Reducing Enforcement at The CFPB

Mick Mulvaney’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has released a Request for Information Regarding Bureau Enforcement Activities (available on the upper right corner of this page), its third in a series of RFIs that seek to dramatically restrict the Bureau’s activities. The Bureau seeks

feedback on all aspects of its enforcement processes, including but not limited to:

1. Communication between the Bureau and the subjects of investigations, including the timing and frequency of those communications, and information provided by the Bureau on the status of its investigation;

2. The length of Bureau investigations;

3. The Bureau’s Notice and Opportunity to Respond and Advise process, including:

a. CFPB Bulletin 2011–04, Notice and Opportunity to Respond and Advise (NORA), issued November 7, 2011 (updated January 18, 2012) and available at http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/2012/01/
Bulletin10.pdf, including whether invocation of the NORA process should be mandatory rather than discretionary;and

b. The information contained in the letters that the Bureau may send to subjects of potential enforcement actions pursuant to the NORA process, as exemplified by the sample letter available at http://www.consumerfinance.gov/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/NORA-Letter1.pdf;

4. Whether the Bureau should afford subjects of potential enforcement actions the right to make an in-person presentation to Bureau personnel prior to the Bureau determining whether it should initiate legal proceedings;

5. The calculation of civil money penalties, consistent with the penalty amounts and mitigating factors set out in 12 U.S.C. 5565(c), including whether the Bureau should adopt a civil money penalty matrix, and, if it does adopt such a matrix, what that matrix should include;

6. The standard provisions in Bureau consent orders, including conduct, compliance, monetary relief, and administrative provisions; and

7. The manner and extent to which the Bureau can and should coordinate its enforcement activity with other Federal and/or State agencies that may  have overlapping jurisdiction. (83 F.R. 6000) (Feb. 12, 2018)

The not-so-subtext of this RFI is that Mulvaney is seeking to hamstring the Bureau’s enforcement authority which Republicans have found to be too zealous since the Bureau was first started up.

Comments are due April 13, 2018, so get crackin’.

Ditching the CFPB’s System of Adjudication

photo by Mike Licht

Mick Mulvaney is continuing his work of dismantling the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as we have known it. His latest is the issuance of a Request for Information Regarding Bureau Rules of Practice for Adjudication Proceedings.

Section 1053 of the Act authorizes the Bureau to conduct administrative adjudications. The Bureau in the past has brought cases in the administrative setting in accordance with applicable law. The Bureau understands, however, that the administrative adjudication process can result in undue burdens, impacts, or costs on the parties subject to these proceedings. Members of the public are likely to have useful information and perspectives on the benefits and impacts of the Bureau’s use of administrative adjudications, as well as existing administrative adjudication processes and the Rules. The Bureau is especially interested in receiving suggestions for whether it should be availing itself of the administrative adjudication process, and if so how its processes and Rules could be updated, streamlined, or revised to better achieve the Bureau’s statutory objectives; to minimize burdens, impacts, or costs on parties subject to these proceedings; to align the Bureau’s administrative adjudication Rules more closely with those of other agencies; and to better provide fair and efficient process to individuals and entities involved in the adjudication process, including ensuring that they have a full and fair opportunity to present evidence and arguments relevant to the proceeding. (83 F.R. 5055-56, Feb. 5, 2018)

The Bureau requests that comments include, first and foremost, “Specific discussion of the positive and negative aspects of the Bureau’s administrative adjudication processes, including whether a policy of proceeding in Federal court in all instances would be preferable.” (83 F.R. 5056)

This Request for Information is the second of a series. The first RFI addressed Civil Investigative Demands and Associated Processes. I will blog about the third one, the Request for Information Regarding Bureau Enforcement Processes, at a later date.

Mulvaney appears to be using these RFIs to provide the consumer financial services industry with an opportunity to provide broad direction to the Bureau as to what changes they would like to see, now that pro-consumer Director Cordray has stepped down. This would be consistent with this RFI’s focus on minimizing “burdens, impacts, or costs on parties subject to these proceedings . . .”

Comments are due April 6, 2018 so get crackin’.

The Fate of CFPB’s Civil Investigative Demands

 

Mick Mulvaney’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a Request for Information Regarding Bureau Civil Investigative Demands and Associated Processes:

The Bureau is using this request for information to seek public input regarding the exercise of its authority to issue CIDs, including from entities who have received one or more CIDs from the Bureau, or members of the bar who represent these entities.

The issuance of CIDs is an essential tool for fulfilling the Bureau’s statutory mission of enforcing Federal consumer financial law. The Bureau issues CIDs in accordance with the law and in furtherance of its investigatory objectives. The Bureau understands, however, that responding to a CID can impose burdens on the recipients. Entities who have received one or more CIDs, members of the bar who represent these entities, and members of the public are likely to have useful information and perspectives on the benefits and burdens of the Bureau’s existing processes related to CIDs. The Bureau is especially interested in better understanding how its processes related to CIDs may be updated, streamlined, or revised to better achieve the Bureau’s statutory and regulatory objectives, while minimizing burdens, consistent with applicable law, and how to align the Bureau’s CID processes with those of other agencies with similar authorities. Interested parties may also be well-positioned to identify those parts of the Bureau’s processes related to CIDs that are most in need of improvement, and, thus, assist the Bureau in prioritizing and properly tailoring its review process. In short, engaging CID recipients, potential CID recipients, and the public in an open, transparent process will help inform the Bureau’s review of its processes related to CIDs. (83 F.R. 3686 (Jan. 26, 2018))

There is a lot of subtext in this request, of course, because Mulvaney is set on hamstringing the Bureau which he has described as a “sick, sad” joke. A review of CIDs is likely to lead to a decrease in enforcement activity for the financial services companies regulated by the CFPB.

Be that as it may, the Bureau is seeking comments on “Specific suggestions regarding any potential updates or modifications to the Bureau’s practices regarding the formulation, issuance, or modification of CIDs consistent with the Bureau’s regulatory and statutory objectives, including, in as much detail as possible, the potential update or modification, supporting data or other information such as cost information or information concerning alignment with the processes of other agencies with similar authorities . . .” (Id.)

Comments are due by March 27, 2018.

Holding Servicers Accountable

image by Rizkyharis

I submitted my comment to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regarding the 2013 RESPA Servicing Rule Assessment. It reads, substantively, as follows:

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a Request for Information Regarding 2013 Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act Servicing Rule Assessment. The Bureau

is conducting an assessment of the Mortgage Servicing Rules Under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (Regulation X), as amended prior to January 10, 2014, in accordance with section 1022(d) of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The Bureau is requesting public comment on its plans for assessing this rule as well as certain recommendations and information that may be useful in conducting the planned assessment. (82 F.R. 21952)

Before the RESPA Servicing Rule was adopted in 2013, homeowners had had to deal with unresponsive servicers who acted in ways that can only be described as arbitrary and capricious or worse.  Numerous judges have used terms such as “Kafka-esque” to describe homeowner’s dealings with servicers.  See, e.g., Sundquist v. Bank of Am., N.A., 566 B.R. 563 (Bankr. E.D. Cal. Mar. 23, 2017).  Others have found that servicers failed to act in “good faith,” even when courts were closely monitoring their actions.  See, e,g., United States Bank v. Sawyer, 95 A.3d 608  (Me. 2014). And yet others have found that servicers made multiple misrepresentations to homeowners.  See, e.g., Federal Natl. Mtge. Assn. v. Singer, 48 Misc. 3d 1211(A), 20 N.Y.S.3d 291 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. July 15, 2015).  The good news is that in those three cases, judges punished the servicers and lenders for their patterns of abuse of the homeowners. Indeed, the Sundquist judge fined Bank of America a whopping $45 million to send it a message about its horrible treatment of borrowers.

But a fairy tale ending for a handful of borrowers who are lucky enough to have a good lawyer with the resources to fully litigate one of these crazy cases is not a solution for the thousands upon thousands of borrowers who had to give up because they did not have the resources, patience, or mental fortitude to take on big lenders and servicers who were happy to drag these matters on for years and years through court proceeding after court proceeding.

The RESPA Servicing Rule goes a long way to help all of those other homeowners who find themselves caught up in trials imposed by their servicers that it would take a Franz Kafka to adequately describe.  The Rule has addressed intentional and unintentional abuses in the use of force-placed insurance and other servicer actions.

The RESPA Servicing Rule Assessment should evaluate whether the Rule is sufficiently evaluating servicers’ compliance with the Rule and implementing remediation plans for those which fail to comply with the vast majority of loans in their portfolios.  Servicers should not be evaluated just on substantive outcomes but also on their processes.  Are avoidable foreclosures avoided?  Are homeowners treated with basic good faith when it comes to interactions with servicers relating to defaults, loss mitigation and transfers of servicing rights?  The Assessment should evaluate whether the Rule adequately measures such things.  One measure the Bureau could look at would be court cases involving servicers and homeowners.  While perhaps difficult to do, the Bureau should attempt to measure the Rule’s impact on court filings alleging servicer abuses.

The occasional win in court won’t save the vast majority of homeowners from abusive lending practices.  The RESPA Servicing Rule, properly applied and evaluated, could.

 

Assessing RESPA

image by Yoel Ben-Avraham

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a Request for Information Regarding 2013 Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act Servicing Rule Assessment. The Bureau

is conducting an assessment of the Mortgage Servicing Rules Under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (Regulation X), as amended prior to January 10, 2014, in accordance with section 1022(d) of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The Bureau is requesting public comment on its plans for assessing this rule as well as certain recommendations and information that may be useful in conducting the planned assessment. (82 F.R. 21952)

This is certainly a pretty obscure initiative, albeit one required by the Dodd-Frank Act. But it is worth determining what is at stake in it. The Request includes some additional background:

Congress established the Bureau in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act).1 In the Dodd-Frank Act, Congress generally consolidated in the Bureau the rulemaking authority for Federal consumer financial laws previously vested in certain other Federal agencies. Congress also provided the Bureau with the authority to, among other things, prescribe rules as may be necessary or appropriate to enable the Bureau to administer and carry out the purposes and objectives of the Federal consumer financial laws and to prevent evasions thereof. Since 2011, the Bureau has issued a number of rules adopted under Federal consumer financial law.

Section 1022(d) of the Dodd-Frank Act requires the Bureau to conduct an assessment of each significant rule or order adopted by the Bureau under Federal consumer financial law. The Bureau must publish a report of the assessment not later than five years after the effective date of such rule or order. The assessment must address, among other relevant factors, the rule’s effectiveness in meeting the purposes and objectives of title X of the Dodd-Frank Act and the specific goals stated by the Bureau. The assessment must reflect available evidence and any data that the Bureau reasonably may collect. Before publishing a report of its assessment, the Bureau must invite public comment on recommendations for modifying, expanding, or eliminating the significant rule or order.

In January 2013, the Bureau issued the ‘‘Mortgage Servicing Rules Under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (Regulation X)’’ (2013 RESPA Servicing Final Rule). The Bureau amended the 2013 RESPA Servicing Final Rule on several occasions before it took effect on January 10, 2014. As discussed further below, the Bureau has determined that the 2013 RESPA Servicing Final Rule and all the amendments related to it that the Bureau made that took effect on January 10, 2014 collectively make up a significant rule for purposes of section 1022(d). The Bureau will conduct an assessment of the 2013 RESPA Servicing Final Rule as so amended, which this document refers to as the ‘‘2013 RESPA Servicing Rule.’’ In this document, the Bureau is requesting public comment on the issues identified below regarding the 2013 RESPA Servicing Rule. (Id., footnotes omitted)

The Bureau will be evaluating servicer activities such as responses to loss mitigation applications and borrower notices of error. It will also be evaluating fees and charges; the exercise of rights by consumers under the rule; and delinquency outcomes.

The Bureau is requesting comment on some technical subjects relating to the assessment plan itself. But if you think you have something to add, you should submit comments by July 10th here.

Uses & Abuses of Online Marketplace Lending

photo by Kim Traynor

 

The Department of the Treasury has issued a report, Opportunities and Challenges in Online Marketplace Lending. Online marketplace lending is still in its early stages, so it is great that regulators are paying attention to it before it has fully matured. This lending channel may greatly increase options for borrowers, but it can also present opportunities to fleece them. Treasury is looking at this issue from both sides. Some highlights of the report include,

 

 

  • There is Opportunity to Expand Access to Credit: RFI [Request for Information] responses suggested that online marketplace lending is expanding access to credit in some segments by providing loans to certain borrowers who might not otherwise have received capital. Although the majority of consumer loans are being originated for debt consolidation purposes, small business loans are being originated to business owners for general working capital and expansion needs. Distribution partnerships between online marketplace lenders and traditional lenders may present an opportunity to leverage technology to expand access to credit further into underserved markets.
  • New Credit Models and Operations Remain Untested: New business models and underwriting tools have been developed in a period of very low interest rates, declining unemployment, and strong overall credit conditions. However, this industry remains untested through a complete credit cycle. Higher charge off and delinquency rates for recent vintage consumer loans may augur increased concern if and when credit conditions deteriorate.
  • Small Business Borrowers Will Likely Require Enhanced Safeguards: RFI commenters drew attention to uneven protections and regulations currently in place for small business borrowers. RFI commenters across the stakeholder spectrum argued small business borrowers should receive enhanced protections.
  • Greater Transparency Can Benefit Borrowers and Investors: RFI responses strongly supported and agreed on the need for greater transparency for all market participants. Suggested areas for greater transparency include pricing terms for borrowers and standardized loan-level data for investors.

*     *     *

  • Regulatory Clarity Can Benefit the Market: RFI commenters had diverse views of the role government could play in the market. However, a large number argued that regulators could provide additional clarity around the roles and requirements for the various participants. (1-2)

As we move deeper and deeper into the gig economy, the distinction between a consumer and a small business owner gets murkier and murkier. Thus, this call for greater protections for small business borrowers makes a lot of sense.

Online marketplace lending is such a new lending channel, so it is appropriate that the report ends with a lot of questions:

  • Will new credit scoring models prove robust as the credit cycle turns?
  • Will higher overall interest rates change the competitiveness of online marketplace lenders or dampen appetite from their investors?
  • Will this maturing industry successfully navigate cyber security challenges, and adapt to appropriately heightened regulatory expectations? (34)

We will have to live through a few credit cycles before we have a good sense of the answers to these questions.