On October 25, the CFPB released its latest monthly report of consumer complaint trends. This month’s report highlights prepaid complaints, noting that since July 21, 2011, the CFPB has received approximately 6,000 prepaid complaints. According to the report, the “most common issues identified by consumers are problems with managing, opening or closing an account (32 percent) and unauthorized transactions or other transaction issues (30 percent).” Additional prepaid complaints highlighted in the report include: (i) consumers experiencing delays in receiving a replacement card after having notified a company of fraudulent or unauthorized charges to their prepaid cards; (ii) difficulty using a prepaid card after having purchased one; (iii) assessing dormancy fees that depleted the card’s balance; and (iv) balance discrepancies. Consistent with past reports, this month’s issue lists the top ten most-complained-about companies across all financial products, as well as the top seven most-complained about companies for prepaid-related issues. Finally, the report identifies North Carolina as its geographical spotlight, observing that, as of October 1, 2016, the CFPB has received about 27,600 complaints from North Carolina consumers.
On November 30, the Fed announced the release of its annual report on debit card transactions in 2015. The report is the fourth in a series to be published every two years pursuant to Section 920 of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA). As in prior years, the 2015 report reflected that issuers’ costs of authorizing, clearing, and settling debit card transactions (excluding issuer fraud losses) varied greatly across respondents. Data compiled in the report estimates that debit-card fraud losses to all parties (merchants, cardholders, and issuers) increased by 44 percent from 2013 to an estimated total of $2.41 billion in 2015. The median covered issuer had average fraud prevention and data security costs of 1.9 cents per transaction.
On October 20, the CFPB released a new report titled “Project Catalyst report: Promoting consumer-friendly innovation-Innovation Insights.” The report provides an overview of Project Catalyst’s work to promote “consumer-friendly innovation and entrepreneurship,” and outlines the importance of ensuring that consumer protections are built into emerging products and services from the outset. The CFPB released the report in conjunction with remarks given by Director Cordray at Money 20/20, an industry conference focused on payments and financial services innovation.
The report emphasizes the CFPB’s “very sensitive” approach to new technologies, such as its “active role in the push for faster payments systems,” as well as its more general efforts “to identify innovative trends in the marketplace to inform our work.” Throughout the report, the CFPB highlights its efforts to establish “effective communication channels” with “innovators,” including the agency’s pilot program with a credit card company to evaluate the effectiveness of certain practices to encourage prepaid card users to develop regular saving behavior. In its last section, the report discusses various “marketplace developments that may hold the potential for consumer benefits.”
The report similarly summarizes ongoing efforts to coordinate with state, federal, and international regulators, cautioning that the agency “will take action as necessary to protect consumers from innovations that may be unfair, deceptive, abusive, or discriminatory.” In addressing industry members, both the report and Director Cordray at Money 20/20 discuss the CFPB’s authority to provide greater latitude for companies to test alternatives to standard disclosures over time – using as an example, the CFPB’s trial disclosure waiver policy and its no-action letter policy through which the Bureau “can reduce regulatory uncertainty for consumer-friendly innovations.” The report and Director Cordray call for industry participants to propose alternative means of disclosure to consumers.
I. Overview of the CFPB’s Final Prepaid Rule
On October 5, 2016, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Bureau) issued a final rule (Prepaid Rule) amending Regulations E and Z to extend consumer protections to prepaid card accounts. The new protections include pre-acquisition disclosures, error resolution rights, and periodic statements. In addition, prepaid card accounts that include a separate credit feature are subject to some of Regulation Z’s credit card provisions, including an ability-to-repay requirement. Prepaid card issuers are also required to submit to the Bureau and to post to their websites any new and revised prepaid card account agreements. In this alert we summarize key provisions of the Prepaid Rule except those provisions that apply only to payroll and government benefits prepaid cards, which will be covered in a separate alert.
II. Effective Date
The Prepaid Rule’s effective date is October 1, 2017, however, the effective date for posting prepaid card account agreements is October 1, 2018. Heeding concerns about burden, the Bureau stated that the Prepaid Rule does not require financial institutions to pull and replace prepaid account access devices or packaging materials that were manufactured, printed, or otherwise produced in the normal course of business prior to October 1, 2017. Instead, financial institutions must provide consumers with notice of certain changes in terms and updated initial disclosures, in certain circumstances.
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On October 20, the FDIC released a report on the use of the traditional banking system in the United States. According to the FDIC’s executive summary of the report, the percentage of U.S. households in which no one had a checking or savings account (the “unbanked”) dropped to 7.0 in 2015. This is the lowest unbanked percentage since 2009, the year the FDIC began conducting an annual survey of unbanked and underbanked households. The FDIC cited several reasons why some households remain unbanked, the most common of which was the cost of maintaining an account, with an estimated 57.4% of respondents citing it as a factor in their decision not to maintain an account, and 37.8% of respondents citing it as the main reason underlying their decision not to maintain an account. Consistent with past survey results, the report notes that unbanked and underbanked rates are higher among lower-income households, less-educated households, younger households, minority households, and working-age disabled households. Additional findings highlighted in the report include: (i) a 1.9% increase from 2013-2015 in the use of prepaid cards; (ii) rapid growth (31.9% of users in 2015 compared to 23.2% in 2013) in the use of mobile and online banking, reflecting “promising opportunities to use the mobile platform to increase economic inclusion”; and (iii) an opportunity for banks to meet the credit needs of some households with an “unmet demand” for credit by “promoting the importance of building credit history, incorporating nontraditional data into underwriting, and increasing households’ awareness of personal credit products.”