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FinCEN Extends Temporary Beneficial Ownership Rule Relief for Older Autorenewing Products

The temporary exception that FinCEN extended to autorenewing CDs and loans established prior to the May 11, 2018 compliance effective date of its beneficial ownership requirements was scheduled to expire on August 9, 2018.  On August 8, FinCEN published a short release in which it announced the extension of this relief through September 8, 2018.  FinCEN noted that it was providing this extension in order to further consider the issues raised by the application of these aspects of its Customer Due Diligence (CDD) rules to such products.

As a reminder, this exception only applies to CDs and loans that (i) automatically rollover or renew and (ii) were established prior to May 11, 2018.  Such accounts or loans established subsequent to this date (and older accounts that are renewed on new or modified terms) are fully subject to the CDD rules, and all accounts are subject to its general due diligence and monitoring requirements.  In particular, institutions should continue to collect or update beneficial ownership information as other “risk events” warrant for particular customers–including those whose autorenewing CDs or loans or other accounts were established prior to May 11, 2018.  FinCEN has given as an example of such risk or “trigger” events an unexplained spike in cross-border wire transfers.  Moreover, as we noted previously, OFAC’s strict liability framework continues to apply to any U.S. person that does business with a sanctioned party, so institutions that do not collect beneficial ownership information may be exposed to this type of risk.

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Fair Debt Collection – In Writing, and We Mean It

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals continues to contribute to the case law defining which violations of procedural statutes constitute an injury-in-fact under Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, ––– U.S. ––––, 136 S.Ct. 1540, 1547, 194 L.Ed.2d 635 (2016).

In Macy v GC Services Limited Partnership, it holds that Plaintiffs alleged sufficient concrete harm to satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement for standing where the defendant debt collector’s letter omitted to inform the plaintiffs, credit card holders, that it was obligated to provide certain information only if Plaintiffs disputed their debts in writing. See 2018 WL 3614580 (6th Cir. July 30, 2018).

At issue was the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act’s requirements that a debt collector provide a consumer with a notice that contains:

(4) a statement that if the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within [a] thirty-day period that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed, the debt collector will obtain verification of the debt or a copy of a judgment against the consumer and a copy of such verification or judgment will be mailed to the consumer by the debt collector; and (5) a statement that, upon the consumer’s written request within [a] thirty-day period, the debt collector will provide the consumer with the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a) (emphases added).

The Defendant’s letter omitted to mention the writing requirement, instead simply stating, “if you do dispute all or any portion of this debt within 30 days of receiving this letter, we will obtain verification of the debt from our client and send it to you. Or, if within 30 days of receiving this letter you request the name and address of the original creditor, we will provide it to you in the event it differs from our client, Synchrony Bank.”

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Restricting Corporate Authority to File Bankruptcy

A dramatic recreation of the fight over corporate authority to file bankruptcy.

The Fifth Circuit recently issued an opinion that federal bankruptcy law does not prohibit a bona fide shareholder from exercising its right to vote against a bankruptcy filing notwithstanding that such shareholder was also an unsecured creditor. This represents the latest successful attempt to preclude bankruptcy through golden shares or bankruptcy blocking provisions in corporate authority documents.

In this post on the Bankruptcy Cave, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner attorney, Jay Krystinik, analyzes how the Fifth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Bankruptcy Case Due to Lack of Corporate Authority to File (and potentially provides a blueprint for veto powers over bankruptcy filings).

“There is no prohibition in federal bankruptcy law against granting a preferred shareholder the right to prevent a voluntary bankruptcy filing just because the shareholder also happens to be an unsecured creditor by virtue of an unpaid consulting bill. . . . In sum, there is no compelling federal law rationale for depriving a bona fide equity holder of its voting rights just because it is also a creditor of the corporation.”

The Fifth Circuit was careful to limit its holding to the facts of this case. “A different result might be warranted if a creditor with no stake in the company held the right. So too might a different result be warranted if there were evidence that a creditor took an equity stake simply as a ruse to guarantee a debt. We leave those questions for another day.”

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2017 Landscape of U.S. Banking Industry

July 24, 2018

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The U.S. depository industry has continued its path of consolidation, but as of the end of 2017, there are still over 5,600 banks chartered in the United States.  This represents a decline of just under 3,000 charters from 10-years earlier, as mergers, receiverships and a near complete dearth of de novo activity have continued to shrink the number of banks.

As of December 31, 2017, we had 5,679 depository institutions with $17.5 trillion in total assets.  That represents a decline of 243 institutions an increase of $600 million in assets since the end of 2016, and a decline of 2,865 institutions and an increase of $4.4 trillion since the end of 2007.

The four largest depository institutions by asset size (JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Citi) hold $7.03 trillion (up slightly from $6.84 trillion at the end of 2016).  Those four now represent 40.1% of the industry’s assets, down slightly from 40.5% at the end of 2016; but up from 34.8% ten years earlier.

There are 120 additional banks that have assets greater than $10 billion, holding $7.45 trillion.  Both of those numbers are materially higher than one year earlier; at the end of 2016, there were 111 banks in this category with $6.98 trillion in assets.  The 124 largest banks now hold 82.7% of the industry’s assets.  Ten years ago, there were 119 institutions with more than $10 billion in assets, and they collectively held 77.6% of the industry’s assets.

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SEC Increases Smaller Reporting Company Threshold

The Securities and Exchange Commission amended its definition of “smaller reporting company” (an “SRC”) increasing the public float threshold (cap on portion of shares held by public investors) to $250 million, up from the prior $75 million threshold.  Companies with a public float of up to $700 million may also qualify for SRC status under the new rule if their annual revenues are less than $100 million.

Benefits of SRC Status

The less rigorous reporting requirements for SRC’s provide a number of benefits to qualifying companies.  The Independent Community Bankers of America estimates that SRC status—thus exemption from the 404(b) reporting requirements—could cut audit fees for qualifying bank holding companies by as much as 50%.   Included in the lesser filing requirements for SRCs are the following scaled disclosure accommodations:

  • Audited historical financial statement filing requirements are reduced to two years (rather than three for larger reporting companies)
  • Less rigorous disclosure for annual and quarterly reports, proxy statements and registration statements
  • Two years of income statements (rather than three)
  • Two years of changes in stockholders’ equity (rather than three)
  • Reduced compensation disclosures
  • No stock performance graph required
  • Not required to make quantitative and qualitative disclosures about market risk

Methods of Calculation

A company’s public float, the total market value of the company’s outstanding common stock (voting and non-voting) held by non-affiliates or non-insiders, is the amount reflected on the first page of the company’s 10-K as the “aggregate market value of the common stock held by nonaffiliates of the registrant.”   The public float is measured as of June 30th each year.

To calculate “annual revenues” for the $100 million SRC limit, a financial institution must calculate its gross revenues earned from traditional banking activities.

Interest income

+ non-interest income

– gains and losses on securities

= annual revenues

The calculation of annual revenues is from the most recent 12 months for which audited financials are available.  We have no reason to believe based on the issuance of this new rule that the SEC will change the calculation of annual revenues for financial institutions.

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Negotiability of HELOC Notes under Florida Law

In Third Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass’n of Cleveland v. Koulouvaris, No. 2D17-773, 2018 WL 2271112 (Fla. 2d DCA 2018), Florida’s Second District Court of appeal analyzed, in the context of trial exhibit authentication, whether the note for a home equity line of credit (“HELOC”) was negotiable.

The Second District Court of Appeal considered whether it was proper for the Pasco County, Florida trial court to involuntarily dismiss Third Federal’s claim for foreclosure of a HELOC mortgage based on an objection that the HELOC note was nonnegotiable.  At trial, Third Federal attempted to admit the note as self-authenticating, endorsed commercial paper.  The borrowers countered that because the HELOC note was nonnegotiable, self-authentication did not apply.  Because Third Federal made no further effort to authenticate, the trial court sustained the borrowers’ objection, and the borrowers’ subsequent motion to dismiss was granted.  Third Federal appealed.

The Second District Court of Appeal sided with the borrowers.  It noted that self-authenticating commercial paper is an exception to Florida’s requirement that a document be authenticated prior to its admission into evidence.  That rule, however, does not apply where the paper is not an unconditional promise to pay a fixed amount of money.  By its own terms, the subject HELOC note only established an obligation for the borrowers to repay whatever they might borrow, without any guarantee that they would ever borrow a single dollar.  Thus, the note’s failure to require payment of a fixed amount meant the note was nonnegotiable and, as such, was not self-authenticating.  Without proof of authentication, the note was inadmissible, and the trial court’s decision to grant the borrowers’ motion to dismiss was proper.

Although it is fairly obvious, the negotiability attributes of a HELOC are similar to a home equity conversion mortgage (“HECM”) and thus this case would likely apply to reverse mortgages too.  It is expected that borrower’s counsel will cite the decision for this purpose.  Accordingly, it is recommended that trial counsel in both HELOC and HECM matters be prepared to not rely on an endorsement of the note for authenticity, but rather should elicit live testimony supported by admissible documentary evidence that the note was assigned.  A prepared witness should be able to authenticate a HELOC or HECM note.

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FinCEN’s Temporary Relief for Autorenewable CDs and Loans

In a unique administrative ruling under delegated “exceptive” authority, on May 16, 2018 FinCEN issued relief from its new beneficial ownership requirements through at least August 9, 2018, for “certain financial products and services that automatically rollover or renew (i.e., certificate of deposit (CD) or loan accounts) and were established before the Beneficial Ownership Rule’s Applicability Date, May 11, 2018.”

FinCEN acknowledged in its notice that “some covered institutions have not treated such rollovers or renewals as new accounts and have established automatic processes to continue the banking relationship with the customer.”

The exception is effective retroactively from May 11, 2018 and expires on August 9, 2018.  FinCEN added that it was considering whether additional relief may be appropriate for such products and services established prior to May 11, 2018 and expected to rollover or renew thereafter.

We will explore how we got here, but first, some practical considerations:

  • Institutions that have already set into motion new systems, procedures, and communications to collect this info on renewable loans and CDs established prior to May 11 will need to decide whether to discontinue these measures, or alternatively to conclude there is now greater flexibility for handling customers that do not adhere to them – e.g., by failing to submit a completed ownership certification form.  The prevailing view among our clients seems to be the latter.
  • Institutions that were still rushing to implement such measures will need to decide whether to put these plans on hold or to continue to develop them as to loans and CDs established prior to May 11, 2018.  The preference within the industry in this regard appears to be a function of how far along these plans are into production, and the extent to which they constitute separate solutions specific to these existing account types.
  • Any discussions with examiners and auditors about any changes to implementation plans in light of this release should be direct and documented.  We would encourage institutions to think broadly and generously about the purpose of these rules and the BSA generally, and what risks to the bank (such as sanctions exposure or fraud) might be mitigated by the spirit if not the letter of FinCEN’s new rules.  OFAC’s strict liability framework for doing business with sanctioned parties is unaffected by the relief afforded by FinCEN’s May 16 notice.
  • Institutions should consider ways to continue socializing their views to FinCEN, through trade associations or otherwise, as this interim relief appears directly responsive to industry feedback such as that provided in an April 27 hearing held by the House Financial Services Committee (e.g., “. . . there is no reason to believe that an auto-renewal is evidence that a change in beneficial ownership might have occurred. The FAQ 12 guidance is further complicated by the fact that these products include contractual provisions requiring the financial institution to auto renew them without interruption.”)

Let’s revisit how this unfolded as a regulatory matter.

The supplemental FAQs issued by FinCEN on April 3, 2018 provided certain interpretations of its own final rules, originally published on May 11, 2016, including that it believed a bank established a “new account” each time an autorenewing loan or CD renewed (see FAQ 12).  FinCEN opined at that time on ways a bank could comply with the Beneficial Ownership certification requirements implicated by the opening of a “new account” for a legal entity customer in such cases, namely by (1) providing the required information and certification on FinCEN’s new form or its equivalent once and (2) agreeing at that time to notify the bank of any change in such information going forward.  FinCEN’s view then was that a customer’s agreement to notify a bank of any changes in its beneficial ownership information can be considered a “certification” of this information for purposes of subsequent rollovers of renewable products.

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Reverse Mortgage Update: New York Law Mandates New Foreclosure Notices and Certificate of Merit

New York has signed into law an amendment redefining a reverse mortgage as a “home loan.” With this amendment, statutory pre-foreclosure ninety day notices (RPAPL 1304) and a “certificate of merit” (CPLR 3012-b) will be required in all New York reverse mortgage foreclosures. Additionally, New York’s foreclosure settlement conference law (CPLR 3408) now incorporates by reference the new “home loan” definition.

The legislation was signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on April 12, 2018 but “shall be deemed to have been in full force and effect on and after April 20, 2017.” However, the pre-foreclosure notice requirement specific to reverse mortgages has an effective date of May 12, 2018.

Under the new legislation, for actions commenced after May 12, 2018, lenders, assignees or servicers are required to provide a pre-foreclosure notice at least 90 days before commencing legal action against the borrower or borrowers at the property address and any other addresses of record. The language of the notice is set by statute.

Although the 90-day waiting period does not apply, or ceases to apply under certain circumstances (i.e. where a borrower no longer occupies the residence as a principal dwelling),the 90 Day Notice is a condition precedent which, if not strictly complied with, may subject a foreclosure action to dismissal. Further, the foreclosing party is required by statute to deliver the notices by first class and certified mail. Relevant case law makes clear that evidencing the proof of mailing may require tracking documentation for first class mail and certified receipts for notices sent by certified mail.

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The Atlanta Banking Landscape

Jonathan and I discuss the evolving landscape for banking in our hometown, Atlanta, Georgia, in this latest episode of The Bank Account.

the-bank-accountSince the beginning of 2018, there has been steady stream of significant deals affecting the Atlanta MSA.

  • January – Ameris Bancorp’s acquisition of Hamilton State Bancshares for $405 million, priced at 2.05x tangible book;
  • March – Renasant Corporation’s acquisition of Brand Group Holdings for $453 million, priced at 2.35x tangible book;
  • April – CenterState Bank Corporation’s purchase of Charter Financial Corporation for $362 million, priced at 1.95x tangible book;
  • April – National Commerce Corporation’s purchase of Landmark Bancshares for $115 million, priced at 2.22x tangible book; and
  • May – Cadence Bancorporation’s purchase of State Bank Financial Corporation for $1.4 billion, priced at 2.48x tangible book.

The landscape looking forward is significantly changed.  Below is a pro forma list of the community banks (for these purposes, banks with total deposits of less than $15 billion) with the largest remaining presence in the Atlanta MSA.

Bank Atlanta MSA Deposits Percentage of Total Deposits in Atlanta MSA
Fidelity Bank $3,062,430 78%
Renasant Bank (with Brand) 2,740,319 30%
United Community Bank 2,533,770 27%
Atlantic Capital Bank 1,572,642 74%
Ameris Bank (with Hamilton) 1,416,141 18%
Cadence Bank (with State Bank) 1,271,128 11%
United Bank 980,658 84%
National Bank of Commerce (with First Landmark) 754,549 25%
Metro City Bank 740,409 78%
CenterState Bank (with Charter) 711,779 8%
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Regulators Update BSA/AML Exam Manual Sections

Just in time for the effective date of FinCEN’s Customer Due Diligence (CDD) and Beneficial Ownership Rules, on May 11, 2018 the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) published updates to its Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering Examination ManualThe FFIEC is an interagency body comprised of representatives of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, the FDIC, OCC, CFPB, NCUA, and state banking regulators.  The agencies’ changes (1) replace existing CDD sections of the manual and (2) add new Beneficial Ownership overview and exam procedures sections, in each case corresponding to the new CDD and Beneficial Ownership requirements.

The publication of this new content was announced through separate press releases by the FDIC, OCC, and NCUA.  The OCC’s release (OCC Bulletin 2018-12) makes the technical point that the new CDD content replaces pages 56-59 of the FFIEC manual, last updated in 2014, and the FDIC’s release (FIL-26-2018) adds that the new sections will be incorporated into the manual in its next update.  The FFIEC’s examination manual is used by the bank regulators in conducting supervisory BSA/AML exams and features step-by-step review procedures to be used by examiners, consistent with the FFIEC’s statutory purpose of establishing uniform forms and regulatory examination processes.

One doesn’t generally expect new substantive guidance or interpretation to emerge from the FFIEC examination procedures, but a review of this new content emphasizes the following:

(1) BSA/AML exams including scope periods on or after May 11, 2018 will feature scrutiny of new accounts opened on or after that date.  At this point, the CDD and Beneficial Ownership rules are live and in full effect, and institutions will be expected to adhere to them.  For example, the revised examiner’s guide specifies:  “3. On the basis of a risk assessment, prior examination reports, and a review of the bank’s audit findings, select a sample of new accounts opened for legal entity customers since May 11, 2018 to review for compliance with the Beneficial Ownership Rule.”  The transition and implementation period for this rule is officially over.

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