House Financial Services Chairman Presses CFPB On Auto Finance Enforcement

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. Read more…

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Senate Blocks DOJ Civil Rights Division Nominee

On March 5, the Senate voted 47-52 on a procedural motion that would have advanced President Obama’s nomination of Debo Adegbile to serve as Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division. Seven Democrats joined all voting Republicans to defeat the nomination. Mr. Adegbile’s participation in the legal representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted in 1981 of killing a Philadelphia police officer, reportedly played a factor in the voting.

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NADA Proposes Fair Credit Compliance Policy And Program For Its Member Dealers

On January 24, the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) distributed a proposed compliance program to its members aimed at reducing the risk of discrimination allegations stemming from CFPB Bulletin 2013-02, which places limits on how sources of indirect auto financing may compensate dealers. The bulletin and proposed program address the practice by which auto dealers “markup” an indirect lender’s risk-based buy rate and receive compensation based on the increased interest revenues. The NADA program recommends that dealerships adopt fixed markup limits and only exceed those limits if a legitimate business reason completely unrelated to a customer’s background is present. The proposal identifies seven “good faith” reasons for deviation—including a more competitive offer and generally-applicable promotional offers—which mirror those set forth in consent orders entered into between the DOJ and two automobile dealers accused of disparate impact discrimination in 2007. The CFPB has not commented on whether the program as proposed will satisfy regulatory scrutiny but plans to do so.

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Arkansas Amends Fair Mortgage Lending Act Regulations

On January 10, the Arkansas Securities Department finalized amendments to certain sections of the rules that implement the Fair Mortgage Lending Act. The regulations were adopted as proposed. The regulations were amended to expand disclosure requirements for new and transferred loans to include: (i) any notice required under federal law; (ii) a schedule of the ranges and categories of the servicer’s costs and fees for its servicing-related activities; and (iii) a notice that the servicer is licensed in the state and that complaints can be submitted to the Securities Department. The rule also prohibits advertising that indicates a consumer’s ability or likelihood to obtain any new mortgage credit product or term, or a refinancing or modification, has been preapproved or guaranteed. Finally, the rule, among other things, (i) expands payment processing requirements to include payments made via electronic transfer; and (ii) amends record keeping rules to require licensees to maintain records in a format compatible with electronic examination software, and to expand the types of documents servicers must maintain. The new rules take effect February 9, 2014.

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DOJ Alleges Community Bank’s Unsecured Loan Pricing Violated ECOA

Last month, the DOJ announced a settlement with a three-branch, $78 million Texas bank to resolve allegations that the bank engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination on the basis of national origin in the pricing of unsecured consumer loans. Based on its own investigation and an examination conducted by the FDIC, the DOJ alleged that the bank violated ECOA by allowing employees “broad subjective discretion” in setting interest rates for unsecured loans, which allegedly resulted in Hispanic borrowers being charged rates that, after accounting for relevant loan and borrower credit factors, were on average 100-228 basis points higher than rates charged to similarly situated non-Hispanic borrowers. The DOJ claimed that “[a]lthough information as to each applicant’s national origin was not solicited or noted in loan applications, such information was known to the Bank’s loan officers, who personally handled each loan transaction.”

The consent order requires the bank to establish a $159,000 fund to compensate borrowers who may have suffered harm as a result of the alleged ECOA violations. Prior to the settlement, the bank implemented uniform pricing policies that substantially reduced loan officer discretion to vary a loan’s interest rate. The agreement requires the bank to continue implementing the uniform pricing policy and to (i) create a compliance monitoring program, (ii) provide borrower notices of non-discrimination, (iii) conduct employee training, and (iv) establish a complaint resolution program to address consumer complaints alleging discrimination regarding loans originated by the bank. The requirements apply not only to unsecured consumer loans, but also to mortgage loans, automobile financing, and home improvement loans.

The action is similar to another fair lending matter referred by the FDIC and settled by the DOJ earlier in 2013, which also involved a Texas community bank that allegedly discriminated on the basis of national origin in its pricing of unsecured loans.

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CFPB, DOJ Announce First Joint Fair Lending Action Against Indirect Auto Finance Company

This morning, the CFPB and the DOJ announced their first ever joint fair lending enforcement action to resolve allegations that an auto finance company’s dealer compensation policy, which allowed for auto dealer discretion in pricing, resulted in a disparate impact on certain minority borrowers. The $98 million settlement is the DOJ’s third largest fair lending action ever and the largest ever auto finance action.

Investigation and Claims

As part of the CFPB’s ongoing targeted examinations of auto finance companies’ ECOA compliance, the CFPB conducted an examination of this auto finance company in the fall of 2012. This finance company is one of the largest indirect automobile finance companies in the country which, according to the CFPB and DOJ’s estimates, purchased over 2.1 million non-subvented retail installment contracts from approximately 12,000 dealers between April 1, 2011 and present. The CFPB’s investigation of the finance company allegedly revealed pricing disparities in the finance company’s portfolio with regard to auto loans made by dealers to African-American, Hispanic, and Asian and Pacific Islander borrowers. The CFPB referred the matter to the DOJ just last month, and the DOJ’s own investigation resulted in findings that mirrored the CFPB’s.

Specifically, the federal authorities claim that, based on statistical analysis of the loan portfolios, using controversial proxy methodologies, the investigations showed that African-American borrowers were charged on average approximately 29 basis points more in dealer markup than similarly situated non-Hispanic whites for non-subvented retail installment contracts, while Hispanic borrowers and Asian/Pacific Islander borrowers were charged on average approximately 20 and 22 basis points more, respectively. The complaint also faults the finance company for not appropriately monitoring pricing disparities or providing fair lending training to dealers. Read more…

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Report On CFPB’s Auto Finance Forum

This morning, the CFPB hosted an auto finance forum, which featured remarks from CFPB staff and other federal regulators, consumer advocates, and industry representatives.

Some of the highlights include:

  • Patrice Ficklin (CFPB) confirmed that the CFPB, both before issuing the March bulletin and since, has conducted analysis of numerous finance companies’ activities and found statistically significant disparities disfavoring protected classes. She stated that there were “numerous” companies whose data showed statistically significant pricing disparities of 10 basis points or more and “several” finance companies with disparities of over 20 or 30 basis points.
  • Much of the discussion focused on potential alternatives to the current dealer markup system.  The DOJ discussed allowing discretion within limitations and with documentation of the reasons for exercising that discretion (e.g., competition). The CFPB focus was exclusively on non-discretionary “alternative compensation mechanisms”, specifically flat fees per loan, compensation based on a percentage of the amount financed, or some variation of those. The CFPB said it invited finance companies to suggest other non-discretionary alternatives. Regardless of specific compensation model, Ms. Ficklin stated that in general, nondiscretionary alternatives can (i) be revenue neutral for dealers, (ii) reduce fair lending risk, (iii) be less costly than compliance management systems enhancements, and (iv) limit friction between dealers on the one hand and the CFPB on the other.
  • There was significant debate over whether flat fee arrangements, or other potential compensation mechanisms, actually eliminate or reduce the potential for disparate impact in auto lending. There was also criticism of the CFPB’s failure to empirically test whether these “fixes” would result in other unintended consequences.  Industry stakeholders asserted that such arrangements fail to mitigate fair lending risk market-wide while at the same time potentially increase the cost of credit and constrain credit availability. Industry stakeholders also questioned the validity of the large dollar figures of alleged consumer harm caused by dealer markups.  When assessing any particular model, the CFPB’s Eric Reusch explained, finance companies should determine whether (i) it mitigates fair lending risk, (ii) creates any new risk or potential for additional harm, and (iii) it is economically sustainable, with sustainability viewed through the lens of consumers, finance companies, and dealers.
  • Numerous stakeholders urged the CFPB to release more information about its proxy methodology and statistical analysis, citing the Bureau’s stated dedication to transparency and even referencing its Data Quality Act guidelines.  The DOJ described its commitment to “kicking the tires” on its statistical analyses and allowing institutions to do the same.  The CFPB referenced its recent public disclosure of its proxy methodology, noting that this was the methodology the CFPB intended to apply to all lending outside of mortgage.
  • Steven Rosenbaum (DOJ) and Donna Murphy (OCC) pointedly went beyond the stated scope of the forum to highlight potential SCRA compliance risks associated with indirect auto lending.

Additional detail from each panel follows. Read more…

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Senators Challenge CFPB On Indirect Auto Finance Guidance

On October 30, a bipartisan group of 22 Senators sent a letter to the CFPB raising concerns about CFPB guidance affecting the indirect auto financing market and auto dealers’ ability to negotiate retail margins with consumers. The guidance at issue, contained within CFPB Bulletin 2013-02, advised bank and nonbank indirect auto financial institutions about compliance with federal fair lending requirements in connection with the practice by which auto dealers “mark up” the financial institution’s risk-based buy rate and receive compensation based on the increased interest revenues.

In August, the CFPB responded to a similar inquiry from House members. The Senate letter asserts that the CFPB still has not explained a basis for alleging that discrimination under a “disparate impact” theory of liability exists in the indirect auto financing market.  Nor, the letter continues, has the CFPB released the statistical methodology it uses to evaluate disparate impact in an indirect auto lender’s portfolio. Read more…

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Special Alert: Agencies Issue Joint Statement On Fair Lending Compliance And The CFPB’s ATR/QM Rule

On October 22, the CFPB, the OCC, the FDIC, the Federal Reserve Board, and the NCUA (collectively, the Agencies) issued a joint statement (Interagency Statement) in response to inquiries from creditors concerning their liability under the disparate impact doctrine of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and its implementing regulation, Regulation B by originating only “qualified mortgages.”  Qualified mortgages are defined under the CFPB’s January 2013 Ability-to-Repay/Qualified Mortgage Rule (ATR/QM Rule).  The DOJ and HUD did not participate in the Interagency Statement.

The Interagency Statement describes some general principles that will guide the Agencies’ supervisory and enforcement activities with respect to entities within their jurisdiction as the ATR/QM Rule takes effect in January 2014.  The Interagency Statement does not state that a creditor’s choice to limit its offerings to qualified mortgage loans or qualified mortgage “safe harbor” loans would comply with ECOA; rather, the Agencies state that they “do not anticipate that a creditor’s decision to offer only qualified mortgages would, absent other factors, elevate a supervised institution’s fair lending risk.”  Furthermore, the Interagency Statement will not necessarily preclude civil actions. Read more…

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Justice Department Announces Three Fair Lending Actions

Recently, the DOJ released information regarding three fair lending actions, all three of which included allegations related to wholesale lending programs. On September 27, the DOJ announced separate actions—one against a Wisconsin bank and the other against a nationwide wholesale lender—in which the DOJ alleged that the lenders engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination on the basis of race and national origin in their wholesale mortgage businesses. The DOJ charged that, during 2007 and 2008, the bank violated the Fair Housing Act and ECOA by granting its mortgage brokers discretion to vary their fees and thus alter the loan price based on factors other than a borrower’s objective credit-related factors, which allegedly resulted in African-American and Hispanic borrowers paying more than non-Hispanic white borrowers for home mortgage loans. The bank denies the allegations but entered a consent order pursuant to which it will pay $687,000 to wholesale mortgage borrowers who were subject to the alleged discrimination. The allegations originated from an FDIC referral to the DOJ.

The DOJ charged the California-based wholesale lender with violations of the Fair Housing Act and ECOA, alleging that over a four-year period, the lender’s practice of granting its mortgage brokers discretion to set the amount of broker fees charged to individual borrowers, unrelated to an applicant’s credit risk characteristics, resulted in African-American and Hispanic borrowers paying more than non-Hispanic white borrowers for home mortgage loans. The lender did not admit the allegations, but agreed to enter a consent order to avoid litigation. Pursuant to that order the lender will pay $3 million to allegedly harmed borrowers. The order also requires the lender to take other actions including establishing race- and national origin-neutral standards for the assessment of broker fees and monitoring its wholesale mortgage loans for potential disparities based on race and national origin.

Finally, on September 30, the DOJ announced that a national bank agreed to resolve certain legacy fair lending claims against a thrift it acquired several years ago, which the bank and the OCC identified as part of the acquisition review. Based on its own investigation following the OCC referral, the DOJ alleged that, between 2006 and 2009, the thrift allowed employees in its retail lending operation to vary interest rates and fees, and allowed third-party brokers as part of its wholesale lending program to do the same, allegedly resulting in disparities between the rates, fees, and costs paid by non-white borrowers compared to similarly-situated white borrowers. The bank, which was not itself subject to the DOJ’s allegations, agreed to pay $2.85 million to approximately 3,100 allegedly harmed borrowers to resolve the legacy claims and avoid litigation.

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CFPB HMDA Data Tool Launches with Banking Regulators’ Release of 2012 HMDA Data

On September 18, the CFPB launched a new web-based tool for use in analyzing HMDA data. The CFPB explains that its new HMDA tool focuses on the number of mortgage applications and originations, in addition to loan purposes and loan types for 2010 through 2012, and allows the public to see nationwide summaries or employ interactive features to isolate the information for metropolitan areas. The CFPB is planning additional features for the site, including (i) “easy-to-use tools” that allow users to filter HMDA records and create summary tables and (ii) an application programming interface that will allow researchers and software developers to incorporate the CFPB-provided HMDA data into other applications and visualizations. During a CFPB Consumer Advisory Board meeting at which the new tool was demonstrated, Director Cordray explained that the CFPB’s HMDA tool is designed to enhance the value of the HMDA data to help identify potentially discriminatory lending patterns and determine whether lenders are serving the housing needs of their communities.

The launch corresponded with the FFIEC’s annual HMDA data release. The release provides data on mortgage lending transactions—including applications, originations, purchases and sales of loans, denials, and other actions related to applications—provided by 7,400 U.S. financial institutions covered by HMDA for the 2012 calendar year. The FFIEC release notes that 2012 HMDA data are the first to use the census tract delineations and population and housing characteristic data from the 2010 Census and from the American Community Survey and that the boundaries of many census tracts have been revised in the process of transitioning to the 2010 Census, and cautions users that boundary changes and updates to the population and housing characteristics of census tracts complicate intertemporal analysis of the annual HMDA data. The release further advises users that while the HMDA data can inform analysis of fair lending compliance, the HMDA data alone cannot be used to determine whether a lender is complying with fair lending laws because they do not include many potential determinants of creditworthiness and loan pricing, such as the borrower’s credit history, debt-to-income ratio, and the loan-to-value ratio.

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CFPB Issues Report on Examination Findings, Other Supervisory Activities

This afternoon, the CFPB released its summer 2013 Supervisory Highlights report, which covers supervisory activity from November 2012-June 2013.  This is the second such report the CFPB has released; the first report came out in October 2012 and covered activity from July 2011 through September 2012.

The report provides a brief review of the CFPB’s public enforcement actions and non-public supervisory actions and developments in the supervision program, including the issuance of bulletins, the issuance of new fair lending examination procedures, and the reorganization of supervision staff. The report also reviews the CFPB’s risk-based approach to examinations, including the “Institution Product Lines” approach, and outlines the factors that influence examination priorities.  The report does not identify any planned supervisory activities.

The bulk of the report, however, summarizes the CFPB’s examination findings. Key findings are discussed below. Read more…

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CFPB Responds to Inquiry by Members of Congress on Indirect Auto Lending Guidance

On August 2, the CFPB responded to a letter submitted by 35 republican members of Congress who are concerned about the fair lending guidance the CFPB issued to indirect auto lenders earlier this year.  The bulletin, issued in March, confirmed the CFPB’s position that indirect auto finance companies are “creditors” subject to the fair lending requirements of ECOA and Regulation B and specifically addressed the risk of discrimination allegedly caused by discretionary dealer participation and compensation policies, concluding that indirect auto finance companies may be liable under the legal theories of both disparate treatment and disparate impact when pricing disparities on a prohibited basis exist within their portfolios.  The members criticized the CFPB’s lack of transparency and accountability in issuing the guidance “without a public hearing, without public comment, and without releasing the data, methodology, or analysis it relied upon to support such an important change in policy” and requested that the CFPB provide full details of the statistical disparate impact methodology used to support the bulletin’s directives.

The CFPB’s response letter affirms its indirect auto lending guidance, stating that the Bureau perceives frequent lack of fair lending compliance programs associated with this type of consumer lending despite Bureau’s assertion that ECOA applies to all credit transactions.  The CFPB further asserts that the notice-and-comment rulemaking process was not necessary for the bulletin, because the Administrative Procedure Act — which sets out the basic principles that apply to regulatory activity by federal agencies — does not require notice and comment for “general statements of policy, non-binding information guidelines, or interpretive memoranda.”  The letter also explains that because data about race, ethnicity, and gender is not typically collected in auto finance transactions, the CFPB employs a proxy methodology using surname and geographic location to identify potential pricing disparities affecting protected classes.  In support of its approach, the CFPB asserts that use of proxies for unavailable data is generally accepted and maintains that disparities will be considered “in view of all other evidence,” including the finance companies’ own analysis. The CFPB emphasized that “each supervisory examination or enforcement investigation is based on the particular facts presented” and that the CFPB “typically look[s] to whether there is a statistically significant basis point disparity in dealer markups received by the prohibited basis group.”  Lastly, the letter reiterates the CFPB’s ongoing coordination with other federal agencies to ensure that fair lending supervision and enforcement is “consistent, efficient, and effective.”

For additional information about federal authorities’ approach to fair lending in indirect auto finance, see our report on a recent Federal Reserve Board-sponsored webinar entitled “Indirect Auto Lending – Fair Lending Considerations,” in which presenters from the CFPB, FRB, and DOJ provided a perspective on the examination and enforcement activities of their respective organizations.

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CFPB, FRB, and DOJ Webinar on Fair Lending in Indirect Auto Finance

On August 6, 2013, the Federal Reserve sponsored a webinar entitled “Indirect Auto Lending – Fair Lending Considerations,” in which presentations were given by Patrice Ficklin, Fair Lending Director, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Maureen Yap, Special Counsel/Manager, Fair Lending Enforcement, Federal Reserve Board (FRB), and Coty Montag, Deputy Chief, Housing and Civil Enforcement Section, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). During the webinar, each of the speakers provided a perspective on the examination and enforcement activities of their respective organization, followed by a Question and Answer session.

Ms. Ficklin began by providing a summary of the CFPB’s supervisory and enforcement authority, followed by a discussion of CFPB Bulletin 2013-02. In discussing the bulletin, Ms. Ficklin addressed the specific guidance provided in that Bulletin, with a particular emphasis on how the “standard practices” of indirect auto financial institutions “likely constitute participation in a credit decision” resulting in their being deemed “creditors” under the ECOA. That was followed by a discussion of the way in which the existence of dealer discretion and markup presents fair lending risk and ways in which financial institutions may comply with fair lending requirement.  Read more…

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CFPB Publishes ECOA Baseline Review Modules

Yesterday afternoon, the CFPB released its ECOA baseline review modules, which supplement the recently updated ECOA examination procedures. Completed baseline modules will be included in an institution’s examination work papers and may be considered in conjunction with any fair lending statistical analysis to assess an institution’s fair lending compliance and risks.

The baseline review procedures provide examiners with a series of questions in six modules to assess the following:

  1. Fair lending supervisory history;
  2. Fair lending compliance management system – management participation, policies and procedures, training, and internal controls and monitoring;
  3. Mortgage lending – policies and procedures for mortgage underwriting and pricing, including frequency of deviations, compensation structures, third-party involvement, and marketing practices;
  4. Mortgage servicing – policies and procedures  as they relate to fair lending;
  5. Auto lending – policies and procedures for direct and indirect auto lending, including information related to pricing, underwriting, referrals, origination, and third-party compensation; and
  6. Other products – policies and procedures with respect to any additional products selected for review, e.g. secured and unsecured consumer lending, credit cards, add-on products, private student lending, payday lending, and small business lending.

The CFPB baseline review differs from the CFPB’s targeted review process, during which a supervised institution can be subject to an in-depth look at a specific area of fair lending risk, and is separate from the CFPB’s HMDA review, which includes transactional testing for HMDA data accuracy.

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