On December 18, President Obama signed into law H.R. 5859, the “Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014.” First introduced in the House on December 11, the bill gives the President the authority to impose sanctions against countries, entities, and individual persons that pose potential threats to financial stability through excessive risk-taking with the Russian market. The bill provides authority for sanctions against foreign persons, including executive officers of an entity, relating to (i) banking transactions; (ii) investing in or purchasing equity or debt instruments; (iii) U.S. property transactions; and (iv) Export-Import Bank of the United States assistance. Finally, the bill directs the President to “use U.S. influence to encourage the World Bank Group, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and other international financial institutions to invest in and stimulate private investment in such projects.”
On December 18, after passing unanimously in both houses of Congress, President Obama signed into law S.3008, the Foreclosure Relief and Extension for Servicemembers Act of 2014. Previously, the SCRA’s protection for servicemembers against foreclosure for one year after the end of active duty was set to expire at the end of 2014. The Act extends this protection until the end of 2015, at which point the foreclosure protection is scheduled to revert to the period of active duty plus 90 days that was in effect in 2008.
On December 11, Representatives Cummings (D-MD), Waters (D-CA), and Moore (D-WI) led the effort to submit a letter to FHFA’s IG requesting that the agency conduct a comprehensive audit to determine if Fannie and Freddie “are taking adequate steps to ensure that preservation companies maintain or service REO properties in compliance with the requirements of the Fair Housing Act.” The letter, which was signed by a total of 26 House Members, suggested that companies contracted by Fannie and Freddie to maintain their REOs provide inferior service within African-American, Latino, and other non-Caucasian communities. The Representatives’ allegations stem from National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) research, in addition to complaints filed with HUD and several U.S. banks. Moreover, the letter comes directly after the December 9 Senate Banking Committee hearing, “Inequality, Opportunity, and the Housing Market,” during which Deborah Goldberg, Special Project Director of NFHA, addressed that REOs are managed differently based on the community of the property.
Senator Warren And Congressman Cummings Urge GAO To Study Economic Vulnerability Of Non-Bank Mortgage Servicers, Risks To Consumers
On October 20, Senator Warren and Congressman Cummings co-authored a letter to the GAO requesting that the agency investigate possible effects on the non-bank servicing industry in the event of an economic downturn. In addition, the duo urged the GAO to study the potential risks to consumers should a major non-bank servicer fail. The letter stems from a report recently issued by the FHFA-OIG. The report cites that the rise in non-bank mortgage servicers “has been accompanied by consumer complaints, lawsuits, and other regulatory actions as the servicers’ workload outstrips their processing capacity.”
On October 7, Elijah Cummings, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued a letter asking committee Chairman Darrell Issa to hold a bipartisan hearing to examine a recent data security breach at a major U.S. financial institution. The breach is believed to have affected approximately 76 million households, in addition to 7 million small businesses. In his letter, Cummings told Issa that he believes an investigation into the breach “will help the Committee learn from [corporations] about security vulnerabilities they have experienced in order to better protect our federal information technology assets.” This is not the first time Cummings has asked Chairman Issa to hold hearings on the issue of data security. Cummings previously called for hearings on the issue in January and September of this year. To date, Chairman Issa has not responded to Cummings’s requests.
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.
Over the past week, members of Congress from both parties have sent several letters to the Department of Education (DOE or ED) regarding its ongoing rulemaking related to the ways higher education institutions request, maintain, disburse, and otherwise manage federal student aid disbursements. As part of that rulemaking, the DOE is considering changes that would, among other things, clarify permissible disbursement practices and agreements between education institutions and entities that assist in disbursing student aid, and increase consumer protections governing the use of prepaid cards and other financial instruments. In general, the letters from Congress express concern that the draft rule is too broad and will limit student access to financial services. For example, in a July 17 letter from Congressman Luetkemeyer (R-MO), Senator Hoeven (R-ND), and 40 other lawmakers, including six Democrats, the members expressed concern that the DOE proposal could cover any account held by a student or a parent of a student if the financial institution had any arrangement, however informal, with a school and regardless of when or why the account was opened. The members support efforts to protect students from abuses made in disbursing student aid, but ask the DOE to tailor the rule such that it could not be construed so broadly as to restrict students’ access to financial services. Earlier this year, another group of lawmakers called on the DOE to “mandate contract transparency, prohibit aggressive marketing, and ban high fees when colleges partner with banks to sponsor debit cards, prepaid cards, or other financial products used to disburse student aid.”
On June 9, Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and Jim Jordan (R-OH), an Oversight subcommittee chairman, sent a letter to FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg that seeks information regarding the FDIC’s role in Operation Choke Point and calls into question prior FDIC staff statements about the agency’s role. The letter asserts that documents obtained from the DOJ and recently released by the committee demonstrate that, contrary to testimony provided by a senior FDIC staff member, the FDIC “has been intimately involved in Operation Choke Point since its inception.” The letter also criticizes FDIC guidance that institutions monitor and address risks associated with certain “high-risk merchants,” which, according to the FDIC, includes firearms and ammunition merchants, coin dealers, and payday lenders, among numerous others. The letter seeks information to help the committee better understand the FDIC’s role in Operation Choke Point and its justification for labeling certain businesses as “high-risk.” For example, the letter seeks (i) all documents and communications between the FDIC and the DOJ since January 1, 2011; (ii) all FDIC documents since that time that refer to the FDIC’s 2012 guidance regarding payment processor relationships; and (iii) all documents referring to risks created by financial institutions’ relationships with firearms or ammunition businesses, short-term lenders, and money services businesses.
On May 29, the House Oversight Committee released a staff report on Operation Choke Point, DOJ’s investigation of banks and payment processors purportedly designed to address perceived consumer fraud by blocking fraudsters’ access to the payment systems. The report provides the following “key findings”: (i) the operation was created by DOJ to “choke out” companies it considers to be “high risk” or otherwise objectionable, despite the fact that those companies are legal businesses; (ii) the operation has forced banks to terminate relationships with a wide variety of lawful and legitimate merchants; (iii) DOJ is aware of these impacts and has dismissed them; (iv) DOJ lacks adequate legal authority for the initiative; and (v) contrary to DOJ’s public statements, Operation Choke Point is primarily focused on the payday lending industry, particularly online lenders. The findings are based on documents provided to the committee by DOJ, including internal memoranda and other documents that, among other things, “acknowledge the program’s impact on legitimate merchants” and show that DOJ “has radically and unjustifiably expanded its [FIRREA] Section 951 authority.” The committee released the nearly 1,000 pages of supporting documents, which are available in two parts, here and here.
On May 22, the House Financial Services Committee resumed activity on a series of bills—several of which are mortgage-related—that it considered earlier this month but for which it had postponed recorded votes. The committee approved all bills previously considered, including (i) H.R. 1779, which would amend TILA’s definition of a “mortgage originator” to exclude manufactured housing retailers unless they received compensation from a lender, mortgage broker, or loan originator, and definition of a “high cost mortgage” for loans under $75,000 to include a higher HOEPA APR trigger and a minimum HOEPA points and fees trigger of the greater of 5% of the transaction amount or $3,000; (ii) H.R. 2673, which would provide that loans retained on an institution’s balance sheet automatically qualify for qualified mortgage treatment under the Ability-to-Repay rule; and (iii) H.R. 4521, which would exempt from mandatory escrow requirements loans secured by a first lien on a consumer’s principal dwelling that are held in portfolio by creditors with assets of $10 billion or less, and would instruct the CFPB to provide regulatory relief for mortgage servicers that annually service 20,000 or fewer mortgage loans.
On May 22, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) sent letters to the Federal Reserve Board, the OCC, the FDIC, and the NCUA asking the regulators to explain their use of “reputational risk,” and citing Operation Choke Point as an example of the potential for “reputation risk” to become “a pretext for the advancement of political objectives, which can potentially subvert both safety and soundness and the rule of law.” Congressman Hensarling asked each regulator to explain (i) whether it consider reputation risk in its supervision of depositories, and, if so, to explain the legal basis for such consideration and why it is appropriate; (ii) what data are used to analyze reputational risk and why such data are not already accounted for under CAMELS; and (iii) whether a poor reputation risk rating could be sufficient to warrant recommending a change in a depository’s business practices notwithstanding strong ratings under CAMELS.
On May 7, the House Financial Services Committee passed by voice vote H.R. 3211, which would remove additional items from TILA’s definition of “points and fees” for purposes of the CFPB’s “Ability to Repay” and HOEPA rules. The legislation would exclude from the definition insurance as well as taxes (which are excluded under current law) held in impound accounts and would also exclude amounts received by affiliated companies as a result of their participation in an affiliated business arrangement. The committee agreed to hold recorded votes on numerous other bills the week of May 19, 2014, including (i) H.R. 1779, which would amend TILA’s definition of a “mortgage originator” to exclude manufactured housing sales representatives, set higher HOEPA APR triggers and a minimum HOEPA points and fees trigger of the greater of 5% of the transaction amount or $3,000 for loans under $75,000 secured by personal property; (ii) H.R. 2673, which would provide that loans retained on an institution’s balance sheet automatically qualify for qualified mortgage (QM) treatment under the Ability-to-Repay rule; and (iii) H.R. 4521, which would exempt loans secured by a first lien on a consumer’s principal dwelling that are held in portfolio by creditors with assets of $10 billion or less from mandatory escrow requirements, and would instruct the CFPB to provide regulatory relief for mortgage servicers that annually service 20,000 or fewer mortgage loans. The Committee did not hold a planned vote on the issuance of document subpoenas to Treasury and the DOJ regarding prosecution of financial institutions, agreeing instead to first work to obtain the requested information through other means.
On May 6, the U.S. House of Representatives passed by voice vote three financial services bills: (i) H.R. 2672, which would require the CFPB to allow individuals and businesses to apply to have an area designated as “rural” for purposes of exemptions to the CFPB mortgage rules; (ii) H.R. 3329, which would require the Federal Reserve Board to allow bank holding companies and savings and loan holding companies with assets of less than $1 billion to incur higher amounts of debt when acquiring other banks than are allowed for larger holding companies—the current asset ceiling for that special allowance is $500 million and applies only to bank holding companies; and (iii) H.R. 4386, which would permit FinCEN, in fulfilling its responsibility to supervise registered money services businesses (MSBs), to rely on state agency examinations of MSBs that provide international remittance transfer services and other non-bank financial institutions such as gaming establishments and jewel merchants.
On April 29, the U.S. House of Representatives passed by voice vote HR 4167, a bill that would exclude certain debt securities of collateralized loan obligations (CLOs) from the so-called Volcker Rule’s prohibition against holding an ownership interest in a hedge fund or private equity fund. Section 619 of the Dodd-Frank Act—the Volcker Rule—generally prohibits insured depository institutions and their affiliates from engaging in proprietary trading and from acquiring or retaining ownership interests in, sponsoring, or having certain relationships with a hedge fund or private equity fund. As implemented, that prohibition would cover CLOs, which banks and numerous lawmakers assert Congress never intended for the Volcker Rule to cover. Earlier in April, the Federal Reserve Board issued a statement that it intends to exercise its authority to give banking entities two additional one-year extensions, which would extend until July 21, 2017, to conform their ownership interests in, and sponsorship of, covered CLOs. HR 4167 instead would provide a statutory solution by exempting CLOs issued before January 31, 2014 from divestiture before July 21, 2017.
On April 8 the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing with the general counsels of the federal banking agencies regarding, among other things, Operation Choke Point, the federal enforcement operation reportedly intended to cut off from the banking system certain lenders and merchants allegedly engaged in unlawful activities. Numerous committee members from both sides of the aisle raised concerns about Operation Choke Point, as well as the federal government’s broader pressure on banks over their relationships with nonbank financial service providers, including money service businesses, nonbank lenders, and check cashers. Committee members asserted that the operation is impacting lawful nonbank financial service providers, who are losing access to the banking system and, in turn, are unable to offer needed services to the members’ constituents. The FDIC’s Richard Osterman repeatedly stated that Operation Choke Point is a DOJ operation and the FDIC’s participation is limited to providing certain information and resources upon request. Mr. Osterman also asserted that the FDIC is not attempting to, and does not intend to, prohibit banks from offering products or services to nonbank financial service providers operating within the law, and that the FDIC’s guidance is clear that banks are neither prohibited from nor encouraged to provide services to certain businesses, provided they properly manage their risk. Similarly, the OCC’s Amy Friend stated that the OCC wants to ensure that banks conduct due diligence and implement appropriate controls, but that the OCC is not prohibiting banks from offering services to lawful businesses. She stated the OCC has found that some banks have made a business decision to terminate relationships with some nonbank providers rather than implement additional controls.