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CFPB seeking information on use of alternative data in credit process, including by small business lenders

Posted in Credit Reports, Small Business

The CFPB has issued a request for information (RFI) that seeks information about the use of alternative data and modeling techniques in the credit process.  On March 21, 2017 from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. ET, Ballard Spahr attorneys will hold a webinar: The New Frontier of Alternative Credit Models: Opportunities, Risks and the CFPB’s Request for Information.  A link to register is available here.

According to the CFPB, the RFI stems from the Bureau’s desire “to encourage responsible innovations that could be implemented in a consumer-friendly way to help serve populations currently underserved by the mainstream credit system.”  The CFPB had signaled the likelihood of future action relating to alternative credit data in a May 2015 report, “Data Point: Credit Invisibles,” that reported the results of a research project undertaken by the CFPB to better understand the demographic characteristics of consumers without traditional credit reports or credit scores.  The report, which the RFI cites, concluded that the current credit reporting system is precluding certain populations from accessing credit and taking advantage of other economic opportunities.

In conjunction with the RFI’s issuance, the CFPB held a field hearing on alternative credit data in Charleston, West Virginia at which Director Cordray gave remarks.  (In a break from its prior practice, the CFPB did not publish advance notice of the field hearing on its website.)

In the RFI’s Supplementary Information, the CFPB states that it not only seeks information relating to consumer credit but, “because some of the Bureau’s authorities relate to small business lending,” it “welcomes information about alternative data and modeling techniques in business lending markets as well.”  To that end, for many of the specific questions asked in the RFI on which the CFPB seeks comments, the CFPB asks commenters to describe “any differences in your answers as they pertain to lending to businesses (especially small businesses) rather than consumers.”  (The CFPB notes the ECOA’s coverage of consumer and business credit and that it has begun the process of writing regulations to implement Dodd-Frank Section 1071, which requires data collection and reporting for lending to women-owned, minority-owned, and small businesses.)  Comments on the RFI must be received on or before May 19, 2017.

The Supplementary Information includes a discussion of alternative data and modeling techniques in which the CFPB provides examples of the types of data and modeling techniques that have been labeled “alternative.”  It also discusses prior research by other federal regulators, such as the FTC’s report on big data.  (The CFPB notes that the non-traditional data that might be used to assess borrower creditworthiness could include “big data.”  To address the growing interest in the use of “big data” and “machine learning” by a wide range of businesses, we recently held a webinar, “Big Data and Computer Learning – Lots of Opportunity and Lots of Legal Risk.”)

In the Supplementary Information, the CFPB lists potential consumer benefits and risks it has identified and states that it intends to use the information gleaned from the RFI’s questions “to help maximize the benefits and minimize the risks” from the use of alternative data and modeling techniques.  The RFI contains 20 specific questions (most of which have numerous subsidiary questions) that are divided into four sections: alternative data, alternative modeling techniques, potential benefits and risks to consumers and market participants, and specific statutes and regulations as they pertain to alternative data and modeling techniques.  The CFPB notes that although each question speaks generally about all decisions in the credit process, “answers can differentiate, as appropriate, between uses in marketing, fraud detection and prevention, underwriting, setting or changes in terms (including pricing), servicing, collections, or other relevant aspects of the credit process.”

The CFPB states in the RFI that it not only seeks to understand the benefits and risks stemming from the use of alternative data and modeling techniques, but “also to begin to consider future activity to encourage their responsible use and lower unnecessary barriers, including any unnecessary regulatory burden or uncertainty that impedes such use.”  We hope the CFPB’s issuance of the RFI reflects its recognition of the complexity of the issues involved in the use of alternative data and modeling techniques and the need for it to carefully consider the interests of all stakeholders.

 

 

Fate of House bill to change class action procedures could be barometer for CFPB arbitration rule

Posted in Arbitration

On February 9, 2017, the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 19-12 passed the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017, a bill that would make significant changes to the procedures for class actions in federal court.  The bill’s passage by the House and Senate with strong Republican support would seem to augur well for the adoption of a joint resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act to nullify a final arbitration rule should one be issued by the CFPB.

Intended to combat abuses in class action and mass tort litigation, the bill includes provisions that would:

  • Prohibit a court from certifying a class action seeking monetary relief for personal injury or economic loss unless “the party seeking to maintain such class action affirmatively demonstrates that each proposed class member suffered the same type and scope of injury as the named class representative or representatives.”
  • Prohibit a court from certifying a class action “in which any proposed class representative or named plaintiff is a relative of, is a present or former employee of, is a present or former client of (other than with respect to the class action), or has any contractual relationship with (other than with respect to the class action) class counsel.
  • Prohibit a court from certifying a class action seeking monetary relief unless the class is defined with reference to objective criteria and the party seeking to maintain the class action “affirmatively demonstrates that there is a reliable and administratively feasible mechanism (a) for the court to determine whether putative class members fall within the class definition and (b) for distributing directly to a substantial majority of class members any monetary relief secured for the class.”
  • Prohibit payment of attorneys’ fees in a class action seeking monetary relief until the distribution of monetary recovery to class members has been completed and limit the portion of an attorneys’ fee award to class counsel that is attributed to the monetary recovery to a reasonable percentage of any payments directly distributed to and received by class members, with the attorneys’ fee award in no event to exceed the total amount of money directly distributed to and received by class members.
  • Allow appeals to a circuit court from an order granting or denying class action certification under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

A group of public interest and consumer advocacy groups have sent a letter to Representative Bob Goodlatte, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Representative John Conyers, Jr., the Ranking Member, expressing their strongly opposition to the bill.  In their letter, the groups reference the requirement that “each proposed class member suffered the same type and scope of injury as the named class representative or representatives” for a court to certify a class action and state that “[t]his alone would sound the death knell for most class actions.”

D.C. Circuit grants CFPB’s petition for rehearing en banc in PHH case

Posted in CFPB Enforcement

The D.C. Circuit has entered an order granting the CFPB’s petition for rehearing en banc in the PHH case.  Because the order was issued per curiam, it does not indicate which of the active judges voted to grant the petition but only indicates that Chief Judge Garland did not participate.

The order vacates the panel’s October 2016 judgment, sets a briefing schedule, and sets May 24, 2017 as the date for oral argument.   The order also provides that “[w]hile not otherwise limited,” the parties are directed to address the following three issues in their briefs:

  • Is the CFPB’s structure as a single-Director independent agency consistent with Article II of the Constitution and, if not, is the proper remedy to sever the for-cause provision of the statute?
  • May the court appropriately avoid deciding that constitutional question given the panel’s ruling on the statutory issues in this case?
  • If the en banc court, which has today separately ordered en banc consideration of Lucia v. SEC, 832 F. 3d 277 (D.C. Cir. 2016), concludes in that case that the administrative law judge who handled that case was an inferior officer rather than an employee, what is the appropriate disposition of this case?

In Lucia, the decision cited in the third issue, a panel of the D.C. Circuit held that because the SEC’s ALJ was an “employee” rather than “inferior officer” who must be appointed in accordance with the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the ALJ’s appointment by the SEC’s Office of Administrative Law Judges rather than an SEC Commissioner was constitutional.  In its brief to the D.C. Circuit filed in connection with its appeal from Director Cordray’s order affirming the ALJ’s decision that PHH had violated RESPA, PHH argued that the ALJ was an “inferior officer” whose appointment did not satisfy the Appointments Clause.  PHH indicated in its brief that it was preserving an Appointments Clause challenge to the CFPB’s use of an ALJ for review by the en banc D.C. Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court.  Nevertheless, the panel’s October 2016 decision included a concurring opinion from Senior Judge Randolph in which he stated that because the ALJ used by the CFPB was an “inferior officer” who had not been appointed in accordance with the Appointments Clause, “[t]his in itself rendered the proceedings against petitioners unconstitutional.”

Because Chief Judge Garland will not be participating, ten active judges will sit on the en banc court, six of whom were appointed by either President Obama or President Clinton.  Since he was on the original panel, Senior Judge Randolph, appointed by President George H.W. Bush, can also sit on the en banc court should he wish to do so.

 

 

New CFPB webinar available on 2015 HMDA final rule

Posted in Mortgages

On October 15, 2015, the CFPB released a final rule amending Regulation C, which implements the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA), requiring certain data on mortgage applications and loans to be collected beginning in 2017 by “covered institutions.”

The CFPB has previously made various resources available for HMDA filers, including a recording of a webinar conducted by the CFPB staff that provides an overview of the 2015 HMDA final rule.  Last week, the CFPB posted a recording of a new webinar on the final rule that discusses identifiers and other data points, including those related to applicants and borrowers.

 

 

 

FTC sends letter to CFPB on 2016 debt collection activities

Posted in Debt Collection, FTC

The FTC has sent a letter to the CFPB summarizing the FTC’s debt collection activities in 2016.  The letter is intended to provide the CFPB with information for its annual report to Congress on the federal government’s FDCPA activities.

The letter includes a discussion of the FTC’s collaboration with the CFPB on two amicus briefs in cases involving FDCPA issues.  In one such case, the FTC and CFPB argued in the Seventh Circuit that an unpaid parking fee is a “debt” within the meaning of the FDCPA.  In the other such case, the FTC and CFPB argued in the Ninth Circuit that the FDCPA requirement for a debt collector to provide certain information to the consumer “after the initial communication” does not apply only to the first debt collector that contacts a consumer to collect a particular debt but applies to each debt collector that contacts the consumer to collect that debt.

The letter’s centerpiece is the FTC’s description of its enforcement activities.  The FTC stated that in 2016, it brought or resolved 12 debt collection cases that included the following:

  • Three actions involving “phantom debt collection” in which the defendants were charged with such activities as selling portfolios of fake payday loans used by debt collectors to get people to pay on debts they did not owe, threatening consumers to collect debts they did not owe, and attempting to collect on debts known to be bogus.
  • Three actions against debt collectors for allegedly using text messages, emails and phone calls to falsely threaten consumers with arrest or and lawsuits.
  • An action against debt collectors for allegedly sending letters in connection with the collection of utility bills and government debts that contained threats of arrest appearing to come from a court

The letter also discussed the FTC’s education and public outreach initiatives, such as its work with community-based organizations and national groups that order and distribute FTC information, its development of a series of fotonovelas in Spanish, and its development and distribution of business education materials.  The FTC also described its research and policy development activities, which consisted of holding conferences and workshops and coordination with the CFPB.

 

Plaintiffs in another case challenging CFPB’s constitutionality move to intervene in PHH case

Posted in CFPB Enforcement

The plaintiffs in State National Bank of Big Spring, Texas, et al. v. Lew have filed a “Motion To Intervene In Any En Banc Proceeding That May Be Granted” in the PHH case.  The motion follows the D.C. federal district court’s denial of the plaintiffs’ attempt to consolidate their case with PHH on appeal to the D.C. Circuit.

In July 2016, the D.C. federal district court rejected the plaintiffs’ attempt in State National Bank of Big Spring to invalidate the actions taken by Director Cordray while he was a recess appointee.  The district court deferred ruling on the plaintiffs’ separation of powers constitutional challenge pending a decision by the D.C. Circuit in PHH.  The D.C. Circuit subsequently ruled in PHH that the CFPB’s single-director-removable-only-for-cause structure is unconstitutional.  In their motion seeking consolidation filed last month, the plaintiffs argued that judicial economy would be served by having the district court enter partial summary judgment in their favor on their claim that the Dodd-Frank Act’s for-cause removal provision is unconstitutional and then certify the partial summary judgment order for interlocutory appeal to the D.C. Circuit.

In their motion to intervene, the plaintiffs argue that if the D.C. Circuit grants the CFPB’s petition for rehearing en banc but decides the case on RESPA grounds, their “constitutional claims will be left unresolved, and the district court will be left without binding guidance from this Court as to how the constitutional question should be answered.”  According to the plaintiffs, a decision on RESPA grounds would delay the resolution of their case, “prolonging the harm they suffer from being subject to unconstitutionally promulgated regulations and ensuring that they will wait even longer for an eventual, inevitable merits determination from this Court.”

The plaintiffs argue that they meet the standard for intervention of right, which includes a requirement that no party to the action can adequately protect their interests.  According to the plaintiffs, they cannot rely on PHH to defend the panel’s constitutionality holding as vigorously as the plaintiffs would.

 

CFPB Consumer Advisory Board to meet March 2

Posted in CFPB General

The CFPB has published a notice in the Federal Register announcing that a meeting of its Consumer Advisory Board will be held on March 2, 2017.  The notice indicates that the Board will discuss the consumer credit information marketplace, CFPB enforcement actions, trends and themes in consumer financial markets, and enhancements to the CFPB Consumer Complaint Database.

The discussion of the consumer credit information marketplace will likely involve the CFPB’s November 2016 request for information regarding market practices related to consumer access to financial information.  The RFI included a discussion of current market practices in connection with consumer-permissioned access to account information, including the role of account aggregators in transmitting consumer data.

The discussion of CFPB Consumer Complaint Database enhancements will likely involve the CFPB’s proposal to add a survey to its current complaint intake form that a consumer can elect to complete to provide feedback on the company’s response to his or her complaint.

 

FTC sends 2016 ECOA report to CFPB

Posted in Fair Lending, FTC

The FTC has sent its annual letter to the CFPB reporting on the FTC’s activities related to compliance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and Regulation B.

The FTC has authority to enforce the ECOA and Reg B as to nonbank providers within its jurisdiction.  However, like the FTC’s letters on its 2014 and 2015 ECOA activities, the letter on 2016 activities does not describe any 2016 FTC ECOA enforcement activity and only contains information about the FTC’s research and policy development efforts and educational initiatives.

With respect to research and policy development, the letter discusses the following initiatives:

  • Auto survey.  In December 2015, the FTC published a notice in the Federal Register seeking comments on its plans to conduct a survey of consumers regarding their experiences in buying and financing automobiles at dealerships.  The FTC published a second notice in September 2016 seeking clearance from OMB for the survey, addressing comments received in response to the 2015 notice, and inviting further comments.  (In addition to ECOA enforcement authority, the FTC has authority to issue unfair or deceptive trade practices rules for auto dealers under Section 5 of the FTC Act.  The survey could be a prelude to such rulemaking.)
  • Big data report.  In January 2016, the FTC issued a report warning that certain uses of big data consisting of consumer information may implicate various federal consumer protection laws.  The report focused on big data’s impact on low-income and underserved populations and protected groups and discussed the potential applicability of various laws, including the ECOA, to big data practices and provided a list of ”questions for legal compliance” for companies to consider in light of these laws.
  • Fintech forum.  In June 2016, the FTC launched a series of forums exploring emerging financial technology and its implications for consumers.  The first forum focused on marketplace lending and examined how marketplace lending operates, potential consumer benefits, consumer protection issues, and the potential applicability of various consumer protection laws.
  • Report on fraud in African American and Latino communities.  In June 2016, the FTC issued a report on its work on fraud prevention, enforcement, and consumer outreach and education in African American and Latino communities.
  • Changing demographics workshop.  In December 2016, the FTC held a workshop in which the topics discussed included how the population is changing, the impact of those changes on the marketplace, concerns about auto lending and discriminatory lending, and the FTC’s future role.
  • Interagency fair lending task force.  The FTC noted its continued membership in the Interagency Task Force on Fair Lending with the CFPB, DOJ, HUD, and the federal banking agencies.

With regard to the FTC’s consumer and business educational initiatives, the FTC discussed its publication of various blog posts in 2016, including posts about its work in combating fraud, its workshop on changing demographics, its fintech forum, and its big data report.

 

Democratic lawmakers/ Democratic state AGs/ consumer advocacy groups seek reconsideration en banc of motions to intervene in PHH case

Posted in CFPB Enforcement

After the D.C. Circuit panel issued a per curiam order on February 2 denying the three motions to intervene that were filed in the PHH case, we expected the next development in the case to be a decision by the D.C. Circuit on the CFPB’s petition for rehearing en banc.  Instead, the next development has been the filing of requests for the full court to reconsider the panel’s denial of the motions to intervene.

This past Friday, a petition for rehearing en banc was filed by Democratic AGs from 16 states and the District of Columbia and motions for reconsideration en banc were filed by Senator Sherrod Brown and Representative Maxine Waters and by Americans for Financial Reform, Center for Responsible Lending, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, United States Public Interest Research Group, Maeve Brown (who chairs the CFPB’s Consumer Advisory Board), and Self-Help Credit Union.

The motions to intervene were based in substantial part on the argument that because the movants can no longer rely on the CFPB and/or the DOJ under the Trump Administration to adequately defend the CFPB’s constitutionality and have a legal interest in the CFPB remaining an independent agency, intervention is necessary to protect the movants’ legal interests, including by filing a petition for a writ of certiorari.

The public interest groups state in their motion for reconsideration en banc that they had assumed their motion to intervene “would be circulated to the entire Court alongside the [CFPB’s] petition for rehearing” because they had been instructed by the clerk’s  office to file an original and 19 copies of their motion.”  They attach their original motion to intervene and incorporate the arguments for intervention by reference in the new motion but add “one request.”  Their request is that if the court deems their motion for reconsideration premature “because today the CFPB continues to defend itself…the motion be held in abeyance and ruled upon either at the conclusion of the appeal, or when it becomes apparent that the CFPB is changing its position (whichever comes first).”  They also state that because the CFPB  may depend on the DOJ to either file or respond to a petition for a writ of certiorari and the DOJ may have a different position on constitutionality than the CFPB, the court should grant their motion “at the conclusion of the case in any event to ensure that a party remains able to defend the constitutionality of the statute Congress enacted in the Supreme Court.”

The Democratic state AGs and lawmakers, instead of attaching their original motions to intervene, repeat their arguments for intervention in, respectively, their petition and motion for rehearing or reconsideration en banc.  The lawmakers, like the consumer advocacy groups, ask the court, in the alternative to granting their motion, to “hold it in abeyance pending further developments in this case.” 

Given the weakness of their arguments for intervention, we were not surprised that the movants’ original motions to intervene were quickly denied by the panel.  We do find it surprising however that the movants are continuing to press these arguments in their new filings.  Under the Federal Rules of Appellate procedure, no response can be filed to a petition for an en banc consideration unless the court orders a response.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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House Financial Services Committee Chairman Hensarling Proposes Changes to the CHOICE Act.

Posted in CFPB General

On Monday, Chairman Hensarling circulated a memorandum to the House Financial Service Committee Leadership Team suggesting key revisions to the CHOICE Act. It only addresses proposed changes to the CHOICE Act; several key features of the original version, including subjecting the CFPB to congressional appropriations, remain in place but are not addressed in the memorandum. The proposed changes would, however, affect key features of the Dodd-Frank Act, including capital requirements, stress tests, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”). Several proposed changes to the CFPB differ significantly from the original version of the CHOICE Act.  https://tinyurl.com/zcf52ob

The most striking difference between the memorandum and original CHOICE Act is the proposed structure of the CFPB. A key feature of the original CHOICE Act was replacing the single director with a bipartisan, five-member commission, similar to the FCC and FTC. https://tinyurl.com/hq4lkfg. The current proposal abandons that approach in favor of a “[s]ole director, removable by the President at-will,” effectively codifying the panel opinion in the PHH appeal. https://tinyurl.com/hyw3tw5.

The creation of a commission had wide industry support but was controversial among congressional Democrats. https://tinyurl.com/jdtwuaz. It is somewhat surprising that Chairman Hensarling would abandon a key provision of the original CHOICE Act, but the decision may reflect a political calculus. The CHOICE Act was first introduced in July 2016, when we had a Democratic President and Hilary Clinton was reported to be the clear frontrunner. It was widely believed that, given the opportunity, Mrs. Clinton would appoint a Director with views similar to those of Director Cordray. Now, however, Republicans control both houses of congress and the presidency. Making Director Cordray removable at will would allow President Trump to appoint a sole director who would have far greater ability to roll back Cordray-era measures than would a bipartisan, five-member commission.

Other proposals set forth in the memorandum would have a greater impact than making the director removable at will. The memorandum proposes restructuring the CFPB as a “civil law enforcement agency similar to the Federal Trade Commission.” It is not clear what, exactly, is meant by “civil law enforcement agency.” But other reforms proposed in the memorandum indicate that the intent is to eliminate the CFPB’s authority to supervise banks and non-banks and to curtail greatly the CFPB’s rulemaking power and largely limit it to enforcing existing statutes and regulations:

  • Rule-making authority limited to enumerated [federal consumer financial services] statutes
  • UDAP [sic] authority repealed in full
  • Supervision repealed
  • Enforcement powers limited to cease and desist and CID/Subpoena powers
  • Mandatory advisory boards repealed
  • Elimination of consumer education functions
  • Market monitoring authority repealed
  • Research function eliminated
  • Strengthen the existing Dodd-Frank language that the CFPB’s jurisdiction does not include entities regulated by the SEC or CFTC.

These proposals would drastically alter the CFPB and make it a less powerful and robust agency. The direct, consumer-facing aspects of education and complaint handling would largely be eliminated. The CFPB would also have a much smaller role in monitoring and researching financial markets; presumably, those functions would lie primarily with the Federal Reserve. The CFPB’s rulemaking authority would be reduced greatly, and its supervisory authority would be eliminated entirely. It would retain some enforcement authority, but its preferred enforcement mechanism – UDAAP – would be unavailable and it appears that the CFPB would be unable to obtain any monetary relief for consumers or civil money penalties.

Eliminating the CFPB’s UDAAP authority would have a significant impact on one of the most controversial aspects of the CFPB, which its critics have termed regulation by consent order. UDAAP allows the CFPB significant discretion to determine what is and is not an unfair, deceptive, or abusive act or practice. This broad authority allows it to find conduct illegal that is not prohibited by a more narrowly tailored statute, such as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or Fair Credit Reporting Act. Eliminating UDAAP would require the CFPB to rely on more specific statutes and regulations in enforcement actions, thereby reducing its ability to create new regulatory expectations through enforcement actions. Indeed, the impact of eliminating UDAAP authority may explain why the memorandum includes a proposal to “[r]e-draft Section 415 to prohibit any SEC rulemaking by enforcement” but does not include a similar restriction with respect to the CFPB.

Restricting the CFPB’s rulemaking authority may have a significant impact on rules that are in the pipeline. The Small Dollar Rule and Arbitration Rule both rely exclusively on the Dodd-Frank Act, and would therefore not be permissible. The Outline of Proposals related to debt collection could partially be grounded in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, but the CFPB would not be able to rely on UDAAP or other Dodd-Frank authority. This also means that the CFPB would not be able to issue a rule regarding first-party (i.e., creditor) debt collection, as it would have to rely on UDAAP. We have blogged extensively on this proposed and contemplated rulemaking activity. https://tinyurl.com/zrho39l; https://tinyurl.com/gvoq7mp; https://tinyurl.com/jcjm672

At the end of the day, neither the original CHOICE Act nor the proposed amendments to it are likely to pass in the Senate. Republicans currently hold a narrow, 51-49 majority, and would need to pick-up several Democratic votes to overcome a likely filibuster unless the Republicans “go nuclear” – that is, change the Senate rules to eliminate the ability of the Democrats to filibuster the bill. Less ambitious reforms may be feasible, but fundamentally re-shaping the CFPB will likely prove difficult with the current makeup of the Senate. We also do not know what changes President Trump would like to make to the CFPB.