On July 29, 2020, the CFPB hosted a roundtable discussion, attended by Director Kathy Kraninger and moderated by the Bureau’s Principal Deputy Director of Fair Lending, Frank Vespa-Papaleo, to hear feedback from consumer advocates and industry representatives on how the Bureau can facilitate greater access to financial products and services for consumers with limited English proficiency (LEP).  Representatives of numerous consumer advocacy groups attended the meeting, as did representatives from several industry trade associations and bank and non-bank lenders.  I was delighted to be invited to the roundtable as well, one of only two private law firm practitioners who represent the industry.

The Bureau did not make any substantive announcements during the roundtable, but it was evident from the Director’s presence and comments throughout the meeting that she is committed to making progress on this issue.  The gathering of feedback, both through the roundtable and through the recently-announced request for information, make it clear that the Bureau is carefully considering what guidance it can provide, and what other actions it can take, to promote the availability of financial services to LEP consumers, both in terms of making products available to them in the first instance and with respect to the servicing of existing credit products.

Consumer advocates and the industry largely agree that there are opportunities to better serve LEP consumers, so that goal is shared between the two groups (which rarely occurs).  Both parties desire more access to financial products and services for LEP customers, so this presents an opportunity for all interested parties to work cooperatively together to achieve this goal.

From the industry’s perspective, the biggest barrier to providing more LEP services is the uncertainty about potential UDAAP or fair lending issues that could arise from the planning and execution of strategies to provide services in non-English languages.  The CFPB’s 2016 Supervisory Highlights guidance was a great step in helping to reassure industry with respect to some of these issues, and I believe that it directly led to a significant increase in the amount of non-English support provided by financial institutions, but the guidance is fairly general in nature, and leaves a large number of questions to be decided in the financial institution’s judgment.  More specific and comprehensive UDAAP guidance that will allow financial services companies to serve LEP customers in limited ways while expanding their operational capabilities could be a path forward in offering non-English services that would build on the Bureau’s 2016 guidance and would further facilitate action by the industry.

I look forward to the Bureau’s continued efforts on this important issue.