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A Litigator’s KISS Takeaways from CFPB’s Summer 2018 Supervisory Highlights

KISS. An acronym first utilized in military equipment design in the 1960’s, “Keep it Simple Stupid.” Litigators rely on KISS in formulating trial themes and presentations to juries. Simple messages resonate. In that vein, I offer three KISS takeaways from the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection’s Supervisory Highlights, Issue 17, Summer 2018.

KISS #1: Details Matter. 

On two key levels: (a) your business compliance operations and consumer interactions, and (b) in the Bureau’s supervision and examination conclusions. Taking these in reverse order, the Bureau’s Introduction (p. 2) provides important guardrails:

[L]egal violations described in this and previous issues of Supervisory Highlights are based on the particular facts and circumstances reviewed by the Bureau as part of its examinations. A conclusion that a legal violation exists on the facts and circumstances described here may not lead to such a finding under different facts and circumstances.

This is critical to your supervision and examination preparedness and your interactions with the Bureau.  If the Bureau spots a concern, consider providing a fulsome explanation of the analysis that went into the policy formulation, how your organization believed it was operating in good faith under applicable laws and believed that the practice would not harm or mislead consumers, what steps your organization has done in monitoring and addressing any consumer concerns regarding the policy or practice. This may sound basic, but the Bureau’s statement matters and can be referenced. The Bureau should, in my view, consider such information in assessing whether any violation has occurred, whether any consumers actually were harmed and whether any remediation is necessary. Sometimes the conclusion may be that the practice presents a risk of potential confusion or harm and simply should be modified going forward. Present your best case; the Bureau appears to be open to considering all the facts and circumstances.

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Two Key EGRRCPA Provisions Now Effective

As of the end of August 2018, two key provisions of The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (aka the Crapo bill, S.2155, or increasingly, EGRRCPA) have become effective: the increase in the small bank holding company policy statement threshold and the increase in the expanded examination cycle threshold.  Before looking at those provisions, I have to acknowledge the fabulous Wall Street Journal story by Ryan Tracy, “Can You Say EGRRCPA? Tongue-Twister Banking Law Confuses Washington.”  Personally, I’m now leaning towards “egg-rah-sip-uh.”

On July 6, 2018, the federal banking agencies released an Interagency statement regarding the impact of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act that provided guidance as to which provisions were immediately effective versus which provisions would require further regulatory action.  Included in this guidance was confirmation that the banking regulators would immediately implement EGRRCPA’s changes to the Volcker Rule, freeing most institutions with total assets of less than $10 billion from the constraints of the Volcker Rule.  The regulators noted that they “will not enforce the final rule implementing section 13 of the BHC Act in a manner inconsistent with the amendments made by EGRRCPA to section 13 of the BHC Act.”

Unfortunately, two of the more significant areas of regulatory relief for community banks, the respective increases in thresholds for the small bank holding company policy statement and the expanded examination cycle were not granted such immediate effectiveness.  While EGRRCPA required the Federal Reserve to act on the expansion of the policy statement within 180 days, anyone familiar with the deadlines set forth in the Dodd-Frank Act for regulatory action would not be holding their breath.

Small Bank Holding Company Policy Statement Expansion.  On August 30, 2018, the Federal Reserve published an interim final rule implementing the revisions to the small bank holding company policy statement.  The Federal Reserve’s small bank holding company policy statement generally exempts such institutions from the requirement to maintain consolidated regulatory capital ratios; instead, regulatory capital ratios only apply at the subsidiary bank level.  The small bank holding company policy statement was first implemented in 1980, with a $150 million asset threshold.  In 2006, it was increased to $500 million, and in 2015, it was increased to $1 billion.  Section 207 of EGRRCPA called for the Federal Reserve to increase the threshold to $3 billion, and the interim final rule implements this change.

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Modifications on My Mind: When “Will” Means “Must” and a Conventional Hand Signature is Not Required

The Sixth Circuit has issued another opinion regarding loan modifications, following its opinion two weeks ago in Segrist v. Bank of New York Mellon (2018 WL 3773785, August 9, 2018), on which I earlier wrote.

Now, in Pittman v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc. — F.3d —- 2018 WL 4016604, August 23, 2018), the Sixth joins the First, Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits, in holding that loan servicers are contractually obligated under the terms of their Trial Modification Plan (“TPP”), pursuant to the Home Affordable Mortgage Program (“HAMP”), to offer a permanent modification to borrowers who comply with the TPP by submitting accurate documentation and making trial payments.

The Court relied on language in the TPP that said, “[a]fter all trial period payments are timely made and you have submitted all the required documents, your mortage will be permanently modified.” The court noted hornbook contract law that “the mere fact that an offer or agreement is subject to events not within the promisor’ control … will not render the agreement illusory.”

Additionally, the TPP was sufficiently definite to constitute an enforceable contract, even though it did not set the precise terms for the permanent modification, because HAMP guidelines provide the existing standard by which the ultimate terms of the permanent modification were to be set in order to bring down the monthly payments to 31% of gross income.

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OCC Provides a Path for FinTech Charters

On July 31, 2018, the OCC announced that it had finalized parameters for its new limited-purpose financial technology national bank charter and is ready to begin taking applications.  This release follows several years of formal deliberation on the topic and coincided with the release of a 222-page U.S. Treasury report on innovation.  Industry reactions have been wide-ranging – will this level the playing field or usher in a FinTech “apocalypse“?

Highlights of the OCC notice include:

  • Designation of the charter type as a national bank.  Like its other special-purpose charters, including the non-depository trust company or the credit card bank, the FinTech charter will be a “national association” in the National Bank Act sense of the term.  As the saying goes, membership will have its privileges (and burdens):  capital requirements, examinations, and federal preemption of certain state laws.
  • Eligibility for qualified applicants that plan to conduct activities “within the business of banking.”  Pursuant to existing OCC regulations, a limited-purpose national bank not engaging in fiduciary activities “must conduct at least one of the following three core banking functions:  receiving deposits; paying checks; or lending money.”  In its FinTech charter announcement, the OCC notes that it “views the National Bank Act as sufficiently adaptable to permit national banks to engage in traditional activities like paying checks and lending money in new ways.  For example, facilitating payments electronically may be considered the modern equivalent of paying checks.”
  • A requirement for a commitment to “financial inclusion.”  We will see how this element is administered.  In theory it provides a non-depository parallel to the Community Reinvestment Act (“CRA”).
  • Publication and comment period.  Just as for other types of national banks, applications will feature newspaper publication requirements and will be generally subject to public review and comment.

The OCC stated that its decision to open the door for this new form of national bank “is consistent with bi-partisan government efforts at federal and state levels to promote economic opportunity and support innovation that can improve financial services to consumers, businesses, and communities.”  Comptroller Otting added:

Providing a path for fintech companies to become national banks can make the federal banking system stronger by promoting economic growth and opportunity, modernization and innovation, and competition.  It also provides consumers greater choice, can promote financial inclusion, and creates a more level playing field for financial services competition.

Treasury’s report is consistent with these themes, noting, “A forward-looking approach to federal charters could be effective in reducing regulatory fragmentation and growing markets by supporting beneficial business models” and that the OCC should proceed with “thoughtful consideration” of FinTech charter applications.  Treasury also calls out specifically the need for updating regulations that relate to data aggregation, for addressing those which have become “outdated” in light of technological advances (e.g., in the mortgage lending and servicing space, according to Treasury), and for a regulatory approach that enables “responsible experimentation” in the financial sector.

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Lender’s “Boilerplate” Disavowal Dooms Rescission of a Common Loan Modification Agreement

In a case with potentially broad implications, the Sixth Circuit becomes the first federal circuit court to hold that the Truth in Lending Act provides no right to rescind a loan modification agreement entered into with a successor creditor. TILA exempts from rescission “refinancing” transactions with “the same creditor secured by an interest in the same property” but not “refinancing” with a different creditor.

The case impacts those borrowers whose loans were assigned after origination (an everyday occurrence), and who seek rescission after receiving a common form of modification that lowered their interest rate, recalculated the principal due to include only the unpaid balance plus earned finance charges and premiums for continuation of insurance, and perhaps even extended their payment schedule.

Regulation Z provides that a “refinancing occurs when an existing obligation … is satisfied and replaced by a new obligation undertaken by the same consumer” and that a refinancing does not include a “reduction in the annual percentage rate with a corresponding change in the payment schedule.”

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We’re Back! And Having a Conversation with Terry Ammons

Our unannounced and unplanned summer hiatus is over, and Jonathan and I are back in the studio to provide the latest episode of The Bank Account.  Between travel for various banking conferences, a full work plate, and a few summer vacations, we stepped away from the podcasting studios for a few months (or three months exactly), but now we’re bank and re-energized!

Joining us in the studio is Terry Ammons.  Terry is a partner with Porter Keadle Moore LLC and the host of GroundBanking, PKM’s podcast on innovation in the financial industry.  If you’ve enjoyed The Bank Account, I suggest you also give GroundBanking a listen; I know I’ve enjoyed the first several episodes.

Before turning to the intersection of banking and fintech, we spend a little time on another industry focus for PKM that personally interests Jonathan and me, craft beverages.   We also each select our “rest of life” beer:  Terry selected Automatic by Creature Comforts Brewing Company, Jonathan selected a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and I went with a 420 Extra Pale Ale by Sweetwater Brewery.

Terry, Jonathan and I then turned to looking at some of the interesting interactions we’ve each seen between depository institutions and fintech companies.  We looked at the strengths of each and how partnerships can help each thrive in the 21st century.  We also examined some of the diligence items that are necessary in any such partnership.

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Dutta: The Ninth Circuit Strikes Another Blow to FCRA Plaintiffs

On July 13, 2018, in Dutta v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, 895 F.3d 1166 (9th Cir. 2018), the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment against a plaintiff that lacked Article III standing to assert a claim under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq. (“FCRA”).

The Ninth Circuit relied on Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540 (2016), and held that the plaintiff lacked standing because he “failed to establish facts showing that he suffered actual harm or material risk of harm.”

This ruling is significant in the Ninth Circuit and elsewhere because it provides construct under which defendants may successfully challenge a plaintiff’s Article III standing to assert claims under the FCRA or other federal statutes.

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner’s full client alert on the Dutta decision is available here.

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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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