Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA)

On September 15, 2020, the CFPB published a detailed outline of proposed options it is considering to implement a rule under Section 1071 of the Dodd Frank Act. Ten years ago, Section 1071 amended the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) to require that financial institutions collect and report information concerning credit applications made by women- or minority-owned businesses and by small businesses. Although the CFPB was tasked with drafting rules to implement Section 1071, it did not take significant steps to meet that obligation until 2017, when it reported on some preliminary research, and then later in November 2019, when it held an information-gathering symposium.

As we previously noted, once Section 1071 is implemented, certain financial institutions will be required to collect information regarding the race, sex, and ethnicity of the principal owners of small businesses and women- and minority-owned businesses and submit this information to the CFPB, similar to what is currently required by the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act for mortgage loans. The CFPB’s outline released this week proposes several potential options for developing the small business lending data collection rule and is a precursor to any future proposed rulemaking. At this stage, the CFPB is seeking feedback on the direction of the rule. Feedback and comments on the scope of the rule can be sent to 2020-SBREFA-1071@cfpb.gov until December 14, 2020. The CFPB is also seeking feedback on the potential impacts on small business entities and has requested submission of such feedback by November 9, 2020.

Below, we summarize the key aspects of the Bureau’s outline and its proposals regarding the scope of the rule.
Continue Reading CFPB Finally Makes Progress on Implementing Small Business Lending Data Collection Requirements

On July 28, 2020, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB or the Bureau) published a request for information (RFI) on opportunities for the Bureau to clarify the Equal Credit Opportunity Act’s (ECOA) implementing regulation, Regulation B, in a way that prevents credit discrimination and promotes credit access and innovation. The Bureau seeks feedback on a diverse set of topics, though the request is not limited to the below topics. Commenters are encouraged to address any aspects of ensuring fair access to credit and promoting innovation.

Arguably the most controversial topic in the RFI is the Bureau’s request for feedback on the appropriate framework for assessing disparate impact claims under ECOA. In 2019, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a proposed disparate impact rule that purports to align HUD’s 2013 disparate impact rule with the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., a landmark Fair Housing Act case. HUD’s proposed rule has been the subject of significant controversy, with consumer advocacy groups arguing that it goes beyond the Supreme Court’s decision and that the heightened pleading standards outlined in the proposed rule would impermissibly extinguish the viability of disparate impact claims in the future. And recently, several of the largest banks and non-bank mortgage lenders, along with several trade associations, have asked HUD to hold off on finalizing the rule and bring key stakeholders together to discuss the disparate impact framework. Nevertheless, HUD has indicated that it plans to move forward with the implementation of the rule. If the CFPB outlines a framework for assessing disparate impact claims under ECOA that is different than the framework HUD ultimately implements, this could lead to significant uncertainty for the mortgage industry, because it is subject to both ECOA and the Fair Housing Act.

The RFI also seeks comments on whether and how the Bureau should clarify its interpretation of ECOA and Regulation B to facilitate innovation in the context of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), such as by modifying adverse action notice requirements in connection with credit underwriting decisions based in part on models using AI or ML. This request comes just weeks after the CFPB published a blog post addressing how adverse action notice requirements under ECOA and Regulation B apply to AI-driven credit decisions. The blog post suggests that the existing official commentary to the Regulation B allows for some flexibility in how creditors explain decisions to applicants. But the CFPB is interested in understanding how creditors are determining the “principal reasons” for a denial, and how to best convey those reasons. Accordingly, in the blog post, the CFPB encouraged institutions to use its regulatory sandbox, trial disclosure program, and no-action letter process to explore creative ways of informing consumers of the reasons for denial when using complex AI/ML algorithms. The RFI is an opportunity for entities to suggest other ways for the Bureau to clarify its interpretation of ECOA.
Continue Reading CFPB Seeks Input on Fair Lending Laws and Interpretations to Help Foster Innovation and Prevent Credit Discrimination