The FDIC’s Center for Financial Research has issued a research paper that discusses the use of the information contained in a “digital footprint,” meaning the information that people leave online by accessing or registering on a website, for predicting consumer default.

The researchers considered ten digital footprint variables that included:

  • The device type (e.g. tablet or mobile)
  • The operating system (e.g. iOS or Android)
  • The channel through which a customer comes to a website (e.g. search engine or price comparison site)
  • Two pieces of information about the user’s email address (e.g. includes first and/or last name and includes a number)

According to the researchers, the results of their research suggest that “even the simple, easily accessible variables from the digital footprint proxy for income, character and reputation are highly valuable for default prediction.”  For example, ownership of an iOS device was found to be one of the best predictors for being in the top quartile of income distribution, customers coming from a price comparison website were found to be almost half as likely to default as customers directed to the website by search engine ads, and customers having their names in the email address were found to be 30% less likely to default.  The researchers also found that digital footprint information complements rather than substitutes for credit bureau information, suggesting that a lender that uses information from both sources can make superior lending decisions.

The researchers observe that “digital footprints can facilitate access to credit when credit bureau scores do not exist, thereby fostering financial inclusion and lowering inequality.”  They indicate that their results “suggest that digital footprints have the potential to boost financial inclusion to parts of the currently two billion working-age adults worldwide that lack access to services in the formal financial sector.”

The researchers also comment that regulators are likely to closely watch the use of digital footprints, noting that U.S. lenders using digital footprint information “are likely to face scrutiny whether the digital footprint proxies for [borrower characteristics such as race and gender that may not be considered under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act] and therefore violate fair lending laws.”

 

The FDIC has issued a request for information that seeks comment on how the FDIC can make its communications with insured depository institutions (IDIs) “more effective, streamlined, and clear.”  Concerned that the amount of information the FDIC provides to IDIs can create challenges for banks, particularly community banks, the FDIC is soliciting input “on how to maximize efficiency and minimize burden associated with obtaining information on FDIC laws, regulations, policies, and other materials relevant to RDIs.”  In addition to IDIs and other financial institutions and companies, the FDIC encourages comments from individual depositors and consumers, consumer groups, and other members of the financial services industry.

The RFI contains specific questions on which the FDIC seeks input that address three topics: efficiency, ease of access, and content.  Comments must be received by the FDIC by December 4, 2018.

 

In a recent interview (her first since being sworn in as Chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation), Jelena McWilliams provided insight into the FDIC’s likely regulatory agenda.

Ms. McWilliams stated that the FDIC’s top priorities included: (1) reducing regulatory burden on community banks; (2) increasing the speed with which the FDIC reviews charter and deposit insurance applications; and (3) assisting banks to introduce new financial products that serve underserved communities.

Unlike the previous FDIC Chair, Martin Gruenberg, Ms. McWilliams expressed a willingness to reexamine bank capital requirements.  Her comments suggest the FDIC might revisit its opposition to a proposal to revise the enhanced supplementary leverage ratio applicable to U.S. global systemically important bank holding companies (GSIB) issued by the OCC and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System that would: (i) set the enhanced supplementary leverage ratio for a GSIB at 50 percent of a the GSIB’s risk-based capital surcharge; (ii) replace the current 6 percent threshold at which an insured depository institution subsidiary of a GSIB is considered “well capitalized” under the prompt corrective action (PCA) framework with a threshold set at 3 percent plus 50 percent of the GSIB surcharge applicable to the insured depository institution; and (iii) make a corresponding change to each GSIB’s external total loss absorbing capacity (TLAC) leverage buffer and long-term debt requirement (and other, minor amendments, to the TLAC rule).

Ms. McWilliams agreed with Mr. Gruenberg that the Volcker Rule, (which bans proprietary trading and which, since the passage of Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, is only applicable to financial institutions with $10 billion of assets or more) is too complicated. Ms. McWilliams voiced her support for rules to revamp the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), a project that is also on the OCC’s agenda.  Ms. McWilliams said banks need more clarity about what activities qualify for CRA credit and the qualifications for CRA loans, and she also appeared to suggest that CRA assessment areas should be reexamined because banks are closing branches in rural communities to avoid criticism of their CRA activities (or the lack thereof) in those communities, which results in less access to financial services and does not serve the needs of those communities.

Finally, Ms. McWilliams stated that the FDIC is reviewing whether to rescind its guidelines for deposit advance loans and that she is considering allowing applicants seeking deposit insurance to make a preliminary, confidential filing to get feedback before a formal application.  These comments followed her first speech as Chair in June, where she suggested that the FDIC would make faster decisions on deposit insurance applications, a statement that was interpreted as a signal that under her leadership the FDIC might be more receptive to applications from applicants seeking to form an industrial loan company and de novo charters generally.  (In its recent fintech report, the Treasury Department recommended that the FDIC reconsider its guidance on direct deposit advance services and issue new guidance similar to that issued by the OCC.  In May 2018, the OCC issued a bulletin setting forth core lending principles and policies and practices for short-term, small-dollar installment lending by national banks, federal savings banks, and federal branches and agencies of foreign banks and encouraging banks to engage in such lending.)

Last week, Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer, Chair of the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit, and Representative Scott Tipton sent a letter to Jelena McWilliams, Chair of the FDIC, that identified concerns with the FDIC’s interpretations and regulations surrounding brokered deposits and requested the FDIC to revisit its June 2016 Frequently Asked Questions on Identifying, Accepting and Reporting Brokered Deposits “in light of the rapid technological changes in the banking and payments industry.”

Congressmen Luetkemeyer and Tipton assert that the FAQ is inconsistent with the definition of “deposit broker” under 12 C.F.R. § 337.6(a)(2).  The regulation defines a brokered deposit as “any deposit that is obtained, directly or indirectly, from or through the mediation or assistance of a deposit broker.”  The term “deposit broker” is defined under 12 USC §1831f to include “(A) any person engaged in the business of placing deposits, or facilitating the placement of deposits, of third parties with insured depository institutions or the business of placing deposits with insured depository institutions for the purpose of selling interests in those deposits to third parties; and (B) an agent or trustee who establishes a deposit account to facilitate a business arrangement with an insured depository institution to use the proceeds of the account to fund a prearranged loan.”

The Congressmen believe that the broad classifications in the FAQ of what deposits are brokered and when an entity is a deposit broker: (1) exposes institutions to restrictive and costly supervisory limits and deposit insurance assessments; (2) has reduced the number of financial institutions that can afford to participate in certain markets and, thereby, limited consumer access to financial products; (3) interfered with innovation; and (4) diminished the access of financial institutions to “stable sources of deposits,” thereby “limiting the funding banks can make available for lending to small businesses and consumers.”

By way of example, the 2016 FAQ states that deposits generated by “advertising or referrals by third parties (such as nonprofit affinity groups as well as commercial enterprises), in exchange for volume-based fees” would be deemed brokered deposits even if the customers themselves would subsequently become core customers of the institution.  The FAQ further states that “[i]f a company merely designs deposit products or deposit accounts for one or more banks, without placing deposits or facilitating the placement of deposits at these banks, the company will not be classified as a deposit broker,” but if a company also markets a bank’s deposit products in exchange for volume-based fees, then it would be a deposit broker.

When considering the costs of the design of new deposit products and the development of new technological applications to serve financial institution customers, a determination that the use of volume-based fees will cause deposits to be deemed brokered deposits does appear to stifle innovation and limit the ability of financial institutions with fewer resources to develop technological advances that would benefit consumers.

The FDIC has not yet responded.

The federal banking agencies (the Federal Reserve Board, OCC, and FDIC (FBAs)), recently issued a “Policy Statement on Interagency Notification of Formal Enforcement Actions” that is intended “to promote notification of, and coordination on, formal enforcement actions among the FBAs at the earliest practicable date.”  The issuance of the policy statement follows the DOJ’s announcement last month of a new policy to encourage coordination among the DOJ and other enforcement agencies when imposing multiple penalties for the same conduct to discourage “piling on.”

The new policy statement recites that it is not intended as a substitute for routine informal communications among FBAs in advance of an enforcement action, including verbal notification of pending enforcement actions “to officials and staff with supervisory  and enforcement responsibility for the affected institution.”

The policy statement’s key instructions are:

  • When an FBA determines that it will take formal enforcement action against a federally-insured depository institution, depository institution holding company, non-bank affiliate, or institution-affiliated party, it should evaluate whether the action involves the interests of another FBA.  By way of example, the policy statement notes that an entity targeted by an FBA for unlawful practices might have significant connections with an institution regulated by another FBA.
  • If it is determined that one or more other FBAs have an interest in an enforcement action, the FBA proposing the action should notify the other FBA(s) at the earlier of the FBA’s written notification to the targeted entity or when the responsible agency official or group of officials determines that enforcement action is expected to be taken.
  • The information shared should be appropriate to allow the other FBA(s) to take necessary action in examining or investigating the entity over which they have jurisdiction
  • If two or more FBAs is considering bringing a complementary action, such as an action involving a bank and its parent holding company, those FBAs should coordinate the preparation, processing, presentation, potential penalties, service, and follow-up of the enforcement action.

We view the new policy statement as a very positive development.

Jelena McWilliams, President Trump’s nominee, was sworn in on June 5 for a five-year term as FDIC Chairman and a six-year term as a member of the FDIC Board of Directors.  As a result, the FDIC is firmly in the hands of Republicans.  Last month, Republicans also took firm control of the FTC.

As FDIC Chairman, Ms. McWilliams succeeds Martin Gruenberg, who was appointed Chairman by President Obama.  Since his term as an FDIC Board member does not expire until the end of this year, Mr. Gruenberg remains an FDIC Board member.  According to media reports, he has been recommended by Senator Chuck Schumer to serve as FDIC Vice Chairman, the position he held before his nomination as FDIC Chairman.

The other two current FDIC Board members are Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting and CFPB Acting Director Mick Mulvaney.  The FDIC Act provides  that the Comptroller and CFPB Director shall be Board members and that the three other members “shall be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, from among individuals who are citizens of the United States, 1 of whom shall have State bank supervisory experience.”  The FDIC Act mandates that no more than three Board members may have the same party affiliation.  Accordingly, President Trump must nominate a Democrat or Independent to fill the fifth seat.

American Banker has reported that, in a press call last week regarding the OCC’s new risk report, “Semiannual Risk Perspective for Spring 2018,” Comptroller Otting stated that in July 2018, the OCC expects to announce its decision on whether it will issue special purpose national bank (SPNB) charters to nondepository fintech companies.

Under Acting Comptroller Keith Noreika’s leadership, the OCC defended its authority to grant an SPNB charter to a nondepository company in the lawsuits filed by the NY Department of Financial Services and the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (both of which were dismissed).  Mr. Otting has not yet taken a public position on the OCC’s SPNB charter proposal.  However, he has been dismissive of the argument made by opponents of the SPNB charter that it may lead to an inappropriate mixing of banking and commerce and has questioned the continuing need for the current barriers between banking and commerce.

American Banker reported that Mr. Otting also stated in the press call that some potential applicants for a SPNB charter have lost interest in obtaining a charter after learning more about the process for becoming a bank and seemed more focused on partnering with banks.  According to Politico, Mr. Otting expressed concern in the press call about “rent-a-charter” arrangements between banks and non-bank entities.  Mr. Otting was quoted by Politico as having said “We don’t believe that institutions should effectively lend their charter to a vendor.”

In its bulletin issued last week setting forth core lending principles and policies and practices for short-term, small-dollar installment lending by OCC-supervised institutions, the OCC expressed an unfavorable view of bank-nonbank partnerships, where the “sole goal [is] evading” state-law rate limits.  We commented that while the context of the OCC’s view was “specific to short-term, small-dollar installment lending,” this apparent hostility to bank-model relationships should be of concern to all banks that partner with third parties, including fintech companies, to make loans under Section 85 of the National Bank Act.  Mr. Otting’s reported comment about “rent-a-charter” arrangements exacerbates this concern to the extent it indicates there is indeed OCC hostility to arrangements that rely on the originating bank’s Section 85 interest rate authority even outside of the small dollar loan context addressed by the bulletin.

For state-chartered banks, state law interest rate limits are preempted by Section 27 of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act.  Many bank partnerships with non-bank entities involve state banks and the FDIC, in interpreting Section 27, has generally tracked the OCC’s views on Section 85.  As a result, the OCC’s views on bank partnerships should also be of concern to state banks entering into arrangements that rely on the originating bank’s Section 27 interest rate authority.

On May 7, 2018, in Arlington, Virginia, the FDIC will host a forum, “Use of Technology in the Business of Banking.”  Registration is required to attend.  The forum will also be webcast live and recorded for on-demand access after the event.

The FDIC’s notice states that panels at the forum  “will focus on emerging technologies that are transforming banking operations, the impact of emerging technologies on retail banking, including new and innovative delivery channels, enhanced customer experiences, economic inclusion; and consumer financial data access—balancing rights and security.”

It further states that the forum “will bring together representatives from banks that use or are considering using emerging technologies, representatives from firms offering emerging technologies, representatives from bank trade associations, thought leaders on the use of technology in the business of banking, leaders of consumer and community organizations, and representatives from federal and state financial regulatory agencies.”

A group of Democratic House members led by Rep. Maxine Waters has introduced H.R. 3937, the “Megabank Accountability and Consequences Act of 2017,” that would require federal bank regulators to consider the revocation of a bank’s charter and deposit insurance if the bank is found to have engaged in a “pattern or practice” of violations of federal consumer protection laws.  The bank’s officers and directors would also be subject to civil and criminal liability.

The 45-page bill includes 10 pages of “findings.”  One such finding is that since the enactment of Dodd-Frank, “some very large banking organizations operating in the United States have repeatedly violated Federal banking and consumer protection laws by engaging in unethical business practices” and that such banks “continue to act with impunity and violate numerous laws designed to protect consumers” despite enforcement actions that have been taken “most notably” by the CFPB.

Other findings include:

  • Senior bank executives “rarely have been held personally accountable for Federal consumer protection law violations and other illicit practices that occurred during their tenure.”
  • Federal prudential banking agencies, despite their wide-ranging statutory powers to address violations, “continue to rely on enforcement tools such as consent orders, cease and desist orders, and civil money penalties, even in instances when an institution’s violations have demonstrated unsafe or unsound business practices and past supervisory and enforcement actions have not sufficiently deterred illegal practices.”
  • Institutions have continued to engage in inappropriate and illegal practices because the federal prudential banking agencies have failed to “exercise statutorily provided enforcement authorities—such as revoking a bank’s national charter or terminating its Federal deposit insurance” or “hold the institution’s board of directors and senior officers accountable.”
  • Even if a bank’s violations of federal consumer financial laws “are deemed not to technically constitute unsafe or unsound banking practices, it may still demonstrate a pattern of wrongdoing causing unacceptable harm to its customers, such that continuing to enable it to engage in the business of banking distorts the regulatory purpose of providing national banks charters, deposit insurance and other benefits.”

The bill’s provisions would apply to a national bank, federal savings association, state Federal Reserve member bank, insured depository institution, foreign bank, or federal branch or agency of a foreign bank if such entity is “affiliated with a global systematically important bank holding company.”  A “global systematically important bank holding company” is defined as a bank holding company that the Fed has identified as a “global systematically important bank holding company” or a “global systematically important foreign banking organization” pursuant to existing federal regulations.

The bill contains a definition of “pattern or practice of unsafe or unsound banking practices or other violations related to consumer banking” that lists 7 types of activities and provides that a bank satisfies the “pattern or practice” definition if it engages in all of such activities “to the extent each activity was discovered or occurred at least once in the 10 years preceding the date of the enactment of this Act.”  It also contains a definition of “pattern or practice of violations of federal consumer protection laws.”

The bill includes the following requirements and sanctions:

  • If the OCC, after consultation with the CFPB, determines that a bank “is engaging or has engaged in a pattern or practice of unsafe or unsound banking practices and other violations related to consumer harm,” the OCC must “immediately initiate proceedings to terminate the [bank’s] Federal charter…or appoint a receiver for [the bank].”
  • If the FDIC, after consultation with the CFPB, determines that an insured depository institution “is engaging or has engaged in a pattern or practice of unsafe or unsound banking practices and other violations related to consumer harm,” the FDIC must “immediately initiate an involuntary termination of the [bank’s] deposit insurance.”
  • If the Fed, after consultation with the CFPB, determines that a state member bank “is engaging or has engaged in a pattern or practice of unsafe or unsound banking practices and other violations related to consumer harm,” the Fed must “immediately initiate proceedings to terminate such bank’s membership in the Federal Reserve System.”
  • If the Fed, after consultation with the CFPB, determines that a foreign bank or federal branch or agency of a foreign bank “is engaging or has engaged in a pattern or practice of unsafe or unsound banking practices and other violations related to consumer harm,” the Fed must “immediately initiate proceedings to terminate the foreign bank’s ability to operate in the United States” or recommend to the OCC that the branch’s or agency’s license be terminated.
  • If the OCC, Fed, or FDIC makes a determination to initiate proceedings to terminate a bank’s charter or deposit insurance, the agency must notify the bank “that removal is required of any director or senior officers responsible, as determined by [that agency], for overseeing any division of the [bank] during the time the [bank] was engaging in the identified pattern or practice of unsafe or unsound banking practices.”  Any current or former director or senior officer determined to have such responsibility “shall also be permanently banned from working as an employee, officer, or director of any other banking organization.”
  • If the FDIC determines that an insured depository institution “is engaging or has engaged in a pattern or practice of unsafe or unsound banking practices and other violations related to consumer harm” or is notified by the OCC or Fed of the termination of a bank’s charter or an agency’s or branch’s license, the FDIC must not only initiate an involuntary termination of deposit insurance, it also must place the institution into receivership and can transfer the institution’s assets as provided in the bill.
  • Every “executive officer and director” of a national bank or federal savings association or a branch, representative office, or agency of a federally-licensed foreign bank must annually certify in writing to the appropriate banking agency, the CFPB, and any relevant federal law enforcement agency, that he or she has “regularly reviewed the institution’s lines of business and conducted due diligence to ensure,” that the institution (1) has established and maintained internal risk controls to identify significant federal law consumer compliance deficiencies and weaknesses, (2) has promptly disclosed all known violations of applicable federal consumer protection laws to the CFPB and appropriate banking agency, (3) is taking all reasonable steps to correct any identified federal law consumer compliance deficiencies and weakness based on prior examinations, and (4) is in substantial compliance with all federal consumer protection laws.
  • An officer or director who submits a certification that contains a false statement is subject to a fine or imprisonment if the statement is “done knowingly” or “done intentionally.”
  • An officer or director who knowingly violates any federal consumer protection law or directs any of the institution’s agents, officers, or directors to violate such a law is personally liable for any damages sustained by the institution or any other person as a result of the violation.  An officer or director who knowingly causes an institution to violate any federal consumer protection law or directs any of the institution’s agents, officers, or directors to commit a violation that results in the director or officer “being personally unjustly enriched and the institution being conducted in an unsafe and unsound manner” can be fined in an amount up to all of the compensation he or she received during the period in which the violations occurred or in the one to three years preceding discovery of the violations, and is subject to up to 5 years imprisonment.  The OCC, Fed, or FDIC, as applicable, must remove an officer or director who engaged in the foregoing conduct from his or her position and permanently ban such person from being involved in the operation and management of a federally-chartered or federally-insured bank.

Were it to become law, the bill’s certification requirement would likely make it very difficult for banks to attract and retain highly-qualified officers and directors.  It could also lead to instability in the banking system by creating a  “run” on deposits by depositors of a bank that became subject to the bill’s sanctions, particularly those whose deposits at the bank exceeded the insured deposit limit.

Fortunately, given the large Republican majority in the House, the bill is very unlikely to advance.

 

Effective July 18, 2017, the FDIC has adopted amendments to its Guidelines for Appeals of Material Supervisory Determinations.  The FDIC proposed the amendments last August and received only two comment letters, one from a trade association and the other from a financial holding company.

The amendments are intended to provide institutions with broader avenues of redress with respect to material supervisory determinations and enhance consistency with the appeals process of other federal banking agencies.  The term “material supervisory determinations” is defined by the Reigle Act to include determinations relating to (1) examination ratings; (2) the adequacy of loan loss reserve provisions; and (3) classifications of loans that are significant to an institution.  The Guidelines list the types of determinations that constitute “material supervisory determinations.”   Under the Guidelines, an institution may not file an appeal to the Supervision Appeals Review Committee (SARC) unless it has first filed a timely request for review of a material supervisory determination with the Division Director.

The amendments expand the definition of “material supervisory determination” by allowing determinations regarding an institution’s level of compliance with a formal enforcement action to be appealed as a material supervisory determination.  However, if the FDIC determines that lack of compliance with an existing enforcement action requires further enforcement action, the proposed new enforcement action would not be appealable.  Matters requiring board attention are also added to the list of appealable material supervisory determinations.

The amendments remove decisions to initiate informal enforcement action (such as a Memorandum of Understanding) from the list of determinations that are not appealable and add such decisions to the list of appealable material supervisory determinations.

Other amendments include the following:

  • A clarification that a formal enforcement-related action would commence and become unappealable when the FDIC initiates a formal investigation under 12 U.S.C section 1820(c) or provides written notice to the institution of a recommended or proposed formal enforcement action under applicable statutes or published enforcement-related FDIC policies, including written notice of a referral to the Attorney General pursuant to the ECOA or a notice to HUD for ECOA or FHA violations.
  • An amendment providing that when an institution has filed an appeal of a material supervisory determination through the SARC process, the appeal will not be affected if the FDIC subsequently initiates a formal enforcement-related action or decision based on the same facts and circumstances as the appeal.
  • An amendment providing for the publication of annual reports on Division Directors’ decisions with respect to requests by institutions for review of material supervisory determinations.
  • An amendment providing that the current standard for review for SARC appeals also applies to Division-level reviews.