The CFPB announced yesterday that it has transmitted a proposal to Congress that would give it clear authority to conduct supervisory examinations for compliance with the Military Lending Act (MLA).

Last summer, former CFPB Acting Director Mulvaney reportedly announced that he planned to end routine examinations for MLA compliance because the Dodd-Frank Act did not give the CFPB the authority to conduct such examinations.  For the reasons we detailed, we agreed with Acting Director Mulvaney’s reading of Dodd-Frank.  As we observed, while the MLA gives the CFPB authority to enforce the MLA, nothing in the plain language of the MLA or Dodd-Frank currently gives the CFPB authority to conduct MLA examinations.  As might be expected, Mr. Mulvaney’s plan met with strong criticism from Democratic lawmakers and state attorneys general, who asserted that the CFPB did possess the requisite examination authority.

The CFPB’s legislative proposal would amend Sections 1024 and 1025 of Dodd-Frank which establish the CFPB’s supervisory authority as to, respectively, non-banks and banks with more than $10 billion in total assets.  It would add a substantially similar provision to each section that would provide that the CFPB has “nonexclusive authority to require reports and conduct examinations on a periodic basis…for the purposes of—”

  • assessing compliance with the MLA
  • obtaining information about the non-bank or bank’s activities and compliance systems or procedures
  • detecting and assessing risks to consumers and to markets for consumer financial products and services.

The proposal would also add language to Section 1026 of Dodd-Frank which addresses the CFPB’s supervisory authority as to banks with $10 billion or less in total assets to provide that the CFPB (1) can include its examiners in examinations performed by a bank’s prudential regulator to assess not only the bank’s compliance with “Federal consumer financial law” but also MLA compliance, and (2) the requirement for the CFPB to notify a bank’s prudential regulator and recommend appropriate action when it has reason to believe the bank has engaged in potential violations includes not only material violations of a “Federal consumer financial law” but also material violations of the MLA.

The pendency of three cases in circuit courts challenging the CFPB’s constitutionality has given rise to speculation as to whether the CFPB will continue to defend its constitutionality under Director Kraninger’s leadership.  The CFPB continued to defend its constitutionality in these cases while under former Acting Director Mulvaney’s leadership.  It did so, however, as a fallback to its primary argument that because Mr. Mulvaney was removable at will by the President and had ratified the CFPB’s decision to bring the lawsuit in question, any constitutional defect that may have existed with the CFPB’s initiation of the lawsuit was cured.

On January 9, a Ninth Circuit panel heard oral argument in CFPB v. Seila Law LLC, one of the three pending circuit court cases.  The appellant in Seila Law is asking the Ninth Circuit to overturn the district court’s refusal to set aside a Bureau civil investigative demand, arguing that the CID is invalid because the CFPB’s structure is unconstitutional.  In its answering brief filed with the Ninth Circuit, the CFPB relied on the ratification argument and its fallback constitutionality argument. (Mr. Mulvaney was Acting Director at the time of briefing.)

At the oral argument, the CFPB maintained the positions taken in its brief, namely that Mr. Mulvaney’s ratification cured any constitutional defect and, in any event, the Bureau’s structure is constitutional under U.S. Supreme Court precedent and the D.C. Circuit’s en banc PHH decision.  This would suggest that Director Kraninger, like former Acting Director Mulvaney, will continue to defend the CFPB’s constitutionality in the other pending cases.

Should she do so, however, Ms. Kraninger will be at odds with the position of the Department of Justice.  In opposing the petition for certiorari filed by State National Bank of Big Spring (which the Supreme Court denied this week), DOJ argued that while it agreed with the bank that the CFPB’s structure is unconstitutional and the proper remedy would be to sever the Dodd-Frank Act’s for-cause removal provision, the case was a poor vehicle for deciding the constitutionality issue.  It also noted that its position “is that of the United States, not the position of the Bureau to date.”  The DOJ had asked the Supreme Court to allow the CFPB to weigh in should it grant the petition for certiorari.  (The DOJ’s position could have added significance because of the Dodd-Frank provision that requires the Bureau to seek the Attorney General’s consent before it can represent itself in the Supreme Court.)

If Director Kraninger does have a change of heart, she will be following in the shoes of Joseph Otting, who was appointed Acting FHFA Director by President Trump (and also serves as Comptroller of the Currency).  Next week, the Fifth Circuit is scheduled to hold oral argument in the en banc rehearing of Collins v. Mnuchin, in which a Fifth Circuit panel found that the FHFA is unconstitutionally structured because it is excessively insulated from Executive Branch oversight.  The plaintiffs, shareholders of two of the housing government services enterprises (GSEs), are seeking to invalidate an amendment to a preferred stock agreement between the Treasury Department and the FHFA as conservator for the GSEs.

The Fifth Circuit panel had determined that the appropriate remedy for the constitutional violation was to sever the provision of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA) that only allows the President to remove the FHFA Director “for cause” while “leav[ing] intact the remainder of HERA and the FHFA’s past actions.”  The plaintiffs sought a rehearing en banc to overturn the panel’s rulings that the FHFA acted within its statutory authority in entering into the agreement and that the FHFA’s unconstitutional structure did not impact the agreement’s validity.  The FHFA also sought a rehearing en banc but with the goal of overturning the panel’s determination that the plaintiffs had Article III standing to bring a constitutional challenge.

Despite having argued in its petition for rehearing that the panel’s constitutionality ruling was incorrect, the FHFA has now announced that it will not defend the FHFA’s constitutionality to the en banc court.  In the En Banc Supplement Brief of the FHFA and Mr. Otting, the FHFA states that Mr. Otting “has reconsidered the issues presented in this case.”  It further states that while it remains the FHFA’s position that the plaintiffs’ lack of standing makes it unnecessary for the en banc court to reach the constitutionality issue, to the extent the court concludes it is necessary to do so “FHFA will not defend the constitutionality of HERA’s for cause removal provision and agrees with the analysis in Section II.A of the Treasury’s Supplemental Brief that the provision infringes on the President’s control of executive authority.”

The two other pending circuit court cases challenging the CFPB’s constitutionality are the All American Check Cashing case pending in the Fifth Circuit and the RD Legal Funding case pending in the Second Circuit.  Oral argument is tentatively calendared for the week of March 11, 2019 in the All American Check Cashing case and briefing is scheduled to begin next month in the RD Legal Funding case.

 

 

The CFPB and New York Attorney General have agreed to a settlement with Sterling Jewelers Inc. of a lawsuit they filed jointly in a New York federal district court alleging federal and state law violations in connection with credit cards issued by Sterling that could only be used to finance purchases made in the company’s stores.  The proposed Stipulated Final Order and Judgment, which requires Sterling to pay a $10 million civil money penalty to the CFPB and a $1 million civil money penalty to the State of New York, represents the second settlement of an enforcement matter announced by the CFPB under Kathy Kraninger’s leadership as CFPB Director.  (In addition to a civil money penalty, the other settlement required the payment of consumer restitution.)

The complaint contains three counts asserted by the CFPB and NYAG alleging unfair or deceptive acts or practices in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act based on the following alleged conduct by Sterling:

  • Representing to consumers that they were completing a survey, enrolling in a rewards program, or checking on the amount of credit for which the consumer would qualify when, in fact, either the consumer or a Sterling employee was completing a credit application for the consumer without his or her knowledge or consent
  • Misrepresenting financing terms to consumers, including interest rates, monthly payment amounts, and eligibility for promotional financing
  • Enrolling consumers for payment protection plan insurance (PPPI) without informing them that they were being enrolled or misleading them about what they were signing up for

This alleged conduct is also the basis of two counts alleging state law violations asserted only by the NYAG.

In another count asserted only by the CFPB, Sterling is alleged to have violated TILA and Regulation Z by issuing credit cards to consumers without their knowledge or consent and not in response to an oral or written request for the card.  This alleged TILA/Reg Z violation is also the basis for a count alleging a state law violation asserted only by the NYAG as well as a count alleging a CFPA violation asserted by both the CFPB and NYAG.

In addition to requiring payment of the civil money penalties, the settlement prohibits Sterling from continuing to engage in the alleged unlawful practices and to “maintain policies and procedures related to sales of credit cards and any related add-on products, such as [PPPI], that are reasonably designed to ensure consumer consent is obtained before any such product is sold or issued to a consumer.  Such policies and procedures must include provisions for capturing and retaining consumer signatures and other evidence of consent for such products and services.”  By not requiring consumer restitution, the settlement differs from consent orders entered into by the CFPB under the leadership of former Director Cordray that required restitution by companies that had allegedly enrolled consumers in a product without their consent.

On January 10, the CFPB published a report containing the results of its assessment of the Ability-to-Repay and Qualified Mortgage Rule (“ATR/QM Rule”) issued in 2013. The assessment was conducted pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires the Bureau to review each significant rule it issues and evaluate whether the rule is effective in achieving its intended objectives, and the purposes and objectives of Title X of the Dodd-Frank Act, or whether it is having unintended consequences. The Bureau based the report on information gathered from a variety of sources, including:

  1. Loan origination and performance data from the National Mortgage Database (NMDB), Black Knight, CoreLogic, and HMDA
  2. Desktop Underwriter and Loan Prospector submissions and acquisitions data provided by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
  3. Application-level data from nine lenders covering over 9 million applicants
  4. Survey results from 190 lenders
  5. Supervision Data
  6. Residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS) data from IMF, Bloomberg, L.P., and SEC
  7. Cost data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Annual Mortgage Bankers Performance Reports between 2009 and 2018
  8. Conference of State Bank Supervisors’ (CSBS) 2015 Public Survey data
  9. Evidence from comments received in response to the 2017 RFI concerning the ATR/QM assessmentThe ATR/QM Rule, which came into effect in January 2014, prohibits a lender from making a closed-end residential mortgage loan unless before closing the lender makes a reasonable and good faith determination, based on verified and documented information, that the consumer has a reasonable ability to repay (ATR). Qualified Mortgage (QM) loans are presumed to comply with the ATR requirement, except in the case of “higher priced” mortgage loans, where this presumption is rebuttable.Based on its survey of lenders, the Bureau found that a majority of respondents changed their business model due to the ATR/QM Rule in the form of increased income documentation, increased staffing, or adopting of a policy of not originating non-QM loans. The Bureau concluded that among the nine lenders that provided data, the changes resulted in lost profits of between $20 and 26 million per year. The Bureau also found that over the period of 2014 to 2016 the ATR/QM Rule eliminated between 63-70% of non-GSE eligible home purchase loans with debt-to-income (DTI) ratios above 43%. This impact did not carry over to refinance transactions, where lenders are more likely to extend credit due to a demonstrated ability to repay. The Bureau admits that because credit standards were already tight when the ATR/QM Rule took effect, “it is possible that the impacts would be different during times when credit is more abundant.”We note that the mortgage industry did not believe that a robust non-QM market would develop, and that the temporary GSE QM would be relied on heavily by lenders. And this is no surprise. The potential liability for violating the rule is significant, and based on the general standards for a non-QM loan there is no way for a lender, a due diligence firm or other party to conclusively determine if a given non-QM loan complies with the rule. As a result, a robust QM market did not develop, and it will never develop based on the current statute and rule. Based on the presumption of compliance with the rule, which is conclusive for non-higher priced loans, mortgage lenders mainly will originate a QM loan when possible. And based on the familiarity of the industry with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac underwriting requirements, and the relative inflexibility of the standard QM based on the strict 43% DTI ratio limit and Appendix Q, the temporary GSE QM is favored by the industry. While the Bureau noted that the temporary GSE QM will expire no later than January 10, 2021, it did not address the fact that should the QM expire, mortgage lending would be severely constrained. Congress and/or the Bureau must act to prevent another mortgage crisis.The Bureau further concludes that the ATR/QM Rule does not appear to be constraining the activities of smaller lenders, who may originate QM loans that have DTI ratios above 43% without following Appendix Q, and may also originate QM loans that have balloon payments if various conditions are met, as long as such loans are held in portfolio for at least two years after the origination. In March 2016, the definition of a small creditor was amended to increase the loan threshold from 500 to 2,000 loans per year. According to the Bureau, this amendment had ameliorative effects – (1) the geographic market coverage of small creditors increased substantially with the new threshold, increasing access to credit for borrowers in rural and underserved areas who have DTIs above 43%; and (2) the share of loans made by depository institutions that were small creditors almost doubled.
  10. We note that in May 2018, Senate Bill 2155, the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, was signed into law, creating a new QM category for insured depository institutions and insured credit unions that have, together with their affiliates, less than $10 billion in total consolidated assets. The Act provides that the new QM loan is deemed to comply with the ATR requirements if the loan: (1) is originated by and retained by the institution, (2) complies with requirements regarding prepayment penalties and points and fees, and (3) does not have negative amortization or interest-only terms. Furthermore, the institution must consider and verify the debt, income, and financial resources of the consumer. Beyond a minor footnote, the Bureau does not address this amendment in its report, likely because it still needs to implement the law.
  11. The Bureau also notes that innovation is occurring in the Temporary GSE QM space in the area of income verification and calculation, because compliance with Appendix Q is not required (loans made under the standard QM that is based on the strict 43% DTI ratio limit must follow Appendix Q). While the innovation is positive, it does not address the underlying need to continue, or find a suitable alternative, for the Temporary GSE QM.
  12. Although the rule includes a standard QM that is based on a strict DTI ratio limit of 43%, the Bureau created a temporary QM for loans eligible for sale to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac “to preserve access to credit for consumers with debt-to-income ratios above 43 percent during a transition period in which the market was fragile and the mortgage industry was adjusting to the final rule.” The Bureau notes that it “expected that there would be a robust and sizable market for non-QM loans beyond the 43 percent threshold and structured the Rule to try to ensure that this market would develop.”
  13. In its assessment, the Bureau found that the introduction of the ATR/QM Rule was generally not correlated with an improvement in loan performance (as measured by the percentage of loans becoming 60 or more days delinquent within two years of origination). Rather, the Bureau concludes that delinquency rates on mortgages originated in the years immediately prior to the effective date of the ATR/QM Rule were historically low, “as credit was already tight at that time.” Moreover, although the performance of non-QM loans did not improve in absolute terms under the ATR/QM Rule, it has improved relative to the performance of comparable QM loans.
  14. The CFPB states that the report does not include a cost-benefit analysis of the ATR/QM Rule or its provisions, but that “each report does address matters relating to the costs and benefits.” The CFPB indicated that going forward, it will reconsider whether to include such an analysis in its assessment.

The Bureau did not announce any further action relative to the ATR/QM Rule but did indicate that reactions from stakeholders to the reports’ findings and conclusions would help inform future policy decisions. The Bureau concurrently released a report assessing the RESPA Mortgage Servicing Rule, which we will analyze separately.

The U.S. Supreme Court has denied the petition for certiorari filed by State National Bank of Big Spring (SNB) which, together with two D.C. area non-profit organizations that also joined in the petition, had brought one of the first lawsuits challenging the CFPB’s constitutionality.

Despite agreeing with the petitioners that the CFPB’s structure is unconstitutional, the DOJ urged the court to deny the petition, calling the case “a poor vehicle to consider the question [of the CFPB’s constitutionality] for multiple reasons.”  Among such reasons was the DOJ’s claim that if the Supreme Court were to grant the petition, the case would likely not be considered by the full Court because of Justice Kavanaugh’s previous participation in the case while a D.C. Circuit judge.  (The order denying the petition for certiorari states that “Justice Kavanaugh took no part in the consideration or decision of this petition.”)

Another reason given by the DOJ was that other cases are pending in the courts of appeal that raise a similar constitutional challenge and “one or more of those cases may not present the same obstacles that could impede the full Court from considering the merits of this important issue.”  Those cases are the All American Check Cashing case pending in the Fifth Circuit, the RD Legal Funding case pending in the Second Circuit, and the Seila Law case pending in the Ninth Circuit.  Oral argument was held last week in the Seila Law case and is tentatively calendared for the week of March 11, 2019 in the All American Check Cashing case.  Briefing is scheduled to begin next month in the RD Legal Funding case.

 

 

 

The Cato Institute announced that it will hold a policy forum in Washington, D.C. on January 17, 2019 at which the topic will be “Promoting Fintech Innovation and Consumer Choice: The Role of Regulatory Sandboxes.”

The forum will feature Paul Watkins, Director of the CFPB’s Office of Innovation at the CFPB.  He is expected to discuss the Bureau’s “BCFP Product Sandbox” proposal and proposed revisions to its no-action letter policy.

Paul was recently our guest for our weekly podcast series.  In the podcast, in addition to responding to our questions about the sandbox proposal and proposed revisions to the NAL policy, Paul also discussed the Bureau’s proposed revisions to its trial disclosure policy.  To listen to the podcast, click here.

 

 

 

According to an American Banker report, CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger recently sent an email to CFPB staff that provides a window into what her approach to running the CFPB will be.

The report quotes Ms. Kraninger as having said in the email that the CFPB must do its work “with an open mind and without presumptions of guilt, and to always carefully weigh the costs and benefits to consumers of our enforcement activities and regulatory rulemakings.”  She is also reported to have said that on her watch as Director, “the CFPB will vigorously enforce the law,” and that she wants the Bureau “to respect the rights of all we serve and interact with, to safeguard their personal information, and to be transparent in its operations.”  In addition, Ms. Kraninger is reported to have stressed the need for the CFPB to make sure that “the marketplace is innovating in ways that enhance both choice and the needs of the consumers.’

In our view, the email is a welcome signal that Ms. Kraninger does not intend to cast industry as the villain but instead intends to be fair-minded in her leadership of the CFPB and continue former Acting Director Mulvaney’s efforts to promote innovation.

 

 

State National Bank of Big Spring (SNB) and the other petitioners for certiorari have filed a reply to the brief filed by the Department of Justice in which, despite agreeing with the petitioners that the CFPB’s structure is unconstitutional, the DOJ argued that the U.S. Supreme Court should deny the petition.

In its brief, the DOJ argued that the SNB case “would be a poor vehicle to consider the question [of the CFPB’s constitutionality] for multiple reasons.”  Such reasons included the DOJ’s claim that if the Supreme Court were to grant the petition, the case would likely not be considered by the full Court because of Justice Kavanaugh’s previous participation in the case while a D.C. Circuit judge.  Specifically, Justice Kavanaugh authored the D.C. Circuit’s decision that reversed the district court and held that the petitioners had standing to challenge the CFPB’s constitutionality.

A second reason offered by the DOJ was that before it could reach the merits of the constitutionality issue, the Supreme Court would have to resolve in the petitioners’ favor the jurisdictional issue of whether the petitioners have standing.  According to the DOJ, “petitioners’ standing is sufficiently questionable to present a significant vehicle problem.”

In its reply, SNB asserts that “there can be no serious question concerning the Bank’s standing to challenge the CFPB’s constitutionality, and the Government’s manufactured standing question does not present an obstacle to this Court’s consideration of the petition.”  SNB further argues that nothing in the judicial disqualification statute (28 U.S.C. section 455) or the Code of Conduct for United States Judges would require Justice Kavanaugh’s recusal.  In the alternative, SNB argues that even if Justice Kavanaugh were to decide that recusal was warranted because of his prior participation, “any recusal should be limited to the issue decided in that appeal—namely, Petitioners’ standing to bring this suit.”  According to SNB, “[r]ecusing from the threshold jurisdictional question would not require a Justice to recuse from the merits.”

The Supreme Court docket indicates that the filings in the case have been distributed for consideration by the Justices at their January 11 conference.  In its brief, the DOJ had noted that if the Supreme Court were to grant the petition for certiorari, it would be the Court’s “usual practice to appoint an amicus curiae to defend the judgment of the court of appeals” when no party is doing so.  Citing the Dodd-Frank provision that requires the Bureau to seek the Attorney General’s consent before it can represent itself in the Supreme Court, the DOJ asked the Court, before appointing an amicus curiae, to give the Bureau’s new Director “a reasonable opportunity…to determine whether the Bureau will seek to defend the court of appeals’ judgment in this Court and for the Acting Solicitor General to determine whether he will authorize the Bureau to do so.”  We will be interested to see if the Supreme Court follows the DOJ’s suggestion should it grant the petition for certiorari.

 

 

Our guest for this week’s podcast is Paul Watkins, Director of the CFPB’s Office of Innovation.  Paul formerly worked in the Arizona Attorney General’s office where he was in charge of fintech initiatives and led the state’s successful efforts to create the first “regulatory sandbox” in the United States which allows new financial technologies and products to be tested in a controlled environment with reduced regulatory risk.

The Bureau’s Office of Innovation, which was created under the leadership of former Acting Director Mick Mulvaney, is focused on encouraging consumer-friendly innovation through the creation of policies to facilitate innovation, engagement with entrepreneurs and regulators, and the elimination of outdated or unnecessary regulations.  The Office has taken over the Bureau’s work that was formerly done under Project Catalyst, the initiative launched by the CFPB in 2012 for facilitating innovation in consumer financial products and services.

In this week’s podcast, we question Paul about three recent major Bureau proposals intended to support innovation.  The first is the Bureau’s proposal to revise its “Policy to Encourage Trial Disclosure Programs” (TDP Policy), which sets forth the Bureau’s standards and procedures for exempting individual companies, on a case-by-case basis, from applicable federal disclosure requirements to allow those companies to test trial disclosures.  The second is the Bureau’s proposed revisions to its 2016 final policy on issuing no-action letters (NAL Policy).  The third is a proposal by the Bureau to create a new “BCFP Product Sandbox.”

The issues we discuss with Paul include the key differences between the revised TDP and NAL Policies and the current Policies, the background and objectives of the BCFP Product Sandbox, confidentiality concerns, the scope of protections from liability, and the Office’s efforts to coordinate with other regulators.

To listen to the podcast, click here.   (To listen to our earlier podcast in which we discussed Arizona’s sandbox with Evan Daniels, Fintech Counsel in the Arizona Attorney General’s office, click here.)

 

Seventy-four organizations that describe themselves as “consumer, community, civil rights, faith, labor and legal services groups” have sent a letter to CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger to “reiterate our concerns about widespread debt collection abuses that we have raised in the past and the ongoing need for better protection against these abuses.”

In the letter, the groups make recommendations regarding the following:

  • Preventing telephone harassment and increasing consumer privacy.  The groups seek to limit collectors to one live call per week and up to three attempted calls, require collectors to honor a consumer’s verbal request to stop calls, allow text and email communications from collectors only if the consumer has agreed to electronic communications, prohibit collection calls and emails to the consumer’s work phone number and email unless in response to the consumer’s request, and make all collector contacts, including “limited content” calls or messages requesting a call back, subject to the FDCPA.
  • Prohibiting collection of time-barred debt.  The groups seek to entirely prohibit collectors from attempting to collect time-barred debt.  Alternatively, if the Bureau allows collectors to communicate regarding time-barred debts, the groups urge the Bureau to require that such communications be in writing and that a disclosure be provided to inform the consumer he or she cannot be sued on the debt.
  • Improving accuracy and clarity of debt collection notices.  The groups want the CFPB to create a model validation notice and statement of rights.

The issues raised by the groups are likely to be addressed by the Bureau in its anticipated debt collection rulemaking for debt collectors subject to the FDCPA.  In its Fall 2018 rulemaking agenda, the Bureau stated that it “expects to issue [a NPRM] addressing such issues as communication practices and consumer disclosures by spring 2019” and estimated the issuance of a NPRM in March 2019.