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CFPB Focuses on Complaint Trends & Concentrations Leveraging New Tools

August 3, 2020

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The CFPB recently announced new publicly available tools to better leverage the Complaints Database and to spot trends and concentrations of consumer complaints. If you are a data nerd, or even if you are not, it might be prudent to familiarize yourself and your teams with these new tools, as they are likely to be utilized by the Bureau and others in a variety of contexts. The industry should assume State AG’s offices and State consumer agencies will access the data in connection with their activities, including any supervision and enforcement. It is likely that consumer protection advocacy groups will analyze and utilize the data in their work. Finally, it is possible that consumer class action litigators may attempt to incorporate data trends or specific topic concentrations into their cases. Even if your institution may not be experiencing a complaint spike, noting the fact that others are, could help your team proactively refine operations procedures and mitigate risk.

Director Kraninger had promised the enhanced resources and tools last year.  In the recent press release, she noted that “these powerful new capabilities allow users to gain deeper insight into changes in the location, type, and volume of complaints over time, which provides valuable context into consumers’ experiences in the financial marketplace.”

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SCOTUS Upholds CFPB but not its Singular Director Structure

July 1, 2020

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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) is slightly less than a decade old, created in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis to enforce the nation’s consumer financial protection laws and ensure that consumer debt products are safe and transparent for the consumers who use them.  The Bureau has had only two directors, Richard Cordray and Kathleen Kraninger, with Mick Mulvaney as Acting Director in between.  SCOTUS’s recent ruling will give the president the right to fire the director at will, unless Congress acts to change CFPB to a commission structure (like the FTC).  The ruling is important but leaves a number of unanswered questions likely to spur further litigation and CFPB challenges.

Single Director Provisions and Constitutionality

Unlike many agencies, which are governed by multimember boards and commissions, the CFPB is governed by a single director, who is appointed by the president, confirmed by the Senate for a five-year term, and may only be removed for “inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.”  See 12 U.S.C. §§ 5491(c)(1),(3). This leadership structure and, by association, the constitutionality of the organization itself, was challenged in Seila Law, LLC v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 591 U.S. ___, (2020) a case on appeal from the Ninth Circuit.  In 2017, the CFPB issued a civil investigative demand (“CID”) to Seia Law LLC, a California law firm specializing in debt-related legal services.  In response to the CID, Seia Law asked the CFPB to set it aside on the grounds that the Bureau’s leadership structure was unconstitutional insofar as its single director structure violated the separations of powers.  The District Court held for the CFPB and the Ninth Circuit affirmed.  See Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Seila Law LLC, 923 F.3d 680 (9th Cir. 2019).    

The Roberts Majority Opinion

The Supreme Court of the United States vacated the judgment of the Ninth Circuit and per Chief Justice John Roberts’s majority opinion (joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh), “the CFPB’s leadership by a single individual removable only for inefficiency, neglect, or malfeasance violates the separation of powers.”  See Seila Law, 591 U.S. at 11-30.  Article II provides the president with executive powers that empower him to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”  See U.S. Const. art. II.  Time and again, precedent has confirmed that such executive powers permit the president to both appoint and remove executive officials.  In advancing the argument of the Ninth Circuit, Paul Clement, whom the Supreme Court appointed to defend the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, looked to Humphrey’s Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602 (1935), where the Supreme Court held that the structure of the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) – consisting of five members who could be removed only for cause – did not violate Article II of the Constitution.  Since the 1935 decision in Humphrey’s, the Court has recognized two exceptions to the president’s power to remove those whom he appoints: 

“Congress could create for-cause removal protections for a multimember body of experts, balanced along partisan lines, that performed legislative and judicial functions and was not to exercise any executive power; [and] [sic.] exceptions for inferior officers, who have limited duties and lack policymaking or administrative authority, such as an independent counsel.”  See Amy Howe, Opinion analysisCourt strikes down restrictions on removal of CFPB direction buy leaves bureau in place, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 29, 2020).

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CFPB Issues CARES Act Credit Reporting FAQs

June 30, 2020

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On June 16th, the CFPB issued a Compliance Aid Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) addressing the CARES Act changes to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and clarifying furnisher reporting obligations regarding consumers who have received payment assistance or forbearance. In public remarks in connection with Consumer Data Industry Association webinar released June 19, 2020 Director Kraninger highlighted the CFPB’s commitment to consumers:  “I do want to stress that we are telling struggling borrowers to reach out to their servicers to see what options are available to them. Under CFPB regulations, servicers are required to have policies and procedures in place to ensure the disclosure of the availability of CARES Act mortgage forbearance to consumers. If a consumer has an issue with their servicer, we encourage them to submit a complaint to us if the consumer can’t first resolve the matter with the servicer.” Here are few of the highlights in the FAQ that address issues which may prove the most challenging for lenders, services and furnishers and agencies.

FAQ #5 “Constructive Work” With Borrowers Encouraged.

“Even if accommodations are not required by the CARES Act or by other applicable law, the Bureau and other Federal and State agencies have encouraged financial institutions in prior guidance (the March 22, 2020 Federal Reserve Intragency Statement) to work constructively with borrowers who are or may be unable to meet their contractual payment obligations because of the effects of COVID-19.” This guidance goes to the spirit of the CARES Act to help consumers impacted by the pandemic, but also asks servicers use their best judgment in offering assistance beyond that required. Understanding borrower’s specific circumstances will be critical in assessing the reasonableness of efforts. Where personnel are applying judgment, having internal servicer guidelines for escalation to ensure uniformity and consistency may prove beneficial. Tracking and monitoring metrics and other characteristics of those loans and borrowers may also help ensure fairness.  

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CFPB Rolls Out Pilot Program Offering Advisory Opinions

June 24, 2020

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The devil is in the details.  The best intentioned new financial services rules and regulations can present challenges for compliance folks trying to implement the rules into their institutions’ existing systems and practices.  Requirements, which may seem simple in the abstract, sometimes create herculean challenges because of system limitations, programming challenges, or simple ambiguity when loaded into real world operations.  To hopefully overcome these compliance obstacles, on Thursday, June 18, 2020, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) began its trial phase of a pilot program offering advisory opinions aimed at “reduc[ing] ambiguity and increas[ing] regulatory certainty, support[ing] proactive consumer protection, and enhanc[ing] the timeliness of guidance.”  The CFPB first previewed this pilot program in March 2020 so that financial services providers could solicit provisional legal opinions on matters pertaining to the interpretation of the Bureau’s rules and laws.

Joining other agencies, like HUD who have had a no action letter procedure in place for years, the CFPB pilot will focus on four stated priorities:  (1) “Consumers are provided with timely and understandable information to make responsible decisions”; (2) “Identify outdated, unnecessary or unduly burdensome regulations in order to reduce regulatory burdens”; (3) “Consistency in enforcement of Federal consumer financial law in order to promote fair competition”; and (4) “Ensuring markets for consumer financial products and services operate transparently and efficiently to facilitate access and innovation.”

As the pilot program is new and untested, the CFPB will pick which company questions to answer based on a review of the various petitions, granting priority to those questions that are novel and whose answers might benefit those in the greater consumer financial services community.  The Bureau has said it will consider questions such as those arising during CFPB exams and those that have not otherwise been authoritatively addressed.  In this regard, the CFPB noted the following factors that will drive its prioritization of requests:

  • The request’s alignment with the CFPB’s statutory objectives;
  • The scope of the impact on consumers if the CFPB is to provide an answer or interpretation;
  • In the event where two regulators share concurrent jurisdiction over a specific consumer protection measure, whether the CFPB’s advisory opinion will impact the manner in which the other regulator regulates the same measure; and
  • The impact the advisory opinion would have on the CFPB’s existing resources and personnel.
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CFPB Joint Advisory Committee Meeting – COVID-19 Impact Trends

May 7, 2020

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Special populations need extra support during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CFPB is committed to providing real time, easily understood consumer education materials as well as clear guidelines for financial services companies. The Bureau stands ready to prosecute bad actors for UDAAP violations in the marketplace through enforcement and referrals of UDAAP violations. These were three themes offered by Director Kathleen Kraninger in public meeting remarks. And not to bury the lead, she noted the Bureau’s on-going monitoring of consumer impacts with the Department of Justice, Treasury, the FTC and state Attorneys’ General.

On Friday, May 1, 2020, the CFPB convened a joint session of its several Advisory Committees, including the Consumer Advisory Board, the Community Bank Advisory Council, the Credit Union Advisory Council and the Academic Research Council.  The meeting involved presentations from staff focused on (1) consumer complaint analysis and trends, (2) household and market impacts and (3) special populations concerns. Public questions and comments were entertained relating to each topic. The presentation materials contain useful initial analysis on consumer complaints trends arising during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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COVID-19 CFPB Access to Credit Guidance

May 1, 2020

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TRID Rescission Waiver Rule & ECOA Valuations FAQ

On April 29, 2020, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released additional information which Director Kathleen Kraninger said she hopes “will help consumers facing financial emergencies obtain access to mortgage credit faster.”  The new guidance impacts waiver of rights of rescission, good faith closing costs estimates, and ECOA valuations delivery timing requirements in connection with potential urgent consumer finance transactions.

“Temporary & Targeted Solutions.”

Mortgage lenders will need to be aware of this new interpretive rule and FAQ guidance and adjust their operations accordingly. Consumers who are accessing the COVID-19 resources center on the CFPB website likely will be aware of these potential ways to expedite transactions and will be expecting lenders to act accordingly.  Key bases for the new rules include COVID-19 pandemic related “bona fide personal financial emergency” or “changed circumstances.”  

TRID/ Reg Z Interpretive Rule – Modification or Waiver of Right of Rescission Timing

TILA RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) rules protect borrowers by allowing them to receive information so they can “know before they owe.” Borrower exercise of three day rescission rights has been an issue of confusion and substantial litigation over the years. The new Rule may yield similar disputes in the future because of the evolving nature of the pandemic related financial hardship and the timing pressures involved. It also will be interesting to see how this temporary rule may influence either extension or sunset of current CARES Act foreclosure prohibitions.

The new Rule provides that “(1) if a consumer determines that the extension of credit is needed to meet a bona fide personal financial emergency, (2) the consumer’s brief statement describing the emergency identifies a financial need that is due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and (3) the emergency necessitates consummating the credit transaction before the end of an applicable TRID Rule waiting period or must be met before the end of the Regulation Z Rescission Rules waiting period, then the consumer has a bona fide personal financial emergency that would permit the consumer to utilize the modification and waiver provisions…”

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COVID-19 Borrower Protection Program Launched by FHFA & CFPB

April 15, 2020

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Today, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced a joint program to assist borrowers experiencing financial hardship in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Borrower Protection Program (BPP) augments a number of prior actions taken by the regulators in connection with and relating to the CARES Act. 

According to the announcement, the BPP “enables CFPB and FHFA to share servicing information to protect borrowers during the coronavirus national emergency.” FHFA Director Mark Calabria added “Borrowers are entitled to accurate information about their forbearance options. This partnership with CFPB ensures FHFA can address misconceptions stemming from consumer complaints by working with Fannie and Freddie servicers.” This may be an early attempt to avoid confusion, consternation and often delay which impacted consumers as well as servicers seeking to understand what specific relief was available to which borrowers. Consumers and servicers alike will recall these challenges plagued the roll out of the TARP HAMP processes following the 2008 Financial Crisis, often exacerbated by media soundbites that did not communicate detail regarding program relief requirements. Even today’s press release reflects additional detail from FHFA: “The missed payments will have to be paid back by the borrower. The missed payments can be added to the normal monthly payments, paid back all at once, tacked on to the end of the loan, or the borrower can have the term of the loan extended.”

Analytical Tools and Complaint Information: The program itself will involve sharing of data between the two agencies: “CFPB will make complaint information and analytical tools available to FHFA via a secure electronic interface; and FHFA will make available to the Bureau information about forbearances, modifications and other loss mitigation initiatives undertaken by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises).” CFPB Director Kraninger has noted previously that she sees data analysis as a key focus of the Bureau.

In her testimony before the House Financial Services Committee in February 2020, Kraninger stated: “Complaints, along with other inputs, give us insight into people’s experiences in the marketplace that we analyze and use to improve our mission execution. The analysis helps us regulate consumer financial products and services under existing Federal consumer financial laws, enforce those laws judiciously, and educate and empower consumers to make informed financial decisions. The Bureau also publishes complaint data and reports on complaint trends annually in Consumer Response’s Annual Report to Congress.”

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Credit Reporting & Collections Forbearance per the CFPB

April 8, 2020

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The CFPB issued guidance and consumer information tools last week covering components of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. In this rapidly environment, financial services companies might do well to check the CFPB blog frequently to keep abreast of new developments and to be aware of specific information and tools consumers may reference in difficult hardship conversations. 

Credit Reporting Policy Statement: On April 1, the CFPB issued a Policy Statement regarding the CARES Act credit reporting requirements lenders and credit furnishers and reporting agencies must follow under the fair Credit Reporting Act and Regulation V.

The Statement recognizes the importance of accurate credit reporting and information to the consumer financial services market system. In a press release Director Kraninger said: “During this time of uncertainty, we are providing clarity to ensure the consumer reporting industry can continue to function. Consumers rely on their credit report to purchase a new car, their new home, or to finance their college education. An effective consumer reporting system is critical in promoting fair and efficient access to credit in the consumer financial services market.”

While highlighting the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on consumers, the Policy Statement recognizes the operations and staffing challenges lenders, servicers and reporting agencies are having as well. “The Bureau intends to consider the circumstances that entities face as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and entities’ good faith efforts to comply with their statutory and regulatory obligations as soon as possible. The Bureau believes that this flexibility will help furnishers and consumer reporting agencies to manage the challenges the current crisis poses.”

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CFPB Provides Guidance on UDAAP Abusive Standard

January 28, 2020

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On January 24, 2020, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced a new policy regarding the prohibition on abusive acts or practices. The CFPB has clarified how it will define, supervise and enforce “abusive” standards under Dodd Frank § 1031(a) and (d).  The Bureau’s announcement acknowledges that there has been uncertainty in this area. The Director intends the Policy Statement to help avoid adverse consequences which may “chill or overly deter covered persons from engaging in conduct that may be beneficial to consumers.” The Policy Statement is effective January 24, 2020 and will govern supervisory and enforcement conduct going forward. The full Policy Statement is available here.

Dodd Frank Abusiveness Standard

Section 1031(d) of Dodd Frank defines broad parameters for abusiveness. The practice may be determined to be abusive if it:

(1) materially interferes with the ability of a consumer to understand a term or condition of a consumer financial product or service; or

(2) takes unreasonable advantage of—

(A) a lack of understanding on the part of the consumer of the material risks, costs, or conditions of the product or service;

(B) the inability of the consumer to protect the interests of the consumer in selecting or using a consumer financial product or service; or (C) the reasonable reliance by the consumer on a covered person to act in the interests of the consumer.

See 12 U.S.C. 5531(d).

Bureau’s Historical Prosecution of Abusiveness

The Policy Statement provides background on the Bureau’s enforcement activities specific to abusiveness. Since 2011, the Bureau “has brought 32 enforcement actions that included an abusiveness claim, including as recently as fall 2019.” However, more than 90% of the actions included both abusiveness and unfairness or deception claims. According to the Bureau, “only two enforcement actions contained just an abusiveness claim.” Demonstrating the challenge of amorphousness, the Bureau acknowledges “in many of those 30 actions, the abusiveness claim arose from the same course of conduct as the unfairness or deception claim.”

2019 Symposium – Differing Perspectives

Director Kraninger has been active in seeking input from various constituents since taking the helm. In  June 2019, the Bureau held its Symposium on Abusive Acts or Practices. “Eight academics and practitioners with expertise in UDAAP issues engaged in dialogue…” According to the Statement topics included the following:

  • “the necessity of clarifying the abusiveness standard (and if so, whether rulemaking or another tool should be used),
  • the degree of uncertainty posed by the statutory language, the particular aspects of the standard most in need of clarification,
  • the practical consequences of this uncertainty on consumer financial markets, and how the Bureau should enforce the abusiveness standard.”
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CFPB September 2019 Roundup

September 30, 2019

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CFPB September 2019 Roundup

September 30, 2019

Authored by: Douglas Thompson

Enforcement, Innovation, Consumer Data and Unconstitutionality

Director Kraninger and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have been busy this month. Summer is over, and back to school it is.

In addition to convening a symposium and two Director speeches, the Bureau released ten plus statements this month spanning enforcement activity, no action letter policy, innovation, and consumer data enhancements. Not to be overlooked, the Director also announced her position that the Bureau’s structure is unconstitutional. In this relatively short article, we cannot dive deeply into the specifics of each new development, but we can offer some highlights to help keep you abreast of Bureau changes. Definitely, more to come.

Enforcement: Two actions. One stipulated judgment. The Bureau’s actions assert (a) violations of Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 and Reg O in connection with allegedly deceptive and abusive mortgage assistance services and (b) violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, Regulation V and the CFPA in connection with allegedly improper debt collection practices. The former included a proposed stipulated judgment, which if entered, would resolve the matter by imposing civil money penalty and other relief. See September 6 and September 25 case announcements here.

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