FinCEN Expands Reach of Real Estate Geographical Targeting Orders

On July 27, FinCEN issued temporary Geographical Targeting Orders (GTO) requiring certain U.S. title insurance companies to identify and report the natural persons behind shell companies used to conduct “all-cash” purchases of high-end real estate in six major metropolitan areas. The GTOs cover the following areas: (i) all boroughs of New York City; (ii) Miami-Date, Broward and Palm Beach Counties in South Florida; (iii) Los Angeles County; (iv) San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties; (v) San Diego Country; and (vi) Bexar County, Texas, which includes San Antonio. FinCEN simultaneously released a table outlining the monetary thresholds that trigger the identification and reporting requirements in each jurisdiction. Upon taking effect, the GTOs will remain effective for 180 days absent an extension. As previously covered in InfoBytes, FinCEN remains concerned that all-cash purchases conducted through LLCs or other “opaque structures,” may be conducted by natural persons trying to hide their assets and identity. According to FinCEN’s Acting Director Jamal El-Hindi, “[b]y expanding the GTOs to other major cities, we will learn even more about the money laundering risks in the national real estate markets, helping us determine our future regulatory course.”

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Treasury Adopts Methodology for Monitoring the Affordability of Auto Insurance

On July 13, the Treasury Department announced that the Federal Insurance Office (FIO) adopted a methodology for monitoring the affordability of auto insurance. Under the Dodd-Frank Act, the FIO is authorized to monitor the extent to which affordable personal automobile insurance is made available to traditionally underserved communities and consumers, minorities, and low- and moderate-income (LMI) persons. Pursuant to the new methodology, FIO will calculate affordability by using an affordability index that divides the average annual personal automobile liability premium by the median household income for identified majority-minority or majority-LMI ZIP codes. If the Affordability Index does not exceed to 2%, then FIO will consider personal automobile liability insurance affordable. Finally, to monitor the availability of auto insurance, FIO will obtain and analyze aggregated premium data in addition to using publicly available data through the U.S. Census Bureau.

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House Passes Private Flood Insurance Bill by Unanimous Vote

On April 28, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act (H.R. 2901) by a unanimous vote of 419-0. The bill, which was introduced in June 2015 by Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, and co-sponsor Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, is intended to encourage the use of private flood insurance. The bill, among other changes:

(i) Amends the definition of “private flood insurance” to, among other changes, remove the requirements that a private flood insurance policy include deductibles, exclusions, conditions, cancellation provisions, and mortgage interest (i.e., loss payee) clauses comparable to National Flood Insurance Program (“NFIP”) policies. The amended definition of “private flood insurance” would only require that the policy (1) be issued by an insurance company that is approved to provide insurance in the state where the building is located, and (2) provide flood insurance in compliance with that state’s laws.      Read more…

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NYDFS Announces Senior Staff Additions

Last week, the NYDFS appointed Scott Fischer Executive Deputy Superintendent for Insurance and Laura E. Evangelista Deputy Superintendent for Insurance. Fischer joins the NYDFS from the New York Liquidation Bureau where he served as Special Deputy Superintendent. Previously, Fischer worked at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London, served as Senior Counsel in the Office of General Counsel at the New York Insurance Department, and as Assistant AG at the New York State Attorney General’s Office. Evangelista most recently served as Vice President and Assistant General Counsel at an international insurance brokerage firm; previously, she was a commercial litigator in private practice.

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ABA Seeks Interagency Guidance Related to Force-Place Flood Insurance Premiums

On April 22, the American Bankers Association (ABA) sent a letter to the OCC, the Federal Reserve, and the FDIC regarding force-place flood insurance (also known as lender-placed insurance). The ABA probed the question of whether or not the advancement of a lender-placed flood insurance premium constitutes an “increase” to the designated loan – a statutory “tripwire” under the Flood Disaster Protection Act (FDPA). According to the letter, “increasing reports” from ABA members suggest that examiners are taking the position that “advancing a flood insurance premium in order to force-place flood insurance increases a loan balance and therefore constitutes a MIRE event [(making, increasing, renewing, or extending a designated loan)].” The letter summarizes FDPA requirements, noting that, if examiners are in fact considering the advancement of a premium to force-place flood insurance as an increase to a designated loan, such an “interpretation is new to the industry and is inconsistent with industry practice and contractual obligations under standard mortgage loan agreements.” According to the ABA, this new approach would result in increased borrower confusion and expense: “[i]ndeed, if adding the flood insurance premium to the loan is considered to increase the loan amount, following that logic through, the payment of a force-placed hazard insurance premium, taxes, or even a late fee would also ‘increase’ the loan—and result in a MIRE event as it is wholly inconsistent to treat these protective advances differently. Accordingly, a delinquent borrower could experience a ‘MIRE event’ as frequently as monthly with each late payment. Clearly, this was not Congress’s intent.” The ABA urged the banking agencies to release interagency guidance to address concerns related to the advancement of flood insurance premiums as a potential MIRE event.

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