FinCEN, Banking Agencies Release Guidance on Applying Customer Identification Program Requirements to Holders of Prepaid Cards

On March 21, the Federal Reserve, FDIC, NCUA, OCC, and FinCEN published guidance to issuing banks (i.e., banks that authorize the use of prepaid cards) intended to clarify the application of customer identification program (CIP) requirements to prepaid cards. The guidance clarifies that when the issuance of a prepaid card creates an “account” as defined in CIP regulations, CIP requirements apply. The guidance indicates that a prepaid card should be treated as an account if it has attributes of a typical deposit product, including prepaid cards that provide the ability to reload funds or provide access to credit or overdraft features. Once an account has been opened, CIP regulations require identification of the “customer.” The guidance explains that the cardholder should be treated as the customer, even if the cardholder is not the named accountholder, but has obtained the card from a third party program manager who uses a pooled account with the bank to issue prepaid cards. Finally, the guidance stresses that third party program managers should be treated as agents, not customers, and that “[t]he issuing bank should enter into well-constructed, enforceable contracts with third-party program managers that clearly define the expectations, duties, rights, and obligations of each party in a manner consistent with [the] guidance.”

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CFPB Monthly Consumer Snapshot Highlights Complaints Related to Prepaid Products

On March 1, the CFPB released its most recent complaint report focusing on prepaid products. According to the report, as of February 1, 2016, consumers have submitted approximately 4,300 complaints specific to prepaid products. Findings related to prepaid products highlighted in the report include: (i) consumers are not able to access funds loaded to prepaid cards for extended periods of time; (ii) companies are refusing to re-issue cards with remaining balances to consumers before the originally issued card expires; (iii) consumers are facing various extra charges, such as replacement, monthly, inactivity, and PIN number change fees; and (iv) companies are freezing entire balances when a consumer files a claim to dispute an unexpected charge, making funds unavailable until the claim process is complete. The report also notes that “[c]onsumers who were victims of frauds or scams frequently complained that scammers instructed them to purchase prepaid cards in order to transfer funds to the fraud perpetrators.”  Read more…

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OIG for U.S. Postal Service Probes Expansion Into Financial Services

On May 21, the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Postal Service (OIG) issued a report titled, “The Road Ahead for Postal Financial Services.” The report follows a January 2014 white paper issued by the OIG, which explored how the U.S. Postal Service could expand its provision of financial products to underserved Americans. The report summarizes five potential approaches for increasing the Postal Service’s financial services offerings, including: (i) expand current product offerings, which include paper money orders, international remittances, gift cards, and limited check cashing, as well as adjacent services  (e.g., bill pay, ATMs); (ii) develop one key partner to provide financial services offerings, including possible expansion to general purpose reloadable prepaid cards, small loans, and/or deposit accounts; (iii) develop different partners for each product; (iv) make the Postal Service a “marketplace” for distribution of financial products of an array of providers; and/or (v) license the Postal Service as a financial institution focused on the financially underserved (although the OIG is not recommending this approach). Factors to consider when determining which approach to take, if any, include the legal and regulatory landscape; the effectiveness of cash management systems; dedication of the internal team, and public awareness of existing and potential services offered.

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CFPB Holds Field Hearing On Prepaid Products, Proposes New Rule

On November 13, the CFPB held a field hearing in Delaware to discuss its proposed rule regarding prepaid products. The proposal, which would amend Regulation E and Regulation Z, requires prepaid companies to provide certain protections under federal law.

In his opening remarks, Director Cordray noted that the many prepaid card consumers are some of the most economically vulnerable among us and that such cards have few, if any, protections under federal consumer financial law. Cordray outlined the reasons the Bureau’s proposed rule would “fill key gaps” for consumers. First, the proposed rule would provide consumers free and easy access to account information. Second, the proposed rule would mandate that financial institutions work with consumers to investigate any errors on registered cards. Third, the proposed rule would protect consumers against fraud and theft. Fourth, the rule includes “Know Before You Owe” prepaid disclosures, which would highlight key costs associated with the cards. Fifth, where prepaid card providers also extend credit to consumers such offers would be treated the same as credit cards under the law.

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CFPB Pressures Banks To Disclose Campus Marketing Agreements

On August 6, the CFPB’s Student Loan Ombudsman, Rohit Chopra, published a blog post addressing the financial arrangements between financial institutions and institutions of higher education that market financial products to students. Last year, the CFPB urged banks to disclose any agreements with colleges and universities to market debit, prepaid, and other products to students and warned that “[t]he CFPB prioritizes its supervisory examinations based on the risks posed to consumers” and “[failing to make] college financial product arrangements transparent to students and their families . . . increase[s] such risks.” In this latest review, the CFPB assessed the  Big Ten schools and found that at least 11 have established banking partners to market financial products to students. Of those 11, the CFPB found only four contracts on the bank websites, and it characterized three of those four contracts as “partial”—i.e. in the CFPB’s view, the disclosed agreements “did not contain important information, such as how much they pay schools to gain access to students in order to market and sell them financial products and services.” Concurrent with the blog post, the CFPB sent letters to schools asserting that “their bank partner has not yet committed to transparency when it comes to student financial products.”

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