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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently posted its Enforcement Policy and Procedures Manual (Manual) on its FOIA reading room website.  This is a welcome step in transparency, which was driven by the agency’s receipt of multiple FOIA requests for the Manual.  Other documents available in the FOIA reading room relating to the agency’s enforcement process now include the instructions and template for the memo sent to the Action Review Committee (ARC), which determines whether issues identified in the course of a CFPB examination warrant public enforcement action, and a template of the memo that staff send to the Director seeking authority to settle or sue at the conclusion of an enforcement investigation.  Hopefully, the CFPB will not wait for multiple FOIA requests to post other helpful documents on its website, such as a staff directory, which is available via FOIA request but is not currently posted on the CFPB website.

In an email to staff, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Richard Cordray announced on Wednesday, November 15, that he will be stepping down this month.  His departure was widely anticipated.  Because the CFPB is headed by a single director – as opposed to a 5-member commission – the agency’s director wields enormous power. Below we address some of the most frequently asked questions regarding Director Cordray’s resignation.

Continue Reading CFPB Director Richard Cordray to Step Down

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) has issued its first No-Action Letter (“No-Action Letter” or “Letter”) in response to a request from Upstart Network, Inc. (“Upstart”). The No-Action Letter means that CFPB staff currently has no intention of recommending enforcement or supervisory action against Upstart. This decision is limited to the application of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (“ECOA”) and its implementing regulation, Regulation B, to Upstart’s automated model for underwriting applicants for unsecured, non-revolving credit (“automated model”).

Upstart is an online lending platform that, working with a bank partner, uses alternative data to facilitate credit and pricing decisions for consumers with limited credit or work history. In addition to relying on traditional credit information, Upstart uses non-traditional sources of information to evaluate a consumer’s creditworthiness. For instance, Upstart might look at an applicant’s educational information, such as school attended and degree obtained, and the applicant’s employment to determine financial capacity and ability to repay. Upstart submitted a Request for No-Action Letter (“Request”) in relation to its automated model to the CFPB pursuant to the agency’s no-action letter policy.

According to the CFPB, the no-action letter policy is intended to facilitate consumer-friendly innovations where regulatory uncertainty may exist for certain emerging products or services. In practice, however, the process has presented significant challenges for companies that might seek to benefit from it. Continue Reading CFPB Issues No-Action Letter to Alternative Credit Lending Platform

On June 22, 2017, the CFPB’s Student Loan Ombudsman put out its annual report on student loans, as required by the Dodd-Frank Act. The report analyzes complaints submitted by consumers about student loan servicers between March 2016 and February 2017. Many of the complaints relate to practices, such as payment processing, customer service and borrower communication, and income-based repayment plan enrollment, that the CFPB has frequently scrutinized in the past through supervision and enforcement activities.

However, the majority of the report focuses on complaints from consumers related to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which allows those who enter careers in public service to have their student loans forgiven after a decade. The CFPB’s report criticizes servicers’ alleged failures to actively advise borrowers on how to qualify for PSLF, track their progress toward PSLF completion, and inform them about the requirements of the PSLF program. In conjunction with the report, the CFPB updated its education loan examination procedures to include additional questions about the PSLF program. Continue Reading CFPB Issues Report on Student Loan Servicing and Updated Examination Procedures

The long awaited en banc oral argument in the PHH v. CFPB appeal was heard this morning.  Based upon the questions asked by the judges, and with the caveat that such questioning is not always an indicator of how a court will rule, it seems likely that the D.C. Circuit will not find the CFPB to be unconstitutionally structured.  While Judge Kavanaugh, author of the roughly 100-page 3-judge panel decision last October, tried mightily to defend his position that a single director removable only for cause thwarts the President’s Article II authority, most of the judges did not seem to share his views.  Some judges, like Judge Griffith, implied that the Court was bound by the Supreme Court’s decision in Humphrey’s Executor v. United States, which upheld the constitutionality of removal-for-cause provisions as pertains to the multi-member Federal Trade Commission.  Other judges appeared to believe there was sufficient accountability for the CFPB Director because he or she can be removed for cause.  Judge Pillard defended the independence of financial regulatory agencies such as the CFPB.  On the whole, fewer judges seemed inclined to declare the for-cause provisions unconstitutional than to keep the status quo.

Notably, only about 60 seconds of the 90 minute oral argument addressed RESPA concerns, in particular Section 8(c)(2).  The judges’ RESPA-related questions concerned whether the industry had notice that RESPA prohibited the conduct in question (which had been blessed by a 1997 Letter from HUD permitting captive reinsurance if the Section 8(c)(2) safe harbor provisions were met) and whether the CFPB was bound by RESPA’s 3-year statute of limitations.  Questions about both issues were directed to CFPB counsel.  He stated that the statute itself provided ample notice of its prohibitions in Sections 8(a) and 8(c)(2). He also said the Bureau was bound by the generally-applicable 5-year statute of limitations at least insofar as penalties are concerned, but he did not concede the Bureau was otherwise bound by RESPA’s limitations period in an administrative proceeding.  That said, given how little attention was directed to the RESPA questions, it is likely that the full 11-member panel will affirm the 3-judge panel’s views on RESPA expressed last October.

It would appear that Director Cordray will remain at his desk until his term expires in July 2018.  He may, however, need to revise his interpretation of Section 8(c)(2).

 

One week before the en banc D.C. Circuit is scheduled to hear oral argument regarding the constitutionality of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) structure in CFPB v. PHH, the Ninth Circuit has taken up the issue as well. In an order issued May 17, 2017, the Ninth Circuit granted permission for interlocutory appeal to address the question of whether the CFPB’s structure is unconstitutional and, if it is, what the proper remedy is.  Continue Reading CFPB Constitutionality Question Headed to 9th Circuit

Dealing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) another setback, on April 21, 2017, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals refused to enforce a Civil Investigative Demand (CID) issued by the CFPB. The decision is likely to have broad implications for how the CFPB identifies the nature and scope of its investigations in its CIDs, which to date have provided investigation subjects with little information about the nature of the CFPB’s concerns. More precisely defined investigations could provide significant benefits to CID recipients, as well as establish a basis to challenge the requests set forth in CIDs. To learn more about the ruling and its implications, read our Legal Update.

 

On January 20, the Ninth Circuit handed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) a victory in one of the first cases challenging the CFPB’s investigative authority — although that victory seems tied to the particular facts of the case.

The court held that the CFPB has the authority to investigate the activities of for-profit, small-dollar lenders created by three Indian tribes (the Tribal Lending Entities). Given the unique facts of the case, however, the decision may provide scant guidance for the other pending cases challenging the CFPB’s authority to issue administrative subpoenas known as Civil Investigative Demands (CIDs).

The case before the Ninth Circuit involved CIDs issued to the Tribal Lending Entities as part of an investigation into whether small-dollar online lenders were violating federal consumer financial laws. Unlike the other pending challenges to the CFPB’s investigative authority, the Tribal Lending Entities did not claim that the nature of their activities (lending money) was outside the scope of the CFPB’s authority. Instead, they argued that the CFPB’s investigative powers – which are limited to sending CIDs to “persons” – did not authorize the agency to send such demands to tribal entities. The Ninth Circuit disagreed. Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Affirms CFPB Authority to Investigate Tribal Lenders

It appears that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) controversial indirect auto initiative may be over.  Before the holidays, the CFPB issued a blog post setting forth its fair lending priorities for 2017.  It identified those priorities as Redlining, Mortgage and Student Loan Servicing, and Small Business Lending.  Not only was indirect auto lending not listed, but the CFPB appeared to go out of its way to indicate it was moving away from this issue.   Continue Reading Is the CFPB’s Indirect Auto Initiative Over?

Claims brought by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) alleging that a company engaged in deceptive conduct must be accompanied by specific factual allegations or face dismissal, according to a ruling by a federal judge in the Central District of California. Because the Central District of California is a favorite forum of the CFPB’s and allegations of deceptive conduct are a common claim brought by it, the decision may have long-term implications for how the CFPB pleads its cases, which cases it brings and where it brings them. To learn more about the ruling and its implications, read our Legal Update.