Obama Administration’s FY 2017 Budget Proposal Makes Room for Small Dollar Loan Program

This week, the Obama Administration released the Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Proposal. President Obama’s proposed budget for the Department of the Treasury would, through the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund, reserve at least $10 million until September 30, 2018 to provide grants for loan loss reserve funds and to provide technical assistance for small dollar loan programs under section 1206 of the Dodd-Frank Act. The Small Dollar Loan Program, according to the budget proposal, “will support broader access to safe and affordable financial products and provide an alternative to predatory lending by encouraging CDFIs to establish and maintain small dollar loan programs.” Earlier this year, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), in a letter to the President, requested that the FY 2017 budget proposal prioritize funding for small dollar loan programs, as outlined in Title XII – Improving Access to Mainstream Financial Institutions – of the Dodd-Frank Act.     Read more…

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Iran Sanctions: Treasury Comments on JCPOA Implementation Day

On January 16, the Department of the Treasury issued a statement regarding Implementation Day under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the plan reached between the P5+1 (the United States, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Germany), the European Union, and Iran concerning Iran’s nuclear program. In response to Iran taking the appropriate nuclear-related measures, the United States followed through on lifting nuclear-related “secondary sanctions” on Iran, which included certain financial and banking-related sanctions. To summarize the effect of Implementation Day, OFAC issued guidance and FAQs. As outlined in the FAQs and in addition to lifting the nuclear-related “secondary sanctions,” the United States removed more than 400 individuals and entities from OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List). Still, as Treasury Secretary Lew noted, “other than certain limited exceptions provided for in the JCPOA, the U.S. embargo broadly remains in place, meaning that U.S. persons, including U.S. banks, will still be prohibited from virtually all dealings with Iranian entities.”

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U.S. Department of the Treasury Senior Staff Deliver Remarks Regarding Enforcement Efforts

On November 16, FinCEN Director Jennifer Calvery and Treasury’s Acting Under Secretary Adam Szubin delivered remarks at the American Bankers Association and American Bar Association Money Laundering Enforcement Conference on continued AML enforcement efforts. Szubin focused on the topic of “de-risking,” which he described as “instances in which a financial institution seeks to avoid perceived regulatory risk by indiscriminately terminating, restricting, or denying services to broad classes of clients, without case-by-case analysis or consideration of mitigating options,” and addressed Treasury’s efforts to curtail the negative effects attributed to de-risking, such as preventing access to the dollar and pushing people out of the regulated financial system. Szubin emphasized, however, that the Treasury would not “dilute or roll back [its] AML/CFT standards,” but expects financial institutions to be vigilant when identifying potential risks and to implement AML/CFT programs that effectively address risks associated with illicit financing on a client-by-client basis. In a separate speech, Director Calvery addressed FinCEN’s reliance on Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) data to “uncover risks, vulnerabilities, and gaps in each financial sector,” noting that BSA data supports FinCEN’s ongoing AML enforcement efforts.

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Iran Sanctions: Treasury and White House Comment on JCPOA Adoption Day

On October 18, the Department of the Treasury released a statement on reaching the formal  “Adoption Day” of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the plan reached between the P5+1, the European Union, and Iran regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Adoption Day is the day JCPOA participants will begin taking steps necessary to implement their JCPOA commitments. According to Treasury Secretary Lew, October 18 marks an “important milestone” as “Iran begins taking its nuclear-related measures and the United States and [its] partners prepare to lift nuclear-related sanctions in response.” Although this action means that the JCPOA’s effective date is October 18, 2015, no sanctions will be lifted until Implementation Day, which will occur after international inspectors confirm that Iran has met its commitments under the JCPOA. As decided in July and outlined in an OFAC press release, licenses with certain credentials will remain in effect in accordance with their terms until Implementation Day. OFAC also issued FAQs concerning Adoption Day. Commenting on the implications of Adoption Day, the White House likewise issued a Statement that it had directed the heads of all relevant executive departments and agencies of the United States to begin preparations to implement U.S. commitments under the JCPOA.

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CFPB Releases Annual Report on Student Loan Complaints

On October 14, the CFPB released its annual report of the CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman, which analyzes consumer complaints submitted from October 1, 2014 through September 30, 2015 and provides an examination of issues raised in its September student loan servicing report. The CFPB is predominantly concerned about the group of borrowers facing repayment issues with older federal student loans made by banks and private lenders under the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP). According to the CFPB’s report, at least 30 percent of borrowers who participated in FFELP are either behind in their loan repayments or already in default. The report includes the following additional noteworthy data: (i) more than one in five of borrowers with federal loans made by private lenders are past-due, with more than 10 percent in forbearance; and (ii) 95 percent of borrowers with federal loans made by private lenders are not enrolled in income-driven repayment plans. The content of the report emphasizes the importance of the Department of the Treasury, Department of Education, and the CFPB’s joint statement to improve student loan servicing practices, promote borrower success, and minimize defaults.

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Agencies Unveil Student Loan Servicing Regulatory Framework

On September 29, the CFPB issued a report examining public comments and providing policy recommendations to address issues in the student loan servicing market. The report follows a May 2015 Request for Information notice where the CFPB, together with the Department of Treasury and the Department of Education (collectively, the Agencies), sought feedback on ways to improve student loan servicing practices.

In a parallel announcement, the Agencies released an interagency Joint Statement of Principles on Student Loan Servicing, which is expected to serve as a regulatory framework in the reformation of current student loan servicing practices, and establish minimum federal compliance requirements.

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Treasury Deputy Secretary Raskin Delivers Remarks On Cybersecurity and Insurance

On September 10, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Sarah Bloom Raskin delivered remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Strategic Technologies Program in Washington, D.C. After summarizing threats posed to U.S. companies and strategic interests, citing to notable recent cyberattacks, Raskin laid out the roles governments, the insurance industry, and state insurance regulators can take in responding to cyberattacks.

Raskin noted that governments can facilitate information-sharing related to cyber threats and deter incidents through law enforcement and diplomatic engagement as well as by imposing financial sanctions on wrongdoers overseas. The insurance sector can gauge the risks and costs posed by cyber incidents and provide an important risk mitigation tool by allowing policyholders to transfer some financial exposure associated with cyber events. The insurance qualification and underwriting process also encourages businesses to engage in increased cybersecurity and risk-mitigation activities. Finally, state insurance regulators can assist response by setting standards for cybersecurity and the protection of the sensitive information of policyholders at the entities that they regulate.

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Department of Treasury Extends Comment Period on Expanding Access to Credit Through Online Marketplace Lending

On August 18, the Department of Treasury extended the comment period for the public to respond to its Request for Information (RFI) on online marketplace lending, entitled Public Input on Expanding Access to Credit Through Online Marketplace Lending. Originally published on July 20, the RFI seeks public input on three areas relating to the online marketplace industry: (i) business models of and products offered to consumers and small businesses; (ii) potential expansion of access to credit to the historically underserved; and (iii) the ways in which the financial regulatory framework can develop to support safe growth within the industry. Since the July 20 publication of the RFI, only four (4) comments have been received. Earlier this month, Treasury held a public forum to discuss online marketplace lending, with roughly 80 participants from the marketplace lending industry, consumer advocates, nonprofit public policy organizations, and the financial services industry. Per the August 18 extension, the public will now have until September 30 to provide comments on the RFI.

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Department of Treasury Seeks Public Feedback on Online Marketplace Lending

On July 20, the Federal Register published the Department of the Treasury’s Request For Information on Expanding Access to Credit Through Online Marketplace Lending (RFI). The RFI seeks public comment on the three specific areas relating to the online marketplace lending industry: (i) business models of and products offered to consumers and small businesses; (ii) potential expansion of access to credit to the historically underserved; and (iii) the ways in which the financial regulatory framework can develop to support safe growth within the industry. According to the RFI, online marketplace lending delivers lower costs and faster decision times than traditional lenders, but, so far, the loans are usually only originated to prime or near-prime consumers. However, some online marketplace lenders are developing product structures and underwriting models that may allow for originating loans to non-prime borrowers at lower interest rates. With the rapid growth occurring in the online lending industry, the RFI aims to assist the Treasury Department in examining online lenders’ potential “to expand access to credit, and how the financial regulatory framework can develop to ensure the industry grows safely.” Comments are due August 31, 2015.

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Treasury Deputy Secretary Raskin Delivers Remarks on Cybersecurity in the Financial Sector

On July 14, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Sarah Bloom Raskin delivered remarks at the American Bankers Association Summer Leadership meeting in Baltimore. Speaking on cybersecurity and cyber-resiliency in banking and the financial sector generally, Raskin’s remarks continued her December 2014 remarks in Austin at the Executive Leadership Cybersecurity Conference regarding three main areas, including (i) baseline protections, (ii) information sharing, and (iii) response recovery. According to Raskin, since December the growing number of cyberattacks – including against health insurers and the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management – has made the government and public more mindful of the serious threat posed by cyberattacks. Accordingly, cybersecurity has seen a “profoundly positive cultural change,” moving beyond just the purview of IT specialists. Deputy Secretary Raskin’s most recent remarks added 10 follow-up questions for banks and financial entities to consider, including whether cybersecurity is incorporated into the bank’s governance systems, security controls are tailored to specific cyber risks presented (as opposed to a “one-size fits all” approach), enhanced controls are implemented and adequate training provided, and basic “cyber hygiene” practices (including multi-factor authentication) are followed.  Raskin also emphasized the need to appropriately tailor cyber risk insurance.

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White House Issues Executive Order To Combat Against Cyber Attacks

On April 1, President Obama issued an executive order granting the Department of Treasury new authority to impose sanctions against individuals or entities that engage in activities which benefit from cyber attacks against U.S. including financial institutions. The executive order is a response to an increase of malicious cyber-enabled activities that continue to pose a threat to the United States’ national security, foreign policy, and economy. As noted in a statement released by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, the executive order “allows [Treasury] to expose and financially isolate those who hide in the shadows of the Internet to conduct malicious cyber activities that threaten the national security, foreign policy, or economic health or financial stability of the United States.” The announcement follows earlier measures made by the White House to combat against cyber attacks, including the creation of a new federal agency to facilitate the sharing of information about potential threats.

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Treasury Deputy Secretary Raskin Delivers Remarks On Cyber Security

On March 25, Department of the Treasury’s Deputy Secretary Raskin delivered remarks regarding the agency’s efforts to enhance cybersecurity as the number of cyber-attacks continue to increase. Raskin outlined three specific areas where financial institutions can better prepare for cyber threats and enhance “cyber resilience” in the event of a cyberattack: (i) increase information sharing among financial institutions, thereby making this a priority for the financial sector worldwide; (ii) ensure that safeguards are in place for all third-party vendors with access to the financial institution’s data and systems; and (iii) design a cyber-preparedness “playbook” that has a “detailed, documented plan so that the firm can react quickly to minimize internal and external damage, reduce recovery and time costs, and instill confidence in outside stakeholders and the public.”

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White House Announces Nominations for Treasury, Justice Tax Division

On February 24, the White House released a number of intended nominations for key Administration posts. Among the anticipated nominations were (i) Amias Gerety as Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions, Department of the Treasury; and (ii) Cono R. Namorato as Assistant AG for the Tax Division, Department of Justice. Gerety began his career at Treasury in 2009 as Senior Advisor in the Office of Financial Institutions, and since June 2014, has served as Counselor in the Office of Domestic Finance. Namorato, currently in private practice, previously held various positions within the DOJ’s Tax Division and the Department of Treasury including serving as Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Director of the Office of Professional Responsibility for the IRS, respectively.

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New General Counsel Takes Helm at FDIC

On January 15, the FDIC announced Charles Yi as the agency’s new general counsel. Previously, Yi served as staff director and chief counsel on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Banking and Finance at the Department of Treasury, and as Counsel for the Committee on Financial Services of the U.S. House of Representatives. Richard Osterman, who has served as acting General Counsel, will return to his previous position as Deputy General Counsel.

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Treasury Eases Cuba Regulations

On January 15, the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a final rule amending its Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) to reflect policy changes previously announced by President Obama on December 17. The amendments (i) allow U.S. financial institutions to maintain correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions; (ii) allow U.S. financial institutions to enroll merchants and process credit and debit card transactions for travel-related and other transactions consistent with the CACR; (iii) increase the limit of remittances to $2,000 from $500 per quarter; and (iv) under an expanded license, allow U.S. registered brokers or dealers in securities and registered money transmitters to process authorized remittances without having to apply for a specific license. In addition, OFAC released a FAQ sheet to help explain the new amendments, which are effective January 16.

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