The California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) has issued an invitation for comments from stakeholders in developing regulations to implement SB 1235, the bill signed into law on September 30, 2018 that requires consumer-like disclosures to be made for certain commercial financing products, including small business loans and merchant cash advances.  Companies providing such financing are not required to comply with the new disclosure requirements until the DBO’s final regulations become effective.

The DBO’s invitation provides an important opportunity for providers of commercial financing products to engage with and educate the DBO as it develops proposed regulations.  Comments must be submitted by January 22, 2019.

In the invitation, the DBO lists the following 14 specific potential topics for rulemaking:

  • Definitions (The DBO’s questions include whether the definitions can be read to cover transactions, individuals, or entities not intended to be regulated by the disclosure requirements or result in ambiguity regarding whether a transaction, individual, or entity is subject to the disclosure requirements.)
  • Commercial financing requiring estimated term disclosures (The DBO asks what commercial financing transactions may require an estimated term disclosure and why and suggests that stakeholders provide sample contracts that may require such a disclosure.)
  • Disclosure of method, frequency, and amount of payments for commercial financing with flexible or contingent repayment obligations (The DBO suggests that stakeholders provide examples of these types of financing and asks how providers should make the disclosures required for such contracts.)
  • Annualized rate disclosure (The DBO notes different methods that might be used for the annualized rate disclosure and asks about the benefits and drawbacks of each disclosure and ways to reduce potential confusion to financing applicants caused by the disclosure.)
  • Types of commercial financing (The DBO asks for examples of transactions other than fixed-rate, fixed-payment financing that are subject to SB 1235 (noting such examples may include merchant cash advances and recourse and non-recourse factoring), anticipated compliance obstacles in such transactions, and how the DBO can address such obstacles.)
  • Types of financing requiring estimated annualized rates (The DBO asks for the types of commercial financing that will require estimated annualized rates and why.)
  • Fees and charges included in an annualized rate calculation (The DBO asks what fees and charges should be included in the calculation.)
  • Calculating estimated terms and estimated annualized rates (The DBO asks how estimated terms and rates should be calculated for the transactions subject to SB 1235, such as transactions with payments set as a percentage of a business’s gross receipts.)
  • Reliance upon internal underwriting criteria to calculate estimated terms and estimated annualized rates (The DBO asks if the calculation methodology it establishes should require a provider to rely upon the internal assumptions or calculations it used to underwrite the transaction.)
  • Explanatory and qualifying language in connection with estimated terms and estimated annualized rates (The DBO asks what explanatory and qualifying language providers should include when disclosing such estimates.)
  • Disclosures for factoring and asset-based lending transactions with master financing agreements (The DBO asks what rules it should establish to clarify when disclosures based on estimates are permitted and to govern what examples, such as financing amount, a provider may use in disclosures.)
  • Tolerances (The DBO asks what accuracy requirements and tolerances it should establish and why.)
  • Disclosure formatting (The DBO asks what information should be highlighted or prioritized and about the placement and font to be used.)
  • Prepayment policies (The DBO asks what prepayment policies and charges are common for transactions subject to SB 1235 and how such policies and charges are currently characterized to customers.)

The CFPB’s newly-released Summer 2018 edition of Supervisory Highlights represents the CFPB’s first Supervisory Highlights report covering supervisory activities conducted under Acting Director Mick Mulvaney’s leadership.  The Bureau’s most recent prior Supervisory Highlights report was its Summer 2017 edition, which was issued in September 2017.

On October 10, 2018, from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. ET, Ballard Spahr attorneys will hold a webinar, “Key Takeaways from the CFPB’s Summer 2018 Supervisory Highlights.”  The webinar registration form is available here.

Noticeably absent from the new report’s introduction and the Bureau’s press release about the report are statements touting the amount of restitution payments that resulted from supervisory resolutions or the amounts of consumer remediation or civil money penalties resulting from public enforcement actions connected to recent supervisory activities.  (The report does, however, include summaries of the terms of two consent orders entered into by the Bureau, including its settlement with Triton Management Group, Inc., a small-dollar lender, regarding the Bureau’s allegations that Triton had violated the Truth in Lending Act and the CFPA’s UDAAP prohibition by underdisclosing the finance charge on auto title pledges entered into with consumers.)

The report confirms that the Bureau’s supervisory activities have continued without significant change under its new leadership.  It includes the following information:

Automobile loan servicing.  The report indicates that in examinations of auto loan servicing activities, Bureau examiners focus primarily on whether servicers have engaged in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices prohibited by the CFPA.  It discusses instances observed by examiners in which servicers had sent billing statements to consumers who had experienced a total vehicle loss showing that the insurance proceeds had been applied to the loan so that the loan was paid ahead and the next payment was due months or years in the future.  The CFPB found the due dates in these statements to be inconsistent with the terms of the consumers’ notes which required the insurance proceeds to be applied to the loans as a one-time payment and any remaining balance to be collected according to the consumers’ regular payment schedules.  According to the CFPB, sending such statements was a deceptive practice.  The CFPB indicates that in response to the examination findings, servicers are sending billing statements that accurately reflect the account status after applying insurance proceeds.

The Bureau also found instances where servicers, due to incorrect account coding or the failure of their representatives to timely cancel the repossession, had repossessed vehicles after the repossession should have been cancelled because the consumer had entered into an extension agreement or made a payment.  This was found to be an unfair practice.  The CFPB indicates that in response to the examination findings, servicers are stopping the practice, reviewing the accounts of affected consumers, and removing or remediating all repossession-related fees.

Credit cards.  The report indicates that in examinations of the credit card account management operations of supervised entities, Bureau examiners typically assess advertising and marketing, account origination, account servicing, payments and periodic statements, dispute resolution, and the marketing, sale and servicing of add-on products.  The Bureau found instances where entities failed to properly re-evaluate credit card accounts for APR reductions in accordance with Regulation Z requirements where the APRs on the accounts had previously been increased. The report indicates that the issuers have undertaken, or developed plans to undertake, remedial and corrective actions in response to the examination findings.

Debt collection.  In examinations of larger participants, Bureau examiners found instances where debt collectors, before engaging in further collection activities as to consumers from whom they had received written debt validation disputes, had routinely failed to mail debt verifications to such consumers. The Bureau indicates that in response to the examination findings, the collectors are revising their debt validation procedures and practices to ensure that they obtain appropriate verifications when requested and mail them to consumers before engaging in further collection activities.

Mortgage servicing.  The report indicates that in examinations of servicers, Bureau examiners focus on the loss mitigation process and, in particular, on how servicers handle trial modifications where consumers are paying as agreed. In such examinations, the Bureau found unfair acts or practices relating to the conversion of trial modifications to permanent status and the initiation of foreclosures after consumers accepted loss mitigation offers.  In reviewing the practices of servicers with policies providing for permanent modifications of loans if consumers made four timely trial modification payments, the Bureau found that for nearly 300 consumers who successfully completed the trial modification, the servicers delayed processing the permanent modification for more than 30 days.  During these delays, consumers accrued interest and fees that would not have been accrued if the permanent modification had been processed.  The servicers did not remediate all of the affected consumers ,did not have policies or procedures for remediating consumers in such circumstances, and attributed the modification delays to insufficient staffing.  The Bureau indicates that in response to the examination findings, the servicers are fully remediating affected consumers and developing and implementing policies and procedures to timely convert trial modifications to permanent modifications where the consumers have met the trial modification conditions.

The Bureau also identified instances in which servicers, due to errors in their systems, had engaged in unfair acts or practices by charging consumers amounts not authorized by modification agreements or mortgage notes.  The Bureau indicates that in response to the examination findings, the servicers are remediating affected consumers (presumably by refunding or credit the unauthorized amounts) and correcting loan modification terms in their systems.

With regard to foreclosure practices, Bureau examiners found instances where mortgage servicers had approved borrowers for a loss mitigation option on a non-primary residence and, despite representing to borrowers that they would not initiate foreclosure if the borrower accepted loss mitigation offers in writing or by phone by a specified date, initiated foreclosures even if the borrowers had called or written to accept the loss mitigation offers by that date.  The Bureau identified this as a deceptive act or practice. The Bureau also found instances where borrowers who had submitted complete loss mitigation applications less than 37 days from a scheduled foreclosure sale date were sent a notice by their servicer indicating that their application was complete and stating that the servicer would notify the borrowers of their decision on the applications in writing within 30 days.  However, after sending these notices, the servicers conducted the scheduled foreclosure sales without making a decision on the borrowers’ loss mitigation application.  Interestingly, while the Bureau did not find that this conduct amounted to a “legal violation,” it did find that it could pose a risk of a deceptive practice.

Payday/title lending.  Bureau examiners identified instances of payday lenders engaging in deceptive acts or practices by representing in collection letters that “they will, or may have no choice but to, repossess consumers’ vehicles if the consumers fail to make payments or contact the entities.”  The CFPB observed that such representations were made “despite the fact that these entities did not have business relationships with any party to repossess vehicles and, as a general matter, did not repossess vehicles.”  The Bureau indicates that in response to the examination findings, these entities are ensuring that their collection letters do not contain deceptive content.  Bureau examiners also observed instances where lenders had used debit card numbers or Automated Clearing House (ACH) credentials that consumers had not validly authorized them to use to debit funds in connection with a defaulted single-payment or installment loan.  According to the Bureau, when lenders’ attempts to initiate electronic fund transfers (EFTs) using debit card numbers or ACH credentials that a borrower had identified on authorization forms executed in connection with the defaulted loan were unsuccessful, the lenders would then seek to collect the entire loan balance via EFTs using debit card numbers or ACH credentials that the borrower had supplied to the lenders for other purposes, such as when obtaining other loans or making one-time payments on other loans or the loan at issue.  The Bureau found this to be an unfair act or practice.  With regard to loans for which the consumer had entered into preauthorized EFTs to recur at substantially regular intervals, the Bureau found this conduct to also violate the Regulation E requirement that preauthorized EFTs from a consumer’s account be authorized by a writing signed or similarly authenticated by the consumer.  The Bureau indicates that in response to the examination findings, the lenders are ceasing the violations, remediating borrowers impacted by the invalid EFTs, and revising loan agreement templates and ACH authorization forms.

Small business lending. The Bureau states that in 2016 and 2017, it “began conducting supervision work to assess ECOA compliance in institutions’ small business lending product lines, focusing in particular on the risks of an ECOA violation in underwriting, pricing, and redlining.”  It also states that it “anticipates an ongoing dialogue with supervised institutions and other stakeholders as the Bureau moves forward with supervision work in small business lending.”  In the course of conducting ECOA small business lending reviews, Bureau examiners found instances where financial institutions had “effectively managed the risks of an ECOA violation in their small business lending programs,” with the examiners observing that “the board of directors and management maintained active oversight over the institutions’ compliance management system (CMS) framework.  Institutions developed and implemented comprehensive risk-focused policies and procedures for small business lending originations and actively addressed the risks of an ECOA violation by conducting periodic reviews of small business lending policies and procedures and by revising those policies and procedures as necessary.”  The Bureau adds that “[e]xaminations also observed that one or more institutions maintained a record of policy and procedure updates to ensure that they were kept current.”  With regard to self-monitoring, Bureau examiners found that institutions had “implemented small business lending monitoring programs and conducted semi-annual ECOA risk assessments that include assessments of small business lending.  In addition, one or more institutions actively monitored pricing-exception practices and volume through a committee.”  When the examinations included file reviews of manual underwriting overrides at one or more institutions, Bureau examiners “found that credit decisions made by the institutions were consistent with the requirements of ECOA, and thus the examinations did not find any violations of ECOA.”  The only negative findings made by Bureau examiners involved instances where institutions had collected and maintained (in useable form) only limited data on small business lending decisions.  The Bureau states that “[l]imited availability of data could impede an institution’s ability to monitor and test for the risks of ECOA violations through statistical analyses.”

Supervision program developments.  The report discusses the March 2018 mortgage servicing final rule and the May 2018 amendments to the TILA-RESPA integrated disclosure rule.  With regard to fair lending developments, it discusses recent HMDA-related developments and small business lending review procedures.  With regard to small business lending, the Bureau highlights that its reviews include a fair lending assessment of an institution’s compliance management system (CMS) related to small business lending and that CMS reviews include assessments of the institution’s board and management oversight, compliance program (policies and procedures, training, monitoring and/or audit, and complaint response), and service provider oversight.  The CFPB indicates that in some ECOA small business lending reviews, examiners may look at an institution’s fair lending risks and controls related to origination or pricing of small business lending products, including a geographic distribution analysis of small business loan applications, originations, loan officers, or marketing and outreach, in order to assess potential redlining risk.  It further indicates that such reviews may include statistical analysis of lending data in order to identify fair lending risks and appropriate areas of focus during the examination.  The Bureau states that “[n]otably, statistical analysis is only one factor taken into account by examination teams that review small business lending for ECOA compliance. Reviews typically include other methodologies to assess compliance, including policy and procedure reviews, interviews with management and staff, and reviews of individual loan files.”

In the CFPB’s RFI on its supervision program, one of the topics on which the CFPB sought comment is the usefulness of Supervisory Highlights to share findings and promote transparency.  The new report indicates that the Bureau “expects the publication of Supervisory Highlights will continue to aid Bureau-supervised entities in their efforts to comply with Federal consumer financial law.”  Presumably, this means that we will now again be seeing new editions of Supervisory Highlights on a regular basis.

 

The CFPB’s Spring 2017 rulemaking agenda has been published as part of the Spring 2017 Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions.  The preamble indicates that the information in the agenda is current as of April 1, 2017.  Accordingly, the agenda does not reflect the issuance of the CFPB’s final arbitration rule on July 10 or other rulemaking actions taken since April 1 such as the proposed changes to the CFPB’s prepaid account rule and various recent mortgage-related developments.  In addition, the agenda and timetables are likely to be significantly impacted should Director Cordray leave the CFPB this fall to run for Ohio governor as has been widely speculated.

The agenda sets the following timetables for key rulemaking initiatives:

Payday, title, and deposit advance loans.  The CFPB released its proposed rule on payday, title, and high-cost installment loans in June 2016 and the comment period ended on October 22, 2016.  The Spring 2017 agenda gives a June 2017 date for completing the initial review of comments (which the CFPB states in the preamble numbered more than one million) but does not give an estimated date for a final rule.  There has been considerable speculation that a final rule will be issued by the end of next month.

Debt collection.  In November 2013, the CFPB issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking concerning debt collection.  In July 2016, it issued an outline of the proposals it is considering in anticipation of convening a SBREFA panel.  The coverage of the CFPB’s SBREFA proposals was limited to “debt collectors” that are subject to the FDCPA.  When it issued the proposals, the CFPB indicated that it expected to convene a second SBREFA panel in the “next several months” to address a separate rulemaking for creditors and others engaged in debt collection not covered by the proposals.  However, Director Cordray announced last month that the CFPB has decided to proceed first with a proposed rule on disclosures and treatment of consumers by debt collectors and thereafter write a market-wide rule in which it will consolidate  the issues of “right consumer, right amount” into a separate rule that will cover first- and third-party collections.

In the Spring 2017 agenda, the CFPB gives a September 2017 date for a proposed rule.  Presumably, that date is for a proposal that will deal with disclosures and treatment of consumers by debt collectors.  The new agenda gives no estimated dates for the convening of a second SBREFA panel or a proposed second rule.  In the preamble to the new agenda, the CFPB states only that it “has now decided to issue a proposed rule later in 2017 concerning FDCPA collectors’ communications practices and consumer disclosures.  The Bureau intends to follow up separately at a later time about concerns regarding information flows between creditors and FDCPA collectors and about potential rules to govern creditors that collect their own debts.”

Larger participants.  The CFPB states in the Spring 2017 agenda that it “expects to conduct a rulemaking to define larger participants in the markets for consumer installment loans and vehicle title loans for purposes of supervision.”  It also repeats the statement made in previous agendas that the CFPB is “also considering whether rules to require registration of these or other non-depository lenders would facilitate supervision, as has been suggested to the Bureau by both consumer advocates and industry groups.”  (Pursuant to Dodd-Frank Section 1022, the CFPB is authorized to “prescribe rules regarding registration requirements applicable to a covered person, other than an insured depository institution, insured credit union, or related person.”)  The new agenda estimates a June 2017 date for prerule activities and a September 2017 date for a proposed rule.

Overdrafts.  The CFPB issued a June 2013 white paper and a July 2014 report on checking account overdraft services.  In the Spring 2017 agenda, as it did in its Fall 2015 agenda and Fall and Spring 2016 agendas, the CFPB states that it “is continuing to engage in additional research and has begun consumer testing initiatives related to the opt-in process.”  Although the Fall 2016 agenda estimated a January 2017 date for further prerule activities, the new agenda moves that date to June 2017.  As we have previously noted, the extended timeline may reflect that the CFPB feels less urgency to promulgate a rule prohibiting the use of a high-to-low dollar amount order to process electronic debits because most of the banks subject to its supervisory jurisdiction have already changed their processing order.

Small business lending data.  Dodd-Frank Section 1071 amended the ECOA to require financial institutions to collect and maintain certain data in connection with credit applications made by women- or minority-owned businesses and small businesses.  Such data includes the race, sex, and ethnicity of the principal owners of the business.  The new agenda estimates a June 2017 date for prerule activities.  The CFPB repeats the statement made in the Fall 2016 agenda that it “is focusing on outreach and research to develop its understanding of the players, products, and practices in business lending markets and of the potential ways to implement section 1071.  The CFPB then expects to begin developing proposed regulations concerning the data to be collected and determining the appropriate procedures and privacy protections needed for information-gathering and public disclosure under this section.”

Mortgage rules.  Earlier this month, the CFPB issued a proposed rule dealing with a lender’s use of a Closing Disclosure to determine if an estimated charge was disclosed in good faith.  The Spring 2017 agenda gives a March 2018 estimated date for issuance of a final rule.  This past March, the CFPB issued a proposal to amend Regulation B requirements relating to the collection of consumer ethnicity and race information to resolve the differences between Regulation B and revised Regulation C.  The Spring 2017 agenda gives an October 2017 estimated date for a final rule.

 

 

In a notice published in today’s Federal Register, the CFPB announced that it has extended the comment period on its small business lending RFI until September 14, 2017.

The CFPB issued the RFI, together with a white paper on small business lending, in May 2017 in conjunction with a field hearing on small business lending.  The RFI is intended to inform the CFPB’s rulemaking to implement Dodd-Frank Act section 1071.  At last month’s meeting of the CFPB’s Consumer Advisory Board, Director Cordray indicated that in response to requests for additional time to respond to the RFI, the CFPB had decided to extend the comment period (which would have expired on July 14) by 60 days.  Today’s Federal Register notice specifically referenced a letter the CFPB received on May 23 from thirteen industry trade associations requesting a 60-day comment period extension.

 

 

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, II announced last week that he had launched an investigation into small business financial technology (fintech) lending by sending a letter to the CEOs of several fintech small business lenders.  The letter includes 10 questions and asks for responses to be provided by no later than August 10, 2017.

In the letter, Mr. Cleaver expressed concern that “some FinTech lenders may be trapping small business owners in cycles of debt or charging higher rates to entrepreneurs of color.”  He noted that he is “particularly interested in payday loans for small businesses, also known as ‘merchant cash advance.'”  He observed that “current law does not provide certain protections for small business loans, compared to other consumer laws,” and cited Truth in Lending disclosures given to consumers as an example of such difference.  He also observed that fintech lenders are not subject to the same level of scrutiny as small community banks and credit unions which are subject to supervision for compliance with anti-discrimination laws.

The questions set forth in Mr. Cleaver’s letter include inquiries about a lender’s small business products and originations, approach to protecting borrowers belonging to protected classes, percentage of “loan and advances [that] are originated to borrowers of color [and] [w]omen,” “the typical rate charged to borrowers of color as compared to [the lender’s] overall borrower population,” typical fee schedule for small business lending products, and use of mandatory arbitration agreements.  In his announcement about the letter, Mr. Cleaver listed the lenders to whom his letter was sent.  We understand that most of such lenders do not make small business loans.

This past March, Mr. Cleaver sent a letter to the CFPB in which he asked the agency to investigate whether fintech companies were complying with anti-discrimination laws, including the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.  Mr. Cleaver also asked the CFPB to respond to a series of questions that included when the CFPB anticipated finalizing regulations to implement Dodd-Frank Section 1071.  Section 1071 amended the ECOA to require financial institutions to collect and maintain certain data in connection with credit applications made by women- or minority-owned businesses and small businesses. The Financial CHOICE Act passed this month by the House includes a repeal of Section 1071 and the Treasury report issued this month recommended that Section 1071 be repealed.

 

 

In his prepared remarks for today’s Consumer Advisory Board meeting, Director Cordray discussed CFPB initiatives in four areas.  In addition to the CFPB’s letter to the top retail credit card companies encouraging them to use zero-interest promotions instead of deferred-interest promotions and its new report on consumers transitioning to credit visibility, Director Cordray discussed the CFPB’s RFI on the small business lending market and its debt collection rulemaking.   

Last month, in conjunction with a field hearing, the CFPB issued the RFI, together with a white paper on small business lending.  In his remarks, Director Cordray revealed that, in response to requests for additional time to respond to the RFI (which currently has a July 14, 2017 comment deadline), the CFPB is extending the comment period by 60 days.  He also indicated that the CFPB has “been hearing from congressional officials who want to see more progress made on [the Section 1071] rulemaking” and that the CFPB is “now moving forward.”   

With regard to the CFPB’s debt collection rulemaking, Director Cordray discussed the debt collection proposals under consideration by the CFPB which it released last July in anticipation of convening a SBREFA panel.  The coverage of the CFPB’s SBREFA proposals was limited to “debt collectors” that are subject to the FDCPA.  When it issued the proposals, the CFPB indicated that  it expected to convene a second SBREFA panel in the “next several months” to address a separate rulemaking for creditors and others engaged in debt collection not covered by the proposals. 

In his remarks, Director Cordray described the proposals as focused on three primary issues: “mak[ing] sure that collectors are contacting the right consumers, for the right amount”; “mak[ing] sure that consumers clearly understand the debt collection process and their rights”; and “mak[ing] sure that consumers are treated with dignity and respect, particularly in their communications with collectors.”  He indicated that when the CFPB evaluated “the feedback we received on the proposals under consideration” (presumably the report of the SBREFA panel on the input received from the small entity representatives who met with the panel), it became clear that “[w]riting rules to make sure debt collectors have the right information about their debts is best handled by considering solutions from first-party creditors and third-party collectors at the same time.”  He observed that “[f]irst-party creditors like banks and other lenders create the information about the debt, and they may use it to collect the debt themselves.  Or they may provide it to companies that collect the debt on their behalf or buy the debt outright.  Either way, those actually collecting on the debts need to have the correct and accurate information.” 

He commented that because “breaking the different aspects of the informational issues into pieces in two distinct rules was shaping up to be troublesome in various ways,” the CFPB has decided to write a market-wide rule in which it will “consolidate all the issues of ‘right consumer, right amount’ into the separate rule we will be developing for first-party creditors, which will now cover these intertwined issues for third-party collectors and debt buyers as well.”   He indicated that this approach will allow the CFPB “to move forward more quickly with a proposed rule focused on the remaining issues” concerning disclosures by debt collectors and how consumers are treated by debt collectors and that “[o]nce we proceed with a proposed rule on these issues, we will return to the subject of collecting the right amount from the right consumer, which is a key objective regardless of who is collecting the debt.”

 

 

Yesterday, I attended the CFPB’s field hearing in Los Angeles on small business lending.  In connection with the hearing, the CFPB issued a white paper entitled “Key dimensions of the small business lending landscape,” together with a request for information (RFI) on the small business lending market.

On July 11, 2017, from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. ET, Ballard Spahr will hold a webinar, “The CFPB and Small Business Lending:  What You Need to Know.”  Click here to register.

Field Hearing.  The field hearing began with introductory remarks from Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, California Department of Business Oversight Commissioner Jan Owen, and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, all of whom expressed support for Director Cordray and opposition to ongoing efforts to rein in the CFPB.  Notably, Mr. Becerra confirmed that he intends to engage in robust and aggressive consumer protection efforts, including using the investigative authority of his office “to the hilt.”

Director Cordray then delivered prepared remarks concerning the CFPB’s small business data collection efforts pursuant to Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act.  In addition to discussing the data collection initiative, Director Cordray opined that the line between consumer and small business lending is often “blurred,” and made a number of other statements suggesting (but not directly stating) interest in regulating small business lending.  Perhaps hinting at a run for Governor of Ohio, Director Cordray spent a fair amount of time lauding an Ohio loan subsidy program he operated as Ohio State Treasurer, claiming it has been successful in facilitating lending to small businesses.

Director Cordray’s remarks were followed by a panel discussion led by Acting Deputy Director David Silberman and CFPB representatives Grady Hedgespeth and Cheryl Parker Rose.  The individuals providing testimony were: Elba Schildcrout, East Los Angeles Community Corporation; Makini Howell, Main Street Alliance; Josh Silver, National Community Reinvestment Coalition;  Kate Larson, U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Todd Hollander, Union Bank; and Robert Villarreal, CDC Small Business Finance.  Conspicuously absent from the panel was a representative of nonbanks providing financing to small businesses.

White Paper and RFI.  As it did in its annual fair lending report issued last month, the CFPB states in the white paper and RFI that it is in the early stages of its work to develop regulations implementing Section 1071, with such work currently focused on outreach and research.  Section 1071 amended the ECOA to require financial institutions to collect and maintain certain data in connection with credit applications made by women- or minority-owned businesses and small businesses such as the race, sex, and ethnicity of the principal owners of the business.  In the white paper, the CFPB discusses the initial findings of its research into the small business lending market.  In the RFI, the CFPB seeks comment on a series of questions ” to enhance [its] understanding of the small business lending market in order to prioritize and guide research and policy development work for implementation of section 1071.”

The white paper includes:

  • An overview of the small business market, including the size of the overall market and the size of women-owned and minority-owned small businesses using SBA standards for qualifying a business as “small”
  • A discussion of the types of financing products available to small businesses, the types of financial institutions that provide such financing, and data showing the distribution of small business lending among types of lenders and financing products
  • An analysis of the availability of small business financing during and since the recession began in 2007

It appears that a primary objective of the white paper is to confirm that the data collection mandated by Section 1071 is needed.  (The ECOA amendment would be repealed by the CHOICE Act bill recently passed by the House Financial Services Committee.)  Throughout the white paper, the CFPB points out the limitations of currently available small business lending data on its ability “to assess how well the market is meeting the needs of small businesses.”  According to the CFPB, Section 1071 data can support efforts to increase credit access in communities with unmet needs by providing “an understanding of the small business credit flowing into their local communities, and allow[ing] them to identify ‘credit deserts’ or sectors where credit flows may be restricted.”  The CFPB also notes the role of Section 1071 in “facilitating the enforcement of fair lending laws,” by providing the data needed “to understand the nature and extent of potential disparities, and to ensure women-owned and minority-owned businesses have non-discriminatory access to capital.”

The RFI contains a series of questions divided into five categories as follows:

  • How “small business” is defined.  The CFPB notes that Section 1071 defines “small business” as having the same meaning as “small business concern” in Section 3 of the Small Business Act. Section 3 gives the Small Business Administration (SBA) authority to set size standards that meet certain statutory criteria.  However, as the CFPB also notes, Section 3 allows the SBA to approve size standards developed by other federal agencies that meet certain requirements.  The CFPB indicates that it is exploring the development of an alternative “small business” definition tailored to the needs of Section 1071.
  • Data points. In addition to requiring the collection of specified data, Section 1071 authorizes the CFPB to require the collection of additional data that it determines “would aid in fulfilling the purposes of [Section 1071].”  The CFPB seeks information on issues such as what data financial institutions are currently collecting on small business lending, how such data overlaps with the data required to be collected under Section 1071, and what concerns and challenges are raised by the Section 1071 required data.
  • Types of financial institutions engaged in small business lending.  Noting its authority under Section 1071 to exempt certain classes of financial institutions from a small business lending data collection rule, the CFPB asks several questions regarding its use of such exemption authority. It also asks about “the roles of lending marketplaces, brokers, dealers and other third parties in the small business lending application process.”
  • Access to credit and financial products offered to small businesses.  The CFPB notes that “term loans, lines of credit, and credit cards are the principal all-purpose products used by small businesses” and “estimates that these products collectively comprise about three-fourths of the non-equity financing market, when excluding supplier financing.”  The CFPB asks questions regarding the types of business credit products offered to small businesses, the application process, and credit reviews on an existing credit facility.
  • Privacy.  Noting its authority under Section 1071 to delete or modify publicly available data to advance a privacy interest, the CFPB asks questions regarding the nature of privacy concerns of applicants and financial institutions related to the potential disclosure of Section 1071 required data and steps the CFPB can take to mitigate such concerns.

Comments in response to the RFI must be received on or before 60 days after the RFI is published in the Federal Register.

The CFPB will hold a field hearing on small business lending in Los Angeles, CA on May 10, 2017.  The announcement, which took the form of a posting on the events page of the CFPB’s website, contains only the usual statement that the hearing will feature “remarks from Director Cordray, as well as testimony from community groups, industry representatives, and members of the public.”

Since the CFPB typically holds field hearings in conjunction with announcing a related development, it might announce a development involving the CFPB’s rulemaking to implement Section 1071 of Dodd-Frank.  Section 1071 amended the ECOA to require financial institutions to collect and maintain certain data in connection with credit applications made by women- or minority-owned businesses and small businesses such as the race, sex, and ethnicity of the principal owners of the business.

In its annual fair lending report issued earlier this month, the CFPB stated that it had “begun to explore some of the issues involved in the rulemaking, including engaging numerous stakeholders about the statutory reporting requirements.”  Also, at the recent House Financial Services Committee hearing at which Director Cordray appeared, Chairman Hensarling criticized the CFPB for not proceeding more quickly to issue a regulation to implement Section 1071.

 

 

The Government Accountability Office has issued a report on the CFPB’s use of Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) panels in its rulemaking process.  The report, “Observations from Small Business Review Panels,” addresses the extent to which the CFPB solicited, considered, and incorporated small entity inputs into rulemakings, and the views of small entity representatives (SER) on the rulemaking process.

The GAO looked at the CFPB’s rulemaking process and documents in the four final rulemakings for which the CFPB convened SBREFA panels, all of which were mortgage-related: TILA/RESPA integrated disclosure rule, mortgage servicing rule, mortgage loan originator compensation rule, and HMDA.  (The CFPB has also convened SBREFA panels in connection with its proposed arbitration and payday lending rules, and will soon be convening a SBREFA panel in connection with its debt collection rulemaking.)

The GAO contacted all of the 69 SERs who participated on the SBREFA panels for the four final rulemakings and completed interviews with 57 SERs.  (6 SERs declined to be interviewed and 6 SERs were unavailable for interviews during the GAO’s audit time frame.)  In addition to the GAO’s specific findings, the report provides a detailed step-by-step description of the SBREFA process in the background section.

The report’s key findings include the following:

  • The SBREFA process requires the panel to complete its report within 60 days after the panel is “convened.”  The CFPB defines “convened” to mean the date on which the panel is formally established by the CFPB, SBA and OMB rather than the date of the panel meeting with the SERs.  According to the report, in the earlier panels, the CFPB convened the panels shortly before or concurrently with providing SERs with materials.  The SERs then had from 10 to 11 business days to review the materials before panel meetings.  For the HMDA panel (the most recent panel reviewed by GAO), the CFPB provided SERs with materials 13 business days before convening the panel and held the panel meeting 5 business days after convening the panel, thereby giving SERs 18 business days to review the materials before the panel meeting.  The CFPB also gave SERs time after the panel meetings to provide comments, with such additional time ranging from 5 to 10 business days.
  • 13 of the 57 SERs stated that they felt the CFPB treated the process as a formality and 7 SERs felt the process was hindered by the CFPB’s lack of knowledge of the industry.  For example, one SER stated that “CFPB staff did not have enough practical experience and during the panel meeting there was limited time to talk about the actual rule because the [SER] had to explain certain banking processes to CFPB.”
  • 12 SERs stated that they needed more time to prepare for the panel.
  • 10 SERs stated that the CFPB’s pre-meeting outreach could be improved by having the CFPB obtain more knowledge of industry practices before convening the panels.  For example, one SER “believed CFPB was surprised by answers [SERs] provided to their questions because the agency lacked real world experience; the [SER] suggested CFPB do site visits with typical small entities to become better informed.”
  • While 38 of the 57 SERs stated the CFPB had selected participants who represented their respective industries, most SERs on the mortgage loan originator compensation panel did not believe their industry was well represented.
  • 17 SERs stated that they believed the CFPB considered their views in its rulemaking, 19 stated the CFPB partially considered their views, and 15 stated the CFPB did not consider their views.  (6 said they did not know.)
  • 7 SERs stated that they were satisfied with the CFPB’s final rules, 26 stated they were not satisfied, and 23 stated they were partially satisfied.  (1 stated he or she did not know.)

The dissatisfaction of the SERs with the CFPB’s final rules suggests the CFPB is not giving sufficient weight to SERs’ input and is deserving of the criticism it received from SERs that the CFPB “treated the process as a formality.”  According to the report, one of the SERs who expressed that criticism “said CFPB was good at following processes but felt it did not listen to input.  He added that he felt CFPB’s mind was made up before the panel took place.”

 

Much of Director Cordray’s testimony in his appearance before the Senate Banking Committee yesterday consisted of his predictable defense of various CFPB positions.  While the hearing was much less contentious than last month’s hearing of the House Financial Services Committee at which Director Cordray appeared, the questions raised by Republican Senators focused on many of the same areas of concern as those of Republican House members.

In response to criticism of the CFPB’s enforcement actions against auto finance companies, Director Cordray continued to defend the CFPB’s reliance on disparate impact liability.  As he did in the House hearing, Director Cordray pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Inclusive Communities decision as vindicating the CFPB’s position despite the fact that the decision did not address whether disparate impact claims are cognizable under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.  According to Director Cordray, the Supreme Court had “resoundingly reaffirmed” the validity of using disparate impact to prove discrimination.  He also defended the CFPB’s methodology for establishing disparate impact as well as its method for identifying consumers entitled to relief under the auto finance company settlements.

Director Cordray also gave no ground on the CFPB’s reliance on enforcement in place of rulemaking.  Indeed, he appeared to embrace the phrase “regulation by enforcement” used by industry to criticize the CFPB’s approach.  Director Cordray cited to his remarks last month to the Consumer Bankers Association in which he called it “compliance malpractice” for companies not to look at CFPB consent orders with others to assess their own compliance.

In addition to his continued defense of CFPB positions, Director Cordray did provide some noteworthy information in response to Senators’ questions:

  • In response to a question regarding the CFPB’s activities related to small business lending, Director Cordray appeared to acknowledge that the CFPB’s role is limited to its enforcement of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and implementation of the expanded small business lending data collection requirements of Dodd-Frank Act Section 1071.  (Section 1071 amended the ECOA to require financial institutions to collect and maintain certain data in connection with credit applications made by women- or minority-owned businesses and small businesses.  Such data includes the race, sex, and ethnicity of the principal owners of the business.)  As we previously reported, the CFPB has been seeking to hire a new “Assistant Director, Small Business Lending,” who will be charged with leading its Section 1071 team.  Based on Director Cordray’s comment that he would welcome recommendations from Senators of candidates for the position, it appears that the position has not yet been filled.
  • In response to a question asking how consumers will be able to access small dollar loans in the wake of anticipated CFPB restrictions on payday loans, Director Cordray indicated that he envisions three categories of outlets: a “reformed” payday loan industry, community banks and credit unions, and Fintech companies.  With regard to Fintech, Director Cordray indicated that he envisions “real opportunities” for online lending but commented that small-dollar lending is “tricky” for Fintech companies.  He also commented that the CFPB will be “mindful” and “watchful” of the need for Fintech innovations “to be consumer friendly.”  He indicated that while Fintech companies should not have an advantage in the marketplace over banks because they are not complying with same rules, the CFPB would seek to enforce the laws without stifling innovation.
  • When questioned about the criticism directed at the CFPB’s policy on no-action letters for its restrictiveness, Director Cordray acknowledged that legitimate questions have been raised about the policy.  He indicated that he was “not satisfied” with the policy and that further thought would be given to it (while also noting that the CFPB was “leery” of the burden that would result from a high volume of requests for no-action letters).