Congress Seeks Answers from Bank CEO and Federal Bank Regulators

On September 20, the CEO of a major national bank faced questions from the House Financial Services Committee over consumer account practices uncovered during a recent enforcement action by the CFPB. The CEO will return to Capitol Hill on September 29 for additional testimony in front of the Committee. In addition, the Director of the CFPB and the Comptroller of the Currency faced scrutiny from the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs on their agencies awareness of, and failure to prohibit, the bank’s alleged actions for more than two years. In prepared testimony, Director Cordray indicated that the civil penalty levied against the bank was the “largest fine by far that the Consumer Bureau has imposed on any financial company to date” calling it a “dramatic amount as compared to the actual financial harm to consumers” but also “justified here by the outrageous and abusive nature of these fraudulent practices on such an enormous scale.” Director Cordray further stated that this enforcement action should help clarify how the CFPB will continue to analyze and enforce the prohibition on “abusive” practices under its mandate.  Meanwhile Comptroller Curry explained how this enforcement action demonstrates the complimentary roles played by the OCC and the CFPB in supervising bank practices.

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Bill to Change SIFI Determination Postponed

The House of Representatives delayed discussion of HR 1309, the Systemic Risk Designation Improvement Act, in an effort to give the bill’s sponsor Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) additional time to propose a method to fund the estimated $115 million cost of implementing the changes in regulatory oversight. The increased oversight costs stem, in part, from provisions in the bill that would require closer involvement by the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) in determining whether a bank holding company is a Systemically Important Financial Institution (SIFI), and thus subject to enhanced supervision and macro-prudential standards by the Federal Reserve. Under the current law, originating from Title I of the Dodd-Frank Act, the FSOC looks only to whether the bank holding company has $50 billion in assets. Whereas under HR 1309, the FSOC would also factor whether a bank was subject to material financial distress, as well as the nature, scope, size, scale, concentration, interconnectedness or mix of the bank’s activities in making the SIFI designation.

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Federal Court Denies FinCEN’s Second Attempt to Ban Foreign Bank

On September 21, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia stayed enforcement of FinCEN’s second attempt to cut off a Tanzania-based bank’s access to the U.S. banking system. The dispute originated from FinCEN’s attempt to prohibit domestic financial institutions from opening or maintaining correspondent accounts on behalf of the foreign bank under the authority of Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT ACT, which authorizes FinCEN take special measures against banks of primary money laundering concern. FinCEN first promulgated a final rule imposing the prohibition in July 2015, which was enjoined by the court in August, 2015. FinCEN agreed to a voluntary remand to correct deficiencies in its rulemaking process, such as providing the bank access to declassified information and considering the use of less drastic measures to address its concerns. In March 2016, FinCEN promulgated a revised final rule in which it indicated that the bank’s AML compliance remained inadequate and that the bank continued to engage in “illicit financial activity.” Upon a second review, the court again found that FinCEN had failed to adequately disclose declassified information to the bank prior to releasing the revised final rule, and did not properly respond to other of the bank’s concerns. In addition, the court was not satisfied that FinCEN had made the required consultations with other executive-branch agencies as required by statute.

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House Financial Services Committee Approves Financial CHOICE Act

On September 13, the House Financial Services Committee approved by a 30-26 vote the Financial CHOICE Act, Congressman Jeb Hensarling’s (R-TX) legislative replacement to the Dodd-Frank Act. In his opening remarks, Hensarling claimed that the bill aims to end bailouts, support economic growth, and provide regulatory relief to community banks. House Democrats did not offer amendments to the bill, although many expressed adamant disapproval. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) claimed that the “deeply disturbing” legislation “would take us back to the regulatory stone age.” Various Democrats referenced the CFPB’s recent enforcement action against a national bank to argue that the Financial CHOICE Act’s attempt to remove the CFPB’s authority over abusive practices was one of many reasons to oppose the bill. Democrats unanimously voted against the legislation, while all but one Republican, Congressman Bruce Poliquin (R-ME), voted in favor of moving the legislation forward.

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OCC Comptroller Curry Addresses Regulatory Concern Related to Fintech Industry; Outlines Possible Fintech Charter

On September 13, OCC Comptroller Curry delivered remarks at the Marketplace Lending Policy Summit, an inaugural event during which policy implications and regulatory concerns prevalent in the marketplace lending industry were discussed. Similar to past reports and remarks about marketplace lending, Curry expressed concern that the underwriting and business models used by the industry have yet to go through a complete credit cycle: “A less favorable credit cycle will test this business in ways it hasn’t yet experienced, and how sources of funding will hold up under stress remains to be seen.” In addition, drawing attention to the “long-term performance” issues related to marketplace lending, Curry posed the following inquiries: (i) whether new credit underwriting technologies and algorithms comply with existing laws and regulations, such as the Equal Credit Opportunity Act; (ii) whether existing laws, such as the Community Reinvestment Act, should be “amended radically” to ensure that consumers are sufficiently protected against nonbank lenders; (iii) whether an entirely new regulation or law is needed to “protect the public’s interest or prevent risk to the broader financial system”; and (iv) whether innovation itself should be regulated, and, if so, by which primary regulator(s). Notably, Comptroller Curry revealed that the OCC is in the process of developing a potential federal “fintech charter,” a framework that is expected to be released this fall. Comptroller Curry emphasized that, if the OCC grants limited-purpose fintech charters, institutions receiving the charters “will be held to the same strict standards of safety, soundness, and fairness that other federally chartered institutions must meet.”

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