California’s governor is expected to sign into law soon a bill creating a state consumer financial protection agency, the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI), which some have called California’s “mini-CFPB.” We reported previously on the importance of this law in January and March.
In a recent post, we discussed the increasing focus by state attorneys general on the use of their enforcement authority against payment processing applications platforms that were not licensed under state money transmitter laws. As we pointed out, one of the challenges raised by these state laws is the fact that they are not uniform in either their language or how they are interpreted or applied.
In the spirit of looking at the glass-half-full aspects of these developments, it is worth pointing out that the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) is undertaking an initiative to develop model payments legislation with the goal of increasing uniformity of state legislation in this area. The multistate licensing initiative is part of Vision 2020, a set of initiatives that CSBS and state regulators are implementing to harmonize the multistate licensing and supervisory experience for nonbank financial services providers, including fintechs. One primary area of focus for the CSBS is state money transmitter legislation. To this end, a committee of state financial institution supervisors, under the auspices of the CSBS, has developed model language for money services businesses, and recently published this model language for public comment. The model language focuses on areas such as core definitions of money transmission–related activities, money transmitter exemptions, control and changes in control of money transmission businesses, financial condition issues, and interstate parity and coordination activities.
A recent letter from a bipartisan group of 31 state attorneys general to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asks the agency to both continue and enhance its various identity theft rules. The group, led by attorneys general Ellen Rosenblum (D-OR) and Kevin Clarkson (R-AK), points to the challenges presented by emerging technologies being regulated by dated rules. While the concept of regulatory obsoleteness is not new, the speed at which new technologies now emerge means that rules can become dated quickly.
Arizona has become the first state in the United States to enact a law to create a “Fintech Sandbox” – a safe zone for fintech startups to test new applications and financial services otherwise subject to state money transmitter, banking, and similar licensing requirements without having to obtain a state license. Although other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Singapore, and Australia, have created similar fintech sandboxes, similar legislation or regulations thus far have not been adopted in the United States at the federal or state level.
The Fintech Sandbox idea was promoted by the Arizona attorney general and will be administered by the Arizona Office of the Attorney General (AZ OAG). However, the Fintech Sandbox does not mean that fintech companies will be unregulated in Arizona. There will be a substantive application and oversight process.
At a recent meeting of state attorneys general, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Acting Director Mick Mulvaney reiterated his message, previously reported here that his bureau will no longer “push the envelope” on enforcement matters.
At the conclusion of his remarks, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) asked Mulvaney whether this change in enforcement philosophy means that the CFPB will interfere in or otherwise impede the use of state attorney general authority to enforce certain Dodd-Frank provisions, specifically those penalizing conduct which is “unfair, deceptive, or abusive” (UDAAP) in federal court. Mulvaney responded unequivocally that it would not.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has just issued a memorandum (AG Memo) rescinding prior US Department of Justice (DOJ) guidance on the federal prosecution of marijuana offenses, including the 2013 “Cole Memorandum” (Cole Memo) and subsequent guidance regarding marijuana-related financial crimes (Financial Crimes Memo). The Cole Memo, among other things, expressly acknowledged the legalization of marijuana in several states for medical and recreational purposes and directed federal prosecutors to focus their enforcement priorities and resources on activities that align with current DOJ enforcement priorities. In turn, these priorities emphasized the prevention of marijuana-related activities posing the most significant threats to public safety and welfare (such as preventing the sale of marijuana to minors, or preventing marijuana sales from benefiting criminal enterprises). The Cole Memo in substance encouraged federal prosecutors to take a “hands-off” approach on the prosecution of “low level” marijuana-related offenses in those states that have legalized in some form the possession or use of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes. The subsequent Financial Crimes Memo carried forward the Cole Memo principles to the prosecution of banks and other financial institutions participating in marijuana-related banking and financial activities.
On August 17, 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and 12 state attorneys general (the Government) filed proposed settlements with Aequitas Capital Management, a now-defunct private equity firm, in connection with loans that Aequitas funded for students of another bankrupt entity, Corinthian Colleges, Inc. The settlements follow the Government’s allegations that Aequitas engaged in “unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices” (UDAAP) under Dodd-Frank and under similar state statutes targeting “unfair and deceptive acts and practices” (UDAP). Corinthian, formerly one of the largest for-profit colleges in the country, suffered a total collapse in 2015 following enforcement actions by both the US Department of Education (ED), for alleged violations of its rules, and the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), for alleged securities fraud. Aequitas itself is currently in receivership following SEC allegations of securities fraud and of Aequitas operating in a “Ponzi-like fashion.”
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced that it has filed suit against four online lenders owned by the federally recognized Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake Indian Tribe based on alleged violations of state licensing and usury laws.
The factual allegations in this lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, are unremarkable. The CFPB charges that the online lenders at issue make small-dollar loans at very high interest rates and that the entities’ tribal ownership is both legally irrelevant and factually dubious. The CFPB also alleges relatively modest violations of Regulation Z’s requirement to disclose the annual percentage rate in an oral response to a consumer inquiry about the cost of credit. The CFPB, however, alleges that the defendants engaged in unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices (UDAAP) in violation of federal law through their efforts to collect on loans that were usurious under state law, or for which other state-law violations vitiated or limited the borrowers’ obligation to repay.
In a rare judicial rebuke of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB’s) oft-criticized efforts to seek penalties despite no damages for allegedly “unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices” (UDAAP) conduct, the US District Court for the District of North Dakota in CFPB v. Intercept Corporation has dismissed without prejudice a complaint (Complaint) filed by the CFPB against Intercept (a third-party payment processor for payday and title lenders and debt collectors) and two of its officers for failure to state a plausible claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).
District Court Decision
The district court held that the CFPB failed to allege any facts suggesting that consumers were injured or likely to be injured by Intercept, or that any potential injury was not counterbalanced by benefits to the consumers in the matter. Accordingly, there was a failure of the most basic form of notice pleading, and the Complaint was dismissed.
While the CFPB may refile its Complaint, one may presume that a sophisticated federal agency like the CFPB is aware of its Rule 12 notice obligations and did what it could to file an actionable complaint in the first place.
The election of Donald J. Trump as president and continued Republican control of both the US Senate and House of Representatives may provide the new president the opportunity to immediately remake the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) after he takes office in January 2017.
When a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held in October that the structure of the CFPB is unconstitutional, we wrote that the flaw was cured by converting the CFPB’s director from a position that may only be terminated “for cause” to one where the director, as with other administration appointees, serves at the president’s pleasure (see PHH Corporation v. CFPB).