Treasury secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin told members of the Senate Finance Committee that he supports rethinking regulatory requirements for regional banks in written responses following his confirmation hearing last week. Mr. Mnuchin, a former regional bank chief executive, strongly endorsed efforts to provide regulatory relief for regional, midsize and community banks, stating: “It is important that we have a regulatory environment that supports credit flows to all aspects of our economy, particularly in rural and less populated areas, and that small- and mid-sized institutions are not suffering from an inappropriate regulatory burden.” Mnuchin also questioned “whether it is appropriate for financial institutions that engage almost exclusively in traditional banking activities with consumers and businesses to be subject to measures intended for our largest and most complex financial institutions.” Moreover, when asked his thoughts concerning the Dodd-Frank Act, the nominee stated that he would focus on “addressing regulatory issues that limit banks’ abilities to lend to small and medium-sized business that will create economic growth and create more jobs.”
On February 17, Fannie Mae announced that it had reported net income of $5 billion for the fourth quarter of 2016 and $12.3 billion for fiscal year 2016. These figures exceeded previous earnings of $3.2 billion for the third quarter of 2016 and $11.0 billion for fiscal year 2015. According to a company statement, “fair value gains in the fourth quarter of 2016 were due primarily to increases in longer-term interest rates positively impacting the value of the company’s risk management and mortgage commitment derivatives.” The fourth quarter 2016 net income, while higher than in the third quarter, was “partially offset by a shift to a provision for credit losses in the fourth quarter compared with a benefit for credit losses in the third quarter.” Fannie attributed its year-over-year net income increase to “a higher benefit for credit losses and lower foreclosed property expense” and “[l]ower fair value losses in 2016 compared to 2015.”
Following the strong results, Fannie said it would pay a $5.5 billion dividend to the U.S. Treasury in March, bringing its total dividend payments to $159.9 billion since it entered federal conservatorship in 2008.
According to a January 17 blog post by CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman Seth Frotman, the CFPB has released an updated student loan Payback Playbook prototype, incorporating changes that the Bureau implemented after reviewing thousands of public comments submitted by student loan borrowers, consumer advocates, and other industry members. According to Mr. Frotman, the Bureau worked together with the Departments of Education and Treasury to develop “prototype disclosures” that “outline a path to affordable payments for struggling borrowers who are trying to avoid student debt distress.” The CFPB reports that it has shared the Payback Playbook prototype and the underlying consumer feedback data with the Department of Education. The joint efforts are part of a broader Department of Education initiative branded “A New Vision for Serving Student Loan Borrowers.”
On January 11, the GAO announced the release of its report providing an update on the status and condition of Treasury’s TARP-funded housing programs as of October 31, 2016. According to the report, Treasury had disbursed nearly 60 percent or $22.6 billion of the $37.51 billion assigned to TARP for the purpose of helping struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure. The report also notes that the GAO’s latest review yielded no new recommendations and that only five of the 29 recommendations GAO has previously made related to the TARP-funded housing programs remain open or not fully implemented. The report states that the GAO will continue to monitor and assess the status of these recommendations.
On December 20, the House Financial Services Committee’s Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing announced the release of a report detailing the results of its two-year investigation into terror financing. The report, entitled Stopping Terror Finance: Securing the U.S. Financial Sector, is intended to “serve as a useful summary of the key points illuminated by Task Force hearings regarding the terrorist financing threat, the necessary components of an effective strategy to address such financing activity, and current efforts to combat it.
Among other things, the Task Force took a more granular look at some less well-publicized terrorist financing methodologies, including: (i) the use of trade-based money laundering; (ii) the use of individual and corporate charitable foundations; (iii) the plundering of arts and antiquities by terrorists, especially by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS); and even (iv) drug trafficking.
Moreover, as explained by Task Force Chairman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Penn), the task force “discovered highly critical vulnerabilities” for which it presented several recommendations and called for further Congressional attention. Among other things, the report highlighted a need for:
- Better interagency coordination and resource allocation;
- Better use of and access to information that can identify illicit finance;
- Adding more overseas Treasury attachés;
- Continued attention to helping developing countries fight illicit finance;
- A greater domestic and international focus on stopping trade-based money laundering;
- Development of a harmonized regulatory and examination procedure for nonbank financial institutions – primarily money service businesses (MSB) but also emerging value transfer technologies – to squeeze out illicit finance and provide banks the comfort necessary for them to again widely offer MSB retail account services;
- Development of a whole-of-government strategy to combat terror finance and other forms of financial crimes; Beneficial ownership of corporate entities; and
- Re-animation of the interagency Terrorist Financing Working Group.
Notably, members of the Task Force have already introduced several bipartisan bills aimed at addressing some of the concerns identified in the report, including:
- H.R. 5594, the “National Strategy for Combatting Terrorists, Underground, and Other Illicit Financing Act,” which passed the House on July 11, 2016 by voice vote, and requires the President, acting through the Treasury Secretary, to develop and publish an annual whole-of-government strategy to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.
- H.R. 5602, which passed the House on July 11, 2016 by a vote of 356-47, requiring more detailed information to be reported to the Treasury regarding certain types of transactions in a specific area for a limited amount of time.
- H.R. 5607, the “Enhancing Treasury’s Anti-Terror Tools Act,” which passed the House on July 11, 2016 by a vote of 362-45, enhancing Treasury’s anti-illicit finance tools by addressing issues that came up repeatedly in Task Force Hearings.
- H.R. 5603, the “Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Act,” which is sponsored by Ranking Member Stephen Lynch (D-MA), and seeks to establish a reward program aimed at helping the U.S. identify, freeze, and, if appropriate, repatriate assets linked to foreign government corruption, which is often an enabler of terrorism.
- H.R. 5606, the “Anti-Terrorism Information Sharing Is Truth Act,” which is sponsored by Task Force Vice Chairman Pittenger (R-NC) and which seeks to refine “safe harbors” for the sharing of anti-terror information, reaffirming Congressional intent in existing statute to encourage government sharing of terror methodologies with banks to help them better recognize such activity.