On May 14, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent a letter to Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke, Attorney General Eric Holder, and SEC Chairman Mary Jo White seeking additional information about the agencies’ respective approach to enforcement actions. Specifically, the letter asks whether the agencies have conducted any internal research or analysis on trade-offs to the public between settling an enforcement action without admission of guilt and going forward with litigation to obtain an admission. The letter notes that the OCC recently informed Ms. Warren that it does not have any such internal research or analysis and reiterates Ms. Warren’s concern that “if a regulator reveals itself to be unwilling to take large financial institutions all the way to trial . . . the regulator has a lot less leverage in settlement negotiations.
Federal Reserve Board, Illinois Regulator Issue Joint Enforcement Action Against U.S. Subsidiaries of Foreign Bank, OCC Issues Parallel Action
On May 17, the Federal Reserve Board released an April 29, 2013 written agreement between the Federal Reserve Board, an Illinois state regulator, a foreign bank, and its U.S. bank holding company subsidiary (the Holding Company) regarding certain Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering (BSA/AML) deficiencies at the foreign bank’s Chicago branch (the Branch) and an OCC regulated subsidiary of the Holding Company. The OCC took parallel action on the same date against the Holding Company’s Chicago bank subsidiary. The Federal Reserve Board agreement requires that the Holding Company conduct a comprehensive review of its BSA/AML compliance program within 60 days, and within 90 days submit a report of its findings and recommendations, a written enhanced program, and a written plan to strengthen board oversight. Also within 90 days, the Branch must submit a written plan to improve its BSA/AML compliance, and the foreign bank, the Holding Company, and the Branch must submit an enhanced customer due diligence program. The OCC agreement requires that the Chicago bank’s board establish a compliance committee and within 90 days submit a compliance action plan. Within 30 days, the bank’s board must review its current engagement with an independent consultant, and within 90 days (i) develop a staffing plan for its internal BSA compliance department, (ii) conduct an MIS assessment, (iii) develop customer due diligence controls, and (iv) develop written suspicious activity policies and procedures. Both agreements require quarterly reporting, and neither includes a monetary penalty.
On April 30, the OCC and the FDIC announced parallel enforcement actions against a national bank and an affiliated state bank to resolve allegations that the institutions violated Section 5 of the FTC Act in their marketing and implementation of overdraft protection programs, checking rewards programs, and stop-payment processes for preauthorized recurring electronic fund transfers. The OCC claims that (i) bank employees failed to disclose technical limitations of the standard overdraft protection practices opt-out, (ii) the bank’s overdraft opt-in notice described fees that the bank did not actually charge, (iii) the bank failed to disclose that it would not transfer funds from a savings account to cover overdrafts in linked checking accounts if the savings account did not have funds to cover the entire overdrawn balance on a given day, even if the available funds would have covered one or more overdrawn items, (iv) the bank failed to disclose technical limitations of its preauthorized recurring electronic funds transfers that prevented it from stopping certain transfers upon customer request, and (v) the bank failed to disclose posting date requirements for its checking reward program. The OCC orders require the bank to pay approximately $2.5 million in restitution and a $5 million civil money penalty. In addition, the bank must (i) appoint an independent compliance committee, (ii) update its compliance risk management systems with appropriate policies and procedures, and (iii) adjust its written compliance risk management policy. The FDIC order requires the state bank to refund customers roughly $1.4 million and pay a $5 million civil penalty.
On April 25, the Federal Reserve Board issued a policy statement on deposit advance products. The statement came on the same day that the OCC and the FDIC proposed more formal guidance for such products. The Board statement identifies potential “significant risks” associated with deposit advance products, including UDAP risk and other consumer compliance risk. The statement directs examiners to thoroughly review any deposit advance products offered by supervised institutions for compliance with Section 5 of the FTC Act and reminds banks of their responsibility for vendors hired to offer deposit advance products.
On April 24, the CFPB published a white paper on payday loan and deposit advance products that claims to show those products lead to a “cycle of high-cost borrowing.” On April 25, the FDIC and the OCC proposed guidance relating to deposit advance products based on similar concerns. The CFPB paper reflects the results of what the CFPB characterizes as a year-long, in-depth review of short-term, small-dollar loans, which began with a January 2012 field hearing. Although it acknowledges that demand exists for small dollar credit products, that such products can be helpful for consumers, and that alternatives may not be available, the CFPB concludes that such products are only appropriate in limited circumstances and faults lenders for not determining whether the products are suitable for each customer. The CFPB paper does not propose any rule or guidance, but is instead intended to present a clear statement of CFPB concerns. The paper notes that a related CFPB study of online payday loans is ongoing. The FDIC and OCC proposed guidance outlines the agencies’ safety and soundness, compliance, and consumer protection concerns about deposit advance products, and sets forth numerous expectations, including with regard to consumer eligibility, capital adequacy, fees, compliance, management oversight, and third-party relationships. For example, under the guidance the agencies would 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 would require, 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.
OCC Seeks Reconsideration of Order Requiring Disclosure of Non-Public Documents related to Bank’s AML/CTF Compliance
On April 24, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York stayed an order that would have required a bank to disclose non-public supervisory information subject to the bank examination privilege. Wultz v. Bank of China, No. 11-1266 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 24, 2013). The case was brought by the family of victims of a suicide bombing attack who claim that failures in the bank’s anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing compliance program aided and abetted international terrorism. On April 9, 2013, the court compelled the bank and the OCC to produce various investigative files and regulatory communications over their objection that the bank examination privilege protected such production. The court relied in part on a recent and unrelated Senate investigative report’s description of the OCC oversight process. The court reasoned that the OCC’s ideal supervision process, on which it based its claim of privilege, diverges from the actual process described in the Senate report, and that the actual process undermines assumptions on which other courts have relied about the likely effects of overriding the bank examination privilege. The court added that “the OCC’s supervisory mission might in some cases be helped as much as hindered by the intervention of private litigants.” In support of its motion to reconsider, the OCC argued that the court failed to properly weigh long-standing principles and that its decision “will be construed as an erosion of the bank examination privilege that ultimately will undermine the bank supervisory process.” The OCC also asserted that it never waived the privilege and appropriately and in good faith relied upon the procedures set forth under its Touhy regulation, which is designed to provide the OCC with the opportunity to review non-public OCC information in the possession of regulated entities prior to production. The OCC asked the court to vacate its prior order and order the plaintiffs to submit a Touhy request for all materials withheld on the groups of bank examination privilege. The court agreed to stay its prior order and established a briefing schedule on the motion for reconsideration, which will be completed by May 10, 2013.
On April 9, the Federal Reserve Board and the OCC announced that payments to borrowers impacted by allegedly improper foreclosure practices would begin on April 12, 2013. The planned payments range from $300 to $125,000, and will be sent to certain borrowers whose mortgages were serviced by 11 of the 13 mortgage servicers subject to recently amended consent orders that replaced requirements related to the Independent Foreclosure Review process with $3.6 billion in cash payments and $5.7 billion in other assistance to 4.2 million borrowers. Payments to borrowers with mortgages serviced by two other servicers will be announced later. The payments will be sent in several waves, with the last wave expected to be sent in mid-July 2013. The announcement notes that the regulators categorized borrowers according to the stage of their foreclosure process and the type of possible servicer error. Then, amounts were determined for each category using the financial remediation matrix published in June 2012 as guidance, but also incorporating input from various consumer groups. The Board and the OCC also published a chart of payment amounts and the number of borrowers identified for each category.
On April 3, the Federal Reserve Board and the OCC jointly published a white paper on the regulators’ study of bank performance in the context of 2006 interagency guidance regarding commercial real estate lending that established supervisory criteria for banks that exceeded 100 percent of capital in construction lending and 300 percent of capital in total commercial real estate (CRE) lending. According to the paper, banks with high concentrations of construction and total commercial real estate lending that exceeded supervisory criteria failed at higher rates than banks with lower concentrations. Specifically key findings include: (i) 13 percent of banks that exceeded only the 100 percent construction criterion failed, (ii) among banks that exceeded both the construction and total CRE lending supervisory criteria, 23 percent failed during the three-year economic downturn from 2008 through 2011, compared with 0.5 percent of banks for which neither of the criteria was exceeded, (iii) construction lending was a key driver in many failures, and (iv) banks that were public stock companies and exceeded the supervisory criteria on CRE concentrations tended to experience greater deterioration in condition than banks below the criteria, and banks with CRE concentrations higher than the guidance criteria experienced larger declines in their market capital ratio during the recent economic downturn.
On April 1, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) announced that Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry will serve a two-year term as FFIEC Chairman. The FFIEC also selected Federal Reserve Board Member Daniel Tarullo as Vice Chairman, and announced three new State Liaison Committee members: Michael Mach, Division of Banking Administrator for the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions; Lauren Kingry, Superintendent of the Arizona Department of Financial Institutions; and Thomas Candon, Deputy Commissioner of Banking and Securities of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation. The FFIEC is responsible for prescribing uniform principles, standards, and report forms for the federal examination of financial institutions, and for recommending changes to promote uniformity in the supervision of financial institutions. The FFIEC also conducts schools for federal examiners.
On March 29, the Federal Reserve Board, the FDIC, the OCC, the NCUA, and the Farm Credit Administration issued an interagency statement to clarify the effective dates for changes to the Flood Disaster Protection Act enacted last year in the Biggert-Water Flood Insurance Reform Act (the Act). The statement informs financial institutions that the force-placed aspects of the Act became effective upon enactment, which was July, 6, 2012, while provisions related to private flood insurance and escrow of flood insurance payments do not take effect until the agencies issue regulations. The statement reiterates the OCC’s prior statement that the new flood insurance penalty provisions in the Act took effect immediately and apply to violations that occurred on or after July 6, 2012.
On March 20, 2013, Michael Bresnick, Executive Director of DOJ’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force gave a speech at the Exchequer Club of Washington, DC highlighting recent accomplishments of the Task Force and outlining its priorities for the coming year. He began by discussing a number of areas of known focus for the Task Force, including RMBS fraud, fair lending enforcement, and servicemember protection. He then outlined three additional areas of focus that the Task Force has prioritized, including (i) the “government’s ability to protect its interests and ensure that it does business only with ethical and responsible parties;” (ii) discrimination in indirect auto lending; and (iii) financial institutions’ role in fraud by their customers, which include third party payment processors and payday lenders.
The third priority, which was the focus of Mr. Bresnick’s remarks, involves the Consumer Protection Working Group’s prioritization of “the role of financial institutions in mass marketing fraud schemes — including deceptive payday loans, false offers of debt relief, fraudulent health care discount cards, and phony government grants, among other things — that cause billions of dollars in consumer losses and financially destroy some of our most vulnerable citizens.” He added that the Working Group also is investigating third-party payment processors, the businesses that process payments on behalf of the fraudulent merchant. Mr. Bresnick explained that “financial institutions and payment processors . . . are the so-called bottlenecks, or choke-points, in the fraud committed by so many merchants that victimize consumers and launder their illegal proceeds.” He said that “they provide the scammers with access to the national banking system and facilitate the movement of money from the victim of the fraud to the scam artist.” He further stated that “financial institutions through which these fraudulent proceeds flow . . . are not always blind to the fraud” and that the FFETF has “observed that some financial institutions actually have been complicit in these schemes, ignoring their BSA/AML obligations, and either know about — or are willfully blind to — the fraudulent proceeds flowing through their institutions.” Mr. Bresnick explained that “[i]f we can eliminate the mass-marketing fraudsters’ access to the U.S. financial system — that is, if we can stop the scammers from accessing consumers’ bank accounts — then we can protect the consumers and starve the scammers.” Read more…
On March 21, the Federal Reserve Board, the OCC, and the FDIC issued final interagency guidance to ensure institutions provide leverage lending in a safe and sound manner by: (i) identifying the institution’s risk appetite for leveraged finance, establishing appropriate credit limits, and ensuring prudent oversight and approval processes; (ii) establishing underwriting standards that clearly define expectations for cash flow capacity, amortization, covenant protection, collateral controls, and the underlying business premise for each transaction, and consider whether the borrower’s capital structure is sustainable; (iii) concentrating valuation standards on the importance of sound methods in the determination and periodic revalidation of enterprise value; (iv) accurately measuring exposure on a timely basis, establish policies and procedures that address failed transactions and general market disruptions, and ensure periodic stress tests of exposures to loans not yet distributed to buyers; (v) developing information systems that accurately capture key obligor characteristics and aggregate them across business lines and legal entities on a timely basis, with periodic reporting to the institution’s board of directors; (vi) considering in risk rating standards the use of realistic repayment assumptions to determine a borrower’s ability to de-lever to a sustainable level within a reasonable period of time; (vii) establishing underwriting and monitoring standards similar to loans underwritten internally; and (viii) performing stress testing on leveraged loans held in portfolio as well as those planned for distribution. The new guidance took effect on March 22, 2013, and institutions have until May 21, 2013 to comply.
On March 18, the Federal Reserve Board, the FDIC, and the OCC proposed revisions to the “Interagency Questions and Answers Regarding Community Reinvestment” (Q&As). Focused primarily on community development, the revised Q&As aim to (i) clarify how the agencies consider community development activities outside an institution’s assessment area, both in the broader statewide or regional area and in nationwide funds, (ii) clarify how to determine whether recipients of community services are low- or moderate-income; (iii) explain the consideration of certain community development services, (iv) address the treatment of qualified investments to organizations that use only a portion of the investment to support a community development purpose, and (v) clarify that community development lending should be evaluated in such a way that it may have a positive, neutral, or negative impact on the large institution lending test rating. In remarks to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition on March, 20, 2013, Comptroller Thomas Curry described the proposed changes and stressed that they are the first steps the agencies will take to address issues raised during a 2010 outreach effort to reappraise the CRA and identify gaps between CRA implementation and changes in the structure of the banking industry, and how customers access and use credit and financial products. Mr. Curry also promised training and revised examination procedures to ensure more consistent application of CRA rules. The agencies will accept comments on the revisions for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register.
On March 15, the OCC requested comment on its new regulatory reporting requirement for national banks and federal savings associations, which the OCC adopted in an October 2012 final rule. The notice and request for information describes the proposed scope of the reporting and the proposed reporting requirements for covered institutions with consolidated assets between $10 and $50 billion. The OCC also released copies of the reporting templates and instructions referenced in the notice. Comments on the notice are due by May 10, 2013.
On March 7, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing entitled “Patterns of Abuse: Assessing Bank Secrecy Act Compliance and Enforcement,” which featured testimony from representatives of the Treasury Department, the Comptroller of the Currency; and the Federal Reserve Board. During the hearing, Senators challenged the regulators on what they view as insufficient civil and criminal enforcement of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) rules, and pressed them to act more aggressively in bringing criminal actions against banks. Senators also pressed lawmakers on comments made by Attorney General Holder at a hearing the day before where he expressed concern that some of the world’s biggest banks have become “too big to jail” because a potential punishment could negatively impact the broader economy. With regard to possible regulatory and legislative changes, Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry stated that the OCC is drafting guidance for banks on BSA/AML compliance, in part, to make it easier for the OCC to remove bank officers who violate federal anti-money laundering laws. Curry said the OCC also would support expanded safe harbors for banks submitting and sharing Suspicious Activity Reports. Comptroller Curry’s comments at the hearing follow remarks he made earlier in the week when he called on banks to devote more resources to BSA/AML compliance. Mr. Curry stressed that controls with regard to international activities – e.g., foreign correspondent banking and remote deposit capture – need to be commensurate with risk. He also directed banks to focus on third-party relationships and payment processors. Finally, the Comptroller cautioned banks to understand risks presented by deployment of new technologies and payment activities, including prepaid access cards, mobile banking, and mobile wallets.