CFPB Initiative Results in Free Access to Credit Scores, Agency Pledges to Increase Credit Reporting Enforcement Authority

One year after launching an initiative to improve consumer access to credit reporting information, the CFPB announced on February 19 that at least 50 million Americans now have the ability to directly and freely access their credit scores. As a result of the CFPB’s credit score initiative, over a dozen major credit card issuers have elected to provide free credit reports to their cardholders, and more issuers are expected to follow suit. The initiative was launched to emphasize the significance of monitoring credit scores and to make it easier for consumers to keep themselves informed. CFPB Director Richard Cordray applauded the agency’s efforts to increase transparency in this arena in his prepared remarks for Thursday’s Consumer Advisory Board Meeting, stating that improving both the accessibility and accuracy of credit reports is vital to consumers and credit providers alike. Cordray also alluded that the CFPB intends to leverage its enforcement authority to more closely regulate the credit reporting industry, thereby placing creditors, debt collectors, and other businesses that furnish consumer credit information on high alert. “Using our supervision and enforcement authorities,” Cordray said, “we are already bringing significant new improvements to the credit reporting system − and we are only getting started.”

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CFPB Deputy Director Discusses How the CFPB Prioritizes Its Risk-Focused Supervision Program

On February 18, Steven Antonakes, Deputy Director of the CFPB, delivered remarks before the Exchequer Club of Washington, D.C. regarding the CFPB’s risk-focused supervision program. In his remarks, Antonakes identified two key differences that distinguish the CFPB from other regulatory agencies: (i) there is a “focus on risks to consumers rather than risks to institutions;” and (ii) examinations are conducted by product line rather than an “institution-centric approach.” Antonakes further stated that the agency uses field and market intelligence, which includes both qualitative and quantitative factors for each product line, such as the strength of compliance management systems, findings from CFPB’s prior examinations, the existence of other regulatory actions, the consumer complaints received, and metrics gathered from public reports, to adequately assess risks to consumers from an institution’s activity in any given market. After the review period, an institution will receive a “roll-up examination report” or a “supervisory plan,” depending on size, that will summarize the findings of the review. If corrective action is warranted, a review committee will assess violation-focused factors, institution-focused factors, and policy-focused factors to determine whether the examination should be resolved through a supervisory action or a public enforcement action.

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OCC “Deposit-Related Consumer Credit” Booklet of Comptroller’s Handbook to be Amended

On February 20, the OCC announced that it would be removing the “Deposited-Related Consumer Credit” booklet, originally issued on February 11, from its website. The OCC’s February 11 booklet seemingly required banks to change overdraft protection services, however the agency has since stated that the booklet was not intended to establish new policy. According to the OCC’s website, the agency will “[revise] the booklet to clarify and restate the existing law, rules, and policy.” When the OCC releases its amended version of the booklet, we will update the February 16 Special Alert to reflect the agency’s modifications.

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SEC Chair Reveals Rulemaking Initiatives for 2015

On February 20, SEC Chair Mary Jo White delivered remarks regarding the agency’s 2014 accomplishments, including transformative rulemakings and enforcement, and its 2015 objectives. With respect to rulemaking, White outlined three specific areas that the SEC intends to enhance in 2015: (i) reforming market structure; (ii) risk monitoring of the asset manager industry; and (iii) raising capital for smaller companies. She stated the SEC is reviewing the current market structure and operations of the U.S. equity markets and working to “enhance the transparency of alternative trading system operations, expand investor understanding of broker routing decisions, address the regulatory status of active proprietary traders, and mitigate market stability concerns through a targeted anti-disruptive trading rule.” White described the SEC’s current asset management industry as “increasingly complex,” and noted that the SEC is reviewing three sets of recommendations to address this complexity and is paying “particular attention to the activities of asset managers.” Finally, White stated that the SEC will focus on implementing Regulation A+ and crowdfunding, both mandates of the JOBS Act, to assist smaller issuers with raising capital.

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FDIC Study: Branch Banking Still Prevalent Despite Increase in Online and Mobile Banking

On February 19, the FDIC released a study showing that brick-and-mortar banking offices continue to be the principal means through which banks deliver services to customers, despite increased growth in the use of online and mobile banking. The study found that four main factors have contributed to the changes in the number and distribution of banking offices since 1935: (i) population growth and geographic shifts in population; (ii) banking crises; (iii) legislative changes to branching laws; and (iv) technological innovation and increased use of electronic banking. Notwithstanding the increase of online and mobile banking, the study found that visiting brick-and-mortar banking offices continues to be the most common way for customers to access their accounts and obtain financial services.

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Federal Banking Agencies Seek Comment on Proposed Market Risk Regulatory Report

On February 18, three federal banking agencies – the Federal Reserve Board, OCC, and FDIC – issued a joint notice seeking public comments on a proposed information collection form and its reporting requirements, FFIEC 102 – “Market Risk Regulatory Report for Institutions Subject to the Market Risk Capital Rule.” If finalized, market risk institutions will be required to file the proposed FFIEC 102 to allow the agencies to, among other things, assess “the reasonableness and accuracy of the institution’s calculation of its minimum capital requirements . . . and . . . the institution’s capital in relation to its risks.” The proposed FFIEC 102 sets forth reporting instructions for financial institutions to which the market risk capital rule applies, and specifies that reporting requirements would take effect starting March 31, 2015. Comments to the proposal must be submitted on or before March 20.

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U.S. Marshals to Auction 50,000 Bitcoins Seized During Investigation of Silk Road Operator

On February 18, the U.S. Marshals Service announced that it will auction 50,000 bitcoins seized from wallet files found on computer hardware belonging to Ross Ulbricht, who was recently convicted in connection with his operation and ownership of Silk Road, a website that functioned as a criminal marketplace for illegal goods and services. The auction is scheduled for March 5. On February 4, a federal jury in the Southern District of New York found Ulbricht guilty on seven federal charges. In the court’s January 27, 2014 Stipulation and Order for Interlocutory Sale of Bitcoins, the Federal Government and Ulbricht agreed that “the Computer Hardware Bitcoins [were] to be liquidated or sold by the Government…”

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FinCEN Fines Atlantic City Casino $10 Million for AML Deficiencies

Earlier this month, an Atlantic City-based casino was fined $10 million for violating the BSA – more specifically, for failing to (i) create and implement an adequate anti-money laundering program; (ii) establish an effective system of internal controls; and (iii) adequately file currency transaction reports or maintain other required records. Many of the violations that occurred in 2010 through 2012 were previously identified by regulators and brought to the attention of the casino. The federal government will not collect the $10 million civil penalty, but will receive an unsecured claim in the casino’s bankruptcy, pending approval from the bankruptcy judge.

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FDIC Releases Final Technical Assistance Video to Cover Mortgage Servicing Rules

On February 13, the FDIC released the third and final technical assistance video intended to assist bank employees to comply with certain mortgage rules issued by the CFPB. The final video addresses the Mortgage Servicing Rules and the “Small Servicer” exemption. The first video, released on November 19, 2014, covered the ATR/QM Rule, and the second video, released on January 27, covered the Loan Originator Compensation Rule.

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U.S. House Representatives Reintroduce Bill to Create Independent IG Position at CFPB

On February 12, Congressmen Steve Stivers (R-OH) and Tim Walz (D-MN) re-introduced the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection-Inspector General Act of 2015, legislation that would create an independent IG position at the CFPB. The IG position would be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Currently, the CFPB and the Federal Reserve share an IG. The proposed legislation is intended to increase congressional oversight over the CFPB, which has been given “broad authority” to fulfill its mission to protect consumers.

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CFPB Takes Action Against Mortgage Companies for Deceptive Advertising

On February 12, the CFPB announced a civil suit against a Maryland-based mortgage company and consent orders with two additional mortgage companies headquartered in Utah and California for allegedly misleading consumers with advertisements implying U.S. government approval of their products in violation of the Mortgage Acts and Practices Advertising Rule (MAP Rule or Regulation N) of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). In its complaint against the Maryland-based mortgage company, the CFPB alleges that the company’s reverse mortgage advertisements appeared as if they were U.S. government notices. Further, the CFPB claims that the company misrepresented whether monthly payments or repayments could be required and that there was a scheduled expiration date or deadline for the FHA-insured reverse mortgage program. The CFPB is seeking a civil fine and permanent injunction to prevent future violations with respect to the Maryland company. Similarly, the CFPB alleges that the Utah-based mortgage company disseminated direct-mail mortgage loan advertisements that improperly suggested that the lender was, or was affiliated with the FHA or VA, including that the company was “HUD approved” when it was not. The Utah company was ordered to pay a $225,000 civil penalty. In the separate consent order with the California-based mortgage company, the CFPB alleges that the lender’s mailings contained an FHA-approved lending institution logo and a website address that implied the advertisements were from, or affiliated with, the U.S. government, and were therefore deceptive and in violation of the CFPA. The company was ordered to pay an $85,000 civil penalty. In addition to civil penalties, each consent order requires the mortgage companies to submit a compliance plan to the CFPB and comply with specified record keeping, reporting, and compliance monitoring requirements.

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CFPB Orders Nonbank Mortgage Lender to Pay $2 Million Penalty for Deceptive Advertising and Kickbacks

On February 10, the CFPB announced a consent order with a Maryland-based nonbank mortgage lender, ordering the lender to pay a $2 million civil money penalty, in part for allegedly failing to disclose its financial relationship with a veteran’s organization to consumers. According to the consent order, the CFPB alleged that the lender, whose primary business is originating refinance mortgage loans guaranteed by the VA, paid a veteran’s organization a fee to be named the “exclusive lender” of the organization and that failing to disclose this relationship in marketing materials targeted to the organization’s members constituted a deceptive act or practice under the Dodd-Frank Act. The CFPB further alleged that, because the veteran’s organization urged its members to use the lender’s products in direct mailings from the lender, call center referrals, and through the organization’s website, the monthly “licensing fee” and “lead generation fees” paid to the veteran’s organization and a third party broker company as part of marketing and referral arrangements constituted illegal kickbacks in violation of RESPA. In addition to the civil penalty, the consent order requires the lender to end any deceptive marketing, cease deceptive endorsement relationships, submit a compliance plan to the CFPB, and comply with additional record keeping, reporting, and compliance monitoring requirements.

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CFPB Details Complaints About Reverse Mortgages

On February 9, the CFPB released a report detailing complaints associated with reverse mortgages. According to the report, a high volume of complaints concern requests for changes to loan terms, issues related to loan servicing, and foreclosure activities. The report covers approximately 1,200 complaints received from December 1, 2011 through December 31, 2014. The report also notes that “[s]ince the CFPB began accepting reverse mortgage complaints in December, 2011, HUD has issued more than 10 policy changes to the HECM [Home Equity Conversion Mortgage] program.” One of these policy changes, effective after March 2, 2015, will require lenders to conduct financial assessments of prospective borrowers prior to approving the loan. The change is expected to decrease defaults due to non-payment of real estate taxes and insurance for loans originated after March 2.

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White House Unveils New Federal Cybersecurity Agency

On February 10, the White House announced it will establish the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center (CTIIC). In prepared remarks, Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterrorism, revealed that the CTIIC will be responsible for integrating intelligence about cyber threats, providing analysis to policymakers and operators, and support the work of existing Federal government Cyber Centers, network defenders, and local law enforcement agencies. The set-up of the agency will operate under the auspices of the Director of National Intelligence.

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DOJ and North Carolina AG Settle First-Ever Federal Discrimination Suit Involving Auto Lending

On February 10, the DOJ, along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina and the North Carolina AG, announced the settlement of the federal government’s discrimination suit involving two “buy here, pay here” auto dealerships. According to the DOJ, this is the federal government’s first-ever settlement involving discrimination in auto lending. Filed in January 2014, the settlement resolves a lawsuit alleging that two North Carolina-based auto dealerships violated the federal Equal Credit Opportunity Act by “intentionally targeting African-American customers for unfair and predatory credit practices in the financing of used car purchases.” The North Carolina AG further alleges that the auto dealerships’ lending practices violated the state’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The terms of the settlement require the two dealerships to revise the terms of their loans and repossession practices to ensure that “reverse redlining” ceases to exist; required amendments include: (i) setting the maximum projected monthly payments to 25% of the borrower’s income; (ii) omitting hidden fees from required down payment; (iii) prohibiting repossession until the borrower has missed at least two consecutive payments; and (iii) providing better-quality disclosure notices at the time of the sale. Also required by the settlement agreement, the two auto dealerships must establish a fund of $225,000 “to compensate victims of their past discriminatory and predatory lending.”

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