On August 18, a Washington D.C.-based financial consulting firm agreed to pay $15 million to resolve allegations that the firm failed to meet the current requirements of the NY Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) for consultants hired to perform regulatory compliance engagements. In addition to the $15 million penalty, the consulting firm agreed not to accept new engagements which require the NYDFS to disclose confidential supervisory information for six (6) months, and that it will attest that any reports submitted to the NYDFS on behalf of a client is objective and reflects the consulting firm’s best independent judgment. The Agreement follows a report released by the NYDFS detailing the consulting firm’s practices when preparing and submitting to the NYDFS reports of its findings regarding sanctions compliance with respect to certain transactions of a large, multi-national bank.
California Department of Business Oversight Issues Opinion Letter Declaring Foreign Check Clearing Services Not Subject to State’s Money Transmission Act
On August 24, the California Department of Business Oversight issued a redacted opinion letter clarifying that foreign check clearing services are not considered money transmission subject to the Money Transmission Act. In order to fall under the state’s Financial Code’s definition of money transmission, a financial institution must receive money or monetary value for transmission within the United States. Emphasizing the domestic prerequisite outlined in the code, the DBO’s opinion indicates that if a bank establishes an exchange rate for an American financial institution that has received a check for deposit written against a foreign bank, the exchange rate service provided by the bank is considered a foreign check clearing service and not “receiving money or monetary value in the United States.” Accordingly, such check clearing activity does not fall under the California Financial Code’s definition of money transmission.
On August 17, the CFPB released Virginia state-specific Managing Someone Else’s Money guides, which are designed to make it easier for financial caregivers to follow the state’s unique fiduciary laws and procedures. According to Director Cordray’s remarks, the four guides – (i) Agents under powers of attorney; (ii) Court-appointed guardians; (iii) Trustees; and (iv) Government fiduciaries – will provide fiduciaries with “tips and answers to everyday questions people may have about managing someone else’s bank account, applying for federal benefits, and sharing information with family members.” Additionally, the guides are intended to alert caregivers to potential scams and financial exploitation, while also providing ways to respond if a beneficiary is the victim of either. The CFPB plans to release similar guides for Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, and Oregon. Following the nationally-applicable 2013 Managing Someone Else’s Money guide, the release of these state-specific guides represents the second phase of the Bureau’s Office of Older Americans’ initiative to assist financial caregivers.
On August 10, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law Senate Bill 1440, the Reverse Mortgage Act which provides new consumer protections for borrowers with respect to reverse mortgage loan transactions. Among other things, the legislation establishes a regulatory framework to govern reverse mortgage loan transactions made within the state including provisions that (i) require lenders to provide certain mortgage disclosures to potential borrowers; and (ii) implement a three-day “cooling off” period in which a potential borrower can rescind the loan. The Act also grants the Illinois Attorney General sole enforcement authority to pursue any violations of the Reverse Mortgage Act, which would constitute as an unlawful practice under the state’s Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. The law becomes effective January 1, 2016.
FinCEN Renews Southern California Geographic Targeting Order; Issues New Geographic Targeting Order on Border Cash Shipments in Texas
On August 7, FinCEN renewed a Geographic Targeting Order (GTO) for common carriers of currency at two border crossings in Southern California. Similarly, FinCEN issued a new GTO for carriers at eight major border crossings in Texas. Designed to increase the transparency of cross-border money movements, the GTOs temporarily amend the Report of International Transportation of Currency or Monetary Instruments (CMIR) requirements for common carriers of currency when transporting cash in amounts exceeding $10,000 across the two California borders and the eight Texas borders. The GTOs require the relevant common carriers of currency to disclose 100 percent of information in the CMIRs, eliminating “the reporting exemption for these carriers that might otherwise apply to transporting currency from a foreign person to a bank.” Additional changes to the CMIR reporting requirements include providing the names and addresses for the following persons: (i) the currency originator; (ii) currency recipient; and (iii) all other parties engaging in the movement of currency and monetary devices. The Southern California GTO extends the CMIR reporting requirements until February 4, 2016; the Texas GTO is effective September 17, 2015, and is valid through March 15, 2016.
CSBS Announcement: Arizona Department of Financial Institutions Becomes Latest State Agency to Adopt National SAFE MLO Test
On July 29, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) announced that the Arizona Department of Financial Institutions began using the National SAFE Mortgage Loan Originator (MLO) Test, making it the 47th state banking agency to adopt the SAFE MLO Test containing Uniform State Content. Combining both the national and state testing requirements of the SAFE Act and the CSBS/AARMR model state law, the test with Uniform State Content was first made available to state banking agencies on April 1, 2013 to help streamline the application process for MLOs seeking to obtain licensure in more than one state. Since April 1, 2013, according to the CSBS, over 58,000 MLOs have taken the National SAFE MLO Test with Uniform State Content. Notably, applicants who take the test on or after October 3, 2015, will be expected to understand requirements of the TRID Rule as promulgated by the CFPB.
NMLS Updates Resource Center: Encourages Public to Submit Comments on Proposed Changes; Responds to Public Comments
On July 21, the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System (NMLS) updated its resource center to encourage the public to submit further comments – via the Conference of State Bank Supervisors – on certain proposed changes to the Uniform NMLS Licensing Forms and the Mortgage Call Report. The proposed changes to the licensing forms include, but are not limited to: (i) adding a Filing Comment section to the Company Form (MU1) and the Branch Form (MU3); (ii) expanding the Business Activities section by adding “Reverse Mortgage Lending,” “Reverse Mortgage Brokering,” and “Reverse Mortgage Servicing” as available selections; (iii) expanding the Contact Employees section by adding “Annual/Call Report” as an available selection under Area(s) of Responsibility; and (iv) updating language in the Disclosure Questions section. If implemented, changes to the Mortgage Call Report (“MCR”) would include: (i) adding fields that allow for more accurate reporting on Qualified Mortgage standards; (ii) adding an upload option within the Loans Serviced section; and (iii) exploring the “development of a dynamic MCR based on a company’s business activities and license authority.” Comments on the proposals are due August 20.
Also on July 21, the NMLS posted to its resource center responses to the public’s comments regarding the Pre-Licensure Education Expiration Policy, Electronic Surety Bond Tracking, and the Uniform NMLS Licensing Forms and Mortgage Call Report. Feedback received on the initial proposed changes to the Licensing Forms and MCR prompted the additional comment period for the more targeted proposed changes described above.
On July 21, a leading China-based bank agreed to address deficiencies in connection with the BSA/AML risk management and compliance program of its New York branch office. The Agreement, entered into with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the New York State Department of Financial Services, requires the bank and its New York branch to (i) enhance the branch’s written BSA/AML compliance program and customer due diligence program; and (ii) develop a written program for the branch that is capable of identifying and reporting suspected violations of law and suspicious transactions to law enforcement and supervisory authorities. In addition, the bank must hire an independent third-party to review the Branch’s U.S. dollar clearing transaction activity “to determine whether suspicious activity involving high-risk customers or transactions at, by, or through the branch was properly identified and reported” to the appropriate federal banking authorities. No civil money penalty was imposed on the bank.
On July 14, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced two settlements with auto dealers over allegedly deceptive advertising practices. The first settlement was reached with a White Plains-based auto dealer that allegedly misled consumers by promoting, in its print and online ads, illusory sale and lease prices by including “discounts or rebates that were not available to most consumers, and thus, did not represent the actual sale or lease prices.” According to the Attorney General, rebates or discounts offered to “military” or “college graduates” were among the deceptive advertisements used by the auto dealer. An investigation by the AG’s Office revealed that the dealership would only make the rebates or discounts available to certain military personnel and recent college graduates. In addition to failing to comply with the Attorney General’s Advertising Guidelines for Automobile Dealers, the Attorney General alleged that the ads used footnotes and asterisks that contradicted or materially modified the principal message of the advertisements. The dealership will pay $32,500 to the state and has agreed to reform its advertising practices.
In a separate action, the Attorney General announced a settlement resolving allegations that 22 dealerships “persistently defrauded consumers with misleading promotions and fraudulent sales tactics.” According to the Attorney General’s office, the dealers’ advertisements included certain game cards that led consumers to believe that they would be guaranteed winners of certain items – such as cash, a free vehicle, or an Apple iPad – if they received a winning ticket containing three matching symbols. However, virtually none of the consumers won a prize when they brought in their winning tickets to the dealers. In addition to misleading game cards, the dealers were alleged to have charged unauthorized fees for vehicle maintenance plans that had not been requested by purchasers and to have upcharged the retail sales price on cars to effectively nullify discounts offered to consumers. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the dealers will pay $310,000 in penalties and restitution.
Rhode Island Modifies its Fair Housing Practices Act to Include Military Status Under Discrimination Protections
On July 9, Governor Raimondo signed S.0241, which amends the Rhode Island Fair Housing Practices Act to include discrimination based on a person’s military status as a prohibited and unlawful housing and credit granting practice. Protected classes now include veterans with an honorable discharge (or an honorable or general administrative discharge), and active servicemembers in the Armed Forces. The amendments are effective immediately.
NY Governor Says Two Additional Mortgage Companies Will Adopt Set of Best Practices to Combat “Zombie Properties”
On July 9, in an ongoing fight to reduce the amount of “zombie properties” within the state, Governor Cuomo announced that two additional mortgage companies will adopt the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) recommended Industry Best Practices, aiming to help combat the economic damage that vacant and abandoned properties cause certain neighborhoods. The Practices ensure that banks and mortgage companies will regularly inspect properties in a delinquent status to determine if they are vacant, and if they are properly maintained and safe. If a property is determined vacant, banks and mortgage companies will report the property to a state registry, ensuring that NYDFS shares the information with local government officials. Local government officials and the NYDFS will then work together to “address and escalate any concerns about maintenance with the bank or mortgage company that is servicing the loan.” Governor Cuomo’s announcement resonates with Superintendent Lawsky’s May 22 remarks concerning NYDFS’s effort to reform the state’s lengthy foreclosure process, which leaves properties in despair and causes economic blight and safety issues. With the two additional companies joining the state’s efforts against zombie properties, lenders representing nearly 70 percent of the New York mortgage lending market have now agreed to adopt the set of best practices.
On July 6, Governor Maggie Hassan (D-NH) signed into law Senate Bill 119/Chapter 207 to regulate the offering of GAP waivers. The act also amends the terms of Consumer Guarantee Contracts to limit the consumer’s ability to bring an action in a court of law. The act is effective September 4, 2015.
Minnesota Passes Legislation to Exclude Guaranteed Asset Protection Waiver Policies from Insurance Definition
On June 13, Governor Mark Dayton (D-MN) signed into law H.F. 3/Chapter 1, which, in part, excludes Guaranteed Asset Protection (GAP) waiver policies from the definition of insurance. Effective August 1, the act specifies that the GAP waiver statute will not apply to certain insurance law requirements, including those relating to: (i) commercial deals; (ii) a debt cancellation or debt suspension contract; and (iii) credit life, credit accident and health, and credit involuntary unemployment. The act also allows for GAP waivers to be sold for either a single payment or as a monthly periodic payment. Finally, the act includes certain GAP waiver disclosures, such as cancellation of the GAP waiver by the borrower within the free look period, which is no less than 30 days.
NAAG Urging Congress to Refrain From Passing Federal Data Breach Legislation Preempting State Authority
On July 7, as Congress considers proposed legislation on data breach notification and security, the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) sent a letter to leaders of both houses of Congress urging them to refrain from passing federal data breach and identity theft laws that would preempt states’ authority to enforce their own legislation, or pass legislation that exceeds federal standards. The 47 state attorneys general argued that “preempting state law would make consumers less protected than they are right now” because (i) states are closer to people affected consumers and can better respond to their concerns; (ii) states are “better equipped to quickly adjust to the challenges presented by a data-driven economy”; (iii) although helpful for a national data breach, a single federal agency would be unable to “respond effectively” to the large number of smaller data breaches that “have a large impact in a particular state or region”; and (iv) “with the increasing speed rate of technological developments,” states need the ability to surpass minimal and continually obsolete federal requirements. Accordingly, the state attorneys general asserted it was “crucial” that they “maintain their enforcement authority under their states’ laws, and that any legislation be tailored to ensure complementary enforcement authority.”
On June 24, the New York State Register published the Department of Financial Services’ BitLicense framework, requiring companies and individuals who provide virtual currency services involving New York or a New York Resident to apply for a BitLicense by August 10, 2015. Virtual currency firms must submit the 31-page application providing information including, among other things, (i) written policies and procedures including, but not limited to BSA/AML, cybersecurity, privacy and information security, (ii) company information, (iii) biographical information on company directors and stockholders, and (iv) an explanation of the methodology used to calculate the value of virtual currency in fiat currency. In addition, the NYDFS released a set of FAQs to help clarify the BitLicense requirements.