Earlier this month, the Bureau released its Summer 2019 edition of Supervisory Highlights.  This is the second edition issued under Bureau Director Kathy Kraninger, who was confirmed to a five-year term in December 2018.  The report covers examinations that were generally completed between December 2018 and March 2019 and, as such, is the first edition of Supervisory Highlights to cover examination activities that occurred during Kraninger’s tenure as Director.  This edition is much the same as previous editions, but unlike many past versions, it does not address any mortgage servicing-related findings.  Instead the report focuses on, among other things, UDAAPs (including, notably, an abusiveness finding), furnishing of consumer report information, and technical regulatory violations.  The report also details supervision program developments.

Remarkably, there is no mention of any public enforcement action resulting from supervisory examination work.  It is standard practice for the Bureau to use these reports to tout both public and nonpublic remedial actions that stemmed from examinations—but here we don’t see that, and it is not clear whether that is because none of the enforcement actions the Bureau has taken as of late actually came out of supervisory exams or if they chose not to highlight remedial actions for some other reason. 
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While banks must be prudent and follow applicable regulations, the latest guidelines from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency may allow banks to justify a nuanced asset dissipation or depletion underwriting program, so long as it is backed by analysis.

On July 23, 2019, the OCC issued a bulletin reminding its regulated institutions to use safe and sound banking practices when underwriting a residential mortgage loan based on the applicant’s assets. While the bulletin does not provide much satisfaction for those seeking safe harbors or any specific guidance, it provides certain hints at what the OCC will look for in an examination.

Asset dissipation underwriting (or asset amortization or depletion underwriting) is a way for mortgage lenders to calculate a stream of funds derived from an applicant’s assets that could be available for loan payments, in addition to income (if any) received from employment or other sources. The bulletin notes that while the OCC’s regulated institutions have prudently administered asset depletion models for many years, examiners have seen an uptick that is unsupported by credit risk management practices and insufficiently compliant with existing regulations and guidelines.

One such existing regulation, which the bulletin mentions in a footnote, is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Ability to Repay/Qualified Mortgage (QM) Rule, applicable to most closed-end residential mortgage loans. That Rule allows a mortgage lender to consider an applicant’s current or reasonably expected assets in determining his/her ability to repay a mortgage loan, so long as the lender verifies the assets through financial institution statements or other reliable documents. Still, mortgage lenders must – when making QMs or non-QMs – calculate a debt-to-income ratio (DTI). (Non-QM lenders could also use a residual income figure.) Accordingly, if lenders are relying on an applicant’s assets, the lenders must come up with a monthly amount available for mortgage payments. However, unlike the Rule’s Appendix Q, which regulates how lenders may consider various types of income when making general QMs, neither the Rule nor Appendix Q specifies any requirements for unacceptable types of assets, discounts of asset values based on liquidity, amortization periods, or rate-of-return estimates.

While the OCC bulletin does not directly fill in any of those blanks, it does provide some clues.
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Legalization of certain cannabis-related activities by over 30 states has led to a surge in companies that grow and produce cannabis and related products. However, banks and other financial services companies have been hesitant to serve this growing population of potential customers due to conflicting statutes and enforcement policies under federal law. On Thursday, March 28, 2019, the Financial Services Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives took a step toward clearing some ambiguity, at least for federally insured financial institutions.

The Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2019 (“SAFE Act”), which the Committee approved on a vote of 45-15, with 11 of the panel’s Republican members voting in favor, has been cleared for consideration by the full House. The SAFE Act would, if enacted, provide a safe harbor against retaliatory enforcement action by federal bank regulators directed at banks (including federal branches of non-U.S. banks), savings associations, and credit unions that provide services to cannabis businesses or service providers. In addition, the SAFE Act would prohibit federal regulators from discouraging depository institutions from offering financial services, including loans, to an account holder on the basis that the account holder is a cannabis-related business or service provider; an employee, owner, or operator of a cannabis-related business; or an owner or operator of real estate or equipment leased to a cannabis-related business. Furthermore, the SAFE Act would provide that officers, directors, and employees of depository institutions and the Federal Reserve Banks may not be held liable under federal law or regulations based solely on their provision of financial services to cannabis-related businesses or for investing any income derived from such businesses. The protections would apply only to cannabis-related businesses located in states, political subdivisions of states, or an Indian country where local law permits the cultivation, production, manufacture, sale, transportation, distribution, or purchase of cannabis. 
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Earlier this week, the Bureau released the Winter 2019 edition of Supervisory Highlights.  This marks the first edition issued under the CFPB’s new Director, Kathy Kraninger, who was confirmed to a five-year term in December.  The report describes observations from examinations that were generally completed between June and November 2018 and summarizes recent publicly-released enforcement actions and guidance.

Like the sole edition of Supervisory Highlights issued under Acting Director Mick Mulvaney’s tenure, this edition emphasizes that “it is important to keep in mind that institutions are subject only to the requirements of relevant laws and regulations,” and that the purpose of disseminating Supervisory Highlights is to “help institutions better understand” how the Bureau examines them for compliance—statements that signal a shift in how the Bureau approaches its supervisory role.
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The California legislature was active in 2018, enacting several new requirements and provisions applicable to the financial services industry. Those requirements include an important and comprehensive privacy regime (the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018, or CCPA), which establishes new protections for personal information that covered commercial enterprises collect. The CCPA becomes effective January 1,

Oversight of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Bureau) by the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to become more aggressive when the 116th Congress convenes in January 2019. On December 11, 2018, members of the new Democratic House majority nominated Representative Maxine Waters to chair the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees the Bureau. During Rep. Waters’ time as ranking member on the Committee, she heavily criticized many of the changes Acting Director Mick Mulvaney made at the Bureau. Mayer Brown summarized those changes in a recent Legal Update.

As chair, Rep. Waters will set the Committee agenda, enabling her to turn her criticism into more direct pressure on the Bureau and its new Director Kathleen Kraninger. Proposed legislation sponsored by the incoming chair may hold some clues to the actions the Committee may take.

In September 2018, Rep. Waters introduced the Consumers First Act. The bill is largely designed to restore the Bureau to how it looked and functioned before Acting Director Mulvaney’s tenure. Some of its major topics include the following:
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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently proposed amendments to its earlier policy for issuing no-action letters, and proposed a process for participating in a so-called regulatory “sandbox,” which would provide certainty in or exemptions from complying with certain federal consumer protection laws. Comments on the proposals are due by February 19, 2019.

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Last week the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (“BCFP” or “Bureau”) issued guidance on the operations of financial institutions and other supervised entities in the wake of major disasters and emergencies. The guidance explains that supervised entities have flexibility under the existing regulatory framework to take action that could benefit affected consumers.

This is not the first time the Bureau has issued guidance on this topic. Last year, the Bureau released a statement on Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and another on Hurricane Maria. Unlike the prior guidance, the statement released last week does not address a particular emergency or disaster but applies to emergencies in general.

The new guidance echoes prior guidance by providing examples in which regulations allow flexibility. For instance:

  • Although RESPA’s Regulation X generally prohibits residential mortgage servicers from offering a loss mitigation option to borrowers based on an evaluation of an incomplete application, the guidance notes servicers may nonetheless offer short-term loss mitigation options. Because it could be difficult for consumers impacted by a disaster to obtain and submit the necessary documents to complete a timely application, this exception may allow servicers to better assist those borrowers.
  • Although ECOA’s Regulation B generally requires creditors to provide first-lien loan applicants with copies of appraisals or other written valuations promptly upon completion, or three business days prior to consummation or account opening, whichever is earlier, the guidance notes that the applicant generally may waive that timing requirement and agree to receive the copy at or before consummation or account opening (except where otherwise prohibited by law). That exception may allow supervised entities to give consumers impacted by a disaster quicker access to credit.

Unlike prior guidance that expressly “encouraged” supervised entities to take these steps, this latest guidance only states that supervised entities are permitted to use the flexibility.
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The Summer 2018 edition of Supervisory Highlights –the first one the BCFP has issued under Mick Mulvaney’s leadership – is much the same as previous editions. In it, the Bureau describes recent supervisory observations in various industries, and summarizes recent public enforcement actions as well as supervision program developments.

One aspect of the report that is notably different, however, is the introductory language. In prior regular editions of Supervisory Highlights, the report’s introduction would emphasize the corrective action that the Bureau had required of supervised institutions. It would highlight the amount of total restitution to consumers and the number of consumers affected by supervisory activities, and would note the millions of dollars imposed in civil money penalties.

This new version eliminates all of that discussion from the introduction. Instead, the Bureau has added language emphasizing that “institutions are subject only to the requirements of relevant laws and regulations” and that the purpose of disseminating these Supervisory Highlights is to “help institutions better understand how the Bureau examines institutions” to help industry limit risks to consumers.

The first sentence of the report, which in previous iterations used to say that the Bureau is “committed to a consumer financial marketplace that is fair, transparent, and competitive, and that works for all consumers” now says the Bureau is committed to a marketplace that is “free, innovative, competitive, and transparent, where the rights of all parties are protected by the rule of law, and where consumers are free to choose the products and services that best fit their individual needs.”

Ultimately, time will tell whether this is simply rhetoric or if the Bureau’s supervisory and enforcement posture will be dramatically different from that under Mulvaney’s predecessor.
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On July 26, 2018, the Federal Reserve Board (“FRB”) announced the launch of a new publication called the Consumer Compliance Supervision Bulletin. Similar to the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection’s (“BCFP”) Supervisory Highlights, the new publication summarizes examiners’ observations from recent supervisory activities and offers guidance on what supervised institutions can do to address consumer compliance risks. The first bulletin focuses on three areas: fair lending, unfair or deceptive acts or practices (“UDAP”), and recent regulatory and policy developments.
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