CFPB Director Testifies Before Senate Banking Committee

Posted on November 14th, 2013 in Consumer Finance, Federal Issues, Mortgages By BuckleySandler

On November 12, CFPB Director Richard Cordray testified before the Senate Banking Committee in connection with the CFPB’s recent Semi-Annual Report to Congress, which covered the period April 1, 2013 through September 30, 2013.

The session covered a range of topics, including mortgage rule implementation, auto finance, student lending, Military Lending Act rulemaking, prepaid cards, Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act privacy notices, and the CFPB’s data collection practices. A summary of the discussion of each of those topics follows. Notably, the hearing did not touch on (i) short-term, small dollar lending (outside of the Military Lending Act), online lending, or the ongoing investigations of payment processors, (ii) the status of the CFPB’s HMDA rulemaking or small business lending rule, or (iii) the CFPB’s integrated mortgage disclosure rule, which is expected later this month.

Mortgage Rule Implementation

Several committee members asked the Director about the CFPB’s compliance expectations for financial institutions when the various mortgage rules take effect in January. Director Cordray reiterated statements he has made recently in other forums: (i) the CFPB believes the vast majority of financial institutions, both large and small, will be in substantial compliance by January, (ii) the CFPB is sticking with the January implementation deadline, and (iii) “in the early months” the CFPB will not be looking for strict compliance, but rather will assess whether institutions have made “good faith efforts” to come into “substantial compliance.”

Senator Coburn (R-OK) sought clarification on the terms “early months” and “good faith effort.”  On the former, the Director stated that it remains undefined.  With regard to the latter, the Director explained that the CFPB will look to see whether institutions generally are taking the rules seriously and if they have compliance management system is in place that allow for monitoring and reporting to the institution’s board. He added that the CFPB does not intend to play “gotcha.”

Auto Finance

Several Republican members raised concerns about the CFPB’s approach to auto finance supervision and enforcement and specifically the indirect auto finance bulletin issued earlier this year.  For example, Senator Moran (R-KS) urged Director Cordray to provide more specific answers to questions recently posed by a bipartisan group of Senators, including more detail on the CFPB’s statistical methodology for determining disparate impact and its use of proxies. Director Cordray’s November 4 response to the Senate letter largely re-stated the CFPB’s response to a similar inquiry submitted by a group of House members over the summer.

In the most recent letter, Director Cordray explained further the CFPB’s integrated methodology for proxying race and national origin, which combines probabilities about an individual’s race or ethnicity based on surname and geocoding. In a related blog post, the CFPB’s Assistant Director of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity described proxy methodologies employed by “responsible lenders,” and attempted to further justify the CFPB’s methodology. During the hearing, Director Cordray asserted that the CFPB’s approach to both is time honored and well-tested. He explained that the CFPB’s proxy methodology is a refinement of that used by the Federal Reserve Board and is “state of the art.”  He acknowledged that some may have a problem with the state of the art, but asserted that the methodology is proven in social science literature and used beyond the lending context, and added that the CFPB has to have confidence in the approach knowing that it could be tested in court.

Director Cordray expressed concern about discussing the CFPB’s specific methods in detail because they relate to ongoing investigative processes the CFPB is pursuing with the DOJ. He also repeatedly referenced today’s auto finance forum as a venue in which these issues will be discussed in more detail, and one that will provide industry an opportunity to weigh in on the CFPB’s approach.  He dismissed concerns that the CFPB’s activities in the auto finance realm—in particular its push towards flat fee compensation arrangements for dealers—might constrain credit or raise consumer costs, citing the “red hot” car market.

Senator Warren (D-MA) commented on dealer markups, citing “studies” that show markups cost consumers $26 billion a year and that minorities pay a higher share of those costs. She called for Congress to remove the Dodd-Frank Act exemption for dealers and provide the CFPB authority over all auto lending.  Director Cordray later stated that the law drew an “unnatural line” between finance companies on the one hand and dealers on the other, but that the CFPB understands its jurisdiction and does not want to be perceived to be extending its reach to cover dealers.

Student Lending

Student loans were the only product that received special, though not new, attention in the CFPB Director’s written testimony. There and in his oral statement he highlighted the comments and complaints the CFPB has received on student lending issues and again identified problems in the student loan market that the CFPB believes mirror those seen in the mortgage market prior to the financial crisis.

Senator Coburn posited that some of the student debt problem is attributable to borrowers maxing out loans for purposes other than paying for costs not directly associated with education and suggested that Congress look at limiting acceptable uses of federal loans.

Military Lending Act

In response to a question from Senator Reed (D-RI), Director Cordray stated that the CFPB, the DOD and other agencies are close to proposing new rules under the MLA. He indicated that the proposal is pending OMB review.

Prepaid Cards

Senator Menendez (D-NJ) complained about prepaid card fees and stated he plans to reintroduce his prepaid card bill. Director Cordray generally agreed that the CFPB has concerns about the prepaid market and noted the Bureau’s 2012 ANPR.  The CFPB’s spring rulemaking agenda indicated the CFPB could propose a prepaid card rule before the end of this year.  However, the Director did not provide an updated timetable for issuing a prepaid card rule during his testimony.

GLB Act Privacy Notices

Senator Brown (D-OH) continued to push his bill that would exempt from the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act’s annual privacy policy notice requirement any financial institution that (i) provides nonpublic personal information only in accordance with specified requirements and (ii) has not changed its policies and practices with regard to disclosing nonpublic personal information from its most recent disclosure. The House of Representatives passed its version earlier this year and the Senate could move the bill before the end of this year. Director Cordray indicated that the CFPB continues to work on a rulemaking on this issue, and that while the CFPB may not be able to go as far as Congress could through legislation, the CFPB rule is “moving in the same direction” as the legislation.

CFPB Data Collection

Much of the hearing again centered on the CFPB’s collection and use of personally identifiable  information (PII).  Sen. Crapo (R-ID) continued to press the issue for Republicans, and was joined by Senators Vitter (R-LA) and Toomey (R-PA). Those members asked Director Cordray to describe the types of data the CFPB collects and how that data is protected.  Sen. Crapo focused primarily on the credit card account data that the CFPB obtains from Argus, which the Senator estimated to include 900 million accounts.  Senator Crapo believes that even though the data may be “de-identified,” the possibility exists that it could be reverse engineered to allow CFPB staff to obtain PII or review individual accounts.  Director Cordray repeatedly explained that the CFPB’s interest in that data set is to monitor market trends and the broad treatment of card holders, and the CFPB is not interested in monitoring individual accounts. He asserted the CFPB lacks the capability or interest to obtain or use consumer PII in that context. He pointed out that other regulators have had and continue to have access to the same data.  Senator Crapo noted that he has requested a GAO review of this issue; Director Cordray welcomes the audit.

CFPB Rulemaking and Examination Processes

Senators Corker (R-TN) and Toomey (R-PA) brought up the recent Bipartisan Policy Center report on the CFPB to make the case that the CFPB should pursue open rulemakings instead of issuing guidance. Director Cordray stated that the CFPB will continue to use guidance when it is restating or clarifying the law, but otherwise will use open rulemakings.  He admitted the auto finance guidance process could have been more open or inclusive, but again cited the upcoming forum as a way to address those concerns. He defended the CFPB’s debt collection bulletin and its 2012 fair lending bulletin.

Director Cordray stated that the CFPB still is only 80% staffed on supervision.  While he agrees that the CFPB may have been slow on closing out examinations, the CFPB deliberately chose quality and consistency over speed while it staffed-up.  He asserted that speed and responsiveness have greatly improved in recent months and will continue to improve next year.

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