On December 12, 2022, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced a proposed rule to require certain non-banks to register with the agency when they become subject to a public written order or judgment imposing obligations based on violations of certain consumer protection laws. The CFPB also proposes to maintain a public online registry of those nonbanks subject to agency or court orders, to “limit the harms from repeat offenders.” We provide below a description of the CFPB’s proposed rule, along with the potential implications for the financial services industry.
Background on Proposed Rule
Earlier this year, CFPB Director Rohit Chopra presented remarks at the University of Pennsylvania, where he asserted that “[c]orporate recidivism has become normalized and calculated as the cost of doing business; the result is a rinse-repeat cycle that dilutes legal standards and undermines the promise of the financial sector and the entire market system.” To address this problem, Director Chopra suggested establishing “dedicated units in our supervision and enforcement divisions to enhance the detection of repeat offenses and corporate recidivists and to better hold them accountable.” With respect to accountability for “serial offenders of federal law,” Director Chopra warned that the CFPB would be focusing on “remedies that are more structural in nature,” including “limits on the activities or functions” of the entity.
Subsequently, in November 2022, and leading up to the proposed rule, the CFPB announced, as part of its Supervisory Highlights, that it would be establishing a Repeat Offender Unit as part of its supervision program. The Repeat Offender Unit would be focused on: reviewing and monitoring the activities of “repeat offenders;” identifying the root cause of recurring violations; pursuing and recommending solutions and remedies that hold entities accountable for failing to consistently comply with Federal consumer financial law; and designing a model for order review and monitoring that reduces the occurrences of repeat offenders. The Bureau asserts that its authority for these efforts, along with any proposed rulemaking, is derived from the Consumer Financial Protection Act’s mandate that the Bureau “monitor for risks to consumers in the offering or provision of consumer financial products or services” and “gather information from time to time regarding the organization, business conduct, markets, and activities of covered persons and service providers.” See 12 U.S.C. § 5512(c)(1), (4).
The CFPB’s proposed rule would require certain nonbanks covered person entities (with exclusions for insured depository institutions, insured credit unions, related persons, States, certain other entities, and natural persons) to register with the Bureau upon becoming subject to a public written order or judgment imposing obligations based on violations of certain consumer protections laws. Such entities would be required to register in a system established by the Bureau, provide basic identifying information about the company and the order (including a copy of the order), and periodically update the registry for accuracy and completeness. For purposes of the proposed rule, “covered person” would have the same meaning as in 12 U.S.C. § 5481(6). Further, “service providers” would be deemed covered persons to the extent that they engage in the offering or provision of their own consumer financial product or services or where they act as service providers to covered person affiliates.
In addition, certain larger participant nonbanks subject to the Bureau’s supervisory authority would be required to designate a senior executive, who is responsible for and knowledgeable of the nonbank’s efforts to comply with the orders identified in the registry, to attest regarding compliance with covered orders and submit an annual written statement attesting to the steps taken to oversee the activities subject to the applicable order for the preceding calendar year, and whether the executive knows of any violations of, or other instances of noncompliance with, the covered order.
Further, the CFPB is considering whether to release, via its publicly available website, the above registry information for non-banks.
Implications for Non-Banks
While the CFPB’s proposed enforcement order registry would provide greater transparency about a lender’s regulatory track record to the various federal and state regulators and the general public, it remains to be seen how the information maintained in this registry might be used against lenders. At a minimum, however, the proposed rule raises the following significant implications for non-banks:
- Supervision and examination considerations. The CFPB intends to use the information in the registry to coordinate its “risk-based supervisory prioritization,” for those non-bank markets covered by the Bureau’s supervision and examination authority under CFPA section 1024(a). Thus, entities with a local, state, or federal prior enforcement order may be subject to more targeted supervision.
- Investigation and enforcement presumptions. The CFPB intends to use the information in the registry in connection with its investigation and potential enforcement activities, which presents various risks, including:
- Increased civil money penalties. Specifically, the CFPB believes that the information contained in the proposed registry can assist the agency in determining the civil penalties that may be assessed for a future violation of federal consumer financial law, given that federal law permits the CFPB to consider the entity’s “history of previous violations.” Indeed, it is possible that the CFPB may use evidence of prior enforcement against an entity, brought by itself or another agency, to establish that the entity acted knowingly or recklessly in violating federal consumer financial law, perhaps even where the prior enforcement order involved a different consumer-related issue.
- Presumption of consumer harm. Further, the CFPB believes there is a “heightened likelihood” that entities that are subject to public orders relating to consumer financial products and services may pose risks to consumers in the markets for those products and services, since entities that have previously been subject to enforcement actions “present an increased risk of committing violations of laws.” Thus, there may be a presumption of consumer harm against an entity where a prior enforcement order exists. Yet this approach by the CFPB likely will overstate the actual harm to consumers, as most consent orders do not contain an admission by the entity of any liability or wrongdoing.
- Increased reputational risk. Given that the CFPB maintains Memoranda of Understanding with federal parties (such as the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice), as well as with at least 20 state attorneys general offices, it appears that the information reported to the registry already would be available to such agencies. However, the registry will permit all agencies, as well as the general public, a readily accessible, one-stop shop to an entity’s entire enforcement track record, which may present significant reputational risk to that entity, as well as a potentially increased risk of class action lawsuits and other consumer claims.
- Facilitating of private enforcement. The CFPB believes that the proposed registry may “facilitate private enforcement of the Federal consumer financial laws by consumers, to the extent those laws provide private rights of action, where consumers have been harmed by a registered nonbank.” In other words, the “information that would be published under the proposal might be useful in helping consumers understand the identity of a company that has offered or provided a particular consumer financial product or service, and in determining whether to file suit or otherwise make choices regarding how to assert their legal rights.”
Given the significant implications raised by the CFPB’s proposed rule, non-bank financial institutions should consider submitting comments, which are due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. In particular, the CFPB seeks comment on “its preliminary conclusion that collecting and registering public agency and court orders imposing obligations based upon violations of consumer law would assist with monitoring for risks to consumers in the offering or provision of consumer financial products and services.” The CFPB also seeks comment on “whether the types of orders described in the proposal, and the types of information that would be collected about those orders and covered nonbanks under the proposal, would provide useful information to the Bureau,” as well as “any other risks that might be identified through collecting the information described in the proposal.” Finally, the Bureau seeks comment on whether it should consider collecting any other information in order to identify risks to consumers associated with orders.