CFPB Fines Prepaid Debit Card Company and Payment Processor $13 Million for Preventable Service Breakdown, Claims Consumers Denied Access to Their Own Money

On February 1, the CFPB announced that it had entered a consent order against two companies—a prepaid card company and its payment processor—for failing to conduct adequate testing and preparation before and during a switch to a new payment processing platform in 2015. In addition, the Bureau cited both companies for improper administration of accounts after the switch. The allegations arise out of an approximate three week breakdown in services in October 2015 which, among other things, denied cardholders access to their accounts, delayed the processing of deposits and payments, and also, in some instances, erroneously double posted deposits which falsely inflated account holders’ balances. The consent order also notes that the prepaid card company failed to provide adequate customer service to consumers impacted by the breakdown. The CFPB stated that it received roughly 830 consumer complaints in the weeks following the switch. Based on these and other allegations, the Bureau ordered the two companies to prepare a plan to prevent future service disruptions and pay an estimated $10 million in restitution to harmed consumers as well as a $3 million civil penalty.

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Texas Appeals Court Holds Email “From:” Line to be a Valid Electronic Signature Under State’s Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA)

On December 22, in an unpublished decision, a Texas Court of Appeals held that an email exchange constituted an executed contract between two individuals under the state’s enactment of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (“UETA”). Khoury v. Tomlinson, No. 01-16-00006-CV (Tex. App. Dec. 22, 2016). The dispute involved an email sent from Appellant to Appellee, which outlined terms of an agreement to repay investment funds. Appellee responded to the email, stating “We are in agreement,” but did not type his name or include a signature block at the end of his message. A jury found that an electronic contract was formed by this exchange, but the trial court granted the Appellee’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the basis that the electronic contract violated the state statute of frauds. On appeal, the Appellant invoked the UETA, arguing that the email satisfied the writing requirement of the statute of frauds because it was an electronic record and that the header, which included a “From:” field bearing the Appellee’s name, constituted Appellee’s signature because that field serves the same “authenticating function” as a signature block. The appellate court agreed that the email was an electronic record sufficient to satisfy the writing requirement in the statute of frauds.

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DOL Releases Second Set of FAQs Addressing Comments Concerning Fiduciary Rule

On January 13, the Department of Labor (DOL) released a second set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) in response to comments from financial services firms and other stakeholders on its recently-released Fiduciary Rule, which redefines a fiduciary investment advisor under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. The DOL issued an initial set of 34 answers to FAQs about the Fiduciary Rule back in October, focusing on the rule’s exemptions, such as the “best-interest contract” exemption and the “prohibited-transaction” exemption. The second set of FAQs provides further clarification on the scope of various exemptions regarding investment recommendations, but also includes guidance on topics such as: (i) investment education; (ii) general communications versus fiduciary investment advice; (iii) fees and other compensation; and (iv) platform providers.

The FAQs further reflect, among other things, that an adviser charging clients a level asset-based fee for providing advice on 401(k) fund offerings may use revenue-sharing payments to offset part or all of that level fee, without running afoul of the fiduciary regulation. The guidance also clarifies that providing educational information to IRA and retirement customers about investment alternatives—such as product features, returns and fees—will not be considered “investment advice” so long as a bank does not make any specific investment recommendations. And, in question 34, the DOL explains that fiduciary status is not triggered by offering to customers an automatic sweep of any uninvested cash from the customer’s account into a short-term investment vehicle on a daily basis.

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PA Amends Money Transmission Business Licensing Law

Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Banking and Securities, Robin L. Wiessmann, issued guidance to businesses engaged in money transmission to inform them of significant changes that will be required for their businesses as a result of amendments to the Money Transmission Business Licensing Law. Governor Tom Wolf signed the changes into law on November 3, 2016 (Act 129 of 2016) and the new law became effective on January 2, 2017.

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CFPB Unveils Web-based Tool To Deliver Regular Updates on Consumer Lending Markets

On December 19, the CFPB announced the release of “Consumer Credit Trends,” a beta version of its new web-based tool to help the public monitor developments in the mortgage, credit card, auto loan, and student loan markets. According to the Bureau, the data used by Consumer Credit Trends “draws from a nationally representative sample of credit records maintained by one of the top three U.S. credit repositories.” The CFPB plans to update this information regularly, and will offer analyses on notable findings as warranted. It also clarifies that “before being provided to the Bureau,” the credit records are “stripped of any information that might reveal consumers’ identities, such as names, addresses, and Social Security numbers.” The ability to “chart the state of consumer markets,” says CFPB Director Richard Cordray, “will help us identify and act on trends that warn of another crisis or that show credit is too constricted.”

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