As previously discussed on BankBryanCave.com, new Department of Education regulations will impact the terms and conditions of bank accounts that institutions of higher education and postsecondary vocational institutions may offer to students to receive disbursements of Title IV Higher Education Act funds. While the regulations apply directly to colleges, many banks and third-party servicers will need to change their products, services and practices if they want to contract with colleges to offer accounts to students.
The DOE rules require covered colleges to ensure that student account terms are in the best financial interest of students, present Title IV fund disbursement and account options to the student in a fact-based and neutral manner, and ensure that students have access to an appropriate number of surcharge-free ATMs. The rules also prohibit many account fees and impose ongoing monitoring obligations on colleges to ensure that student accounts meet all requirements of the rules.
The CFPB’s new prepaid account rules will further regulate accounts offered to students by imposing Regulation E protections on those prepaid accounts, limiting overdrafts, and highly regulating other credit features on student prepaid accounts. CFPB enforcement actions against colleges relating to consumer financial products and services remind us that even colleges can be subject to their jurisdiction and enforcement efforts.
On November 18, 2016 at 1:00pm EST, Bryan Cave LLP partner, John ReVeal, will be conducting a webinar with Lorman Education Services to summarize the new DOE rules and the key CFPB prepaid account rules as they relate to student accounts. With John as a faculty member, we are able to offer a 50% discount on the registration fee. Click here for more information, here for the brochure of the webinar, and here to register.
Community banks have recently been on the receiving end of demand letters from plaintiffs law firms alleging that the banks’ websites are in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (the “ADA”). Interestingly, there are currently no specific federal standards for websites under the ADA. The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) is in the process of developing regulations for website accessibility, but has announced it will not finalize these regulations until 2018 at the earliest. Even so, the DOJ has emphasized that businesses should make websites accessible to the disabled. While the regulations are being developed, many businesses have been applying the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA with the understanding that the DOJ has made clear that it considers a website accessible if it complies with these guidelines.
When a bank receives a demand letter the first thing they need to do is hire counsel to advise them about their various options, including mitigating any damages by curing website defects, litigation or settlement. As a practical matter, the best defense to such claims is making sure that the bank’s website is compliant with the WCAG 2.0 Level AA Guidelines. That may involve the use of internal resources as well as external consultants. While it is impossible to tell whether suit will be filed in any given situation, banks should take note that the firms sending demands have previously been engaged in filing over 100 of these types of suits against various non-financial defendants over the past year.
Bryan Cave has put together a resource that provides generally accepted recommendations for website accessibility and federal ADA standards for ATM accessibility to help you review how your banks stands.
Our colleagues at The Bankruptcy Cave, Bryan Cave’s Bankruptcy & Restructuring Blog, recently published a blog post on the Supreme Court agreeing to to hear the issue of whether a debt collector that buys old, charged off debt which is beyond the statute of limitations violations the Fair Debt Collection practices Act when it files a proof of claim on that debt in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy (which they all do, as no one has an incentive to object to the claim, and they often collect far more on the debt than what they paid).
[On October 11, 2016,] the Supreme Court granted certiorari on an issue that (a) is pretty important in the world of consumer debt collection, and (b) makes some folks pretty darn furious. The issue is this: if you file a proof of claim in a bankruptcy case, and you know such claim is barred by the applicable statute of limitations, are you committing a “misleading” or “unfair” practice under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)?
Read more on The Bankruptcy Cave for further insights on the competing interests at play, and how the Court may ultimately rule. And if you haven’t seen John Oliver’s take on the practice of buying uncollectible medical debt, the post contains a link to the video.
Bryan Cave LLP recently served as counsel for amicus curiae California Bankers Association (“CBA”) and helped score a victory in an important California appellate case of great interest to the banking industry, LSREF2 Clover Property 4 LLC v. Festival Retail Fund 1 357 N. Beverly Drive LP (Second District, California Court of Appeal case number B259937).
The trial court had ruled that the guarantor of a commercial loan was excused from performance on the grounds that the guaranty was a “sham,” structured by the lender to circumvent California’s anti-deficiency laws. The guarantor essentially argued that there was no legal separation between it and the borrower because it was the borrower’s “alter ego,” and as support they identified evidence that the two entities failed to observe basic corporate formalities. According to the guarantor, it should be excused from its obligations because it was essentially the same as the borrower, and thus protected by California’s anti-deficiency laws.
In its amicus brief, the CBA raised two principal arguments, both of which were adopted by the court of appeal in its published opinion reversing the trial court’s judgment in favor of the guarantor Festival Fund.
Indemnification. Indemnification provisions in a third party services contract can be hotly contested. There is no question that banks should include indemnification clauses that specify the extent to which the bank will be protected from claims arising out of the failure of the vendor to perform, including failure of the vendor to obtain any necessary intellectual property licenses. Not surprisingly, they can be one of the most difficult provisions to reach an agreement on.
In its simplest terms, indemnification constitutes an agreement to allocate certain risks of loss among the parties. It is analogous to a guaranty but just like a guaranty, the fact that you have one does not insure a party that they will in fact be protected from loss. An indemnification from a company that has little in the way of assets is no different than a guaranty from someone who has very little net worth. It may have some psychological value but may be worthless from a practical standpoint. Indemnification provisions can be drafted so tightly that they provide little protection and they can be made subject to limitations to the point that the protection offered is illusory.
Ownership of Trademarks, Copyrights, Patents and Other Trade secrets, Source Code escrow Agreements. Typically, each party should own its pre-existing materials and derivative works thereof and materials developed by the parties or their contractors individually and outside of the contract, and each party should provide the other with licenses to its materials necessary to receive or provide the services during the term. The contract should include intellectual property provisions that clearly define each party’s intellectual property rights for their pre-existing materials and materials developed as part of the contract.
Does the vendor currently own or have the right to use all of the patents, trademarks, copyrights, etc., needed to provide the services under the contract or are they using intellectual property assets owned by the bank? If the contract involves the use of software purchased from a third party which needs to be customized, does the vendor or the bank have the legal rights to do that? The contract should address who will own any intellectual property created by the vendor as a direct result of the contract. Oftentimes, but not always, that will be the bank.
In contracts where the vendor is providing or using software in delivering the services, issues may arise over ownership and the right to use the software. Banks will generally want the vendor to represent that the vendor has full use of the software and that it is providing the bank with a non-exclusive right to use it. Usually the vendor will be required to indemnify the bank in the event a third party asserts a claim that the bank’s use of the software was improper. If a successful claim of infringement is made, the bank may want to either obligate the vendor to obtain alternative software to be able to continue providing the services or be able to terminate the contract immediately. As a practical matter, if a successful infringement claim is made, the vendor may simply need to obtain a license from the other party in order to continue providing the software to the bank.
Vendor Notice Requirements
Business -Strategic Changes. There are several categories of events the bank will want to be notified about. The first involves things like significant strategic business changes, such as mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures, divestitures, or other business activities that could affect the activities involved. In certain instances the bank may want the ability to terminate the contract if the vendor merges with another company or if there is a change in control. Similar to a loan transaction, the bank has “underwritten” the vendor. Bank officers have has met the vendor’s senior management and are comfortable with the general direction of its business. A merger or change of control may change the strategic direction of the vendor and the bank wants to make sure it knows who it is doing business with.
Business Events-Corporate Changes. The contract should address notification to the bank before making significant changes to the contracted activities, including acquisition, subcontracting, off-shoring, management or key personnel changes, or implementing new or revised policies, processes, and information technology. Related provisions in the contract would be sections that without bank consent would prohibit the assignment of the contract; changes in the listed locations of where work is being performed and the use of subcontractors not previously approved by the bank.
Business Events-adverse changes to business operations. This category requires the prompt notification of financial difficulty, catastrophic events, and significant incidents such as information breaches, data loss, service or system interruptions, compliance lapses, enforcement actions, or other regulatory actions. The bank should already have a contingency plan in the event the vendor goes out of business but a timely notification requirement helps to insures that the bank will have adequate time to put the contingency plan into motion.
Business Continuity. The contract should address the issue of what happens if the vendor’s business is affected by natural disasters, human error, or intentional attacks. The contract should define the vendor’s business continuity and disaster recovery capabilities and obligations to enable vendor to continue delivery of the services in the event of a disaster or other service interruption affecting a location from where the services are provided. Force majeure events should not excuse vendor from performing the business continuity/disaster recovery services. The contract should include the vendor’s disaster recovery plan defining the processes followed by vendor during a disaster including backing up and otherwise protecting programs, data, and equipment, and for maintaining current and sound business resumption and contingency plans. A contract may include provisions—in the event of the third party’s bankruptcy, business failure, or business interruption—that allow the bank to transfer the bank’s accounts or activities to another third party without penalty. Ensure that the contract requires the third party to provide the bank with operating procedures to be carried out in the event business resumption and disaster recovery plans are implemented. Include specific time frames for business resumption and recovery that meet the bank’s requirements, and when appropriate, regulatory requirements. Depending on the critical nature of the serve being provided, the bank may also want to consider stipulating whether and how often the bank and the vendor will jointly practice business resumption and disaster recovery plans.
Services level. Services levels should be defined. For example, are the service to be made available 24/7 365 days a year or are they only needed during normal business hours. When the services involve some type of software or online technology, what is the minimum amount of “uptime” required? Depending on the services involved, uptime might be 99.9%, for example. vendors will understandably push back on that figure and might suggest 98%. The right figure need not be either one of those numbers and is dependent on the type of service being provided and its criticality to the bank’s delivery of services to its customers. To the extent there is planned downtime for things such as software updates it should occur during off peak time periods. Service level measures can be used to motivate the third party’s performance, penalize poor performance, or reward outstanding performance. Performance measures should not incentivize undesirable performance, such as encouraging processing volume or speed without regard for accuracy, compliance requirements, or adverse effects on customers. Certain products and services have standards that are common across the industry while others may need to be developed to fit the particular transaction. Service levels should be revisited from time to time during the term of the relationship to provide an opportunity for them to evolve along with the services being provided.
Banks should consider what type of reporting they want the vendor to provide considering performance against the service level targets and what type of remedies to which the Bank is entitled in the event vendor fails to measure or report on the service levels. Banks should also consider including requiring a root cause analysis for incidents and service level failures. In other words, it is not just sufficient to report a failure, what caused the failure and exactly what needs to be done to remedy it. It can be very frustrating when a vendor’s performance affects customers and the bank is unable to explain to those customers how a problem is being fixed so that it will not reoccur.
Location of where the work to is to be performed
Domestic locations. Where is the vendor actually performing the work? Will they need physical access to the bank premises or equipment? Will they be on-site during or after business hours? The contract should reference security policies governing access to the bank’s systems, data (including customer data), facilities, and equipment. The vendor should be obligated to comply with the security policies when accessing such resources. If the work is being done at the vendor’s office, the bank will want approval rights any change in the location. Depending on the type of services being provided, the bank may also want the contractual right to go to the vendor’s offices to view the vendor’s internal security systems.
Subcontractors-generally. An important question for the bank to ask is whether any of the work is being outsourced to a subcontractor. If the vendor is using subcontractors, the bank should consider whether it will want notice of and perhaps approval rights over who is being used. In addition, the contract should make it clear that the bank considers the vendor responsible for the performance of the contract regardless of whether it outsources a portion of the work. The contract should also make it clear that subcontractors are subject to the same confidentiality and security requirements as the primary vendor. Consideration should be given to adding a contractual provision which requires any subcontractors to verify in writing that they will comply with the privacy requirements.
We don’t often post about crimes against banks, especially when they involve clients, but this story out of Kansas City deserves a wider audience.
A 70-year-old man is charged with robbing a Kansas City bank (located just down the street from the police headquarters), after handing a note to a teller indicating that he had a gun and demanding money. He then proceeded to take the money and a seat in the bank lobby.
When I say he took a seat, I don’t mean he physically removed a chair, but rather that he simply sat down.
His rationale appears to be that he would prefer to live in a jail cell than with his wife, with whom he he’d had an argument.
You can read more about it in the Kansas City Star.