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Regulators Propose CRA Overhaul

Regulators Propose CRA Overhaul

December 17, 2019

Authored by: Benjamin Saul and Ross Handler

On Thursday, December 12, 2019, the OCC and the FDIC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPR) in an effort to modernize the regulatory framework behind the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). Last autumn, renewed deliberations began when the OCC published an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) that solicited answers to 31 questions about the CRA. In response, national and state-chartered banks, trade associations, community advocates, government representatives, and others submitted nearly 1,500 individual comments. Thursday’s NPR is the culmination of the regulators’ review of these comments and proposed recommendations.

The proposed rule has received support from the OCC and the FDIC. However, the Federal Reserve has been unwilling to sign on to draft plan, leading some to speculate about prospective, competing CRA regimes. Disharmony among the regulators as to how they examine institutions under the CRA would be unprecedented, as the three prudential regulators have implemented the CRA and examined financial institutions in substantially similar manners since the law’s promulgation in the 1970s.

The proposed changes in the NPR to the CRA’s regulatory framework are significant. Key components of the revamped CRA and the NPR include:

  • Additional Assessment Areas Based on Deposit Locations: Currently, whether a bank’s activities qualify for consideration under the CRA depends on the characteristics of the activities and where those activities take place. Under the current framework, the CRA requires that banks delineate assessments areas where the bank has its main office, branches, and deposit-taking facilities, in addition to the surrounding areas where the bank originated or purchased a substantial portion of the loans in its portfolio. Under the NPR, the definition of geographic area is expanded to include areas where banks receive five percent or more of their deposits, if the banks themselves source 50 percent or more of their retail domestic deposits from outside their facility-based assessment areas. Further, the NPR permits banks to receive CRA consideration for qualifying activities outside of the assessments areas, including tribal lands and rural areas.
  • Home Mortgage Lending Restrictions: Under the current CRA framework, home mortgage loans made to high- and middle-income individuals living in low-to-moderate income (LMI) areas receive credit under CRA examination. Moving forward, such home mortgage loans would not receive CRA consideration. Mortgage-backed securities, a controversial yet CRA-eligible activity under the current CRA framework, would not receive the same credit under the NPR. Such securities would only be deemed CRA creditworthy if backed by loans to LMI borrowers and businesses.
  • A Non-exhaustive List of CRA Pre-Approved Activities: As it stands, the CRA does not provide much insight as to prequalified CRA-approved activities. The NPR proposes to create more descriptive and expansive criteria for the type of activities that qualify for CRA credit. To this end, the regulators would provide a publicly available, non-exhaustive list of activities that automatically qualify for CRA credit. Further, the NPR provides a process through which interested parties may submit additional items for consideration for inclusion on the list.
  • Increased Minimum for Small Business and Farm Loans: Under the current CRA framework, the threshold for small business loan or farm loan consideration is set at $1 million. The NPR raises the loan size to $2 million.
  • Metric-Based Benchmarks: The CRA regulations provide for different methods to evaluate a bank’s CRA performance, relative to factors such as the bank’s asset size and business strategy. Banks both small and large have commented that these different methods provide for inconsistent examination processes and results, prompting them to request more streamlined examination criteria. The new performance standards under the NPR would assess (1) the distribution and level of qualifying retail loan originations to LMI individuals, businesses, and farms within its assessment area; and (2) the total dollar value of the bank’s CRA-qualifying activities relative to its retail domestic deposits.
  • Preferential Treatment for Small Banks: Small banks, those defined as institutions with $500 million or less in assets, are provided some preferential treatment under the NPR. Small banks would have the option to be examined under the existing CRA regulatory framework or under the revised framework of the NPR.
  • New Reporting Requirements: Currently, the CRA requires banks to collect and report on a variety of data and loans. Small banks, however, are generally exempt from such requirements. Under the NPR, banks evaluated under the small bank performance standards would be required to collect, but not to report, data related to their retail domestic deposits. Additionally, banks evaluated under the NPR standards would be required to collect, maintain, and report certain data related to qualifying activities non-qualifying activities, and retail domestic deposits, and assessments areas. Banks would be required to collect and maintain all necessary data in machine-readable form.
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Use of Alternative Data in Underwriting Receives ‘OK’ from Federal Regulators

On Tuesday, December 3, 2019, U.S. federal banking regulators issued an interagency statement supporting the evaluation of alternative data when assessing consumers’ creditworthiness. Recognizing that the use of alternative data may improve the speed and accuracy of credit decisions, the agencies hope to address the difficulty facing consumers who are often unable to obtain credit from traditional credit sources. According to FinRegLab, a nonprofit research organization, an estimated 45 million to 60 million consumers lack the credit history needed to generate satisfactory credit scores. Further, millions more do not have access to affordable credit due to low scores and low incomes. The use of alternative data in the rendering of credit decisions may improve credit opportunities, as firms may choose to use these alternatives for those applicants who would otherwise be denied credit.

One such data source is a borrower’s cash flow as an alternative to the traditional credit-evaluation system. Although not an entirely novel concept, and an already well-established part of the underwriting process, some firms are now automating the use of cash flow data to determine a borrower’s ability to repay loans. These newer automation methods have been found to improve the measurement of a borrower’s income and expenses. Most importantly, the automation of a borrower’s cash flow better illustrates income patterns over time from multiple sources as opposed to evaluating a single income source; the borrower information gleaned from these alternative sources is more robust and comprehensive than the information relied upon by traditional credit-evaluation companies. As the regulators highlight in their interagency statement, “cash flow data are specific to the borrowers and generally derived from reliable sources, such as bank account records, which may help ensure the data’s accuracy.”

To the extent firms are using or contemplating using alternative data, the agencies encourage responsible use of such consumer data. As the sources of alternative data grow, both banks and non-banks will need to determine which types of alternative data might carry more risk to consumers – and do their best to minimize or justify the use of such data sources. Although cash flow data provides a relatively unbiased predictor of loan repayment ability, some lenders have garnered fair lending scrutiny for their use of certain alternative data such as borrower occupation, education and information from social media. As the agencies made clear in their statement, lenders considering the use of alternative data must take steps to ensure consumer protection risks are “understood and addressed.” Accordingly, it will remain vitally important for lenders leveraging alternative data to do so within a well-developed fair and responsible lending program that includes, among other things, periodic fair lending testing.

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OCC and FDIC Clarify the “Valid When Made” Debate

On November 18 and 19 of this week, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation issued Advanced Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRs) to clarify how state interest rate caps should apply when loans are sold across state lines.

Example of a Madden Glitch

The proposal from the OCC reaffirms the “valid when made” doctrine, on which many marketplace lenders have relied and which was central to the Second Circuit’s 2015 decision in Madden v. Midland Funding LLC, 786 F.3d 246 (2nd Cir. 2015). The Second Circuit’s decision contradicted the “valid when made” theory, whereby an obligation is considered valid under the law that applied at the time of origination. The Second Circuit held that a loan’s interest rate was no longer valid when resold to an entity in a state with a lower interest rate cap than where the loan was originally issued. In its proposed rule, the OCC “has concluded that when a bank sells, assigns, or otherwise transfers a loan, interest permissible prior to the transfer continues to be permissible following the transfer.” The OCC’s proposed rule would cut against Madden, allowing the interest rates attached to bank loans to remain valid once transferred to a bank’s fintech partner of investors.

The FDIC’s proposed rule parallels that of the OCC, but focuses on Madden’s relation to state-chartered banks. The FDIC’s proposed rule clarifies that the legal interest rate on a loan originated by a state bank remains legal even after the loan is sold to a non-bank. Speaking in a statement on Tuesday, FDIC Chairwoman Jelena McWilliams said “This proposed rule would correct the anomaly by establishing in regulations … that the permissibility of interest would be determined when a loan is made and is not impacted by subsequent assignment, sale, or transfer.” The draft regulations issued on Tuesday by the FDIC affirm that state banks are not bound by the interest rate caps of other states in which they operate. Further, the validity of the loans’ interest rates would be fixed at the time of origination.

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Signing the Mortgage Insufficient to Establish RESPA Standing

To sue under RESPA, one must have signed the loan, not just the mortgage.

RESPA creates a cause of action but says only “borrower[s]” can use it. 12 U.S.C. § 2605(f). Accordingly, the Sixth Circuit joins the Fifth and Eleventh Circuits in holding that to have a cause of action under RESPA, a plaintiff must not only sign the mortgage, but also the loan. Keen v. Helson, —F.3d—-, 2019 WL 3226989 (July 18, 2019).

Image by Andreas Breitling from Pixabay.

A “borrower” is commonly understood and defined as someone who is personally obligated on a loan—who is actually borrowing money. Because the plaintiff had never signed the mortgage loan, as her ex-husband had, she could not maintain a claim under RESPA, even though she had an interest in the house that she mortgaged and her husband later transferred his interest in the house to her as part of their divorce, shortly before he died.

The Court noted that Congress could have said that “any person” injured by a RESPA violation could sue, or that “mortgagors” or “homeowners” could sue, but it chose not to do so and specified only “borrowers” could.

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The Plain Meaning of RESPA Regulations

If I should call a sheep’s tail a leg, how many legs would it have?

According to Abe Lincoln, “only four, for my calling the tail a leg would not make it so.” So begins the Eleventh Circuit’s opinion holding the motion to reschedule a foreclosure sale was not a motion for an order of sale within the meaning of the RESPA regulation governing loss-mitigation procedures.

The language of 12 C.F.R. 1024.1(g) prohibits a loan servicer from moving for an order of foreclosure sale after a borrower has submitted a complete loss-mitigation plan. Under the plain language of the regulation, a motion to reschedule a previously ordered foreclosure sale is no more a motion for an order of sale than a sheep’s tail is a leg!

This conclusion is reinforced by the construction canon favored by Justice Scalia, known as the “associated word cannon” in English, but more commonly referred to by learned colleagues as the “noscitur a sociis canon.” (Thank god for high school Latin helping me pass the bar!)

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Promoting Corporate Social Responsibility Through Lending

Financial institutions continue to develop products to encourage Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) goals. The Loan Market Association has recently published Sustainability Linked Loan Principles to guide the use of loan instrument terms to promote the achievement of the borrower’s sustainability goals. As with disclosure and measurement associated with corporate disclosures intended to appeal to socially responsible investors, the success of such Sustainability Linked Loans in promoting better sustainability performance will largely depend on the borrower’s ability to set ambitious but realistic goals that are measurable and verifiable by third parties. 

Companies who have a deep and thorough understanding of their products life cycle (from all the raw material inputs through the end of the products useful life with the customer) will have the best chance of working with their lender to design sustainability performance targets that will actually move the needle.  As more of these loans are created, it will then be interesting to see how financial institutions report to their investors on how these lending products are improving the sustainability of their loan portfolios. 

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77 Percent of Bank Boards Commit this Mistake

Last week, Bank Director published a piece titled “77 Percent of Bank Boards Approve Loans. Is That a Mistake?”

In case you didn’t get it from the title of this blog post, I think the answer is absolutely, 100 percent, yes! Bank Directors should not be approving individual loans, and Banks should not be asking their Directors to approve individual loans.

77 percent of executives and directors say their board or a board-level loan committee plays a role in approving credits, according to Bank Director’s 2019 Risk Survey. And Boards of smaller banks are even more likely to be involved in the loan approval process. According to the survey, almost three quarters of banks over $10 billion in assets do not have their directors approve loans, but over 80% of banks under $10 billion in assets continue to have board-approval of certain loans.

These survey results generally conform to our experience. Two weeks ago, Jim McAlpin and I had the pleasure of leading five peer group exchanges on corporate governance at the 2019 Bank Director Bank Board Training Forum. The issue of board approval of loans came up in multiple peer groups, but the reaction and dialogue were radically different based on the size of the institutions involved. In our peer group exchange involving the chairmen and lead directors of larger public institutions, one of the chairman phrased the topic along the lines of “is anyone still having their directors approve individual loans?” Not one director indicated that they continued to do so, and several agreed that having directors vote on loans was a bad practice.

A few hours later, we were leading a peer group exchange of the chairman and lead directors of smaller private institutions. Again, one participant raised the issue. This time the issue was raised in an open manner, with a chairman indicating that they’d heard from various professionals that they should reconsider the practice but so far their board was still asking for approval of individual loans. A majority of the directors in attendance indicated concurrence.

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Georgia Noncompete Law Remains Enforceable

In light of the continued merger activity within the state, including the blockbuster SunTrust/BB&T merger, we’ve seen a renewed focus on the enforceability of non-compete provisions – from banks looking to hire, from banks hoping to retain, and bank employees considering a change.

Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Apparently, we’re not alone. On May 1, 2019, the American Banker published a story titled “What ruling on non-compete clauses means for banks — and job hunters.” The article looks at the potential impact of the the Georgia Court of Appeals’s decision in Blair v. Pantera Enters., Inc. (2019 Ga. App. LEXIS 114). Among other things, the article posits that “if BB&T and SunTrust want to enforce non-compete agreements with all their loan officers and wealth management experts stationed in Georgia, some of those contract provisions might not pass legal muster, according to legal experts.” While the enforceability of non-compete agreements is always subject to legal uncertainty, with the specific facts at play and the trial judge potentially playing a significant role, we think this vastly overstates the impact of Blair v. Pantera, particularly in the bank context.

Blair v. Pantera involved the enforceability of a non-compete provision against a backhoe operator. The court found, correctly and consistently with the Georgia Restrictive Covenants Act (O.C.G.A. § 13-8-50 et seq.), that he was not an employee under the statute against whom a non-compete could be enforced. Under the Georgia Restrictive Covenants Act, non-competes may generally only be enforced against employees that: manage the business, regularly direct the work of two or more other employees, can hire or fire other employees, are regularly engaged in the solicitation of customers or with making sales or taking orders, or meet the definition of a “key employee” under the statute. Under the statute, an employee must fit in one of these categories to sign a valid non-compete. See O.C.G.A. § 13-8-53.

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FAST Act Rule Changes for Banks

FAST Act Rule Changes for Banks

April 30, 2019

Authored by: Kevin Strachan

The SEC recently published final rules that allow publicly traded bank holding companies and banks to simplify their public disclosures and provide more meaningful information to investors. Most of the rules become effective on May 2, 2019, which allow many registrants to benefit from them on their Form 10-Q filings for the quarter ended March 31, 2019.

This post is intended to highlight those changes that we expect to be most significant to registrants in the banking industry. BCLP has also produced a more thorough summary of the final rules as applicable to all registrants. The complete, 252-page adopting release is available here.

MD&A

Most registrants provide three years of MD&A narrative.  The new rule allows such registrants to omit discussion of the earliest of the three years if such discussion was previously filed, so that the 10-K MD&A will address only the year being reported and the previous year.  Smaller reporting companies are only required to provide two years of financials and MD&A (and emerging growth companies are allowed to omit periods prior to their IPO), so these registrants will not see any benefit from this change.

The revisions to the MD&A requirements also eliminate the requirement that issuers provide a year-to-year comparison.  In the related commentary in the adopting release, the SEC characterizes this change as providing registrants flexibility to tailor their presentation.  Hopefully, over time, the SEC’s expressed purpose will encourage creative approaches to this area. 

Exhibits – Material Contracts

Previously, a two year “lookback” applied, such that material contracts entered into in the two years prior to the filing were required to be disclosed on the exhibit index even if the contracts had been fully performed.  A common example is merger agreements—companies are currently required to continue to file merger agreements as exhibits even after closing.  The new rule eliminates this requirement (other than for newly public companies), such that material contracts that have been fully performed are no longer required to be disclosed.

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Public Comments Due Soon on Proposed Community Bank Leverage Ratio Rules

The public comment period for the banking agencies’ capital simplification rules for qualifying community banking organizations (i.e. the Community Bank Leverage Ratio proposal) are due on Tuesday, April 9th.

As previously discussed, the regulators have proposed a new, alternative, simplified capital regime for qualifying institutions that will deem an institution to be well-capitalized so long as it maintains a leverage ratio of at least 9% and adequately capitalized so long as it maintains a leverage ratio of at least 7.5%. While initially proposed last November, publication in the Federal Register was delayed until February of this year. As a result the comment period for the rule ends on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Comments can be submitted online through Regulations.gov.

Through the publication of this blog post, the primary comments online appear to be the appropriate threshold for the new Community Bank Leverage Ratio. As background, EGRRCPA, the statutory basis for the reforms, obligates the regulators to apply a threshold of between 8% and 10%, and the regulators proposed 9%. Most of the submitted comments, including several from community bankers, comments from the Kansas Bankers Association and the Independent Bankers Association of Texas argue for a lower 8% ratio. Conversely, the Mercatus Center has submitted a comment supporting a 10% ratio.

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