FIRREA: A Powerful Tool for the Government

 Christopher H. Casey

The U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) financial fraud enforcement program’s actions in the wake of the 2007–2008 financial crisis have led to some of the largest settlements in the history of the DOJ. To date, 10 financial institutions have reached settlements with the DOJ resolving allegations of fraudulent packaging and sale of residential mortgage-backed securities (“RMBS”) in the run-up to the crisis. The government has recovered a total of nearly $62 billion in fines and penalties from these cases. While a few institutions have yet to resolve their RMBS cases with the DOJ, the RMBS cases have largely run their course. A decade out from the crisis, it is worth taking a look back at the conduct that led to these cases, the reasons the government was able to extract such large penalties and how financial institutions can prepare for such enforcement actions in the future.

The full text of this article by Duane Morris partner Christopher H. Casey is available on the firm website.

House Passes Changes to Title III of the ADA

By J. Colin Knisely
On February 15, 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Education and Reform Act . The bill passed by a vote of 225 to 192, with 12 Democrats voting in favor of the bill. Most of the Democrats who joined with Republicans to support the bill were from California, where state law allows plaintiffs to recover actual damages and a statutory minimum of $4,000 for each time the plaintiff visited a business and encountered an access barrier, in addition to the attorney’s fees available under the ADA.

Proponents of the bill argue that the amendment to Title III of the ADA will curb the number of frivolous, “drive-by” lawsuits against businesses, which have increased dramatically in the past few years. H.R. 620 would create a “notice and cure” requirement before any legal action could be taken against a business for an alleged failure to comply with the standards set by Title III. Under H.R. 620, a claimant must first send a business owner or operator a written notice “specific enough to allow such owner or operator to identify the specific barrier.” The written notice must further specify “in detail the circumstances under which an individual was actually denied access to a public accommodation” and “whether a request for assistance in removing an architectural barrier was made.”

A claimant can only file a lawsuit if the business does not respond to the written notice within 60 days with “a written description outlining improvements that will be made to remove the barrier.” If the business responds, but “fails to make substantial progress” in implementing the improvements, a lawsuit can be filed.

Critics of the H.R. 620 have argued that it would effectively exempt businesses from compliance with Title III until the business receives notice of an alleged compliance issue, and that it would shift the burden of protecting access onto the person with the disability, whom critics have argued would have to become experts on the legal code in order to properly comply with the notice requirements of H.R. 620.

H.R. 620 has now moved to the Senate, where the fate of the bill is uncertain. However, there is currently no companion bill in the Senate, and Republicans in the Senate would still need to gain the support of several Democrats to meet the Senate’s 60 vote threshold.

Considerations for Banks Given New Guidance on Cannabis

In a January 4, 2018, memorandum regarding marijuana enforcement, U.S. Attorney General Jefferson B. Sessions rescinded, effective immediately, the previous guidance issued by the Department of Justice on marijuana, including the memorandum often referred to as the Cole Memo. To the extent a bank’s compliance program relating to marijuana-related businesses (MRBs) relied on the guidance in the Cole Memo, the bank should immediately re-evaluate what changes in that program, if any, may be appropriate.

To read the full text of this Alert, please visit the Duane Morris website.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency Just Released its 2018 Bank Supervision Operating Plan – Are Your BSA/AML Compliance Programs Ready?

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s (OCC) Committee on Bank Supervision (CBS) just released its Bank Supervision Operating Plan for 2018 which outlines the OCC’s supervision priorities for individual national banks, federal savings associations, federal branches, and federal agencies and service providers.  For the OCC’s 2018 fiscal year, which begins October 1, 2017 and ends September 30, 2018, the development of supervisory strategies will focus on the following areas:

  •  Cybersecurity and operational resiliency
  •  Commercial and retail credit loan underwriting, concentration risk management, and the allowance for loan and lease losses
  • Business model sustainability and viability and strategy changes
  • Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) compliance management
  •  Change management to address new regulatory requirements

Consistent with this supervisory strategy, examiners will be tasked with determining whether banks have designed and implemented effective BSA/AML and Office of Foreign Assets Controls programs and controls to address continued risks from traditional money laundering schemes, evolving vulnerabilities resulting from the rapid pace of technological change, and emerging payment solutions and terrorist financing.  In their examination, examiners will evaluate risk assessment processes, and policies, procedures, and processes to effectively mitigate identified risks and consider the appropriateness of controls for the nature and level of risk present in a banks’ products, services, customers, and geographies and include conducting sufficient customer due diligence and suspicious activity identification and monitoring.

Examiners will also focus on compliance with new regulations and changes to existing regulations, including the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s final rule to enhance customer due diligence:  Monitoring banks’ progress in meeting the May 11, 2018, implementation deadline for the customer due diligence and beneficial ownership rules. This rule requires that banks identify and verify the identity of the beneficial owners of all “legal entity customers” (other than those that are excluded) at the time a new account is opened (other than accounts that are exempted). Banks may comply either by obtaining the required information on a standard certification form or by any other means that comply with the substantive requirements of this obligation. Banks may rely on the beneficial ownership information supplied by the customer, provided that it has no knowledge of facts that would reasonably call into question the reliability of the information. The identification and verification procedures for beneficial owners are very similar to those for individual customers under a bank’s customer identification program, except that for beneficial owners, a bank may rely on copies of identity documents. Banks are required to maintain records of the beneficial ownership information they obtain, and may rely on another financial institution for the performance of these requirements, in each case to the same extent as under their customer identification program rule.

Because regulatory issues relative to a bank’s BSA/AML compliance program may prove problematic to the implementation of a bank’s strategic plans and given the OCC’s continued supervisory focus on BSA/AML compliance through 2018, now may be a good time to reexamine your compliance programs as examiners will be sure to focus on the effectiveness of this program relative to your risk profile.

More information can be found here and here.

Is the FDIC’s Shift To De Novo Banking Real?

On May 1, 2017, the FDIC released an update to its guidance on the de novo banking – “Applying for Deposit Insurance – A Handbook for Organizers of De Novo Institutions.” The updated guidance purports to provide organizers with a “clear and transparent explanation of the path to obtaining deposit insurance.” This may be the FDIC’s response to the 2014 joint letter of the American Association of Bank Directors (AABD) and the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) in which the AABD and the ICBA recommended that the FDIC issue a new Financial Institution Letter (FIL) to “to help dispel misconceptions and reaffirm the FDIC’s support for the formation of de novo banks.” These misconceptions relate to the uncertainty in the application process, the second-guessing of business plans for a de novo bank, capital requirements, examination schedules and the degree of regulatory oversight during the first seven years. The FDIC appears to be on a “get-out-the-message” campaign that de novo banking is back and the FDIC is poised to provide guidance on the process.
The banking group at Duane Morris has been involved in de-novo banking for over 40 years. We’ve advised on the de novo process and assisted in the formation of many banks throughout the Western United States and have represented these same banks throughout their life cycle. The recent recession which was sparked by excessive risk-taking by some financial institutions led to a shift in the FDIC’s regulatory philosophy towards more oversight and a period of consolidation. It appears that we are coming out of this period with a possible shift in the regulatory philosophy at the FDIC on de novo banking. To make this point, the FDIC has held industry outreach meetings in San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, and Dallas to inform industry participants about the FDIC’s application process and has planned additional outreach events on May 12, 2017, in Kansas City, Missouri, and May 31, 2017, in Chicago, Illinois.
It appears that we may be entering (finally) the cycle of de novo banks which would add to the health of the community banking industry. Small businesses may finally rejoice in the return of specialized relationship banking.

The FIL/Guidance can be found here:  https://www.fdic.gov/news/news/financial/2017/fil17017.pdf

Website Accessibility Under the ADA, A New Federal Court Ruling Helps Banks

Since late last year, many banks in California, New York and Pennsylvania have received demand letters from two law firms that claim the websites of those banks violate Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The demand letters assert that individuals with disabilities (typically the visually impaired) attempted to use the website of the banks, and faced unreasonable barriers to access, which made it impossible for the claimants to access the websites. The websites, according to the law firms, fail to comply with website standards developed by the World Wide Web Consortium called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0). The law firms seek attorneys’ fees, costs and injunctive relief in connection with the demand letters.

Litigation has been commenced in several states, including California, over this issue of website accessibility by visually impaired individuals.

The ADA’s Title III became law in 2000 and protects disabled persons in public accommodation and commercial businesses. While Title III itself does not contemplate websites as a place of public accommodation, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) along with several courts have reached that conclusion. The DOJ, which is charged with responsibility for promulgation of regulations, has promised to implement regulations by 2018. The DOJ has said in the interim WCAG 2.0 provides a minimum standard. A number of courts have agreed and allowed pending cases to continue despite motions to dismiss or stay the action until the DOJ issues its regulations. These decisions have meant that banks have been forced to defend these actions without really knowing what the DOJ regulations will provide. Several have settled with the law firms rather than litigate. Now there may be some relief for banks in California.

On March 20, 2017, a federal judge in Los Angeles granted Domino’s Pizza’s motion to dismiss a website accessibility lawsuit filed by a visually impaired person. In Robles v. Domino’s Pizza LLC the District Judge ratified the argument that in absence of a clear DOJ regulation of what “accessibility” means for a website, the defendant’s due process rights had been violated. The Court chastised the DOJ for failing to follow through on its July 2010 pronouncement to regulate website accommodation for public accommodation and ruled it was unfair to hold the defendant to an ambiguous legal obligation or the WCAG 2.0. The Court dismissed the action “pending the resolution of an issue with the special competence of an administrative agency.” This federal court parted ways with several other courts which had applied WCAG 2.0 as standards despite the DOJ’s failure to issue regulations.

While this ruling provides ammunition for clients seeking to fight these claims, it also leaves banks with uncertainty as to just how to improve websites to meet future ADA regulations by the DOJ. An unintended consequence of this ruling also strengthens the hands of bank vendors which have routinely denied any obligation to comply with WCAG 2.0.
Since, Robles was dismissed without prejudice, it can be refiled when the DOJ regulations are announced.
In the meantime, hopefully, the DOJ will act and provide the regulatory help which may actually assist the industry in this instance.

FTC, FCC Flex Muscles

Duane Morris partner Joseph Burton was featured in a video on Bank Info Security  on the impact of regulators involved in cybersecurity.

The Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission are among U.S. regulators now starting to flex their muscles when it comes to enforcing cybersecurity standards, says Burton. What enforcement trends might we expect to see in 2017?

To view the video, please visit the Bank Info Security website.

Webinar: The FDIC Loss-Share Program: How to Extract Every Last Dollar

Duane Morris LLP and FTI Consulting invite you to our webinar, The FDIC Loss-Share Program: How to Extract Every Last Dollar, to be held on Thursday, March 2, 2017  from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Central time.

Duane Morris lawyers and FTI Consulting professionals will discuss strategies that can help banks maximize recoveries under the FDIC Loss-Share Program. Generally, the FDIC will reimburse 80 percent of losses for a covered asset, while the acquiring bank absorbs 20 percent of the loss, provided certain conditions and reporting requirements are met. Our program will outline the common challenges that banks face with the FDIC Loss-Share Program and provide practical solutions that increase loss-sharing recoveries.

Please visit the event page on the Duane Morris website for more information or to register online.

New Interagency Rules on Expanded Examination Cycle to Take Effect on January 17, 2017

The OCC, Federal Reserve, and FDIC have published an interagency final rule amending the regulations governing eligibility for the 18-month on-site examination cycle which will take effect on January 17, 2017. 1 and 2 rated national banks, federal savings associations, and federal branches and agencies with less than $1 billion in total assets will now be eligible for an 18-month rather than a 12-month examination cycle.

Section 10(d) of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act generally requires that each insured depository institution undergo a full scope, on-site examination at least once during each 12-month period. This can be a time consuming, expensive and disruptive process for community banks and other institutions. In 2015, the FAST Act was enacted, Public Law 114-94, 129 Stat. 1312 (2015), which authorized bank regulatory authorities to extend the on-site examination cycle for certain insured depository institutions. Prior to the FAST Act and impending rules changes examination cycles were available only to qualifying 1 and 2 rated banks with less than $500 million in total assets. The FAST Act amendments and rules changes are intended to reduce regulatory burdens on small, well capitalized, and well managed institutions and allow the agencies to better focus their supervisory resources on those insured depository institutions and domestic branches and agencies of foreign banks that may present capital, managerial, or other issues of supervisory concern.

According to the final interagency rule, the FDIC analyzed the frequency with which institutions rated a composite CAMELS rating of 1 or 2 failed within five years, versus the frequency with which institutions rated a composite CAMELS rating of 3, 4, or 5 failed within five years. That analysis indicated that between 1985 and 2011, insured depository institutions with assets less than $1 billion and a composite CAMELS rating of 1 or 2 had a five-year failure rate that was one-seventh as high as institutions with a CAMELS rating of 3, 4, or 5. The analysis did not change when restricted to institutions with assets between $200 million and $500 million versus institutions with $500 million to $1 billion in assets.

For more information or to discuss legal concerns about your institution’s examination process contact Mark Bradford (mabradford@duanemorris.com) or Mark Belongia (mbelongia@duanemorris.com). Mark Belongia and Mark Bradford of Duane Morris LLP routinely advise insured depository institutions about regulatory compliance and related matters.

Changing Seasons of FDIC Shared-Loss Programs

As we head into autumn, many of us change our seasonal wardrobes, replace the filters in our home heating/cooling systems, swap our summer screens for winter’s storm windows and ready our vehicles for winter. Bankers participating in a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) shared-loss program should consider adding one more seasonal item to their list—a check-up on the status of your shared-loss participation, particularly your commercial shared-loss program. Many banks acquired assets and deposit accounts of failed institutions in the years following the Great Recession via purchase and assumption agreements entered into with the FDIC. Those agreements included an eight-year commercial shared-loss component, whereby the acquiring bank shares losses with the FDIC during the first five years and then shares recoveries for the remaining three years of the term.

To read the full text of the Alert, please visit the Duane Morris website.