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If the Shoe Fits, Wear It – Bank Third Party Vendors as Institution-Affiliated Parties

When negotiating bank third party vendor contracts it is not unusual to ask the vendor to acknowledge in the contract that bank regulators might exercise some sort of supervision over the vendor. Vendors will oftentimes push back on that point, claiming that since they are not a bank the FDIC has no jurisdiction over their affairs. We typically respond that “if the shoe fits, wear it.”

The fit arises because of the definition of “institution-affiliated party” (“IAP”). The definition was added under FIRREA when the regulatory agencies were seeking additional authority to impose sanctions against lawyers, accountants and appraisers whose negligence may have contributed to the failure of a bank. The language added to the statute is broader than just those professionals and covers any shareholder, consultant joint venture party, any other person determined by the appropriate federal banking agency (by regulation or case-by case) who participates in the conduct of the affairs of the bank and any independent contractor who knowingly or recklessly participates in any violation of law or regulation, any breach of fiduciary duty or any unsafe or unsound practice which caused or is likely to cause more than a minimal financial loss to the bank. (12 USC 1813(u))

The practical application of being designated an IAP was recently driven home in an enforcement action the FDIC took against Bank of Lake Mills, Freedom Stores, Inc. and Military Credit Services, Inc. All three parties entered into Consent Orders with the FDIC. The Bank agreed to fund restitution of $3,000,000 and to pay a civil money penalty of $151,000 while Freedom Stores, Inc. agreed to pay a penalty of $54,000 and Military Credit Services agreed to pay a penalty of $37,000.

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Do Banks Need a Holding Company?

the-bank-accountOn April 11, 2017, Bank of the Ozarks announced that it would be completing an internal corporate reorganization to eliminate its holding company.  As a result, it will continue as a publicly-traded, stand-alone depository bank, without a bank holding company.

In this episode of The Bank Account, Jonathan and I discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the bank holding company structure.  Specific topics include:

  • praise for Bank of the Ozarks innovative approach to further improve its already impressive efficiency,
  • a review of the existing landscape of holding company and non-holding company structures,
  • activities that may require a holding company,
  • size-related thresholds impacting holding company analysis,
  • charter and corporate-governance related elements to the analysis, and
  • the impact the absence of a holding company may have on merger and acquisition activity.

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U.S. Supreme Court Rules NY Surcharge Law Regulates Speech

What the U.S. Supreme Court Did

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that New York’s statutory ban on merchant’s surcharging customers who choose to pay with credit cards is a regulation of speech and is not merely a regulation of pricing conduct, as the lower court had ruled. New York’s statute, N. Y. Gen. Bus. Law Ann. §518, makes it a misdemeanor punishable by a fine or imprisonment for a merchant to “impose a surcharge on a holder who elects to use a credit card in lieu of payment by cash, check or similar means.”  In Expressions Hair Design et al. v. Schneiderman, et al., the Court required the Second Circuit to consider the validity of the law under the First Amendment.  Specifically, the circuit court of appeals must now determine whether the New York law is a valid commercial speech regulation and whether the law can be upheld as a disclosure requirement.  Previously, the Second Circuit ruled that the law regulated conduct, not speech, since it required that the merchant’s prices should be the same whether a customer uses a credit card or cash.

Impact on Merchants and Payment Networks

In short, the status quo remains intact for now, in New York and in the eleven other states that regulate surcharges. The Supreme Court’s action does not immediately uphold or invalidate New York’s anti-surcharge law. Reviving the claim after it had been dismissed by the lower court, the law now must be reviewed again by the court of appeals (and potentially again after that by the Supreme Court) as to whether the law is a valid commercial regulation of speech. This review process could take a while, especially considering that one of the Supreme Court Justices recommended that the federal court of appeals ask New York’s top state court to give it an “accurate picture of how, exactly, the statute works.”

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Dodd-Frank Act Reforms

Dodd-Frank Act Reforms

March 23, 2017

Authored by: Robert Klingler

Much of the discussion we’re having with our clients and other professionals relates to the prospects for financial regulatory reform.  To that end, and looking at it from the political rather than industry perspective, Bryan Cave’s Public Policy and Government Affairs Team has put together a brief client alert examining the political, legislative and regulatory issues currently under consideration.

In his first weeks in office, President Trump has taken steps to undo or alter major components of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”). These include delaying implementation of the “Fiduciary Rule,” which regulates the relationship between investors and their financial advisors, directing the Treasury Secretary to review the Dodd-Frank Act in its entirety, and signing a resolution passed by Congress that repeals a Dodd-Frank regulation on disclosures of overseas activity by energy companies.

Read the rest of this alert on Bryan Cave’s homepage.

We’ve also posted about the impact of the proposed regulatory off-ramp on community banks, recorded a podcast episode on the Financial Choice Act, and discussed some of the causes, including hopes for regulatory relief, of the rise in bank stock prices in our podcast episode on the issues associated with elevated stock prices in bank mergers and acquisitions.

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Trump May Not be the Only Catalyst for Administrative Reform

In the past few months, there has been a lot of speculation regarding the future of many administrative agencies under Trump’s administration. However, two current cases pending in the D.C. Circuit have the potential to have a dramatic impact on administrative agencies and past and present regulatory enforcement actions by such agencies.

In Lucia v. SEC, the SEC brought claims against Lucia for misleading advertising in violation of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. The enforcement action was initially resolved by an administrative law judge (ALJ); however Luica was later granted a petition for review based on an argument that the administrative hearing was unconstitutional because the ALJ was unconstitutionally appointed. The issue made it up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit who recently held that the ALJ was constitutionally appointed because the judge was an “employee”, not an officer. However, other courts have held just the opposite. In December, the 10th Circuit held in Bandimere v. SEC that ALJs were “inferior officers” and thus must be appointed pursuant to the Appointments Clause. A rehearing en banc has been granted in Lucia to address this issue.

On the heels of Lucia, in PHH v. CFPB, the CFPB brought claims against PHH for violations of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act. Similarly, this enforcement proceeding was originally decided by an ALJ. However, PHH appealed the ALJ decision for a multitude of reasons and the appeal has also made it up to the D.C. Circuit where a rehearing en banc was granted last month. In the court’s order granting a rehearing en banc, the court ordered, among other things, that the parties address what the appropriate holding would be in PHH if the court holds in Lucia that the ALJ was unconstitutional.

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OCC Moves Forward on Fintech Bank Charters

Amid criticism from virtually every possible constituency, on March 15, 2017, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) released a draft supplement  to its chartering licensing manual related to special purpose national banks leveraging financial technology, or fintech banks. As we indicated in our fintech webinar discussing the proposal last December, the OCC is proposing to apply many conventional requirements for new banks to the fintech charter. While the OCC’s approach is familiar to those of us well versed on the formation of new banks, there are a few interesting items of note to take away from the draft supplement.

  • More bank than technology firm. Potential applicants for a fintech charter should approach the project with the mindset that they are applying to become a bank using technology as a delivery channel, as opposed to becoming a technology company with banking powers. While the difference might seem like semantics, the outcome should lead potential applicants to have a risk management focus and to include directors, executives, and advisors who have experience in banking and other highly regulated industries. In order to best position a proposal for approval, both the application and the leadership team will need to speak the OCC’s language.
  • Threading the needle will not be easy. Either explicitly or implicitly in the draft supplement, the OCC requires that applicants for fintech bank charters have a satisfactory financial inclusion plan, avoid products that have “predatory, unfair, or deceptive features,” have adequate profitability, and, of course, be safe and sound. Each bank in the country strives to meet those goals, yet many of them find themselves under pressure from various constituencies to improve their performance in one or more of those areas. For potential fintech banks, can you fulfill a mission of financial inclusion while offering risk-based pricing that is consistent with safety and soundness principles without having consumer groups deem your practices as unfair? On the other hand, can you offer financial inclusion in a manner that consumer groups appreciate while achieving appropriate profitability and risk management? We think the answer to both questions can be yes, but a careful approach will be required to convince the OCC that it should be comfortable accepting the proposed bank’s approach.
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Impact of Proposed “Regulatory Off-Ramp” for Community Banks

A key component of the proposed roadmap for Republican efforts to provide regulatory relief is based on reduced regulatory burdens in exchange for holding higher capital levels.  Specifically, Title I of the proposed Financial Choice Act, as modified by Representative Hensarling’s “Choice Act 2.0 Changes” memo of February 7, 2017, proposes to provide significant regulatory relief for institutions that maintain an average leverage ratio of at least 10 percent.

The principal concepts of this “regulatory off-ramp” have, so far, remained relatively constant since first published by the House Financial Services Committee in June of 2016; any institution that elects to maintain elevated capital ratios (set at a 10% leverage ratio) would enjoy exemptions from the need to comply with certain other bank regulatory requirements.

Choice 2.0

In February 2017, Jeb Hensarling, Chairman of the Financial Services Committee, indicated that the “regulatory off-ramp” included in the proposed 2017 legislation would differ in two critical aspects from the 2016 proposed legislation.

First, the regulatory off-ramp would be based solely on the banking organization’s leverage ratio and would not consider the organization’s composite CAMELS rating.  Originally, the legislation limited eligible institutions to those that possessed a composite two CAMELS rating.  This change eliminates a subjective element to the regulatory off-ramp, but may also highlight that banking regulators would retain a wide array of tools to address institutions with substandard CAMELS ratings, regardless of their capital levels.

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Core Principles for Financial Regulation

On February 3, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order setting forth his administration’s core principles for the regulation of the U.S. financial system.  While generally touted as the administration’s first affirmative steps to dismantle the Dodd-Frank Act, the executive order actually does little to implement any immediate change but says a lot about the overall framework by which the Trump Administration intends to approach financial regulation.

In addition to standard executive order boilerplate, the executive order sets forth two specific actions.  First, it establishes the “principles of regulation” that the administration will look at in evaluating regulations.

Section 1. Policy. It shall be the policy of my Administration to regulate the United States financial system in a manner consistent with the following principles of regulation, which shall be known as the Core Principles:

(a) empower Americans to make independent financial decisions and informed choices in the marketplace, save for retirement, and build individual wealth;

(b) prevent taxpayer-funded bailouts;

(c) foster economic growth and vibrant financial markets through more rigorous regulatory impact analysis that addresses systemic risk and market failures, such as moral hazard and information asymmetry;

(d) enable American companies to be competitive with foreign firms in domestic and foreign markets;

(e) advance American interests in international financial regulatory negotiations and meetings;

(g) restore public accountability within Federal financial regulatory agencies and rationalize the Federal financial regulatory framework.

Notwithstanding partisanship biases, I think most of these principles express ideas that most Americans could support, even if some would say there are additional principles (such as protecting consumers) that might also be relevant.  Even with some “norms” going out the window, I think everyone should be able to get behind the concept that our financial regulations should seek to “prevent taxpayer-funded bailouts.”  If nothing else, the Core Principles reflect generally mainstream Republican views of the goals (and implied limitations) of federal regulations.

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What Will The Proposed New York Cybersecurity Requirements For Financial Institutions Really Make Companies Do?

In early September 2016, the New York Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) proposed a set of data security regulations (the “Proposal”) that would govern financial institutions, banks, and insurance companies subject to the jurisdiction of the agency (“covered entities”).  After receiving public comments, DFS revised and resubmitted the Proposal on December 28, 2016.  If the Proposal ultimately goes into effect it would require that covered entities have a written information security policy (“WISP”) and outline specific provisions (substantive and procedural) that must be contained in that document.  While the Proposal has garnered a great deal of public attention, the majority of the provisions in the latest version are not unique.

Prior to the Proposal at least four states already required that if a company collected financial information about consumers within their jurisdiction some, or all, of the company’s security program must be reduced to writing; three states required that an employee be specifically designated to maintain a security program.  More importantly, the Federal Gramm Leach Bliley Act (“GLBA”) contains broad requirements that mimic many of the Proposals provisions.  This includes, for example, the requirement that a financial institution conduct a risk assessment and maintain data breach response procedures.

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Fraudster Beware: Your Scheme Could be a Federal Crime if it Involves a Bank

Normally, a scheme to defraud another individual would be a state crime, prosecuted and sentenced at the state level (leaving aside use of U.S. mail or wires). To be convicted of the state crime of fraud usually requires proof of some combination of a false statement or representation and an actual intent to defraud.

On December 12, 2016, in a remarkably unpretentious opinion by Justice Breyer, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Shaw v. United States, U.S., No. 15-5991, resolved a circuit split by ruling that such a scheme can also constitute federal bank fraud, even if there was intent only to defraud the individual, not the bank itself.

The case stemmed from Shaw’s successful efforts to defraud a bank customer of more than $300,000. Shaw was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1344(1) which makes it a federal crime to “knowingly execut[e] a scheme . . . (1) to defraud a financial institution.” Shaw argued that to prove fraud it is necessary to show intent to defraud and he had no intent to defraud the bank – and, in fact, the bank did not lose any money. The Supreme Court affirmed a 9th Circuit opinion that no such proof was necessary to establish the federal crime of bank fraud, on the ground that a bank had a property interest in the use of the money deposited by its customers, even if the bank ultimately suffers no financial loss.

Read more about the broader impact on criminal law enforcement on BryanCave.com.

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