11 posts from December 2016

CFPB Commission Structure Proposals

posted by Adam Levitin

I have an op-ed in American Banker about proposals to convert the CFPB into a commission structure.  Basically, the idea that a commission structure increases accountability and policy stability and reduces arbitrary or abusive actions by an agency just doesn't hold water upon examination.  

Not included in the piece is a brief history of independent agency structure. The reason that so many independent agencies are structured as commissions has absolutely nothing to do with a perceived superiority of the commission structure from any sort of good governance perspective. You'll be hard pressed to find any Congressional debate about single director versus multi-member commission structures. The prevalence of multi-member commissions is a matter of path dependency and Congressional desire to maximize patronage opportunities, not any considered debate.

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Recommended Reading: Empire of the Fund

posted by Jason Kilborn

EmpireofthefundimageIt's that time of year again! Time to revisit and perhaps rebalance the investments in your retirement portfolio. While it is a sad fact that many people lack significant retirement savings, it is nonetheless useful for those interested in consumer finance (and investment companies, pensions, etc.) to think about how retirement savings plans work and to be able to offer some advice, for example, to debtors emerging from bankruptcy with their clean slate. William Birdthistle, of Chicago-Kent law school, has recently released Empire of the Fund, a magnificent new work on the most common vehicle that carries individuals' retirement savings in the US: mutual funds.

I have heard that Birdthistle, who teaches across town from me, is legendary in the classroom. Having read his new book, I'm not at all surprised. While his fairly esoteric subject matter made me hesitate to nominate his book in response to Katie's post, Birdthistle has really pulled one off here by managing to make a book about the structure and pitfalls of mutual funds and retirement savings ... extremely entertaining! It is masterfully written, with both erudite references to relevant comments by literary and historical figures, along with laugh-out-loud allusions to modern culture ("OMG! Friends, right! Mutual funds are lame!"). This book is an absolutely brilliant example of how to make a work on an otherwise dry financial subject not only accessible to the general public, but a real pleasure to read. It is no wonder the New York Times calls this "a lively new book."

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Pari Passu Nevermind

posted by Mark Weidemaier

One last (I hope) gift from the pari passu litigation against Argentina: this opinion ruling that Argentina does not breach its pari passu obligations by paying holdouts like NML (who recently settled claims against the country) or by paying bondholders who had previously participated in its 2005 and 2010 exchange offers. The result was basically a given. The judge was hardly going to lift the injunction only to reinstate it when the next holdout came along. The interesting question was how the judge would distinguish bondholders who refused Argentina's latest settlement offer from bondholders who had refused prior offers.

There was an obvious and sensible answer. Because holdouts already have claims for money damages, the meaning of the pari passu clause isn't all that important unless violation produces a different remedy, such as an injunction. But an injunction is appropriate only when the benefits to the plaintiff exceed the costs to the defendant and third parties. Now that Argentina has made a reasonable settlement offer (in the court's judgment) and obtained the assent of the vast majority of bondholders, an injunction might do more harm than good. Thus, in the opinion linked above, the court holds that, whatever the meaning of the pari passu clause, an injunction would be inappropriate because "significantly changed circumstances have rendered the pari passu injunctions 'inequitable and detrimental to the public interest'" (p. 9). So far, so good. But the opinion doesn't stop there. Instead, the court's primary ruling is that the selective payments Argentina is currently making do not violate the pari passu clause at all.

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CFPB Tales Told Out of School (Updated)

posted by Adam Levitin

Former CFPB enforcement attorney Ronald Rubin has a lengthy attack on the CFPB in the National Review. It's got lots of sultry details, but there's nothing new and verifiable in the piece.  Instead, it's all tales told out of school, unverifiable personal anecdotes by Rubin, who seems to have an particular axe to grind with certain other CFPB staffers, and an ideological one too. Incredibly, Rubin, a former Managing Director for legal and compliance at Bear Stearns, holds up the oft-feckless SEC as a model of good enforcement practice, and criticizes the CFPB for any departures from that practice. 

The point of the piece seems to be that the CFPB is an agency gone rogue and that this wouldn't have happened if the CFPB had just been structured as a bi-partisan commission. That's hogwash. Assume that everything Rubin claims is true and correct. Even if so, every single problem Rubin identifies in the piece could just as easily have occurred at a bi-partisan commission. Partisan hiring? Of course that can happen because the staff hiring decisions (other than those of the personal staffs of the commissioners) are done by the commission chair and people the chair has selected. Secrecy and stonewalling Congress? We see allegations about that regarding agencies all the time (and that from agencies not facing partisan witch-hunts). Unhappy employees? Check. Pressure on regulated firms to settle enforcement actions? Check. Claims of discrimination by employees? Check. These are problems that can occur at any agency, irrespective of its structure or funding. 

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Fake News, Special Carrie Sheffield CFPB Edition

posted by Adam Levitin

The "fake news" phenomenon has gotten a lot of attention of late, but there's also the problem of its kissing cousins, faux academic research and opinions piece that springboards off of fake news and faux research.  A comically bad example of the latter category is the hatchet job Carrie Sheffield tries to pull on the CFPB in a piece on Salon.com.  In a nutshell, Sheffield (1) accuses the CFPB of being "rampant with internal racism and anti-woman bias," (3) claims that the CFPB has resulted in an increase in bank fees, and then (3) makes a big deal out of CFPB employees' political donations tilting toward Democrats.  The first and second points are simply false and not supported by the evidence Sheffield cites.  The third point is just irrelevant, but shows Sheffield to be nothing more than a partisan hack.  Sheffield's piece really doesn't merit a response intellectually, but given the current political climate, it's necessary to respond to any calumny, no matter how ridiculous.  So a point by point follows, after which I share a few thoughts on the political price tag that will come with trying to get rid of the CFPB.

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CFPB and ACICS Retrospective

posted by Adam Levitin

The Department of Education just stripped the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools of its accreditation role.  (For those of you not in academy, this accreditation is critical for schools to get DoE funds, among other things.  It's part of what enables the ABA's on-going tyranny of legal education.)  Some of you might remember that in 2015, the CFPB issued a Civil Investigative Demand to ACICS, the authority for which ACICS challenged successfully.  At the time some of the CFPB's critics held the CID up as an example of improper over-reach, and the District Court bought the argument that there was no connection between accreditation and private student lending.  (Of course there is, but that's another story.) I'm just wondering if those folks who thought the CFPB acted improperly with the CID might be singing a different tune now.  It sure looks like the CFPB was on the right track with the CID.  

Book of the Year

posted by Katie Porter

EvicitedCoverCredit Slips readers are invited to share the best credit/finance book of this year. The book can be a monograph, fiction, textbook, anything. It doesn't have to be published this year; just that you found it this year.

My nomination is Evicted by Matthew Desmond. It's an ethnography of evictions in Milwaukee and compellingly describes the problems of financial distress. The book describes how tenants struggle to make rent, and the strategies used by landlords, with the help of the courts and sheriff's department, to collect if they cannot. The site for the book contains amazing photographs-- check it out.

While the book focuses on evictions for nonpayment of rent, the foreclosure crisis also wreaked havoc on millions of lower-income Americans who may never own a home. When the property owner was foreclosed upon, the tenants found themselves on the street. The scarce and uneven protections available led to the enactment of the Protecting Tenant at Foreclosure Act. That law expired two years ago, leaving at-will tenants in about half of states vulnerable to eviction immediately after foreclosure.

Evicted describes the heartache that comes with home loss: the strain on family relationships, the mental anguish, the physical illness, and other harms. These problems are all too familiar to those who study consumer bankruptcy, but Desmond's work is a powerful story of financial distress that ensnares families who cannot make ends meet.

Thanks to Gary Neustadter

posted by Katie Porter

Credit Slips was fortunate to hear from Professor Gary Neustadter of Santa Clara Law this month on consumer credit issues.

He identified several emerging issues, including a serious weakness in  California's homestead exemption. What I enjoyed so much about his post was his analysis of not just the law, but also the credit market and how various GSE policies shape it.

His post on the delivery of consumer bankruptcy services wove together the best of the thinking on the deployment of technology in legal services, and the context-specific research on how people in financial distress. He imagines how the work of Credit Slips occasional Dalie Jimenez on paper-based self-help resources could be delivered digitally. The result would push the edges of how we think about legal practice.

We hope to have Gary back soon and appreciate his contributions!

How Consumers Use the CFPB's Complaint Function

posted by Pamela Foohey

I recently posted to SSRN my new article, Calling on the CFPB for Help: Telling Stories and Consumer Protection (Law & Contemporary Problems, forthcoming 2017). In the article, I survey a random sample of consumers' narratives detailing their complaints about consumer credit and financial service providers, with the goal of assessing how people engage with the complaint function in light of how the CFPB processes complaints. In short, consumers submit complaints via the CFPB's website and by phone, the CFPB forwards the complaints to companies, and the companies are required to respond. That the CFPB does not respond to complaints in the first instance may come as a surprise to some consumers, despite the CFPB's websites’ prominent statements about where it sends complaints. Importantly, the CFPB is not the only federal or state agency that maintains a complaint function. The DOJ, FTC, and other agencies similarly take complaints from constituents, and likewise often do not respond directly to the complaining individuals. Identifying when and how people are not understanding how their complaints will be processed may provide agencies an opportunity to further help constituents and to augment how they meet their goals.

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ABI Podcast on Race and Chapter 13

posted by Bob Lawless

In October, a panel at the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges explored the role of race and implicit bias in the bankruptcy system. Called "The Color of Money: The Implications of Race and Ethnicity in Addressing Debt," the panel included a presentation by yours truly about our research exploring the intersection of race and chapter 13. If you were not at NCBJ, the American Bankruptcy Institute was kind enough to ask me to do a podcast about our research and the updates to it since its original appearance in 2012. The podcast is a little over seventeen minutes long if you want to give it a listen.

Jevic and the Supremes

posted by Stephen Lubben

My own conflicted thoughts on Jevic, over at Dealb%k.

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