U.S. House of Representatives Passes Several Financial Regulatory Relief Bills, Including TRID Safe Harbor

On October 7, the U.S. House of Representatives (U.S. House) passed several pieces of bipartisan legislation aimed at providing regulatory relief to lenders and strengthening consumer protection. This legislation included H.R. 3192, the Homebuyers Assistance Act, which was approved by a 303-121 vote, which seeks to provide a formal four-month safe harbor for lenders who in “good faith” work to comply with the CFPB’s new TRID Rule, which went into effect on October 3.  The U.S. House also unanimously approved H.R. 1553, the Small Bank Exam Cycle Reform Act, and H.R. 1839, the Reforming Access for Investments in Startup Enterprises (RAISE) Act. The Small Bank Exam Cycle Reform Act would allow well-managed banks with assets under $1 billion to qualify for an 18-month examination cycle, rather than the current 12-month cycle. The RAISE Act is intended to promote a liquid secondary market for shareholders seeking to sell private securities and encourage startups and private companies to raise capital to grow their businesses. This legislation will now go to the U.S. Senate for consideration.


Spotlight on the Military Lending Act, Part 3: Falling in Line with MLA Compliance

Sasha-LeonhardtKirk-Jensen-webWith recent changes in the regulations implementing the Military Lending Act (“MLA”), creditors are now reevaluating their compliance plans to ensure they are prepared for the new regulations.  Although there is no formal guidance on what federal regulators will look for in reviewing MLA compliance, the commentary that accompanied both the proposed and final rule gives some insight as to where regulators will focus examination and enforcement resources.  Below, we discuss some of these likely areas of focus, and offer suggestions for how institutions can prepare for regulatory scrutiny.

Determining military service and MLA safe harbor provisions

The MLA only applies to a “covered borrower,” which is either a servicemember (as defined under the MLA) or a servicemember’s dependent.  The MLA provides two safe harbors to determine if a consumer is a covered borrower:  (1) a set of results from the DoD’s MLA database, or (2) a military status indicator in a consumer report.

Although both of these approaches are optional—and a creditor may use a different method to determine if an individual is eligible for MLA protection—they provide several benefits.  They are both determinative, so even if the borrower is in fact a servicemember a safe harbor check that shows otherwise will govern.  Both checks can also be done without
inconveniencing the consumer or requiring them to attest to their military status.

However, these safe harbor approaches are only effective if the results are actually retained by the creditor.  Since military status checks must be performed at origination, we recommend that the results of these checks be retained with the origination documents.  Not only does the outcome of the military status check determine the substantive terms of the actual credit obligation, but by keeping all of these documents together, a creditor can ensure that they have all of the governing origination documents are in a single, secure location. Read more…


DOJ Assistant Attorney General Stresses Public-Private Cooperation In the Event of a Cyber Breach

On September 30, U.S. Assistant Attorney General John Carlin delivered remarks at the 2015 Cybersecurity Summit hosted jointly by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Gaming Association. In his remarks, Carlin highlighted a variety of “tools,” including the use of sanctions, the DOJ may employ on individuals or entities that engage in malicious cyber-enabled activities against the U.S. Notably, Carlin discussed certain advantages for increased collaboration among the private sector and government to share information and best practices “to help defend against or disrupt [cyber] attacks before they happen or in real time,” adding that “law enforcement can also enlist the assistance of international partners to help retrieve stolen data or identify a perpetrator.” Concluding his remarks, Carlin urged companies to adopt a strong cybersecurity risk management program.


U.S. House Financial Services Committee Pass Several Financial Regulatory Bills Seeking Regulatory Relief and Stronger Consumer Protection

On September 30, the U.S. House Financial Services Committee approved five pieces of legislation aimed at strengthening consumer protection, providing regulatory relief to publicly traded companies, and seeking expanded oversight of the CFPB. Approved in an overwhelming 56-3 vote, H.R. 957, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection-Inspector General Reform Act of 2015, creates an independent Inspector General for the CFPB to be nominated by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The committee also passed H.R. 2769 in a 50-9 vote. The Risk-Based Capital Study Act of 2015 mandates the National Credit Union Administration to conduct a study of appropriate capital requirements for federal and state credit unions prior to new rules becoming effective.


Federal Banking Regulators Schedule EGRPRA Outreach Meeting in Chicago

On September 28, the Federal Reserve, the FDIC, and the OCC announced that the latest outreach meeting under the Economic Growth and Regulatory Paperwork Reduction Act (EGRPRA) will be held on October 10 in Chicago, Illinois. The meeting will feature panel presentations from industry insiders and consumer advocates. Senior officials from the Federal Reserve, OCC, and FDIC are also scheduled to attend. This meeting will be the fifth of six outreach meetings focused on identifying outdated or burdensome regulatory requirements imposed on financial institutions. The sixth and final meeting is expected to take place on December 2 in Washington, D.C. Previous InfoBytes coverage on EGRPRA can be found here.


FinCEN to Withdraw 2011 Proposed Rule Against Lebanon-Based Bank

On September 28, FinCEN announced its intention to withdraw its February 2011 Notice of Finding and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking identifying a Lebanon-based bank as a “financial institution of primary money laundering concern” under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act. The bank had been linked with Hezbollah and found to be involved in international narcotics and money laundering networks. Accordingly, through the Notice of Finding, FinCEN sought to impose certain “special measures” on the bank which are designed to, among other things, weaken foreign banks suspected of money laundering and financing terrorism, as well as protect American financial institutions. However, given that the bank’s license was revoked in September 2011 by Lebanon’s central bank, the Banque du Liban, and all of its assets were subsequently liquidated, the bank no longer exists as a foreign financial institution and, as such, is no longer subject to the prohibitions set forth in the proposed rule. The withdrawal of FinCEN’s Notice of Finding does not require a comment period and will be effective upon publication in the Federal Register.


Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Set to Resign at End of October

On September 25, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) issued a statement announcing that he will resign both his Speakership and congressional seat on October 30. No announcement has been made addressing who will replace Boehner as Speaker of the House.


Legislation Seeking Better Transparency in Federal Agency Settlements Passes Unanimously in U.S. Senate

On September 21, Senate Bill 1109, the Truth in Settlements Act, passed in the U.S. Senate with amendments by unanimous consent and has now been referred to the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for consideration. Originally introduced in January 2014 and sponsored by Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), the Truth in Settlements Act would require federal agencies to post online, in a searchable format, a list of each covered settlement agreement, criminal or civil, with payments totaling $1 million or more. The list would entail, among other things, (i) the names of the settling parties and the amount each must pay; (ii) a description of the claims each party settled; (iii) whether a portion of the settlement amount is tax-deductible; and (iv) any actions the settling parties must take under the settlement agreement in lieu of payment. If enacted, the bill would require agencies to publicly explain via written statement why confidentiality is justified for certain instances. The bill, co-sponsored by Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), aims to provide greater transparency and oversight regarding settlements reached by federal enforcement agencies.


NYDFS Approves Virtual Currency Firm’s Application: First Company to Receive BitLicense

On September 22, NYDFS Acting Superintendent Anthony Albanese announced that the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) granted its first BitLicense from its current applicant pool. In June 2015, the NYDFS finalized the BitLicense framework, requiring existing virtual currency companies to apply by August 10. Via blog post, the first licensee acknowledged receiving the license. To date, the NYDFS has received 25 BitLicense applications and, according to Albanese, “will continue to move forward on evaluating and approving additional BitLicenses.”


OFAC Updates Cuban Assets Control Regulations Easing Sanctions on Cuba

On September 18, OFAC issued a final rule amending the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) to reflect policy changes previously announced by the Obama administration. With respect to financial transactions, the amendments, among other things, (i) permit certain additional persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to open and maintain bank accounts in Cuba to use for authorized purposes; (ii) removes limitations on donative remittances to Cuban nationals, on certain authorized remittances that authorized travelers may carry to Cuba, and on the amount of remittances that a Cuban national permanently resident in Cuba who is departing from the U.S. may carry to Cuba; (iii) adds a new general license authorizing remittances from Cuba and Cuban nationals to the United States; (iv) adds a new general license authorizing the unblocking and return of certain previously blocked remittances and funds transfers in certain circumstances; and (v) authorizes U.S. depository institutions to maintain accounts for Cuban nationals while the Cuban-national account holder is located outside the United States, provided that the account holder may only access the account while lawfully present in the United States, and removes a cap on payments from blocked accounts held by Cuban nationals in the United States in a nonimmigrant status to use for living expenses. The amendments also relax restrictions previously set forth in the telecommunications and internet sector, on travel between the U.S. and Cuba, and other various activities. Revisions to the CACR take effect on September 21, 2015.

At the same time, OFAC published a set of new and revised FAQs addressing the changes set forth in the updated CACR.


State Banking Regulators Issue Model Regulatory Framework for Virtual Currency Activities

On September 15, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) issued its Model Regulatory Framework for State Regulation of Certain Virtual Currency Activities (Model Framework). The CSBS Emerging Payments Task Force developed the Model Framework to assist states in licensing and regulating virtual currency activities. The Model Framework includes key components to a regulatory scheme that the CSBS hopes will protect consumers and the larger marketplace while facilitating innovation. It also defines virtual currency and describes specifically covered virtual currency activities, such as those involving third-party controls of virtual currency. Additionally, the Model Framework provides flexibility in denominating permissible investments, tailoring cybersecurity audits to a company’s business model, and includes an addition to the BSA/AML Compliance section that recommends that states require verification of an entity’s service users and account holders. The Model Framework also includes a supervision component that requires the establishment of policies and procedures that protect customer access to funds in the event of an institutional failure.

The Model Regulatory Framework for State Regulation of Certain Virtual Activities can be seen here.


NYDFS Reaches Agreements with Four Banks on New Symphony Chat & Messaging Platform

On September 14, the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) announced that it had reached agreements with four financial institutions on record-keeping requirements and other protections intended to help ensure the institutions’ responsible use of the new Symphony Communications LLC (Symphony) chat and messaging platform. NYDFS had recently expressed concerns that certain Symphony features, such as its promise of “Guaranteed Data Deletion,” could hinder regulatory investigations on Wall Street. Under the agreements, Symphony will retain for seven years a copy of all electronic communications sent through its platforms to or from the four banks, and the banks will store duplicate copies of the decryption keys for their messages with independent custodians.


New York AG Settles with Community Bank over Redlining Allegations

On September 10, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a settlement agreement with a New York-based community bank to resolve allegations that the bank engaged in discriminatory mortgage lending practices by excluding potential borrowers who resided in predominantly African-American neighborhoods in the Buffalo area. Under terms of the agreement, the bank agreed to revise its consumer and commercial lending policies to eliminate minimum mortgage amount requirements, provide fair lending training, to expand its lending footprint into previously excluded areas, and to establish an $825,000 fund to promote new homeownership and affordable housing opportunities.


Banking Trade Associations Urge Senate Leaders to Pass Regulatory Relief Legislation for Community Institutions

On September 8, four trade associations representing 14,000 financial institutions – the American Bankers Association, the Credit Union National Association, the Independent Community Bankers of America, and the National Association of Federal Credit Unions – submitted a letter to Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby and Ranking Member Sherrod Brown urging them to enact bipartisan legislation that would provide “regulatory relief to community financial institutions.” The letter describes the measures that community banks have been forced to make to address the “growing volume and complexity of regulations,” including cutting back on their loan officers ranks in favor of additional compliance staff and adjusting or eliminating financial products and services offered to consumers. The letter urges the Senate to pass the Financial Regulatory Improvement Act of 2015, S. 1484, which was approved by the Senate Banking Committee in May. This legislation, the letter claims, will “addresses statutory and regulatory obstacles that thwart the ability of community banks and credit unions to fully serve the diverse financial services needs of consumers.”


Pennsylvania Regulator Addresses Cybersecurity

On September 8, Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities’ Secretary Robin Wiessmann issued a letter to Pennsylvania state-chartered, licensed, and registered financial services institutions and companies regarding the Department’s cybersecurity efforts to “prevent and defend against cyberattacks, reduce vulnerability, minimize damage and recover times, and promote awareness and education.” The letter encourages such entities to (i) develop cybersecurity attack prevention and mitigation plans; (ii) identify their cybersecurity vulnerabilities; (iii) evaluate the means necessary to protect their networks and data; (iv) conduct regular vulnerability assessments and penetration tests of their networks; (v) encrypt customer and investor data; (vi) ensure their operating systems are up-to-date; (vii) frequently update and utilize anti-virus software; and (viii) train and evaluate their staff and vendors, as well as educate their customers, regarding cybersecurity risks. In addition to reminding the Department’s regulated financial institutions and companies of the FFIEC’s June 30 release of a self-assessment tool designed to help evaluate cybersecurity risk, the letter also urges such entities to review the SEC’s April 2015 cybersecurity guidance, which identifies cybersecurity “best practices” for registered investment companies and registered investment advisers.

In a separate September 8 press release, the Department announced the formation of a Cybersecurity Task Force. Comprised of regulatory, legal, and information technology staff, the task force is one of the first created by a state financial regulator to provide financial service companies with resources to address cybersecurity issues.