from previously successive years of relaxed underwriting standards; (ii) an increasingly complex operating environment, including the continually evolving threat to cybersecurity; (iii) elevated money-laundering risks; and (iv) rising market interest rates, including certain risks associated with heightened competition for deposits.
The report also notes that outstanding enforcement actions continue to decline since peaking in 2010, which, according to the OCC, reflects an overall improvement in, among other things, banks’ risk management practices. The leading cause of current enforcement actions continues to be compliance or operational failures.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Trends in regulatory enforcement" at the American Bar Association Banking Law Committee Meeting
- Jessica L. Pollet to discuss "Your career is impacting your life..." at the Ark Group Women Legal Conference
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "Successors in interest updates" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Keeping your head above water in flood insurance compliance" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo