On November 21, the OCC and the FDIC separately issued guidance that establishes numerous expectations for institutions offering deposit advance products, including with regard to consumer eligibility, capital adequacy, fees, compliance, management oversight, and third-party relationships. For example, under the guidance the agencies expect banks to offer a deposit advance product only to customers who (i) have at least a six month relationship with the bank; (ii) do not have any delinquent or adversely classified credits; and (iii) meet specific financial capacity standards. The guidance also establishes, among other things, that (i) each deposit advance loan be repaid in full before the extension of a subsequent loan; (ii) banks refrain from offering more than one loan per monthly statement cycle and provide a “cooling-off period” of at least one monthly statement cycle after the repayment of a loan before another advance is extended; and (iii) banks reevaluate customer eligibility every six months. The final guidance is substantially the same as the versions proposed in April. However, the agencies added language to clarify that eligibility and underwriting expectations do not require the use of credit reports, and to emphasize that the guidance applies to all deposit advance products regardless of how the extension of credit is offered. Acknowledging the demand for short-term, small-dollar credit products, and dismissing the concerns that the guidance might restrict such credit, the FDIC encouraged banks to continue to offer “properly structured products” and to develop new or innovative programs to effectively meet the need for small-dollar credit. As a reminder, the Federal Reserve Board did not propose similar guidance, but instead issued a policy statement.
On November 19, the DOJ, other federal authorities, and state authorities in California, Delaware, Illinois, and Massachusetts, announced a $13 billion settlement of federal and state RMBS civil claims, which were being pursued as part of the state-federal RMBS Working Group, part of the Obama Administration’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. The DOJ described the settlement as the largest it has ever entered with a single entity. Federal and state law enforcement authorities and financial regulators alleged that the bank and certain institutions it acquired mislead investors in connection with the packaging, marketing, sale and issuance of certain RMBS. They claimed the institutions’ employees knew that loans backing certain RMBS did not comply with underwriting guidelines and were not otherwise appropriate for securitization, yet allowed the loans to be securitized and sold without disclosing the alleged underwriting failures to investors.The agreement includes $9 billion in civil penalties and $4 billion in consumer relief. Of the civil penalty amount, $2 billion resolves DOJ’s claims under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA), $1.4 billion resolves federal and state securities claims by the NCUA, $515.4 million resolves federal and state securities claims by the FDIC, $4 billion settles federal and state claims by the FHFA, while the remaining amount resolves claims brought by California ($298.9 million), Delaware ($19.7 million) Illinois ($100.0 million), Massachusetts ($34.4 million), and New York ($613.0 million). The bank also was required to acknowledge it made “serious misrepresentations.” The agreement does not prevent authorities from continuing to pursue any possible related criminal charges.
On November 14, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia denied motions to dismiss filed by former officers and directors of a failed federal thrift who allegedly contributed to the bank’s collapse by failing to exercise due diligence and monitor the bank’s relationship with a third party mortgage loan originator. FDIC v. Baldini, No. 12-0750, 2013 WL 6044412 (S.D. W.Va. Nov. 14, 2013). The former bank officers and directors moved to dismiss the FDIC’s negligence claims, filed as conservators for the failed thrift, arguing that the business judgment rule operates as a substantive rule of law that immunizes the directors and officers from liability for the alleged ordinary negligence. The court held that it is too early in the case to decide whether the officers and directors are entitled to business judgment rule protection. The court reasoned that determining whether the rule applies requires a fact-intensive investigation that is not appropriate for resolution on a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. The court noted that even if the rule applies, the FDIC should be permitted an opportunity to rebut that presumption. The court also held that the FDIC’s claims satisfy Twombly and Iqbal pleading requirements by sufficiently alleging that the directors and officers “essentially abdicated oversight completely” in the context of the thrift’s relationship with the third-party broker, which the court held was enough to support claims of not only ordinary, but gross negligence.
On November 15, the Federal Reserve Board, the FDIC, and the OCC finalized revisions to the “Interagency Questions and Answers Regarding Community Reinvestment” (Q&As). The agencies adopted the revisions largely as proposed, with some minor changes in response to comments. The new Q&As, which include revisions to five questions and answers and two new questions, generally are intended to: (i) clarify how the agencies consider community development activities that benefit a broader statewide or regional area that includes an institution’s assessment area; (ii) provide guidance related to CRA consideration of, and documentation associated with, investments in nationwide funds; (iii) clarify the consideration of certain community development services, such as service on a community development organization’s board of directors; (iv) address the treatment of loans or investments to organizations that, in turn, invest those funds and use only a portion of the income from their investment to support a community development purpose; and (v) clarify that community development lending performance is always a factor considered in a large institution’s lending test rating. The new Q&As take effect when they are published in the Federal Register.
On November 12, the FDIC released the economic scenarios that will be used by certain financial institutions with total consolidated assets of more than $10 billion for stress tests required under the Dodd-Frank Act. Each scenario includes key variables that reflect economic activity, including unemployment, exchange rates, prices, income, interest rates, and other salient aspects of the economy and financial markets. The baseline scenario represents expectations of private sector economic forecasters; the adverse and severely adverse are hypothetical scenarios designed to assess the strength and resilience of financial institutions and their ability to continue to meet the credit needs of households and businesses under stressed economic conditions. The FDIC release follows the recent release of stress test scenarios by the Federal Reserve Board and the OCC. The Federal Reserve Board also recently issued a final policy statement that describes the process by which it will develop future stress test scenarios.
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…
Prudential Regulators Issue Joint Agreement On Classification And Appraisal Of Securities Held By Financial Institutions
On October 29, the FDIC, the Federal Reserve Board, and the OCC issued a joint agreement to update and revise the 2004 Uniform Agreement on the Classification of Assets and Appraisal of Securities Held by Banks and Thrifts. The updated agreement reiterates the importance of a robust investment analysis process and the agencies’ longstanding asset classification definitions. It also replaces references to credit ratings with alternative standards of creditworthiness consistent with sections 939 and 939A of the Dodd-Frank Act, which directed the agencies to remove any reference to or requirement of reliance on credit ratings in the regulations and replace them with appropriate standards of creditworthiness. The agencies adopted those new standards in 2012 (see, e.g., the OCC’s final rule). The joint agreement provides examples to demonstrate the appropriate application of the new standards to the classification of securities.
Last week, the Federal Reserve Board, the FDIC, the NCUA, and the OCC released interagency guidance related to the accounting treatment and regulatory credit risk grade or classification of commercial and residential real estate loans that have undergone troubled debt restructurings (TDRs). The guidance clarifies the definition of collateral-dependent loans and states that impaired collateral-dependent loans should be measured for impairment based on the fair value of the collateral rather than the present value of expected future cash flows.
On October 23, the CFPB, the OCC, the FDIC, the Federal Reserve Board, the NCUA, and the SEC proposed joint standards for assessing the diversity policies and practices of regulated institutions. Section 342 of the Dodd-Frank Act required the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion (OMWI) at each agency to develop the standards. The Act specifically prohibits the standards from imposing requirements on or otherwise affecting the lending policies and practices of any regulated entity, or requiring any specific action based on the findings of an assessment, and the agencies state that the assessments will not occur within the standard examination or supervision process. The standards, which the agencies believe are designed to promote “transparency and awareness,” cover four general areas: (i) organizational commitment to diversity and inclusion, (ii) workforce profile and employment practices, (iii) procurement and business practices to promote supplier diversity, and (iv) practices to promote transparency of organizational diversity and inclusion. The agencies state that the standards account for variables including asset size, number of employees, governance structure, income, number of members or customers, contract volume, location, and community characteristics, and the agencies recognize the standards may need to change and improve over time. The proposed standards are subject to a public comment period, which will run for 60 days once they are published in the Federal Register.
On October 24, the Federal Reserve Board issued a proposed rule it developed with the OCC and the FDIC to establish a minimum liquidity coverage ratio (LCR) consistent with the Basel III LCR, with some modifications to reflect characteristics and risks of specific aspects of the U.S. market and U.S. regulatory framework. The proposal would create for the first time a minimum liquidity requirement for certain large or systemically important financial institutions. The covered institutions would be required to hold (i) minimum amounts of high-quality, liquid assets such as central bank reserves and government and corporate debt that can be converted easily and quickly into cash, and (ii) liquidity in an amount equal to or greater than its projected cash outflows minus its projected cash inflows during a short-term stress period. The requirements would apply to all internationally active banking organizations—i.e., those with $250 billion or more in total consolidated assets or $10 billion or more in on-balance sheet foreign exposure—and to systemically important, non-bank financial institutions designated by the FSOC. The proposal also would apply a less stringent, modified LCR to bank holding companies and savings and loan holding companies that are not internationally active, but have more than $50 billion in total assets. The regulators propose various categories of high quality, liquid assets and also specify how a firm’s projected net cash outflows over the stress period would be calculated using common, standardized assumptions about the outflows and inflows associated with specific liabilities, assets, and off-balance-sheet obligations. Comments on the proposed rule must be submitted by January 31, 2013.
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…
On October 11, the FDIC, the OCC, the Federal Reserve Board, and other federal agencies (collectively the agencies) proposed a rule to implement changes to certain flood insurance regulations required by the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. The proposal generally would, among other things, require premiums and fees for flood insurance to be escrowed for any loans secured by residential improved real estate or a mobile home. The proposal incorporates a statutory exception for any institution with total assets of less than $1 billion that, as of July 6, 2012, was not required by federal or state law to escrow taxes or insurance for the term of the loan and did not have a policy to require escrow of taxes and insurance. The agencies also propose requiring lenders to accept private flood insurance that meets the statutory definition to satisfy the mandatory purchase requirement, but seek comment on whether the final rule should include a provision that expressly permits lenders to accept a flood insurance policy issued by a private insurer that does not meet the definition of “private flood insurance.” The proposed rule also would amend lender-placement provisions to clarify that a lender or its servicer has the authority to charge a borrower for the cost of coverage commencing on the date on which the borrower’s coverage lapsed or became insufficient. The proposal also stipulates the circumstances under which a lender or its servicer must terminate lender-placed insurance and refund payments to a borrower, and establishes documentary evidence a lender must accept to confirm that a borrower has obtained an appropriate amount of flood insurance coverage. Comments on the proposal are due by December 9, 2013.
On October 8, the FDIC issued Financial Institution Letter FIL-46-2013, which re-emphasizes the importance of prudent interest rate risk oversight and risk management processes to prepare for a period of rising interest rates. The FDIC states that interest rate risk management should be viewed as an ongoing process that requires effective measurement and monitoring, clear communication of modeling results, conformance with policy limits, and appropriate steps to mitigate risk. It believes that for a number of FDIC-supervised institutions, the potential exists for material securities depreciation relative to capital in a rising interest rate environment. FDIC examiners will continue to consider the amount of unrealized losses in the investment portfolio and the degree to which institutions are exposed to the risk of realizing losses from depreciated securities when qualitatively assessing capital adequacy and liquidity and assigning examination ratings.
On October 10, the FDIC released Financial Institution Letter FIL-47-2013 to caution financial institutions about an increase in exclusionary terms or provisions in director and officer (D&O) liability insurance policies purchased by financial institutions. The FDIC reports that insurers are increasingly adding exclusionary language to D&O policies that has the potential to limit coverage and leave officers and directors personally responsible for claims not covered by those policies. Such exclusions may adversely affect financial institutions’ ability to recruit and retain qualified directors and officers. The FDIC advises institutions to thoroughly review the risks associated with coverage exclusions contained in D&O policies. The letter also reminds institutions that FDIC regulations prohibit an insured depository institution or depository institution holding company from purchasing insurance that would be used to pay or reimburse an institution-affiliated party for the cost of any civil money penalties assessed in an administrative proceeding or civil action commenced by any federal banking agency.
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.