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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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CFPB Issues Guidance on Confidential Supervisory Info

The CFPB recently issued guidance on the treatment of confidential supervisory information.  CFPB Bulletin 12-01 states that once the bureau issues a request for information, supervised financial institutions (i.e., those with total assets of more than $10 billion) are required to provide all documents and other information responsive to the request.  The bulletin adds:

Supervised institutions may not selectively withhold responsive documents based on their judgment that such materials are not necessary to the Bureau’s execution of its responsibilities or that other materials would be sufficient to suit the Bureau’s needs. The supervisory process is based on the supervisor’s full and unfettered access to information, and the supervisor is entitled – indeed, duty bound–to ensure that it thoroughly understands the institution in question and has access to all information that, in its independent judgment, may bear on its supervisory responsibilities.

The Bulletin argues that providing requested information to the bureau will not result in a waiver of any privilege that may attach to such information, and thus it will not consider waiver concerns to be a valid basis for withholding information from the agency.  However, the agency will give “due consideration to … requests to limit the form and scope of any supervisory request for privileged information.”

Finally, the Bulletin reiterates that all information obtained in the supervisory process will be treated as confidential and privileged, other than in cases when the exchange of such information with other regulators that share supervisory jurisdiction over a supervised institution is prudent, as determined by the CFPB’s general counsel.

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New Supervisory Guidance on BHC's Dividends, Redemptions and Repurchases

On February 24, 2009, the Federal Reserve published a Supervisory Letter regarding the ability of bank holding companies to declare dividends and to redeem or repurchase equity securities.  The Supervisory Letter is generally consistent with prior guidance, although places greater emphasis on discussions with the regulators prior to dividend declarations and redemption or repurchase decisions even when not explicitly required by the regulations.  Although consultation with the Federal Reserve in these situations is optional, the guidance makes clear that the failure to consult with the Federal Reserve “could result in a supervisory finding that the organization is operating in an unsafe and unsound manner.”

The Federal Reserve provides that the principles discussed in the letter are applicable to all bank holding companies, but are especially relevant for bank holding companies that are experiencing financial difficulties and/or receiving TARP Capital.  To that end, the Supervisory Letter specifically addresses the Federal Reserve’s supervisory considerations for TARP Capital participants.

TARP Capital

In addition to the general guidance provided by the Supervisory Letter and the explicit restrictions on dividends, repurchases and redemptions contained in the TARP Capital documents, the Supervisory Letter also provides guidance on how the supervisory staff will analyze TARP Capital recipients.  The guidance provides that TARP recipients should “consider and communicate reasonably in advance” to supervisory staff  how the bank holding company’s proposed dividends, capital redemptions, and capital repurchases are “consistent with the requirements applicable to its receipt of capital under the program and its ability to redeem, within a reasonable period of time and with Federal Reserve consent, its outstanding capital issuance under the program.”  The Federal Reserve’s guidance specifically calls for the redemption of the TARP Capital “as soon as reasonably feasible and appropriate.”

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