Acting Comptroller of the Currency Keith Noreika, in remarks on July 19 to the Exchequer Club, confirmed that the OCC is continuing to consider its proposal to allow financial technology (fintech) companies to apply for a special purpose national bank (SPNB) charter.  Since the departure of the SPNB proposal’s architect, former Comptroller Thomas Curry, who Mr. Noreika replaced, there has been considerable speculation as to what position the OCC would take on the proposal.

In his remarks, Acting Comptroller Noreika referenced the lawsuits filed by the New York Department of Financial Supervision and the Conference of State Bank Supervisors challenging the OCC’s authority to grant SPNB charters to fintech companies.  He indicated that in these lawsuits, the OCC plans to “vigorously” defend its authority to rely on its regulation at 12 C.F.R. section 5.20(e)(1) to grant SPNB charters to nondepository companies.  He also countered arguments that granting SPNB charters to fintech companies would disadvantage banks and create consumer protection risks.  (As we have previously observed, both lawsuits present a lack of ripeness and/or no case or controversy problem.)

At the same time, referring to the proposal as “a good idea that deserves the thorough analysis and the careful consideration we are giving it,” Mr. Noreika was noncommittal about what the OCC’s ultimate position would be.  Despite his statement that the OCC plans to defend its charter authority in the lawsuits, Mr. Noreika also stated that “the OCC has not determined whether it will actually accept or act upon applications from nondepository fintech companies for special purpose national bank charters that rely on [section 5.20].  And, to be clear, we have not received, nor are we evaluating, any such applications from nondepository fintech companies.  The OCC will continue to hold discussions with interested companies while we evaluate our options.”

Acting Comptroller Noreika suggested that fintech companies consider seeking a national bank charter by using other OCC authority “to charter full-service national banks and federal savings associations, as well as other long-established special purpose national banks, such as trust banks, banker’s banks, and other so-called CEBA credit card banks.”  According to Mr. Noreika, the state plaintiffs in the lawsuits had conceded that the OCC has such other authority.  Observing that many fintech business models may fit into the established categories of special purpose national banks “that do not rely on the contested provision  of regulation, section 5.20,” he stated that “we may well take [the states] up on their invitation to use these [other] authorities in the fintech-chartering context.” (emphasis included).

Many years ago, we were successful in converting a consumer finance company to a national bank and had no difficulty in obtaining OCC approval.  Nonbanks engaged in interstate consumer lending should consider conversion as an option since it enables the converted bank to (1) export throughout the country “interest” (as broadly defined under the OCC’s regulations) as permitted by its home state, (2) disregard non-interest state laws that impair materially the exercise of national bank powers, and (3) accept FDIC-insured deposits, which generally are the lowest cost source of funds.  Nonbanks engaged in non-financial activity or with affiliates engaged in such activity may be limited to SPNB conversions due to activity restrictions in the Bank Holding Company Act.

The OCC’s proposal to create a fintech charter would, if finalized, help some companies partially avoid the negative impact of the Second Circuit’s decision in Madden v. Midland Funding.  (In Madden, the Second Circuit ruled that a nonbank that purchases loans from a national bank could not charge the same rate of interest on the loan that Section 85 of the National Bank Act allows the national bank to charge.)  It would also help some fintech companies deal with the risk of a court or enforcement authority concluding that the fintech company, and not its bank partner, is the “true lender.”  Treating a nonbank as the “true lender” would subject the nonbank to usury, licensing, and other limits to which its bank partner would not otherwise be subject.

The “true lender” risk, which is not confined to the fintech space but can arise in many bank-partner-model arrangements, is a live issue.  In litigation currently ongoing in federal district court in Colorado, two state-chartered banks are seeking to enjoin enforcement actions brought by the Colorado Uniform Consumer Credit Code Administrator against the banks’ nonbank partners that market and service loans originated by the banks and purchase loans from the banks.  The Administrator has alleged that because the banks were not the “true lenders” on the loans sold to the banks’ partners, the loans are subject to Colorado law regarding interest, not the law of the states where the banks are located.

Unfortunately, as set forth in Alan Kaplinsky’s article for American Banker’s BankThink, the possibility that the OCC might charter SPNBs (or deposit-taking fintech national banks) does not fully address the Madden and “true lender” risks facing fintech companies, their bank partners, or other entities involved in “bank-model” lending programs.  The SPNB proposal has not been adopted and may be overturned in litigation.  It does not extend to non-fintech companies.  In many respects, it includes burdensome provisions.  And Madden risks would remain for loan purchasers.

We believe that recent developments, both in Colorado and elsewhere, highlight the need for the OCC to confront true lender and Madden risks directly.  This could (and should) be accomplished through adoption of a rule: (1) providing that loans funded by a bank in its own name as creditor are fully subject to Section 85 and other provisions of the National Bank Act for their entire term; and (2) emphasizing that banks that make loans are expected to manage and supervise the lending process in accordance with OCC guidance and will be subject to regulatory consequences if and to the extent that loan programs are unsafe or unsound or fail to comply with applicable law.  (The rule should apply in the same way to federal savings banks and their governing statute, the Home Owners’ Loan Act.)  In other words, it is the origination of the loan by a supervised bank (and the attendant legal consequences if the loans are improperly originated), and not whether the bank retains the predominant economic interest in the loan, that should govern the regulatory treatment of the loan under federal law.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

The OCC announced that its Office of Innovation will host office hours for national banks, federal savings associations, and financial technology (fintech) companies from July 24 through July 26, 2017 at the OCC’s district office in New York City.  According to the OCC, the office hours are intended to “provide an opportunity for meetings with OCC officials to discuss financial technology, new products or services, partnering with a bank or fintech company, or other matters related to financial innovation.”

The OCC stated that its staff “will provide feedback and respond to questions” and that each meeting will be no longer than one hour.  Persons wishing to meet with the OCC can request a meeting through July 5 and are expected to indicate the reason for their interest in having the meeting.  The OCC plans to hold office hours in other cities at later dates.  (An initial round of office hours meetings took place in San Francisco last month.)

Last October, the OCC announced that it was creating the Office of Innovation to serve as an office dedicated to responsible innovation and to implement a formal framework to improve the agency’s ability to identify, understand, and respond to financial innovation affecting the federal banking system.  The announcement followed the OCC’s release last spring of a white paper, “Supporting Responsible Innovation in the Federal Banking System: An OCC Perspective.”  The white paper was part of an initiative announced by former Comptroller Thomas J. Curry in August 2015 to develop a comprehensive framework to improve the OCC’s ability to understand innovation in the financial services industry, and to help national banks and federal savings associations in the face of  increasing competition from fintech companies.  In December 2016, the OCC announced its proposal to allow fintech companies to apply for special purpose national bank (SPNB) charters and, in March 2017, it issued a draft supplement to its existing Licensing Manual for SPNB charters as well as its responses to comments received on its SPNB charter proposal.

It is unclear whether the latest office hours announcement can be read as an indication of continuing OCC support for the SPNB charter proposal following Mr. Curry’s departure.  Last month, Keith Noreika was appointed by President Trump to serve as Deputy Comptroller and began serving as Acting Comptroller on May 5.  It has since been widely reported that President Trump will nominate Joseph Otting to replace Mr. Curry as Comptroller.  Neither Mr. Noreika or Mr. Otting is known to have yet taken a public position with respect to the SPNB charter.

 

 

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The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has issued a new bulletin (2017-21) containing fourteen frequently asked questions to supplement OCC Bulletin 2013-29 entitled “Third-Party Relationships: Risk Management Guidance.”   The 2013 bulletin provided updated guidance for managing operational, compliance, reputation, strategic, and credit risk presented by third-party business relationships of national banks and federal savings associations.

In the new bulletin, the OCC observes that many banks have recently developed relationships with financial technology (fintech) companies in which the fintech companies perform or deliver services on behalf of a bank or banks and therefore meet the 2013 bulletin’s definition of a third-party relationship.  The OCC states that, as a result, it would expect bank management to include such fintech companies in the bank’s third-party risk management process.  The FAQs include the following specifically addressed to fintech companies:

  • Is a fintech company arrangement considered a critical activity?
  • Can a bank engage with a start-up fintech company with limited financial information?
  • How can a bank offer products or services to underbanked or underserved segments of the population through a third-party relationship with a fintech company?

The FAQs also specifically address bank arrangements with marketplace lenders, in particular the question “What should a bank consider when entering into a marketplace lending arrangement with nonbank entities?”  The OCC’s guidance includes the following:

  • For compliance risk management, banks should not originate or support marketplace lenders that do not have adequate compliance management processes and should monitor the marketplace lenders to ensure that they appropriately implement applicable consumer protection laws, regulations, and guidance.
  • When banks enter into marketplace lending or servicing arrangements, because the banks’ customers may associate the marketplace lenders’ products with those of the banks, reputation risk can arise if the products underperform or harm customers.
  • Operational risk can increase quickly if the banks and the marketplace lenders do not include appropriate limits and controls in their operational processes, such as contractually agreed-to loan volume limits and proper underwriting.
  • To address the risks created by marketplace lending arrangements, a bank’s due diligence of marketplace lenders should include consulting with the bank’s appropriate business units, such as credit, compliance, finance, audit, operations, accounting, legal, and information technology.
  • Contracts or other governing documents should set forth the terms of service-level agreements and contractual obligations, and significant contractual changes should prompt reevaluation of bank policies, processes, and risk management practices.

The CFPB recently announced that it has begun to examine service providers on a regular, systematic basis, particularly those supporting the mortgage industry.  Previously, the CFPB has only examined some service providers on an ad hoc basis.  The change represents a significant expansion of the CFPB’s use of its supervisory authority and will substantially increase the number and types of entities facing CFPB examinations.  On June 13, 2017, from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. ET, Ballard Spahr attorneys will hold a webinar, “The CFPB’s Expansion of its Supervisory Program to Service Providers – What You Need to Know.”  More information and a link to register is available here.

 

 

 

The New York Department of Financial Supervision (DFS) has filed a complaint in a New York federal district court to stop the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) from implementing its proposal to issue special purpose national bank (SPNB) charters to fintech companies.  The lawsuit follows the filing of a similar action earlier this month by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) in D.C. federal district court.

Like the CSBS lawsuit, the DFS lawsuit challenges the OCC’s proposal on the grounds that:

  • The National Bank Act (NBA) does not allow the OCC to charter non-depository financial services
  • The OCC’s decision to issue SPNB charters to fintech companies, by enabling non-depository charter holders to disregard state law, violates the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution under which states retain the powers not delegated to the federal government, including the police power to regulate financial services and products delivered within a state

In defending its authority to charter SPNBs that do not take FDIC-insured deposits, the OCC has relied on 12 C.F.R. Section 5.20(e)(1) which allows the OCC to charter a bank that performs a single core banking function—receiving deposits, paying checks, or lending money.  Similar to the CSBS lawsuit, the relief sought by the DFS lawsuit includes a declaration that the OCC lacks authority under the NBA to issue SPNB charters to fintech companies that do not take deposits, a declaration that 12 C.F.R. Section 5.20(e)(1) is null and void because it exceeds the OCC’s authority under the NBA, and an injunction prohibiting the OCC from issuing SPNB charters as proposed.

We have commented that because the OCC has not yet finalized the licensing process for fintech companies seeking an SPNB charter, the CSBS is likely to face a motion to dismiss on grounds that include a lack of ripeness and/or no case or controversy.  The DFS is likely to also face a motion to dismiss on similar grounds.  Perhaps anticipating an argument that it lacks standing to bring the lawsuit because it cannot show actual harm, DFS alleges not only that the OCC proposal would undermine its ability to protect New York consumers but also that the OCC’s actions will “injure DFS in a directly quantifiable way.”  DFS alleges that because its operating expenses are funded by assessments levied on New York-licensed financial institutions, every company that receives an SPNB charter “in place of a New York license to operate in this state deprives DFS of crucial resources that are necessary to fund the agency’s regulatory function.”

This allegation does not seem sufficient to overcome the lack of ripeness and/or no case or controversy problem that the DFS lawsuit presents.  Indeed, the DFS filed its lawsuit after the architect of the SPNB charter proposal, former Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry, was replaced by Acting Comptroller Keith Noreika.  Mr. Noreika has not yet taken any public position with respect to the SPNB charter.  It will not be until the next Comptroller of the Currency is nominated by President Trump, confirmed by the Senate, and takes a position on the SPNB charter that we will be able to realistically assess whether the OCC will continue to pursue the SNPB charter proposal, let alone finalize it.

 

 

 

On May 10, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) announced a series of initiatives (branded as Vision 2020) designed to modernize state regulation of non-banks.  The announcement specifically calls out financial technology firms and appears to be an attempt by state regulators to provide an alternative to the special purpose national bank charter the OCC has proposed to make available to financial technology companies (“fintech charter”).

The CSBS claims that by 2020 state regulators will have adopted “an integrated, 50-state licensing and supervisory system, leveraging technology and smart regulatory policy to transform the interaction between industry, regulators and consumers.”  The CSBS further claims that the Vision 2020 initiatives “will transform the licensing process, harmonize supervision, engage fintech companies, assist state banking departments, make it easier for banks to provide services to non-banks, and make supervision more efficient for third parties.”  Lofty goals to say the least, and ones that the financial services industry most certainly will support.  It remains to be seen, however, whether Vision 2020, which actually includes initiatives that are already in use or have been underway for some time, will move us further towards these goals by 2020, or even later.

Among others, Vision 2020 purports to include the following: 1) a redesign of the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System (NMLS); 2) harmonization of multi-state supervision; 3) formation of a fintech industry advisory panel focused on lending and money transmission, with the goal of identifying challenges related to licensing and multi-state regulation and providing feedback on state efforts to modernize the regulatory structure; 4) enhancing the CSBS regulatory agency accreditation program; 5) facilitate banks providing services to non-banks; 6) increasing efforts to address de-risking; and 7) supporting federal legislation facilitating coordinated supervision of bank third party service providers by state and federal regulators.

It bears noting that the redesign of the NMLS (called NMLS 2.0) has been underway (even if not formally) for some time, and long before the OCC first proposed offering a fintech charter.  Moreover, 62 (and counting) state agencies over more than 40 states and territories already use the NMLS for the administration of non-mortgage licenses. While migration by states to the NMLS for administration of its non-mortgage licenses will no doubt continue, the driver for that was not the need to find a way to regulate fintech companies, but rather the need for significant improvements to NMLS’s functionality and utility.

The CSBS has also been focusing on the harmonization of multi-state supervision for many years.  In the mortgage industry, for example, these efforts have included formation of the Multi-State Mortgage Committee, publication of a model mortgage exam manual, publication of model examinations guidelines, and promotion of model state laws.  Despite these efforts, those in the mortgage industry can attest to the fact that harmonization and uniformity is still more aspirational than a reality.

Some have suggested that Vision 2020 is intended to entice fintech companies to elect state regulation over seeking a fintech charter.  Whether or not that is the case, Vision 2020 certainly is an attempt by the CSBS to make the case that state regulators are in the best position to regulate fintech companies and that they are prepared to modernize and harmonize their laws and regulations.  Given the significant harmonization and modernization work that still remains to be done in the mortgage industry after many years of effort, I have significant reservations about the likelihood of “an integrated, 50-state licensing and supervisory system” by 2020.

 

 

The Conference of State Bank Supervisors has filed a complaint in D.C. federal district court to stop the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) from implementing its proposal to issue special purpose national bank (SPNB) charters to fintech companies.

In comments filed on the OCC’s proposal, the CSBS and others asserted that the proposal would allow fintech companies to avoid state consumer protection laws and make it more difficult for states to enforce such laws by removing their visitorial oversight.  Commenters also asserted that the OCC lacks authority to charter SPNBs that do not take FDIC-insured deposits, citing its authority under 12 C.F.R. Section 5.20(e)(1) to charter a bank that performs a single core banking function—receiving deposits, paying checks, or lending money.

The lawsuit follows the OCC’s publication of a summary of the comments it received on its proposal in which it disagreed with commenters’ concerns regarding state consumer protection laws and the OCC’s authority.  The grounds on which the CSBS challenges the OCC’s proposal in the lawsuit include the following:

  • Both Section 5.20(e)(1)  and the OCC’s decision to issue SPNB charters to fintech companies are inconsistent with the National Bank Act because the NBA does not allow the OCC to charter entities that do not receive deposits unless they are carrying on a special purpose expressly authorized by Congress.
  • The OCC’s decision to issue SPNB charters to fintech companies is a “rule” that was made without compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act and is an arbitrary and capricious action that does not constitute “reasoned decision making” as required by the APA.
  • The OCC’s decision to issue SPNB charters to fintech companies, by enabling nonbank charter holders to disregard state law, violates the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution under which states retain the powers not delegated to the federal government, including the police powers necessary to regulate nonbank  providers of financial services and protect consumers and the public interest from unsound and abusive financial practices.

The relief sought by the CSBS includes a declaration that the OCC lacks authority under the NBA to create and issue SPNB charters to fintech companies that do not take deposits or to issue Section 5.20(e)(1) and an injunction prohibiting the OCC from creating or issuing any SPNBs pursuant to Section 5.20(e)(1).

When it issued the summary of comments on its proposal, the OCC also issued a draft supplement to its Licensing Manual to describe the licensing process it envisions for fintech companies seeking an SPNB charter.  However, it has not yet issued a final supplement or indicated that companies can begin submitting charter applications.  (The OCC invited comments to be filed on the draft supplement by April 14, 2017.)  As a result, CSBS is likely to face a motion to dismiss on grounds that include a lack of ripeness and/or no case or controversy.

 

 

In a recent blog post, Alan Kaplinsky and Scott Pearson wrote about the remarks made by CFPB Director Richard Cordray and Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry at the LendIt USA conference in New York City earlier this month.  In the blog post, we expressed our strong disagreement with Comptroller Curry’s refusal to author an interpretive opinion to address the disruption in the lending markets caused by the Second Circuit’s Madden decision and promised to share our reasons at a later date for why we think that the OCC should go even further and propose a rule to address Madden 

Alan has now written an article published in BankThink, American Banker’s “platform for informed opinion about the ideas, trends and events reshaping financial services,” that urges the OCC to issue a rule to address Madden.  In Madden, the Second Circuit ruled that a company that purchases loans from a national bank could not charge the same rate of interest on the loan that Section 85 of the National Bank Act allows the national bank to charge.  As Alan demonstrates in his article, there is clear OCC and U.S. Supreme Court precedent for the OCC to issue an interpretive opinion or regulation interpreting Section 85 to address an issue that is being litigated and the Supreme Court has indicated that it can properly do so.  As he also demonstrates, the need for an OCC rule is not eliminated by the OCC’s proposal to create a national bank charter for financial technology companies.

 

 

 

 

A Democratic congressman has raised concerns about potentially discriminatory lending practices used by fintech companies that extend credit to small businesses, calling on the CFPB “to vigorously investigate whether [such fintech companies] are complying with all anti-discrimination laws, including the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.”

In a letter to Director Cordray dated March 15, 2017, Representative Emanuel Cleaver, II, stated that fintech companies “geared toward lending to small businesses by using certain biased algorithms for creditworthiness have the potential of charging disproportionately higher rates to minority-owned businesses.”  He asserted that, as a result, it is important “to determine if minority-owned small businesses are being charged higher rates, or if they have been subject to predatory fees” by fintech companies.

In addition to urging the CFPB to launch an investigation, Rep. Cleaver requested responses to a series of questions that included when the  CFPB anticipates “finalizing regulation and guidance to fully 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.  Such data include the race, sex, and ethnicity of the principal owners of the business.  The CFPB has not yet proposed a rule to implement Section 1071.  In its Fall 2016 rulemaking agenda, the CFPB estimated a March 2017 date for prerule activities.

For more on Rep. Cleaver’s letter, see our legal alert.

Earlier this week, we attended the LendIt USA conference in New York City, a leading annual fintech conference, at which both CFPB Director Richard Cordray and Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry spoke.

Director Cordray began his remarks by returning to his familiar “level playing field” theme, observing that “[e]venhanded oversight of all providers” regardless of size “is a basic rule of the road for effective regulation of the financial marketplace” and that “[n]obody gets a free pass to exploit regulatory arbitrage; everyone must be held to the same standards of compliance with the law.”  He then discussed the CFPB’s two most recent requests for information.

The first RFI, issued in November 2016, seeks information about market practices related to consumer access to financial information.  Director Cordray reported that the CFPB has received about 70 “extensive and thoughtful” comments from financial institutions, data aggregators, companies that use aggregated data, trade associations, consumer groups, and individuals.  He observed that “[c]ertain perspectives presented in the comments are not surprising,” with banks and other financial companies raising concerns about consumer data security and aggregators and users of the data recommending less fettered access and greater freedom to store and use collected data.  He commented that the CFPB is “keenly aware of the serious issues around privacy and security, for consumers and providers alike,”  and noted two “pressing” issues facing the CFPB:  how to satisfy the demands of consumers without exposing the providers that maintain consumer data to undue costs and risks and how to prevent consumers from subjecting themselves to undue risks, including the possibility that their data could be misused.  Echoing comments he made in October 2016, Director Cordray also stated that the CFPB “remain[s] concerned about reports of some institutions that may be limiting or restricting access unduly.”

The second RFI discussed by Director Cordray was the RFI issued last month seeking information about the use of alternative data and modeling techniques in the credit process.  He indicated that the CFPB’s goal in issuing the RFI is “to learn more about issues raised by new technologies and new uses of data” and, in particular, to obtain information “about the potential benefits and risks of using, applying, and analyzing unconventional sources of information to predict people’s creditworthiness.”  He reviewed the main inquiries posed by the RFI, with emphasis on the CFPB’s interest in learning how the use of alternative data might impact so-called “credit invisibles,” meaning consumers with no credit history or credit histories that are too limited to generate a reliable credit score, and the application of fair lending laws to alternative data.

In addition to not providing any meaningful new insights into the CFPB’s views on fintech issues, perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Director Cordray’s remarks was his touting of the CFPB’s no-action letter (NAL) policy in his discussion of Project Catalyst,  the CFPB’s initiative launched in November 2012 for facilitating innovation in consumer-friendly financial products and services.  The CFPB’s NAL policy, which was finalized in February 2016, stated that the CFPB would publish NALs, along with a version or summary of the request, on its website.  Since we could find no NALs on the CFPB’s website, we assume no NALs have been issued.

Indeed, even if any NALs have been issued, they would be of marginal value to the recipients.  As we observed when the NAL policy was finalized, the NAL policy provides no immunity against private litigation or enforcement actions by other federal and state government agencies.  (In fact, the CFPB stated in the policy that an NAL can be revoked or modified at any time.)  To make matters worse, an NAL will receive no deference from the courts and may only cover one or more of the “enumerated consumer laws” and not UDAAP which is often of the greatest concern to banks and companies because of the lack of clarity as to what constitutes an “unfair,” “deceptive” or “abusive” act or practice.  Perhaps the reason no NALs have been issued is that none have been requested because of their marginal value as well as the potential for publication of an NAL to give competitors access to important confidential strategic information.

Comptroller Curry’s remarks focused primarily on the OCC’s fintech charter proposal, which he defended against a number of attacks from state regulators, consumer advocates, as well as industry opponents.  Comptroller Curry said that the OCC definitely has authority to grant special purpose charters without new legislation.  Companies obtaining these charters should not expect “light touch” supervision, as the OCC will supervise them in the same manner that it supervises full-service banks.  Furthermore, the OCC will not grant charters to companies engaging in practices considered to be predatory or abusive.

Comptroller Curry also said that there will be “appropriately calibrated” capital and liquidity standards, as well as financial inclusion requirements for obtaining a charter.  Details on the requirements will be outlined in a forthcoming supplement to the OCC’s licensing manual.  He added that national banks are subject to state law to a much greater extent under Dodd-Frank than previously was the case, so concerns about excessive preemption are misplaced.  Comptroller Curry said that companies will benefit from the OCC’s high standards and “rigorous supervision,” as it adds value to the companies.

Unlike Director Cordray, Comptroller Curry took questions from the audience, including questions from us.  Although he did not indicate whether there has been any contact between the White House and the OCC concerning policy, he said that the OCC intended to comply with the spirit of the recent executive orders concerning deregulation, although it is not required to follow them as an independent agency.  He noted that the OCC already had completed a recent decennial review of its rules as required by the Economic Growth and Regulatory Paperwork Reduction Act of 1996.  Asked whether the OCC would issue an interpretive opinion concerning the Madden v. Midland Funding case consistent with its amicus brief, Comptroller Curry said that it would not, since the agency cannot overrule the Second Circuit.

We strongly disagree with Comptroller Curry’s refusal to author an interpretive opinion which certainly would be helpful outside the Second Circuit (and maybe even within the Second Circuit since the OCC had not weighed in on Madden until it reached the Supreme Court).  For reasons that we will articulate in the future, we think that the OCC should propose to issue a regulation codifying the “valid when made” doctrine.

On March 21, 2017, from 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm ET, Ballard Spahr will hold a webinar, “Alternative Credit – Opportunities, Risks and the CFPB’s Request for Data.”  More information and a link to register is available here.