Financial Services Regulations: A look back and a look ahead

November 3, 2016 by Kerry Rivera


It’s been a wild ride for the financial services industry over the past eight years. After the mortgage meltdown, the Great Recession and a stagnant economy … well, one could say the country had seen better days.

Did you watch The Big Short last winter? It all came crumbling down.

And then President Barack Obama entered the scene. Change was needed. More oversight introduced. Suddenly, we had the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act and the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Taxes were raised on the country’s highest earners for the first time since the late-1990s. In essence, the pendulum swung hard and fast to a new era of tightened and rigorous regulation.

Fast forward to present day and we find ourselves on the cusp of transitioning to new leadership for the country. A new president, new cabinet, new leaders in Congress.

What will it all mean for financial services regulations?

It’s helpful to initially take a look back at the key regulations that have been introduced over the past eight years.

Mortgage Reform: Long gone are the days of obtaining a quick mortgage.  New rules have required loan originators to verify and document the consumer’s income and assets, including employment status (if relied upon), existing debt obligations, mortgage-related obligations, alimony and child support. The CFPB has also expanded foreclosure protections for struggling borrowers and homeowners. Maintaining the health of the mortgage industry is important for the entire country, and updated rules have enhanced the safety and transparency of the mortgage market. Home values have largely recovered from the darkest days, but some question whether the underwriting criteria have become too strict.

Combatting Fraud: The latest cyber-attack trends and threats come fast and furious. Thus, regulators are largely addressing the challenge by expecting banks to adhere to world-class standards from organizations such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) implemented the Red Flags Rule in November 2008. It requires institutions to establish policies and procedures to identify and recognize red flags — i.e., patterns, practices or specific activities that indicate the possible existence of identity theft — that occur during account-opening activities, existing account maintenance and new activity on an account that has been inactive for two or more years.

Loss Forecasting: The Dodd-Frank Act Requires the Federal Reserve to conduct an annual stress test of bank holding companies (BHCs), savings and loan holding companies, state member banks, and nonbank financial institutions. In October 2012, the Fed Board adopted the Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (CCAR) rules. This requires banks with assets of $50 billion or more to submit to an annual review centered on a supervisory stress test to gauge capital adequacy. In January 2016, Dodd-Frank Act Stress Testing (DFAST) was introduced, requiring bank holding companies with assets of $10 billion or more to conduct separate annual stress tests known as “company-run tests” using economic scenarios. Every year regulators expect to see continued improvement in stress-testing models and capital-planning approaches as they raise the bar on what constitutes an acceptable practice.

CFPB: No longer the new kids on the block, the CFPB has transitioned to an entity that has its tentacles into every aspect of consumer financial products. Mortgage lending was one of their first pursuits, but they have since dug into “ability-to-pay underwriting” and servicing standards for auto loans, credit cards and add-on products sold through third-party vendors. Now they are looking into will likely be the next “bubble,” – student lending – and educating themselves about online marketplace lending.

Data Quality: Expectations related to data quality, risk analytics, and regulatory reporting have risen dramatically since the financial downturn. Inaccuracy in data is costly and harmful, slows down the industry, and creates frustration. In short, it’s bad for consumers and the industry. It’s no secret that financial institutions rely on the accuracy of credit data to make the most informed decisions about the creditworthiness of their customers. With intense scrutiny in this area, many financial institutions have created robust teams to handle and manage requirements and implement sound policies surrounding data accuracy.

This is merely a sliver of the multiple regulations introduced and strengthened over the past eight years. Is there a belief that the regulatory pendulum might take a swing to other side with new leadership? Unlikely. The agenda for 2017 largely centers on the need to improve debt collections practices, enhance access to credit for struggling Americans, and the need for ongoing monitoring of the fintech space.

Only time will tell, but one thing is certain. Anyone involved in financial services needs to keep a watchful eye on the ever-evolving world of regulation and Washington.

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