Skip to main content
Menu Icon Menu Icon

InfoBytes Blog

Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.

  • DOJ Announces Redlining Enforcement Action against Community Bank


    On January 15, the Department of Justice (DOJ)  announced that it reached a settlement with a Michigan community bank regarding alleged redlining practices. In its complaint, the DOJ charged that between 2006 and 2009, the bank served the credit needs of white neighborhoods in the Saginaw and Flint, Michigan metropolitan areas to a significantly greater extent than it served the credit needs of majority African-American neighborhoods. Under the terms of the consent order, the bank is required to open a loan production office in an African-American neighborhood in Saginaw, invest $75,000 in a special financing program to increase the amount of credit the bank extends to majority African-American neighborhoods in and around Saginaw, invest $75,000 in partnerships with organizations that provide credit, financial, homeownership, and/or foreclosure prevention services to the residents of those neighborhoods, and invest $15,000 in outreach that promotes the bank’s products and services to potential customers in those neighborhoods.

    Fair Lending DOJ Enforcement Redlining

    Share page with AddThis
  • Federal Regulators Announce BSA/AML and Derivatives Trading Enforcement Actions Against Large Bank.

    Consumer Finance

    On January 14, the Federal Reserve Board and the OCC issued two consent orders against a large international bank and its trust company over alleged deficiencies in its Bank Secrecy Act and Anti-Money Laundering (BSA/AML) compliance programs. Under the Federal Reserve Board Order, the bank is required to conduct a full review of its compliance program and submit written reports to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York regarding the review’s findings and recommendations. Any proposed improvements are subject to approval by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The OCC Order identifies “critical deficiencies” in the bank’s BSA/AML compliance programs with respect to suspicious activity reporting, transaction monitoring, customer due diligence, and internal control implementation and requires specific corrective actions in response. Neither order requires a civil money penalty. On the same day, the Federal Reserve Board and the OCC issued consent orders concerning the bank’s derivatives trading activity. Under those orders, the bank must take corrective action as to its risk-management program, finance and internal audit functions, and Chief Investment Office, but the orders do not include a monetary settlement. The Federal Reserve Board stated that the corrective actions are necessary in light of disclosed, significant losses in a large synthetic credit portfolio managed by the Chief Investment Office. An OCC report found that the bank lacked adequate oversight to protect itself from such material risk, and had other inadequate risk management processes, trade valuation controls, and audit processes.

    Federal Reserve OCC Anti-Money Laundering Bank Secrecy Act

    Share page with AddThis
  • Retail Customers Obtain Unusually Favorable Settlement in Zip Code Collection Case


    On January 11, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California approved a settlement between a retailer and a class of customers to resolve allegations that the retailer violated the California Song-Beverly Credit Card Act by collecting customer zip codes as part of credit card purchase transactions and storing that information in a customer databases. Burdewick v. Kohl’s Dep’t Stores, Inc., No. 12-119, Final Order and Judgment (Jan. 11, 2013). The settlement is the most recent in a series following the California Supreme Court’s 2011 decision in Pineda v. Williams-Sonoma Stores Inc. that zip codes constitute "personal identification information" under the Act. In this case, class members can submit claims to obtain a gift card from a common $650,000 fund. The exact amount of the gift card will depend upon the number of valid claims, but actual payments are expected to far exceed the $10-$20 amounts typically provided by most similar settlements to date. Moreover, the settlement places no restriction on the use or transferability of the cards. The court also approved a $215,000 award to class counsel, and a $7,500 incentive award to the class representative.

    Song-Beverly Credit Card Act Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security

    Share page with AddThis
  • State Law Update: Michigan Amends Rental-Purchase Agreement Act

    Consumer Finance

    Last month, Michigan enacted HB 5892, which makes several amendments to the state’s Rental-Purchase Agreement Act. Effective January 3, 2013, a lessor is prohibited from requiring numerous fees, including (i) any processing fee, (ii) a periodic payment or late fee for a rental period beginning after the lessee has returned or surrendered the leased property to the lessor or the lessor’s agent, and (iii) any charge or fee for reinstatement of the rental-purchase agreement in addition to or in excess of those expressly permitted by the Act. The bill also revised the conditions under which a lessee who fails to make timely periodic payments may reinstate a rental-purchase agreement without losing any rights or options. The bill included a revised sample rental-purchase agreement form to reflect the enacted changes.

    Auto Finance

    Share page with AddThis
  • President Signs Video Privacy Protection Act Amendments


    On January 10, President Obama signed H.R. 6671, which amends the Video Privacy Protection Act to facilitate compliance for modern video service providers. The Act was originally passed in 1988 to limit the disclosure of information about consumers’ “video tape rental or sales records,” and its application to certain modern video service providers (e.g. Netflix) is not clear. The amendments allow such providers to obtain consumer consent to disclosure through electronic means using the Internet. Such consent must be in a form distinct and separate from any form setting forth other legal or financial obligations of the consumer. Consumers can provide consent in advance, but not for more than two years or until consent is withdrawn by the consumer, and service providers must provide an opportunity for the consumer to withdraw consent on a case-by-case basis or to withdraw from ongoing disclosures, at the consumer's election.

    Electronic Signatures Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security

    Share page with AddThis
  • OFAC Issues Advisory on Efforts to Evade Iran Sanctions

    Consumer Finance

    On January 10, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued an advisory to highlight practices being used to evade sanctions on Iran, including the use of third-country exchange houses or trading companies that are acting as money transmitters to process funds transfers through the United States in support of unauthorized business with Iran. According to the advisory, the transactions at issue omit references to Iranian addresses and omit the names of Iranian persons or entities in the originator or beneficiary fields. Funds are then transmitted from an exchange house or trading company located in a third country to or through the United States on behalf of an individual or company located in Iran or on behalf of a U.S.-designated person without referencing the involvement of Iran or the designated persons. OFAC urged U.S. financial institutions to (i) monitor payments involving the third-country exchange house or trading company that may be processing commercial transactions related to Iran, and requesting additional information from correspondents on the nature of such transactions and the parties involved, (ii) conduct account and/or transaction reviews for individual exchange houses or  trading companies that have repeatedly violated or attempted to violate U.S. sanctions against Iran, and (iii) contact their correspondents that maintain accounts for, or facilitate transactions on behalf of, a third-country exchange house or trading company that engages in any of the practices identified in the advisory.

    Sanctions OFAC

    Share page with AddThis
  • Two California Appellate Courts Invalidate Auto Installment Contract Arbitration Clauses

    Consumer Finance

    Recently, the California Court of Appeals for the First and Second Appellate Districts affirmed lower court orders denying two automobile dealerships’ petitions to compel arbitration, holding that the arbitration clause in the vehicle retail installment sales contracts (RISC) was procedurally and substantively unconscionable. Norton v. Ford of Santa Monica, B237273, 2012 WL 6721400 (Cal. Ct. App. Dec. 28, 2012); Natalini v. Import Motors, Inc., A133236, 2013 WL 64611 (Cal. Ct. App. Jan. 7, 2013). Both trial courts rejected the dealerships’ motions to compel arbitration of complaints alleging multiple causes of action, including violations of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, Automobile Sales Finance Act, and Business and Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices Act, holding that the arbitration clauses in the RISCs were unconscionable. On appeal, the courts agreed that the arbitration provisions were substantively unconscionable because they were systematically structured to provide only the dealer a right and opportunity to appeal and, because the arbitration agreement provided no fee waiver for the consumer, the financial ramifications of the clause favored the corporate dealership over the individual consumer. Both courts also held that the arbitration clauses were procedurally unconscionable because they contained elements of surprise, with the First Appellate District also holding that the RISC contained elements of oppression since the contract was one of adhesion. Applying a “sliding scale” to the relative importance of each element, the courts found the arbitration clauses sufficiently substantively and procedurally unconscionable and upheld the trial courts’ denial of the dealerships’ petitions to compel arbitration.

    Arbitration Auto Finance

    Share page with AddThis
  • Special Alert: CFPB Issues Final Ability-to-Repay / Qualified Mortgage Rule


    On January 10, the CFPB issued its keenly awaited final "Ability-to-Repay" rule under Regulation Z that will require lenders to verify a consumer's ability to repay a mortgage loan as required by Sections 1411 and 1412 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. This rule will become effective on January 10, 2014. Concurrently, the CFPB released a proposal seeking comment on amendments to the final rule. Together, the releases containing the final and concurrent proposed rules total almost 1,000 pages. This alert highlights some key issues that the releases resolve and leave open; we will send a summary of the releases with additional analysis of the key issues once we have had more time to review.

    Because of the severe penalties established by Congress for violating the "Ability to Repay" requirements - a borrower in foreclosure can assert a violation against the creditor or assignee seeking up to three years of finance charges paid on the loan - the key definitions and exemptions established by the rule are expected to greatly influence the availability and cost of residential mortgage credit for years to come.

    The statute defines a subset of mortgage loans to be "Qualified Mortgages" (or QMs), which would be more difficult for consumers to challenge on ability-to-repay grounds. The rule resolves three of the major policy debates surrounding the QM concept, as discussed below, but leaves open many related matters:

    • Whether the QM definition should be objective (and thus easier to determine compliance with up front but more rigid in application to individual borrowers) or subjective (creating more of a compliance challenge but allowing for more individualized determinations)

      • The rule takes the more objective path, using as its underwriting criteria (i) a numerical standard of 43% debt to income (DTI) ratio as the QM cut-off or, alternatively, for the time being, (ii) eligibility for purchase, guarantee or insurance by the GSEs or Federal agencies. (This alternative to the 43% cut-off will become unavailable after seven years or, if earlier and as applicable, until the Federal agencies write their own qualified mortgage rules or the GSE conservatorships end.) Note that jumbo loans, by definition, could not qualify under the GSE/Federal agency alternative; thus, they will have to be made at a 43% DTI just to pass the QM underwriting test.

    • Whether the QM definition should encompass much of the market or be limited to the very top end of the market

      • The definition clearly includes much of the market. The underwriting criteria described above would make well over 90% of the current residential mortgage marketplace QM eligible. How many of those loans would also pass the separate "points and fees" test for QM (discussed below) is an open question, however.

    • Whether QM status would provide a "safe harbor" from liability under the requirements or merely a "rebuttable presumption" that the loan meets the ability-to-repay requirements

      • The rule provides a safe harbor for loans with APRs below the "higher-priced" threshold of 150 basis points over the Average Prime Offer Rate (APOR), and a "rebuttable presumption" for loans with an APR above that threshold.

    The expansive underwriting criteria adopted in the final rule for QMs will place relatively more importance on the separate QM requirement that points and fees be limited to 3% of the loan amount. Indeed, to many observers, the components of that cap present the most significant unresolved issues in the rule. The final rule includes in the 3% cap both (i) direct and indirect loan originator compensation, as well as (ii) closing charges paid to affiliated settlement providers such as a lender-owned title company.

    The inclusion of those items in the 3% cap will place a lot of stress on mortgage brokers and wholesale lending business models (and the brokers that send applications to those lenders) and on the use of affiliates. By including these items in the 3% cap, there will be little room for upfront lender charges. At least on the issue of indirect loan originator compensation, however, the Bureau has shown some potential flexibility by raising the matter in the concurrent proposal.

    CFPB TILA Dodd-Frank Mortgage Origination Qualified Mortgage

    Share page with AddThis
  • California AG Issues Mobile Application Privacy Recommendations


    On January 10, California Attorney General Kamala Harris (AG) issued recommended privacy practices for mobile application developers, mobile application platform providers, mobile advertising networks, operating system developers, and mobile carriers. The AG recommends a “surprise minimization” approach, which could include measures to (i) avoid collecting personally identifiable data that are not needed for basic functionality, (ii) make an app’s general privacy policy easy to understand and available before download, and (iii) supplement a legally required general privacy policy with enhanced measures to alert users and give them control over data practices that are not related to an application’s basic functionality or that involve sensitive information.  Supplemental policies could include “special notices” delivered in context and “just-in-time,” or short privacy statements made readily available within an application and that highlight potentially unexpected practices and allow users to make privacy choices. The issuance of the recommendations is the latest action by the AG as part of a broader privacy initiative and follows the state’s first mobile application privacy suit filed last month.

    State Attorney General Mobile Commerce Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security

    Share page with AddThis
  • CFPB Issues Final Ability to Repay/Qualified Mortgage Rule and High-Cost Mortgage Rules


    On January 10, the CFPB issued the final version of a rule that will require creditors to verify a consumer’s ability to repay prior to making a consumer credit transaction secured by a dwelling. The rule defines a “qualified mortgage,” providing a safe harbor from liability for loans with an APR below Regulation Z's “higher-priced” threshold of 150 basis points above the Average Prime Offer Rate, and a “rebuttable presumption” for loans with an APR above that threshold. The rule will become effective on January 10, 2014. Concurrently, the CFPB released a proposal seeking comment on amendments to the final rule that would, among other things, provide exemptions for certain community-based lenders and small portfolio creditors and potentially change the treatment of indirect lender compensation for purposes of the qualified mortgage "points and fees" test. BuckleySandler has prepared a Special Alert that highlights a few key issues resolved and left open by the nearly 1,000-page releases on the rule and concurrent proposal. We will distribute a summary and additional analysis of key issues in the releases once we complete our review of them.

    Also on January 10, the CFPB issued two final rules related to high-cost mortgages. The first rule amends Regulation Z to implement changes to TILA made by the Dodd-Frank Act that lengthen the time for which a mandatory escrow account established for a higher-priced mortgage loan must be maintained. This rule also exempts certain transactions from the statute’s escrow requirement. The second rule, which also amends Regulation Z  to incorporate Dodd-Frank Act statutory changes, expands the types of mortgage loans that are subject to the protections of the Home Ownership and Equity Protections Act of 1994 (HOEPA), revises and expands the tests for coverage under HOEPA, and imposes additional restrictions on mortgages that are covered by HOEPA, including a pre-loan counseling requirement. This rule also amends Regulation Z and Regulation X to require, among other things, that lenders provide borrowers information about homeownership counseling providers. BuckleySandler is reviewing these rules and will soon provide additional information.

    TILA Mortgage Origination HOEPA Qualified Mortgage Escrow

    Share page with AddThis