On August 12, Delaware Governor Jack A. Markell signed the Digital Access and Digital Accounts Act, the first law in the nation to comprehensively govern access to a person’s digital assets, including social media and email accounts, after the person dies or becomes incapacitated. Under the new law, a Delaware resident’s digital assets will become part of his or her estate after death, and these assets will be accessible to heirs to the same extent as the deceased person’s physical, tangible assets. Digital assets are defined broadly to include data, texts, email, audio, video, images, sounds, social media and social networking content, health care and insurance records, computer codes and programs, software and software licenses, and databases, along with usernames and passwords. The law expressly does not apply to digital accounts of an employer regularly used by an employee in the usual course of business. The law requires any company that controls a person’s digital assets to give the legal fiduciary for the deceased’s estate the usernames, passwords, and any other information needed to gain access to the digital assets upon a valid written request. Any contrary provisions in service agreements or privacy policies that limit a fiduciary’s access to digital accounts are void, although the account owner can specify that the account should remain private after death. The law also grants the company controlling the digit assets immunity for complying with valid requests for account access. The new law takes effect January 1, 2015.
On August 20, the District of Columbia Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB) announced that, as of September 3, 2014, it will begin using the NMLS to manage money transmitter, check casher, money lender, retail seller, sales finance company and non-bank ATM licenses and registrations. Beginning on that date, new applicants for such licenses and registrations must apply via the NMLS. Entities currently holding such licenses and registrations must create a complete record in NMLS and submit it to DISB for approval by December 31, 2014.
On August 19, the New York DFS announced a consent order with a British bank to resolve claims that the bank and its U.S. subsidiary failed to remediate AML compliance deficiencies as required by a prior settlement with the DFS that required the bank to, among other things, implement a transaction monitoring program. The DFS states that the compliance monitor appointed as part of the prior agreement determined that the procedures adopted by the bank to detect high-risk transactions contained errors and other problems that prevented the bank from identifying high-risk transactions for further review. The DFS asserts that the bank failed to detect these problems because of a lack of adequate testing both before and after implementation of the monitoring system. The DFS also claims the bank failed to properly audit its monitoring system. Under the latest consent order, the bank must: (i) suspend its dollar clearing operations for high-risk retail business clients of the bank’s Hong Kong subsidiary; (ii) obtain prior DFS approval to open a U.S. Dollar demand deposit account for any customer who does not already have such an account with the U.S. entity; and (iii) pay a $300 million penalty. The bank also must implement additional compliance enhancements, including enhanced due diligence and know-your customer requirements.
On August 18, the New York DFS announced an agreement with a bank consulting firm to resolve allegations related to certain services it performed for a bank charged last year with sanctions violations. The consulting firm allegedly altered an historical transaction review (HTR) report submitted to regulators regarding wire transfers that the bank completed on behalf of sanctioned countries and entities. At the bank’s request, the firm allegedly removed from the original HTR report key information and warning language concerning the bank’s transactions. Specifically, the DFS alleges that the firm: (i) removed the English translation of the bank’s wire stripping instructions; (ii) removed a regulatory term to describe the wire-stripping instructions and a discussion of the activities; and (iii) deleted “several forensic questions” that the firm identified as necessary for consideration in connection with the HTR report. The agreement prohibits the firm from doing business with any DFS-regulated institution for two years and requires the firm to: (i) pay a $25 million penalty; and (ii) implement certain reforms to address the conflicts of interest within the consulting industry. Those reforms are based on a similar agreement obtained by the DFS last year from another consulting firm.
This week, the New York DFS announced the extension of the comment period on its proposal to create a regulatory licensing framework for virtual currency companies, including a so-called BitLicense. Given the “significant amount of public interest in and commentary on” the proposal, the DFS doubled the length of the comment period from 45 to 90 days. Comments are now due by October 21, 2014. Further information about the proposal and related issues is available here.
Last month, the Massachusetts Division of Banks (DOB) issued an advisory opinion addressing whether an oral request by a debtor for certain records to validate a debt (pursuant to 209 CMR 18.18(3)) triggers a debt collector’s obligation to provide such documents within five business days. The DOB advised that a debt collector’s receipt of an oral request for such records from a consumer (or a consumer’s attorney) is sufficient to trigger the debt collector’s obligation and may serve to commence the five business day period in which the required response must be returned to the consumer.
On July 17, the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) proposed a rule intended to govern the virtual currency marketplace. The proposed rule is extremely broad and as currently drafted would appear to capture products provided by traditional brick and mortar banks and other regulated financial institutions. For example, as proposed, the rule could regulate:
- Reward programs, “thank you” offers, or digital coupons that offer cash back or statement credits;
- Generated numbers that access cash;
- Prepaid access and other cards that will allow customers to receive cash, including those customarily exempt such as government funded transfers;
- P2P transfers; and
- Wallet providers where the customer can access cash.
If left unaddressed, these apparent unintended consequences could create a confusing regulatory environment for certain bank and card products. It is also noteworthy that the rule does not provide any customary exclusions for chartered entities, raising substantial preemption questions. Read more…
BuckleySandler Webinar Recap: Top 10 Things You Need to Know About the New York BitLicense Proposed Rule
On August 6, BuckleySandler hosted a webinar, Top 10 Things You Need to Know about the New York BitLicense Proposed Rule. Michael Zeldin, Special Counsel at BuckleySandler, moderated the panel, which featured presentations by Partner Margo H. K. Tank and Counsel Amy Davine Kim of BuckleySandler’s Digital Commerce and Payments Group.
Overall, our presenters agreed that the regulatory framework proposed by the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) would establish a different and more difficult standard for the virtual currency industry than for the traditional money transmitter industry. The rigorous data security, consumer protection, and anti-money laundering provisions may unintentionally operate as a high barrier to entry into the virtual currency industry while favoring established companies with experience and resources to handle these issues. Our presenters also offered specific areas of improvement and clarification for organizations to take into account when drafting comments on the proposal.
The following provides a more detailed summary of the discussion: Read more…
On July 24, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed HB 5342, which amends numerous provisions of state law applicable to state banks and credit unions, including requiring the Illinois Secretary of Financial and Professional Regulation to adopt formal rules that guarantee consistency and due process during the examination process of state-chartered banks. The bill also allows the Secretary to establish guidelines “that (i) define the scope of the examination process and (ii) clarify examination items to be resolved.” In addition, the bill provides that an existing loan secured by an interest in real estate shall not, under certain circumstances, require a new appraisal of the collateral during renewal, refinancing, or restructuring. The changes became effective immediately.
On July 23, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed SB 206, which incorporates federal protections for servicemembers under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act into state law, extends those protections to members of the Delaware National Guard who are called into active military service for the State of Delaware for a period of more than 30 consecutive days, and gives the state attorney general authority to enforce the new protections. The bill took effect immediately upon enactment.
On July 23, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed HB 3783, which prohibits creditors from requiring borrowers or owners to purchase flood insurance on the property: (i) at a coverage amount that exceeds the outstanding mortgage thereon; (ii) that includes coverage for contents; or (iii) that includes a deductible less than $5,000. Borrowers and owners will still have the option of purchasing a greater amount of insurance. The law provides that, in each instance flood insurance is required, the creditor must provide notice explaining that insurance coverage will only protect the creditor or lender’s interest in the property, and may not be sufficient to pay for repairs or property loss after a flood. The changes took effect immediately.
On July 8, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee signed HB 7997, which extends the state’s licensing requirements to include companies servicing a loan, directly or indirectly, as a third-party loan servicer. Under the existing state statute, the term “loan” means any advance of money or credit, including mortgage loans, educational loans, and other consumer loans. The new law adds new definitions for servicing and third-party loan servicer, establishes for such servicers a $1,100 annual licensing fee, and requires licensed servicers to: (i) maintain at least $100,000 capital; (ii) obtain a bond; (iii) maintain segregated borrower accounts; and (iv) maintain certain records. The law also establishes prohibited acts and practices for third-party servicers, including, among others: (i) knowingly misapplying loan payments to the outstanding balance of a loan or to escrow accounts; (ii) requiring unnecessary forced placement of insurance; (iii) failing to provide loan payoff information as required; (iv) collecting private mortgage insurance beyond the date required; (v) failing to timely respond to consumer complaints; and (vi) charging excessive or unreasonable fees to provide loan payoff information. The law exempts depository institutions and licensed lenders and other licensed entities. The new rules and requirements take effect July 1, 2015.
On July 17, the New York DFS announced a proposal to establish a licensing regime for virtual currency businesses, the first by any state. In January, the DFS held a two-day hearing on developing a regulatory framework for virtual currency firms, and subsequently sought applications for virtual currency exchanges pending completion of the regulations. The proposed regulations define virtual currency as “any type of digital unit that is used as a medium of exchange or a form of digitally stored value or that is incorporated into payment system technology.” This would include digital units of exchange that: (i) have a centralized repository or administrator; (ii) are decentralized and have no centralized repository or administrator; or (iii) may be created or obtained by computing or manufacturing effort. It would exclude digital units that are used solely within online gaming platforms or that are used exclusively as part of a customer affinity or rewards program.
Under the proposal, the state would require companies engaged in the following activities to obtain a so-called BitLicense: (i) receiving or transmitting virtual currency on behalf of consumers; (ii) securing, storing, or maintaining custody or control of such virtual currency on the behalf of customers; (iii) performing retail conversion services; (iv) buying and selling virtual currency as a customer business (as distinct from personal use); or (v) controlling, administering, or issuing a virtual currency. To obtain a license, a business would be required to, among other things: (i) hold virtual currency of the same type and amount as any virtual currency owed or obligated to a third party; (ii) provide transaction receipts with certain required information; (iii) comply with AML rules; (iv) maintain a cyber security program; and (v) establish business continuity and disaster recovery policies. Licensed entities would be subject to DFS supervision, with examinations taking place no less than once every two calendar years. The proposal will be published in the New York State Register’s July 23, 2014 edition, which begins a 45-day public comment period.
On July 16, the New York DFS re-proposed a rule to regulate third-party debt collection. The revised proposal: (i) describes disclosures debt collectors must provide to consumers when the debt collector initially communicates with a consumer, and additional disclosures that must be provided when the debt collector is communicating with a consumer regarding a charged-off debt; (ii) requires debt collectors to disclose to consumers when the statute of limitations on a debt has expired; (iii) outlines a process for consumers to request additional documentation proving the validity of the charged-off debt and the debt collector’s right to collect the charged-off debt; (iv) requires debt collectors to provide consumers written confirmation of debt settlement agreements and regular accounting of the debt while the consumer is paying off a debt pursuant to a settlement agreement; (v) requires debt collectors to provide consumers with disclosures of certain rights when settling a debt; and (vi) allows debt collectors to correspond with consumers by electronic mail in certain circumstances. The DFS states that although comments on its initial proposal were “generally supportive,” the revised proposal responds to comments on how the rules could better correspond to the structure of the collection industry, and seeks to clarify the meaning of certain provisions. Comments on the revised proposal are due by August 15, 2014.
On July 9, the New York DFS announced that it finalized a rule that allows for shared appreciation mortgage modifications, which permit banks and mortgage servicers to reduce the amount of principal outstanding on a borrower’s mortgage in exchange for a share of the future increase in the value of the home. The option is limited to borrowers who are 60 or more days past due on their loan or whose loan is the subject of an active foreclosure action and who are not eligible for existing federal and private foreclosure prevention programs. The regulations detail the method for calculating a holder’s share of the appreciation, and limit the share to the lesser of: (i) the amount of the reduction in principal, plus interest; or (ii) 50% of the amount of appreciation in market value. In addition, banks and servicers would be required to provide specific disclosures to borrowers about the terms and nature of the shared appreciation mortgage modification. The regulations also: (i) specify allowable fees, charges, and interest rates; (ii) detail the calculation of unpaid principal balance and debt-to-income ratio; and (iii) list certain prohibitions, including, among others, that the holder cannot require the borrower to waive any legal claims or defenses as a condition to obtaining shared appreciation modification. The new regulations took effect immediately.