Federal Reserve Takes Action Against Bank For Vendor’s Allegedly Deceptive Practices

On July 1, the Federal Reserve Board announced a joint enforcement action with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation against a state bank that allegedly failed to properly oversee a nonbank third-party provider of financial aid refund disbursement services. The consent order states that from May 2012 to August 2013, the bank opened over 430,000 deposit accounts in connection with the vendor’s debit card product for disbursement of financial aid to students. The agencies claim that during that time, the vendor misled students about the product, including by (i) omitting material information about how students could get their financial aid refund without having to open an account; (ii) omitting material information about the fees, features, and limitations of the product; (iii) omitting material information about the locations of ATMs where students could access their account without cost and the hours of availability of those ATMs; and (iv) prominently displaying the school logo, which may have erroneously implied that the school endorsed the product. The regulators ordered the bank to pay a total of $4.1 million in civil money penalties. In addition, the Federal Reserve is seeking restitution from the vendor, and, pursuant to the order against the bank, may require the bank to pay any amounts the vendor cannot pay in restitution to eligible students up to the lesser of $30 million or the total amount of restitution based on fees the vendor collected from May 2012 through June 2014. The consent order also requires the bank to submit for Federal Reserve approval a compliance risk management program in advance of entering into an agreement with a third party to solicit, market, or service a consumer deposit product on behalf of the bank.

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Federal, State Prudential Regulators Issue HELOC Guidance

On July 1, the OCC, the Federal Reserve Board, the FDIC, the NCUA, and the Conference of State Bank Supervisors issued interagency guidance on home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) nearing their end-of-draw periods. The guidance states that as HELOCs transition from their draw periods to full repayment, some borrowers may have difficulty meeting higher payments resulting from principal amortization or interest rate reset, or renewing existing loans due to changes in their financial circumstances or declines in property values. As such, the guidance describes the following “core operating principles” that the regulators believe should govern oversight of HELOCs nearing their end-of-draw periods: (i) prudent underwriting for renewals, extensions, and rewrites; (ii) compliance with existing guidance, including but not limited to the Credit Risk Management Guidance for Home Equity Lending and the Interagency Guidelines for Real Estate Lending Policies; (iii) use of well-structured and sustainable modification terms; (iv) appropriate accounting, reporting, and disclosure of troubled debt restructurings; and (v) appropriate segmentation and analysis of end-of-draw exposure in allowance for loan and lease losses estimation processes. The guidance also outlines numerous risk management expectations, and states that institutions with a significant volume of HELOCs, portfolio acquisitions, or exposures with higher-risk characteristics should have comprehensive systems and procedures to monitor and assess their portfolios, while less-sophisticated processes may be sufficient for community banks and credit unions with small portfolios, few acquisitions, or exposures with lower-risk characteristics.

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Prudential Regulators Propose Changes To Timing Of Stress Tests

On June 12, the Federal Reserve Board and the OCC separately released proposed rules that would push back by 90 days the start date of the stress test cycles and the deadlines for submitting stress test results. The regulators propose making the new schedules effective beginning with the 2015-2016 cycles. On June 13, the FDIC proposed a rule to similarly shift the stress test cycles. In addition, the Federal Reserve’s proposed rule would (i) modify the capital plan rule to limit a large bank holding company’s ability to make capital distributions to the extent that its actual capital issuances were less than the amount indicated in its capital plan; (ii) clarify the application of the capital plan rule to a large bank holding company that is a subsidiary of a U.S. intermediate holding company of a foreign banking organization; and (iii) make other technical clarifying changes. Comments on the Federal Reserve’s proposal are due by August 11, 2014. Comments on the OCC’s and the FDIC’s proposals are due 60 days after their publication in the Federal register.

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Payday Lenders Sue Government Over Operation Choke Point

On June 5, the Community Financial Services Association and one of its short-term, small dollar lender members filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia claiming the FDIC, the OCC, and the Federal Reserve Board have participated in Operation Choke Point “to drive [the lenders] out of business by exerting back-room pressure on banks and other regulated financial institutions to terminate their relationships with payday lenders.” The complaint asserts that the operation has resulted in over 80 banking institutions terminating their business relationships with CFSA members and other law-abiding payday lenders. The lenders claim that the regulators are using broad statutory safety and soundness authority to establish through agency guidance and other means broad requirements for financial institutions, while avoiding the public and judicial accountability the regulators would otherwise be subject to if they pursued the same policies under the Administrative Procedures Act’s (APA) notice and comment rulemaking procedures. The lenders assert that in doing so, the regulators have violated the APA by (i) failing to observe its rulemaking requirements; (ii) exceeding their statutory authority; (iii) engaging in arbitrary and capricious conduct; and (iv) violating lenders’ due process rights. The lenders ask the court to declare unlawful certain agency guidance regarding third-party risk and payment processors and enjoin the agencies from taking any action pursuant to that guidance or from applying informal pressure on banks to encourage them to terminate business relationships with payday lenders.

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Prudential Regulators Issue Statement On Increased Maximum Flood Insurance Coverage

On May 30, the OCC, the FDIC, the Federal Reserve Board, the NCUA, and the Farm Credit Administration issued an interagency statement regarding the increased maximum amount of flood insurance available for “Other Residential Buildings” (i.e., non-condominium residential buildings designed for use for five or more families) beginning June 1, 2014. The statement explains that the maximum amount of flood insurance available under the NFIP for Other Residential Buildings increased from $250,000 to $500,000 per building, which may affect the minimum amount of flood insurance required for both existing and future loans secured by Other Residential Buildings. The statement also informs institutions that FEMA instructed insurers to notify Other Residential Building policyholders—which potentially could include notice to lenders on those policies—of the new limits before June 1, 2014. The agencies state that “[i]f a financial institution or its servicer receives notification of the increased flood insurance limits available for an Other Residential Building securing a designated loan, the agencies expect supervised institutions to take any steps necessary to determine whether the property will require increased flood insurance coverage.” According to the statement, lenders are not required to perform an immediate full file search, but, for safety and soundness purposes, lenders may wish to review their portfolios in light of the availability of increased coverage to determine whether additional flood insurance coverage is required for the affected buildings. If, as a result of this increase, a lender or its servicer determines on or after June 1 that an Other Residential Building is covered by flood insurance in an amount less than required by law, then it should take steps to ensure the borrower obtains sufficient coverage, including lender-placing insurance.

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Banking Agencies Seek Comments On Outdated, Unnecessary Regulations

On June 4, the Federal Reserve Board, the FDIC, and the OCC published a notice of regulatory review and request for comments  to identify outdated, unnecessary, or unduly burdensome regulations imposed on insured depository institutions. The review is required by the Economic Growth and Regulatory Paperwork Reduction Act of 1996, and this is the first of four requests for comments that will be issued over the next two years. The request seeks comments on regulations in three specific categories: (i) applications and reporting; (ii) powers and activities; and (iii) international operations. The agencies ask commenters to specifically consider, among other things: (i) the need for statutory change; (ii) the need and purpose of the regulations; (iii) the effect on competition; (iv) reporting, recordkeeping, and disclosure requirements; and (v) the burden on small institutions, including community banks. Comments are due September 2, 2014.

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Federal Reserve Board Repeals Duplicative Regulations, Finalizes Red Flag Rule Amendments

On May 22, the Federal Reserve Board repealed its Regulation DD, which implements TISA, and Regulation P, which implements Section 504 of the GLBA because the Dodd-Frank Act transferred rulemaking authority for those laws to the CFPB, and the CFPB has already issued rules implementing them. The Board also finalized amendments to the definition of “creditor” in its Identity Theft Red Flags rule, which implements Section 615 of FCRA. Generally, the Red Flags rule requires each financial institution and creditor that holds any consumer account to develop and implement an identity theft prevention program. The revision excludes from the foregoing requirements businesses that do not regularly and in the ordinary course of business (i) obtain or use consumer reports in connection with a credit transaction; (ii) furnish information to consumer reporting agencies in connection with a credit transaction; or (iii) advance funds to or on behalf of a person. The repeals and Red Flags rule amendments take effect June 30, 2014.

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House Financial Services Chairman Questions Regulators’ Use Of Reputation Risk

On May 22, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) sent letters to the Federal Reserve Board, the OCC, the FDIC, and the NCUA asking the regulators to explain their use of “reputational risk,” and citing Operation Choke Point as an example of the potential for “reputation risk” to become “a pretext for the advancement of political objectives, which can potentially subvert both safety and soundness and the rule of law.” Congressman Hensarling asked each regulator to explain (i) whether it consider reputation risk in its supervision of depositories, and, if so, to explain the legal basis for such consideration and why it is appropriate; (ii) what data are used to analyze reputational risk and why such data are not already accounted for under CAMELS; and (iii) whether a poor reputation risk rating could be sufficient to warrant recommending a change in a depository’s business practices notwithstanding strong ratings under CAMELS.

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Swiss Bank Pleads Guilty In Alleged Tax Evasion Conspiracy

On May 19, the DOJ announced that a Swiss bank pleaded guilty and entered into agreements with federal and state regulators to resolve a multi-year investigation into the bank’s alleged conspiracy to assist U.S. taxpayers in filing false income tax returns and other documents with the IRS by helping those individuals conceal undeclared foreign bank accounts. Under the plea agreement, the bank agreed to (i) disclose its cross-border activities; (ii) cooperate in treaty requests for account information; (iii) provide detailed information as to other banks that transferred funds into secret accounts or that accepted funds when secret accounts were closed; (iv) close accounts of account holders who fail to come into compliance with U.S. reporting obligations; and (v) enhance compliance, recordkeeping, and reporting programs.  The plea agreement also reflects a prior related settlement with the SEC in which the bank paid $196 million in disgorgement, interest, and penalties. Under the current agreements, the bank will pay $2.6 billion in fines and penalties, including $1.8 billion to the DOJ, $100 million to the Federal Reserve Board, and $715 million to the New York DFS. Federal authorities did not individually charge any officers, directors, or senior managers, and the agreements do not require the bank to dismiss any officers or employees, but eight bank executives have been indicted since 2011 and two of those individuals pleaded guilty. Further, federal and state regulators did not directly restrict the bank’s ability to operate in the U.S.—the New York Federal Reserve Bank allowed the bank to remain a primary dealer and the New York DFS did not revoke the bank’s state banking license.

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Senate Banking Committee Leaders Seek Regulators’ Views On Virtual Currencies

On May 19, the Senate Banking Committee’s chairman and ranking member, Senators Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Mike Crapo (R-ID), sent a letter to the leaders of the Treasury Department, the SEC, the CFTC, the OCC, the FDIC, and the Federal Reserve Board regarding recent developments in the use of virtual currencies and their interaction with the global payment system. The Senators ask the regulators a series of questions related to the role of virtual currencies in the U.S. banking system, payment system, and trading markets, and the current role of federal regulators in developing local, national, and international enforcement policies related to virtual currencies. The Senators also seek the agencies’ expectations on virtual currency firms’ BSA compliance, and ask whether an enhanced regulatory framework for virtual currencies is needed.

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Federal Reserve Board Proposes Liability Concentration Limit

On May 8, the Federal Reserve Board released a proposed rule that would prohibit certain financial companies from combining with another company if the resulting financial company’s liabilities would exceed 10% of the aggregate consolidated liabilities of all financial companies. The rule is required by section 622 of the Dodd-Frank Act and would apply to insured depository institutions, bank holding companies, savings and loan holding companies, foreign banking organizations, companies that control insured depository institutions, and nonbank financial companies subject to Federal Reserve Board supervision pursuant to FSOC designation. The proposal generally defines liabilities of a financial institution as the difference between its risk-weighted assets, as adjusted to reflect exposures deducted from regulatory capital, and its total regulatory capital, though firms not subject to consolidated risk-based capital rules would measure liabilities using generally accepted accounting standards. Under the proposal, the Board would measure and disclose the aggregate liabilities of financial companies annually, and would calculate aggregate liabilities as a two-year average. Comments on the proposal are due by July 8, 2014.

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GAO Recommends Enhanced Oversight Of Independent Foreclosure Review Settlements

On April 29, the GAO published a report on its examination of the 2013 amended consent orders that ended the Independent Foreclosure Review process. After testing the regulators’ major assumptions, the GAO concludes “that the final negotiated amount generally fell within a reasonable range.” However, the GAO criticizes the regulators for not defining specific objectives for the $6 billion in foreclosure prevention actions required by the settlements, for not analyzing available data, such as servicers’ recent volume of foreclosure prevention actions, and for not analyzing approaches by which servicers’ actions could be credited toward the total of $6 billion. In addition, the GAO found that while the OCC and the Federal Reserve are verifying servicers’ foreclosure prevention policies, they are not testing policy implementation. The GAO believes that without specific procedures, regulators cannot assess implementation of the principles and may miss opportunities to protect borrowers. The GAO recommends that the OCC and the Federal Reserve Board “should define testing activities to oversee foreclosure prevention principles and include information on processes in public documents.”  The GAO also believes the regulators should release publicly information on the processes used, such as how decisions about borrower payments were made, and that “[i]n the absence of information on the processes, regulators face risks to public confidence in the mortgage market, the restoration of which was one of the goals of the file review process.”

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U.S. House Approves Volcker CLO Fix

On April 29, the U.S. House of Representatives passed by voice vote HR 4167, a bill that would exclude certain debt securities of collateralized loan obligations (CLOs) from the so-called Volcker Rule’s prohibition against holding an ownership interest in a hedge fund or private equity fund. Section 619 of the Dodd-Frank Act—the Volcker Rule—generally prohibits insured depository institutions and their affiliates from engaging in proprietary trading and from acquiring or retaining ownership interests in, sponsoring, or having certain relationships with a hedge fund or private equity fund. As implemented, that prohibition would cover CLOs, which banks and numerous lawmakers assert Congress never intended for the Volcker Rule to cover. Earlier in April, the Federal Reserve Board issued a statement that it intends to exercise its authority to give banking entities two additional one-year extensions, which would extend until July 21, 2017, to conform their ownership interests in, and sponsorship of, covered CLOs. HR 4167 instead would provide a statutory solution by exempting CLOs issued before January 31, 2014 from divestiture before July 21, 2017.

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Congressman Cummings Returns To Scrutiny Of Independent Foreclosure Reviews

On April 24, House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) expressed renewed interest in the termination of the Independent Foreclosure Review (IFR). In a letter to Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), Congressman Cummings requested a hearing on “the widespread foreclosure abuse and illegal activities engaged in by mortgage servicing companies” and to “examine why the [Fed] and the [OCC] appear to have prematurely ended the Independent Foreclosure Review” through revised consent orders issued in January 2013. The request is based on “new evidence” obtained by Congressman Cummings, including claims that outside consultants retained as part of the IFR “had identified very high error rates in several categories of review” at certain institutions just before the revised consent orders were announced. In addition to these concerns, Congressman Cummings raised questions about how regulators arrived at the compensation amounts servicers were required to pay under the settlements, and how regulators determined that the allegedly harmed borrowers would benefit more from the settlement than if the IFR had been completed. Last year, Congressman Cummings, together with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), raised similar concerns about the regulators’ decision to cease the IFR by entering into revised consent orders.

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Banking Agencies Issue Revised CRA Exam Procedures

On April 18, the OCC, FDIC, and Federal Reserve Board released revised Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) examination procedures applicable to institutions with total assets greater than $1.202 billion as of December 31 of either of the previous two calendar years. The procedures incorporate revisions to the CRA interagency questions and answers issued in November 2013. Those revisions generally were 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.

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