On February 18, Steven Antonakes, Deputy Director of the CFPB, delivered remarks before the Exchequer Club of Washington, D.C. regarding the CFPB’s risk-focused supervision program. In his remarks, Antonakes identified two key differences that distinguish the CFPB from other regulatory agencies: (i) there is a “focus on risks to consumers rather than risks to institutions;” and (ii) examinations are conducted by product line rather than an “institution-centric approach.” Antonakes further stated that the agency uses field and market intelligence, which includes both qualitative and quantitative factors for each product line, such as the strength of compliance management systems, findings from CFPB’s prior examinations, the existence of other regulatory actions, the consumer complaints received, and metrics gathered from public reports, to adequately assess risks to consumers from an institution’s activity in any given market. After the review period, an institution will receive a “roll-up examination report” or a “supervisory plan,” depending on size, that will summarize the findings of the review. If corrective action is warranted, a review committee will assess violation-focused factors, institution-focused factors, and policy-focused factors to determine whether the examination should be resolved through a supervisory action or a public enforcement action.
CFPB Initiative Results in Free Access to Credit Scores, Agency Pledges to Increase Credit Reporting Enforcement Authority
One year after launching an initiative to improve consumer access to credit reporting information, the CFPB announced on February 19 that at least 50 million Americans now have the ability to directly and freely access their credit scores. As a result of the CFPB’s credit score initiative, over a dozen major credit card issuers have elected to provide free credit reports to their cardholders, and more issuers are expected to follow suit. The initiative was launched to emphasize the significance of monitoring credit scores and to make it easier for consumers to keep themselves informed. CFPB Director Richard Cordray applauded the agency’s efforts to increase transparency in this arena in his prepared remarks for Thursday’s Consumer Advisory Board Meeting, stating that improving both the accessibility and accuracy of credit reports is vital to consumers and credit providers alike. Cordray also alluded that the CFPB intends to leverage its enforcement authority to more closely regulate the credit reporting industry, thereby placing creditors, debt collectors, and other businesses that furnish consumer credit information on high alert. “Using our supervision and enforcement authorities,” Cordray said, “we are already bringing significant new improvements to the credit reporting system − and we are only getting started.”
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.
On February 8, New York DFS Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky announced that the DFS would begin (i) regularly examining insurance companies’ cyber security preparedness; (ii) enhancing regulations that will require insurance providers to meet higher standards of cyber security; and (iii) examining “stronger measures related to the representations and warranties insurance companies receive from third-party vendors.” Lawsky expects the targeted exams to begin in the “coming weeks and months.” The announcement was accompanied by the release of the state agency’s report on cybersecurity in the insurance industry.
On January 27, the CFPB issued Compliance Bulletin 2015-01 to remind supervised financial institutions of their obligations concerning the disclosure of confidential supervisory information (CSI) to the CFPB and to third parties. Specifically, the bulletin addresses the interaction between a financial institution’s obligations with respect to the CFPB and its contractual obligations under nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) with a third party that restrict the sharing of information. Such NDAs typically (i) restrict sharing protected information with any third party (which would include a supervisory agency) other than in connection with a subpoena or similar legal requirement and (ii) require the institution to advise the third party before it shares information as required by law (which again would include sharing protected information with a supervisory agency).
Supervised financial institutions and other persons, with limited exceptions outlined in the bulletin, are generally prohibited from disclosing CSI to third parties. According to the bulletin, a supervised financial institution should not rely on the provisions of an NDA to justify disclosing CSI in a manner not otherwise permitted, either through a valid exception or prior written approval from the CFPB. The bulletin appears to take the position that the fact that information has been shared with the CFPB is itself CSI. Read more…
On October 8, the CFPB published a rule proposing oversight of larger nonbank auto finance companies for the first time at the federal level. The proposed rule will “amend the regulation defining larger participants of certain consumer financial product and service markets by adding a new section to define larger participants of a market for automobile financing.” Under the new section, a market would be defined to include: (i) grants of credit for the purchase of an automobile, refinancings of such credit obligations, and purchases or acquisitions of such credit obligations (including refinancings); and (ii) automobile leases and purchases or acquisitions of such automobile lease agreements. Previously, on September 17, the CFPB released information regarding its resolve to supervise and enforce auto finance companies’ compliance with consumer financial laws, including fair lending laws. Comments on the proposed rule must be received on or before December 8, 2014.
On September 12, the CFPB finalized a rule that allows it to supervise larger participants in the international money transfer market. In particular, this rule, which finalizes the proposed rule the CFPB issued in January 2014, allows the CFPB to supervise nonbank international money transfer providers that provide more than $1 million in international transfers annually, for compliance with the Remittance Rule under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act. The final rule will be effective December 1, 2014.
The CFPB will seek to ensure that these providers comply with a number of specific consumer-protection provisions, including the following:
- Disclosures: The CFPB will examine providers to determine that consumers receive the Remittance Rule-required disclosures in English as well as in any other language the provider uses to advertise, solicit, or market its services, or in any language in which the transaction was conducted. These disclosures inform consumers of the exchange rate, fees, the amount of money that will be delivered abroad, and the date the funds will be available.
- Option to Cancel: The CFPB will examine transfer providers to ensure that consumers receive at least thirty minutes to cancel the transfer if it has not yet been received, and that consumers receive a refund regardless of the reason for the cancellation.
- Correction of Errors: The CFPB will insist that remittance transfer providers properly investigate certain errors, and, if a consumer reports an error within 180 days, the CFPB will examine providers to determine that they have investigated and corrected certain types of errors. The CFPB will also examine providers to ensure that they are held accountable for the actions of any agents they use.
The CFPB used the authority granted to it in the Dodd-Frank Act to supervise “larger participants” in consumer financial markets, and this is the Bureau’s fourth larger participant rule. The CFPB indicates that it will use the same examination procedures for nonbank providers as it does for bank remittance providers, and the CFPB intends to coordinate with state examiners in its supervision.
The CFPB estimates that nonbank international money transfer providers transfer $50 billion each year, and 150 million individual international money transactions occur each year through these institutions, with seven million U.S. households transferring funds abroad each year through a nonbank.
On August 1, the U.S. Senate passed by unanimous consent H.R. 4386, which will permit FinCEN, in fulfilling its responsibility to supervise registered money services businesses (MSBs), to rely on state agency examinations of MSBs. The bill also covers other non-bank financial institutions such as gaming establishments and jewel merchants. The bill passed the House by voice vote in May. The President, who sought this authority for FinCEN in budget requests, is expected to sign the bill.
On July 29, the U.S. House of Representatives passed by voice voteH.R. 5062, a bipartisan bill that would amend the Consumer Financial Protection Act with respect to the supervision of nondepository institutions, to require the CFPB to coordinate its supervisory activities with state regulatory agencies that license, supervise, or examine the offering of consumer financial products or services. The bill declares that the sharing of information with such state entities does not waive any privilege claimed by nondepository institutions under federal or state law regarding such information as to any person or entity other than the CFPB or the state agency. The following day, the House Financial Services Committee approved numerous bills, including two mortgage-related bills. The first, H.R. 4042, would require the Federal Reserve Board, the OCC, and the FDIC to conduct a study to determine the appropriate capital requirements for mortgage servicing assets for any banking institution other than an institution identified by the Financial Stability Board as a global systemically important bank. The bill also would prohibit the implementation of Basel III capital requirements related to mortgage servicing assets for non-systemic banking institutions from taking effect until three months after a report on the study. A second bill, H.R. 5148, would exempt creditors offering mortgages of $250,000 or below from certain property appraisal requirements established by the Dodd-Frank Act.
On July 17, the FHFA Office of Inspector General (OIG) published a report on risks to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises) related to purchasing mortgages from smaller lenders and nonbank mortgage companies. The report states such lenders present elevated risk in the following areas: (i) counterparty credit risk—smaller lenders and nonbank lenders may have relatively limited financial capacity, and the latter are not subject to federal safety and soundness oversight; (ii) operational risk—smaller or nonbank lenders may lack the sophisticated systems and expertise necessary to manage high volumes of mortgage sales to the Enterprises; and (iii) reputational risk—the report cites as an example an institution that was sanctioned by state regulators for engaging in allegedly abusive lending practices. The report notes that in 2014 the FHFA’s Division of Enterprise Regulation’s plans to focus on Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s controls for smaller and nonbank sellers, which will include assessments of the Enterprise’s mortgage loan delivery limits and lender eligibility standards and assessment of the counterparty approval process and counterparty credit risk resulting from cash window originations. The report also notes FHFA guidance to the Enterprises last year on contingency planning for high-risk or high-volume counterparties, and states that the FHFA plans to issue additional guidance on counterparty risk management. Specifically, the Division of Supervision Policy and Support plans to issue an advisory bulletin focusing on risk management and the approval process for seller counterparties. The OIG did not make any recommendations to supplement the FHFA’s planned activities.
This afternoon, the CFPB issued policy guidance on supervision and enforcement considerations relevant to mortgage brokers transitioning to mini-correspondent lenders. The CFPB states that it “has become aware of increased mortgage industry interest in the transition of mortgage brokers from their traditional roles to mini-correspondent lender roles,” and is “concerned that some mortgage brokers may be shifting to the mini-correspondent model in the belief that, by identifying themselves as mini-correspondent lenders, they automatically alter the application of important consumer protections that apply to transactions involving mortgage brokers.”
The guidance describes how the CFPB evaluates mortgage transactions involving mini-correspondent lenders and confirms who must comply with the broker compensation rules, regardless of how they may describe their business structure. In announcing the guidance, CFPB Director Richard Cordray stated that the CFPB is “putting companies on notice that they cannot avoid those rules by calling themselves by a different name.”
The CFPB is not offering an opportunity for the public to comment on the guidance. The CFPB determined that because the guidance is a non-binding policy document articulating considerations relevant to the CFPB’s exercise of existing supervisory and enforcement authority, it is exempt from the notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act. Read more…
New York DFS Superintendent Promises Scrutiny Of Nonbank Servicer Affiliates, Previews Originator Licensing Changes
On May 20, New York DFS Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky spoke during the Mortgage Bankers Association’s National Secondary Market Conference and extended his recent focus on nonbank mortgage servicers. As detailed in excerpts from the remarks he delivered, Mr. Lawsky specifically addressed concerns about ancillary services offered by nonbank mortgage servicer affiliates—e.g. vacant property inspections, short sales marketed through online auctions, foreclosure sales, and debt collection. He asserted that such arrangements put borrowers and investors at risk of becoming “fee factories” and promised to expand DFS’s investigation of ancillary services. Though not reflected in the excerpts released by the DFS, Mr. Lawsky also previewed changes intended to streamline the DFS’s application process for mortgage originator licenses and branch locations in an effort to reduce burden on licensees and improve processing times.
On May 22, the CFPB published its Spring 2014 Supervisory Highlights report, its fourth such report to date. In addition to reviewing recent guidance, rulemakings, and public enforcement actions, the report states that the CFPB’s nonpublic supervisory actions related to deposit products, consumer reporting, credit cards, and mortgage origination and servicing have yielded more than $70 million in remediation to over 775,000 consumers. The report also reiterates CFPB supervisory guidance with regard to oversight of third-party service providers and implementation of compliance management systems (CMS) to mitigate risk.
The report specifically highlights fair lending aspects of CMS, based on CFPB examiners’ observations that “financial institutions lack adequate policies and procedures for managing the fair lending risk that may arise when a lender makes exceptions to its established credit standards.” The CFPB acknowledges that credit exceptions are appropriate when based on a legitimate justification. In addition to reviewing fair lending aspects of CMS, the CFPB states lenders should also maintain adequate documentation and oversight to avoid increasing fair lending risk.
Nonbank Supervisory Findings
The majority of the report summarizes supervisory findings at nonbanks, particularly with regard to consumer reporting, debt collection, and short-term, small-dollar lending: Read more…
On May 14, Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry spoke to the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, urging state regulators to, among other things, avoid regulatory capture and ensure balanced supervision of nonbanks and banks. Mr. Curry stated that “[r]egulatory capture is a real threat” to federal and state banking agencies and the system more broadly, and that regulators should never employ chartering authority to compete for “market share.” He also cautioned about the potential rise of the “shadow banking system”—the shift of assets from regulated depository institutions to less-regulated, non-depository institutions—as bank regulators become more rigorous in pursuing enhanced safety and soundness and consumer protection at depository institutions. He specifically identified the transfer of mortgage servicing rights as an example of that shift of assets, which “could carry with it the seeds for the next financial crisis.” He called on state regulators to make nonbank supervision, including with regard to mortgage servicing, a top priority.
On May 1, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) published its 2013 annual report, which aggregates and reviews the organization’s activities in the prior year, identifies future goals for the organization, and outlines specific priorities for 2014. Those priorities include, among others, continuing to coordinate with federal regulators on cybersecurity and with the CFPB on complaint sharing. The report also includes more detailed reports on past and future activities by various CSBS divisions and boards, including a report from the Policy and Supervision Division that reviews the CSBS’s legislative and regulatory policy positions, and its bank supervision and consumer protection and non-bank supervision activities.