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FinCEN’s Temporary Relief for Autorenewable CDs and Loans

May 30, 2018

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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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Regulators Update BSA/AML Exam Manual Sections

May 15, 2018

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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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GDPR Considerations for Community Banks

May 9, 2018

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The May 25, 2018, compliance effective date of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is just weeks away, and many U.S.-based companies have at least by now taken stock of their EU customer base and operations, and developed a baseline set of compliance plans.  For many, that might only entail a data inventory and controls that would ensure that changes to the company’s business plan, advertising strategies, and physical footprint would be assessed for GDPR compliance in advance, just as with any other area of compliance.  However, for companies whose business relies upon the gathering and use of consumer data, the GDPR implementation process has been onerous.

In particular, as recent American Banker coverage has described, this compliance effort is hitting financial institutions of all sizes hard.  While the exact nature and magnitude of enforcement exposure is still unclear, U.S. banks should take a broad view of their overseas business – including where U.S. customers temporarily work or travel – in order to stay ahead of GDPR compliance issues.

For U.S.-based small businesses, including community banks, the conventional wisdom has focused on whether the institution solicits or services EU customers.  Unfortunately this approach may cause banks or other businesses to underestimate their potential exposure.

For purposes of the GDPR, compliance obligations for companies without a physical presence in the EU are generally only implicated if the company (1) offers goods and services in the EU or (2) monitors the behavior of EU customers (referred to affectionately as “data subjects” in the regulation).

Of particular concern for community banks is whether tourists, foreign work assignments, or overseas service members could cause the bank to become subject to GDPR obligations.

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FinCEN Provides Relief to CDD Obligations for Existing Customers

April 5, 2018

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The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) published long-awaited additional Frequently Asked Questions on April 3, 2018 (the “Guidance”) relating to its Customer Due Diligence (CDD) Rule, which FinCEN promulgated pursuant to the Bank Secrecy Act (the “CDD Rule”).  This comes at a time when most covered institutions are in the final stages of implementing plans to comply with the CDD Rule by its May 11, 2018 compliance applicability date.  FinCEN previously published technical amendments to the Rule on September 29, 2017 and an initial set of FAQs on July 19, 2016.  While such Guidance does not have the weight of authority of statute or regulation, it has traditionally helped to form the basis for examination and enforcement expectations.  Here we will focus on themes in the new Guidance relating to application of the rule to existing customers.

As a reminder, the CDD Rule was originally published on May 11, 2016 after years of public hearings and comment periods.  The rule sets forth CDD as a “fifth pillar” of a BSA/AML compliance program in addition to those established by the Bank Secrecy Act itself:  system of internal controls, the appointment of a responsible officer, training, and independent testing.  CDD entails upfront due diligence and ongoing monitoring, and this rule establishes the collection of Beneficial Ownership information as a required element of CDD for legal entity customers.  In releasing the CDD Rule, FinCEN emphasized that CDD is not technically a new requirement but has always been an expected part of a BSA/AML program that results in effective suspicious activity monitoring and risk mitigation.

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CFPB Issues Balloon Mortgage and Other Small Creditor Ability-to-Repay Relief

May 29, 2013

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On May 29, 2013, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a final rule amending the Ability-to-Repay (ATR) and Qualified Mortgage (QM) rules it issued on January 10, 2013.  Within this final rule are two new categories of small creditor QMs.  The first, for small creditor portfolio loans, was adopted exactly as proposed alongside the January ATR rule and permits small creditors in all markets to make portfolio loans that are QMs even though the borrower’s DTI ratio exceeds the general QM 43% cap.  As a reminder, small creditors for these purposes are those with less than $2 billion in assets at the end of the preceding calendar year that, together with their affiliates, made 500 or fewer covered first-lien mortgages during that year.

The second new QM is a welcome even if only temporary category of balloon mortgages.  Unlike the small creditor portfolio QM, this interim QM was not an express part of the so-called “concurrent proposal” issued in January.  This is simply but significantly a QM that meets all of the existing rural balloon-payment QM requirements except the controversial limitation that the creditor operate primarily in “rural” or “underserved” areas. 

As written, the new balloon QM category expires two years after the ATR rules take effect on January 10, 2014.  The CFPB characterizes this two-year window as a “transition period” useful for two purposes:  (1) it will give the CFPB time to consider whether its definitions of “rural” and “underserved” are in fact too narrow for the needs of the rural balloon-payment QM rule and (2) it will give creditors time to “facilitate small creditors’ conversion to adjustable-rate mortgage products or other alternatives to balloon-payment loans.”  The CFPB took pains to argue that Congress “made a clear policy choice” not to extend QM status to balloon mortgages outside of rural and underserved areas, and the agency reiterated its belief that adjustable-rate mortgages pose less risk to consumers than balloons:  “The Bureau believes that balloon-payment mortgages are particularly risky for consumers because the consumer must rely on the creditors’ nonbinding assurances that the loan will be refinanced before the balloon payment becomes due.  Even a creditor with the best of intentions may find itself unable to refinance a loan when a balloon payment becomes due.”  For these reasons, creditors may expect future CFPB scrutiny intended to bury, not save, balloon mortgages.   

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The CFPB’s New Mortgage Rules: Themes and Responses

January 21, 2013

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One can’t fault the CFPB’s production level in the past two weeks.  Since January 10, the Bureau has issued seven distinct final rules – the lion’s share of what it considers “a single, comprehensive undertaking” to implement Dodd-Frank mortgage reforms.  By our count, this work includes over 3,100 pages of rulemaking text not to mention the press releases and the various summary materials and social media campaigns.  Final rules were issued on the following:

As a reminder, we’ll provide an overview of these rules and a focused analysis of the Ability to Repay and Qualified Mortgage Rules during a free webinar on Tuesday, January 22, at 3 pm Eastern, and future webinars will unpack the rest of these new requirements.  Still to come in 2013 are the Bureau’s final rules on TILA-RESPA disclosure integration. 

A couple of themes dominate this wave of rules.  First, it’s an understatement to say that Dodd-Frank and these Bureau regulations institutionalize the GSEs and tight prevailing credit standards.  Is anyone surprised that these rules effectively kill no-doc and NINJA loans?  The rules effectively draw a box around the only mortgage loans most creditors are willing to make now anyway.  This convergence may limit the Fair Lending and CRA implications of the rules themselves, as there is less room than ever for discretion and exception.  Other themes include the Bureau’s efforts to accommodate the realities of rural markets and smaller creditors and servicers as well as its sensible preference for loans held in portfolio (i.e., skin in the game). 

On the other hand, the new Servicing standards are going to demand a high level of customer service and multi-party coordination.  We attended both the Baltimore and Atlanta release parties (a.k.a. Field Hearings) for the biggest of these new rules (including Servicing).  One take-home could not be missed:  in the wake of the financial crisis, the Bureau continues to emerge as a sounding board for the distressed mortgage borrower and an advocate for consumer rights both real and imagined.  Its public relations efforts this year on the mortgage front are undoubtedly going to lead to more complaints and more lawsuits against lenders. 

The good news is that the Bureau can’t compete with your own relationship with your customer base.  And the easiest complaints to resolve are those that are never filed.  So to avoid paying for the sins of crisis-era lenders and practices that are now long gone, take a lesson from the CFPB and stay ahead this year on customer service and your institution’s brand.  Reinforce the distinction between your organization and the abuses that gave rise to the Bureau, and you may actually benefit from its rules.

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CFPB’s Final Rule on Escrow Requirements for Higher-Priced Mortgages Reinforces Its View of the Big Lender-Small Lender Divide

January 14, 2013

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We previously covered the CFPB’s issuance of final rules on Ability-to-Repay and Qualified Mortgages together with the expansion of HOEPA coverage under the Dodd-Frank Act (DFA). Here we review the final escrow rules and suggest that they reveal a line the Bureau intends to consistently draw—under its exemption authority—between large and small mortgage lenders (at $2 billion). The Bureau’s final escrow rules take effect on June 1, 2013.

“Higher-priced mortgage loans” are a class of mortgages carrying APRs that are comparatively high but not high enough to trigger the full HOEPA protections implicated by “high-cost mortgages” (a.k.a. “HOEPA loans”). Under 2008 Federal Reserve amendments to Regulation Z, however, creditors must meet a number of requirements in conjunction with the origination of higher-priced mortgage loans, including the establishment and maintenance of escrow accounts for at least one year after origination. These escrow accounts set aside consumer funds on their behalf to pay property taxes, mortgage insurance premiums, and other mortgage-related insurance required by the creditor.

In its 2008 rulemaking, the Federal Reserve concluded that it was “unfair for a creditor to make a higher-priced loan without presenting the consumer a genuine opportunity to escrow.” The agency’s evidence suggested then that few subprime mortgage creditors provided for escrow accounts.

Congress liked these Fed rules enough to codify them, with certain differences, through Dodd-Frank.

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A Big Month for Mortgages and the CFPB

January 9, 2013

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January 2013 promises to be a big month for mortgages and the CFPB, as a variety of provisions of Title XIV of the Dodd-Frank Act take effect by operation of law on January 21, 2013 unless the Bureau issues final rules implementing them by then.  The Bureau has proven to be savvy in meeting its own Dodd-Frank deadlines.  We will soon find out if it is as savvy in establishing compliance deadlines for its new mortgage rules. 

Title XIV—Dodd-Frank’s “Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act”—says that its provisions take effect 18 months following the designated transfer date of July 21, 2011 unless final implementing rules have been issued by the Bureau prior to that time.  It also provides that such rules must take effect not later than 12 months after they are issued.  So the industry has circled January 21, 2014 as a potential best-case scenario on compliance dates for the following important Title XIV content:

  • Ability to Repay & “Qualified Mortgages”
  • Certain New Mortgage Servicing Requirements
  • High-Cost Mortgage Scope and Restrictions
  • Loan Originator Compensation and Qualification
  • Appraisal Standards and Disclosures

We say “potential best-case” for a few reasons.  First, the Bureau may not publish corresponding final rules in time, so these provisions could take effect by operation of law on January 21, 2013.  No one really believes that will happen, but it is possible.  Proposed rules are pending as to each of these elements.

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Board Oversight of the Compliance Function: Coaching Fundamentals

Despite all that has been made of Dodd-Frank, the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the increased focus on consumer compliance throughout the banking industry, we think that the fundamental formula for effective board oversight of the compliance function has not materially changed. We encourage directors to take stock to make sure their bank’s program is adequate. In this season of great contests on the gridiron, we would emphasize that blocking and tackling—and defense generally—remain the keys to success in this area. Be a good coach and make sure that these fundamentals are practiced at your bank.

Bank Regulatory Expectations

We start with the black-letter guidance and then read between the lines based on our experience and judgment. Each of the prudential bank regulators has outlined its expectations for board oversight of the compliance function. Although it’s stated in various ways, the basic recipe for the “compliance management system” is this:

  1. Compliance program documents and reporting
  2. Compliance audit
  3. Board and management oversight

Think of board oversight as “coaching” and the rest as blocking and tackling.

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The Future of Unlimited Deposit Insurance Coverage for Noninterest-Bearing Transaction Accounts

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act codified a form of the Transaction Account Guarantee (TAG) program initiated by the FDIC that extended unlimited deposit insurance coverage to certain no- or low-interest transaction accounts.  Under the Dodd-Frank version, which expires on December 31, 2012, there is no cap on FDIC insurance for “noninterest-bearing transaction accounts.”  As we have explained, qualifying accounts must meet the statutory definition and cannot have even the potential to be paid interest.  Congress modified this definition at the end of 2010 in order to extend coverage for IOLTA accounts (which may pay interest).

The industry is beginning to draw attention to the statutory expiration of this unlimited coverage.  As originally initiated by the FDIC in 2008, the program was intended to stabilize large deposits in a time of crisis within the financial system.  The Dodd-Frank extension of TAG was completely paid for by financial institutions under the general deposit insurance assessment framework.  Community banks have arguably benefitted the most from the unlimited coverage provisions because the corporate, non-profit, and government depositors holding most of the affected accounts may have more concerns (real or imagined) about the continued solvency of small banks than of big banks.  Without the guarantee, smaller banks may have to rely more on pricing in order to retain these depositors, potentially exposing the insurance fund to greater risk.

By one industry estimate, more than half of all TAG account balances (over $500 billion) are already held by just 19 banks over $100 billion in assets.  According to the FDIC, more than three-quarters ($191.2 billion) of Q4 2011 growth in domestic deposits was attributable to account balances subject to the guarantee.  The 10 largest insured banks accounted for 73.6 percent ($140.7 billion) of the growth in these balances during this period.  As of December 31, 2011, the average institution with less than $1 billion in assets had 15 covered accounts worth an average of $713,000.  Although liquidity is generally less of a concern than it was in 2008, these large depositors are more likely to seek loans and otherwise bank with institutions holding their TAG-size accounts.

The questions, then, are whether the industry and its regulators are unified around this issue and whether legislators will have the stomach to extend the program in an environment where initiatives seens to benefit banks are politically sensitive.  The original FDIC manifestation was optional, with participating banks paying for the coverage.  Although the Dodd-Frank version is universal, again, banks have picked up the tab through the assessment process.  Nonetheless, it is always possible that an extension of the program will be marred as a boon to banks and a burden to taxpayers.

Notwithstanding the position of former Chairman Sheila Bair and some currently within the agency that the program should only be further extended by Congress, the FDIC stands at the center of the issue and could always extend the program administratively.  FDIC’s 2008 program was authorized under the FDI Act by a determination by the Secretary of the Treasury in consultation with the FDIC and the Federal Reserve that conditions of “systemic risk” justified an exception to the least-cost-resolution requirements of the Act.  It was extended by the FDIC in 2009 as a continued response to this finding, although at that time the agency also cited as “additional authority” more general statutory language relating to its mission.  We believe there is footing for a similar, transitional extension of the program under this broader authority.  In fact, when the FDIC extended the program in 2010 through the end of that year, it reserved the right to extend the program through 2011 without additional rulemaking.  This was ultimately not necessary in light of Dodd-Frank, and we think an additional regulatory extension is unlikely to occur here without significant advocacy for it.  The Independent Community Bankers of America and the American Bankers Association, for their part, have recently outlined their views on the issue.

Meanwhile, examiners are beginning to ask how banks are planning for the expiration of the program.  Many institutions are balancing this expiration with Dodd-Frank’s repeal of the prohibition on the payment of interest on business checking accounts (and by extension Regulation Q).  Challenging as this may be in a time of regulatory uncertainty, these considerations should also be evaluated along with Regulation D’s reserve requirements (where restructured accounts may become demand deposits).

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