CFPB Implements Advisory Opinion Program, Amends ‘Responsible Business Conduct’ Bulletin
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Friday announced several Mortgage Bankers Association-recommended steps to offer clear guidance to lenders and servicers.
The Bureau announced the following steps it said will “advance its strategy on one of its key priorities—preventing consumer harm:”
–Implementing an advisory opinion program to provide clear guidance to assist companies in better understanding their legal and regulatory obligations through advisory opinions;
–Amending and reissuing its responsible business conduct bulletin, which articulates that the Bureau intends to provide credit to entities for their responsible conduct based on its extent and significance; and
–Engaging with Congress to advance proposed legislation that would authorize the Bureau to award whistleblowers who report violations of Federal consumer financial law. The proposed legislation would amend Title X of the Dodd-Frank Act and provide authority to establish a whistleblower award program. Under the proposed legislation, in cases where a whistleblower provides voluntary information that leads to a successful enforcement action, the Bureau will be able to pay an award based on a percentage of the monetary sanctions collected in the action.
“These steps reinforce the Bureau’s commitment to preventing consumer harm,” said CFPB Director Kathleen Kraninger. “Advisory opinions will ensure that companies know what compliance entails and what constitutes a violation. We also want to incentivize whistleblowers to contact us if they believe their employer is not complying with the law.”
Mortgage Bankers Association President and CEO Robert Broeksmit, CMB, welcomed the Bureau’s announcements.
“MBA has consistently advocated for improved partnership between the Bureau and the firms it regulates, believing that it will ultimately benefit consumers,” Broeksmit said. “An advisory regulatory opinion program will offer lenders and servicers more clarity, creating a more consistent understanding of their compliance obligations. Amending the responsible business conduct bulletin encourages lenders to proactively look for, report, and remediate compliance errors, ensuring that consumers get relief faster when mistakes are made. Finally, we look forward to working with Congress and the Bureau on the proposed whistleblower legislation.”
Broeksmit noted the first two steps–the advisory opinion program and the revised business conduct bulletin–were among recommendations in two MBA White Papers:
CFPB 2.0: Advancing Consumer Protection (http://mba.org/CFPBv2); and The Roadmap to CFPB 2.0 (https://www.mba.org/2019-press-releases/march/mba-releases-new-paper-the-roadmap-to-cfpb-20), which detail recommendations to ensure stability and consistent consumer protections in the Bureau’s practices and consumer financial laws.
CFPB 2.0 explains how an updated Bureau could advance consumer protection while promoting a vibrant, competitive mortgage lending market. The Roadmap to CFPB 2.0 draws from detailed responses MBA submitted to the series of 12 requests for information the Bureau released in 2018 seeking suggestions for how it could better align its supervisory practices and the regulations it administers with its statutory mandate and generally accepted principles of sound prudential regulation.
CFPB said under the advisory opinion program, parties will submit requests for an advisory opinion to the Bureau via its website. The Bureau will issue additional procedures for how requests will be addressed, including how the Bureau will prioritize requests.
To increase transparency and to provide regulatory certainty to all regulated entities and other stakeholders, the Bureau will publish the responding advisory opinion in the Federal Register and on its website. The opinion will include an interpretation of the Bureau’s existing rules. Under a current guidance process, responses to individual regulatory inquiries are generally available to the individual requestor. That process will remain available alongside the advisory opinion program, as will the Bureau’s other efforts to provide clear guidance to the public.
The Bureau originally published a responsible business conduct bulletin in June 2013. The new bulletin (https://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/cfpb_bulletin-2020-01_responsible-business-conduct.pdf.) updates and strengthens the original bulletin and is intended to clarify the Bureau’s approach to responsible business conduct and emphasize the importance of such conduct. “Responsible conduct can improve the Bureau’s ability to promptly detect violations, increase the effectiveness of its supervisory and enforcement work, enable the Bureau to better focus its finite resources, and help more consumers get redress,” the Bureau said.
The bulletin identifies four categories of responsible conduct: self-assessing, self-reporting, remediation, and cooperation. If an entity meaningfully engages in these activities, the Bureau will favorably consider it, along with other relevant factors, in addressing violations of Federal consumer financial law in supervisory and enforcement matters.
“Responsible conduct is in the public interest,” Kraninger said. “Entities that build a culture of compliance and engage in responsible conduct support consumer protection and the Bureau’s efforts to both prevent harm to consumers and enforce the law against bad actors.”
The proposed whistleblower legislative language is available at: https://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/cfpb_whistleblower-proposed-statutory-text_2020-03.pdf.