FTC and CFPB Reauthorize Memorandum of Understanding

On March 12, the FTC announced its coordination with the CFPB to reauthorize for a three-year term their memorandum of understanding (MOU), which outlines the two agencies’ coordination under the Consumer Financial Protection Act. The interagency agreement outlines processes for, among other things, coordinated law enforcement activities, commencement of or settling investigations and actions and proceedings, intervention in law enforcement actions, consultation on rulemaking and guidelines, sharing supervisory information, sharing consumer complaint information, and coordination to minimize duplicative or burdensome oversight or administrative proceedings.

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CFPB Schedules Arbitration Field Hearing

The CFPB announced on February 23 that it plans to host a field hearing on the issue of arbitration provisions within various consumer financial contracts. According to the CFPB’s blog post, the hearing will take place on March 10 in Newark, New Jersey, and will feature remarks from CFPB Director Richard Cordray, testimony from consumer groups, industry representatives, and members of the public. The Dodd-Frank Act instructs the CFPB to study the use of pre-dispute arbitration provisions in consumer financial contracts (and provide a Report to Congress) and gives the CFPB the authority to issue regulations on the use of arbitration clauses if the CFPB chooses. In December 2013, the CFPB issued a report on its preliminary findings, which indicated that approximately 9 out of 10 arbitration clauses used by large banks in credit card and checking account agreements prevent consumers from participating in class actions.

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FDIC Releases Final Technical Assistance Video to Cover Mortgage Servicing Rules

On February 13, the FDIC released the third and final technical assistance video intended to assist bank employees to comply with certain mortgage rules issued by the CFPB. The final video addresses the Mortgage Servicing Rules and the “Small Servicer” exemption. The first video, released on November 19, 2014, covered the ATR/QM Rule, and the second video, released on January 27, covered the Loan Originator Compensation Rule.

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CFPB Orders Nonbank Mortgage Lender to Pay $2 Million Penalty for Deceptive Advertising and Kickbacks

On February 10, the CFPB announced a consent order with a Maryland-based nonbank mortgage lender, ordering the lender to pay a $2 million civil money penalty, in part for allegedly failing to disclose its financial relationship with a veteran’s organization to consumers. According to the consent order, the CFPB alleged that the lender, whose primary business is originating refinance mortgage loans guaranteed by the VA, paid a veteran’s organization a fee to be named the “exclusive lender” of the organization and that failing to disclose this relationship in marketing materials targeted to the organization’s members constituted a deceptive act or practice under the Dodd-Frank Act. The CFPB further alleged that, because the veteran’s organization urged its members to use the lender’s products in direct mailings from the lender, call center referrals, and through the organization’s website, the monthly “licensing fee” and “lead generation fees” paid to the veteran’s organization and a third party broker company as part of marketing and referral arrangements constituted illegal kickbacks in violation of RESPA. In addition to the civil penalty, the consent order requires the lender to end any deceptive marketing, cease deceptive endorsement relationships, submit a compliance plan to the CFPB, and comply with additional record keeping, reporting, and compliance monitoring requirements.

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SEC Proposes Hedging Disclosure Rule

On February 9, the SEC issued a proposed rule implementing Section 955 of the Dodd-Frank Act. The rule would require directors, officers, and other employees of public companies to disclose in proxy and information statements whether they use derivatives and other financial instruments to offset or “hedge” against the decline in equity securities granted by the company as compensation, or held, directly or indirectly, by employees or directors. The proposed rule would apply to equity securities of a public company, its parent, subsidiary, or any subsidiary of any parent of the company that is registered with the SEC under Section 12 of the Exchange Act.  Public comments will be accepted for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register.

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House Financial Services Committee Approves Agenda for 114th Congress

On January 21, the Committee on Financial Services, in a voice vote, agreed to a new oversight plan that identifies the areas that the Committee and its subcommittees plan to oversee during the 114th Congress. Notable sections of the oversight plan include: (i) examining the governance structure and funding mechanism of the CFPB; (ii) reviewing recent rulemakings by the CFPB and other agencies on a variety of mortgage-related issues; (iii) examining the effects of regulations promulgated by Dodd-Frank on community financial institutions; and (iv) examining proposals to modify the GSEs.

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Bank Regulators Release Public Sections of “Living Wills”

On January 15, the Federal Reserve and the FDIC issued a joint press release making available the public sections of resolution plans of firms with less than $100 billion in qualifying nonbank assets.  The Dodd-Frank Act requires that certain banking institutions periodically submit resolution plans to the Federal Reserve and the FDIC describing the bank’s strategy for rapid and orderly resolution in the event of material financial distress or failure of the company. The public portions of these “living wills” are available on the Federal Reserve and FDIC websites.

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SEC Adopts New Rules, Regulatory Framework for Swap Data Repositories

On January 14, the SEC adopted new rules for security-based swap data repositories (SDRs), which store swap trading data. The rules require SDRs to register with the SEC and set reporting and public dissemination requirements for security-based swap transaction data. That reporting requirement, known as Regulation SBSR, outlines information that must be reported and publicly shared for each security-based swap transaction. The new rules are designed to increase transparency in the security-based swap market and are anticipated to reduce risks of default, improve price transparency, and hold financial institutions accountable for misconduct. The rules implement mandates under Title VII of the Dodd-Frank Act and will become effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. Persons subject to the new rules governing the registration of SDRs must comply with them by 365 days after they are published in the Federal Register.

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Third Circuit Affirms Whistleblowers Must Arbitrate Under Dodd-Frank

On December 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that application of Dodd-Frank’s Anti-Arbitration provision did not apply to causes of action asserted under the Anti-Retaliation Dodd Frank Provision due to the limiting language of the arbitration law. Khazin v. TD Ameritrade Holding Corp, No. 14-1689 (3rd Cir. Dec.8, 2014). In 2013, the plaintiff filed suit in the District of New Jersey alleging that he had been fired in the preceding year for whistleblowing. According to the complaint, the retaliation occurred after the plaintiff questioned a supervisor about the pricing of a financial product that did not comply with relevant securities regulations. The District Court ruled that Dodd Frank’s Anti-Arbitration Provision did not prohibit the enforcement of arbitration agreements that were signed before the enactment of Dodd-Frank. Rather than deciding on the timing issue, however, the Court of Appeals upheld the decision on statutory construction grounds based on the limiting language of the Anti-Arbitration provision indicating that it only applied to causes of action contained within the same section, and not all allegations under Dodd-Frank.

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Fed Governor: “Tailor Regulations to the Institution”

On December 2, Fed Governor Brainard delivered remarks at the Economic Growth and Regulatory Paperwork Reduction Act (EGRPRA) Outreach Meeting in California. Governor Brainard noted the significance of safety and soundness in the banking system, but noted that some Dodd-Frank regulations should target only larger institutions so that undue burdens are not placed on community banks: “Applying a one-size-fits-all approach to regulations may produce a small benefit at a disproportionately large compliance cost to smaller institutions.” The EGRPRA review, conducted every 10 years, provides an opportunity for federal financial regulators to consider whether current regulations are outdated, unnecessary, or unduly burdensome.

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Investment Banker Nominated For Treasury Under Secretary Post

On November 12, the Obama administration nominated Antonio Weiss as Under Secretary for Domestic Finance at the Department of Treasury. If confirmed as Under Secretary, Weiss would be responsible for coordinating policies on banking, debt financing, capital markets, and financial regulation – specifically overseeing implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act. Currently, Weiss serves as the global head of investment banking at a financial advisory and asset management firm.

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Fed Issues Final Rule Limiting Bank Mergers of Large Financial Firms

On November 5, the Board finalized Reg. XX thereby implementing Section 622 of the Dodd-Frank. The final rule, which was proposed in May, prohibits a financial company from combining with another company if the resulting company’s liabilities exceed 10 percent of the aggregate consolidated liabilities of all financial companies. The final rule also adds an exemption to clarify that a financial company may continue to engage in securitization activities if it has reached the limit and establishes reporting requirements for financial companies that do not otherwise report consolidated information to the Board or other Federal banking agency. Financial companies subject to the limit include insured depository institutions, bank holding companies, savings and loan holding companies, foreign banking organizations, companies that control insured depository institutions, and nonbank financial companies designated by the Financial Stability Oversight Council for Board supervision. The final rule will be effective on January 1, 2015.

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Interagency Guidance Regarding Unfair Or Deceptive Credit Practices

On August 22, the CFPB and the federal banking agencies (Fed, OCC, FDIC and NCUA) issued interagency guidance regarding unfair or deceptive credit practices (UDAPs). The guidance clarifies that “the repeal of the credit practices rules applicable to banks, savings associations, and federal credit unions is not a determination that the prohibited practices contained in those rules are permissible.” Notwithstanding the repeal of these rules, the agencies preserve supervisory and enforcement authority regarding UDAPs. Consequently, the guidance cautions that “depending on the facts and circumstances, if banks, savings associations and Federal credit unions engage in the unfair or deceptive practices described in the former credit practices rules, such conduct may violate the prohibition against unfair or deceptive practices in Section 5 of the FTC Act and Sections 1031 and 1036 of the Dodd-Frank Act. The Agencies may determine that statutory violations exist even in the absence of a specific regulation governing the conduct.” The guidance also explains that the FTC Rule remains in effect for creditors within the FTC’s jurisdiction, and can be enforced by the CFPB against creditors that fall under the CFPB’s enforcement authority.

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Federal Appeals Court Affirms Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Protections Do Not Apply Outside U.S.

On August 14, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a district court’s holding that the Dodd-Frank Act’s antiretaliation provision does not apply extraterritorially. Liu Meng-Lin v. Siemens AG, No. 13-4385, 2014 WL 3953672 (2nd Cir. Aug. 14, 2014). A foreign worker was allegedly fired by his foreign employer for internally reporting violations of U.S. anti-corruption rules, which he claimed violated the antiretaliation provision of the Dodd-Frank Act. This provision prohibits an employer from firing or otherwise discriminating against any employee who makes a disclosure that is required or protected under Sarbanes-Oxley or any other law, rule, or regulation subject to the SEC’s jurisdiction. The court first determined that the facts alleged in the complaint revealed “essentially no contact with the United States” and rejected an argument that the foreign company voluntarily subjected itself to U.S. securities laws by listing its securities on the New York Stock Exchange. The court also held that, given the longstanding presumption against extraterritoriality and the absence of any “explicit statutory evidence that Congress meant for the provision to apply extraterritorially,” the cited provision does not apply to purely foreign-based claims.

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Republican Committee Leaders Question CFPB On Recess Appointment Activities

On July 29, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Senate Banking Committee Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-ID) sent a letter to CFPB Director Richard Cordray questioning the CFPB’s authority to take certain actions during the period of Mr. Cordray’s recess appointment—January 4, 2012 through July 16, 2013—which was made in the same manner and on the same day as other appointments that were subsequently invalidated by the Supreme Court. Citing the Dodd-Frank Act, the letter asserts that new CFPB authorities created by the Act—as opposed to those transferred from another agency—could only be exercised by a Senate-confirmed director. The lawmakers state that as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision on recess appointments, two primary legal questions now exist regarding the CFPB’s authority during the relevant time: (i) whether the Director had authority to exercise CFPB powers as a recess appointee; and (ii) whether the Director’s ratification of actions taken during his recess appointment is valid. The letter asks the CFPB to produce by September 1, 2014: (i) “a full accounting of all CFPB actions taken” during the recess appointment period that were not derived from transferred authorities; (ii) all documents related to the validity or standing of CFPB actions taken during the recess appointment period that were not derivative of the transferred powers; (iii) all documents justifying the CFPB’s authority and the Director’s standing to ratify past actions; and (iv) all documents related to the impact of the Supreme Court’s recess appointment decision. The requests include internal documents and those involving outside counsel.

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