House Financial Services Chairman Presses CFPB On Auto Finance Enforcement

Posted on March 7th, 2014 in Consumer Finance, Federal Issues By BuckleySandler

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) sent a letter today to CFPB Director Richard Cordray once again pressing the CFPB for information about its March 2013 auto finance guidance and its actions since that time to pursue allegedly discriminatory practices by auto finance companies. That guidance, which the CFPB has characterized as a restatement of existing law, sought to establish publicly the CFPB’s grounds for asserting violations of ECOA against bank and nonbank auto finance companies for the alleged effects of facially neutral pricing policies.

The letter recounts numerous exchanges between members of Congress—including both Democratic and Republican members of the Committee—and the CFPB on this issue to demonstrate what the Chairman characterizes as “a pattern of obfuscation” by the Bureau. Mr. Hensarling explains that through a series of written requests—see, e.g. here, here, and here—as well as in-person exchanges, lawmakers have sought detailed information about the CFPB’s application of the so-called disparate impact theory of discrimination to impose liability on auto finance companies. The letter states that the CFPB has repeatedly refused to provide certain key information used in applying that theory through compliance examinations and enforcement actions, including information about regression analyses, analytical controls, and numerical thresholds employed by the Bureau.

According to the letter, the CFPB has informed inquiring members that the CFPB’s fair lending tools and assessments are dependent upon a particular lender’s policies, practices, and procedures. Following the Bureau’s first auto finance fair lending action, announced in December 2013, the Chairman sought more specific information from the CFPB about how it applied its fair lending analysis in that case. The Chairman asserts the CFPB refused to provide the statistical analyses conducted in that case and CFPB staff who briefed committee staff were unwilling to respond to certain questions about the action, including “potential explanatory variables” and business justifications offered by the finance company.

Seeking once more to obtain additional details about the CFPB’s fair auto finance theories and their application, the letter restates numerous previous requests and demands that the Bureau respond by March 13, 2014. Specifically, the letter once again seeks the methods the Bureau uses to determine disparate impact, including, among others, (i) the factors it holds constant to ensure pricing differences are attributable to the consumer’s background; (ii) the controls applied to ensure sure that the consumers who are being compared are “similarly situated”; (iii) the basis point thresholds at which the Bureau determines a prohibited pricing disparity exists; (iv) the process used to determine the background of consumer credit applicants; (v) the potential explanatory variables offered by respondents in the December 2013 enforcement action, and for each variable offered, the Bureau’s reasons for asserting that the respondents failed to provide adequate evidence that additional variables appropriately reflected legitimate business needs; and (vi) the regression analysis used in the investigation that led to the December 2013 action.

Absent a sufficient response, the “Committee will have no choice but to consider involving its compulsory process.” The Committee’s rules allow it or its subcommittees to issue with a majority vote subpoenas “in the conduct of any investigation or series of investigations or activities.”

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