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CUNA Watch the FDICs overdraft proposal closely

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WASHINGTON (8/13/10)—Although a recent consumer-protection proposal issued by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) obviously does not apply to credit unions, the head of the Credit Union National Association’s (CUNA’s) compliance department suggests credit unions pay attention to it for possible clues aobut their regulatory future. The FDIC has proposed that state-chartered banks under its jurisdiction be required to go farther in incorporating consumer protections in their overdraft protection programs than the Federal Reserve Board’s mandates in its overdraft regulations that go into effect on Aug. 15. The Fed’s Regulation E amendments, effective on July 1 for new accounts and Aug. 15--this Sunday--for existing accounts, require all banks and credit unions to obtain “opt in” consent by accountholders before charging fees for covering ATM and one-time debit transactions when there are insufficient funds in the account. An “opt-in” is not required by the Fed’s rules to cover a check or ACH payment, such as used for on-line bill paying services, when the account doesn’t have adequate funds. Regulation E implements the Electronic Fund Transfer Act. The FDIC is proposing that banks that rely on automated overdraft payment programs should establish procedures to address all types of overdrafts, including those triggered by checks and ACH transfers. The FDIC says that bank practices should:
*Promptly honor a customer’s request to decline payment rather than to cover the overdraft and charge a fee (that is, to “opt out” of an overdraft system); * Educate the accountholder about alternative overdraft payment products; *Monitor accounts and take meaningful action to limit overdraft use by a customer, including “giving customers who overdraw their accounts on more than six occasions during a 12-month period” less costly alternatives or eliminating overdraft protection on the account; * Institute “appropriate daily limits” on overdraft fees, whether by capping the amount of transactions subject to an overdraft fee or putting a dollar daily limit on the fee; and * Not process transactions in a manner designed to maximize the cost to consumers.
In approving these proposed supervisory guidelines for public comment, the FDIC board cited a 2008 study it conducted of bank overdraft practices and growing complaints it had received from consumers about overdraft fees. The agency notes that this proposal builds on a 2005 joint-agency guidance on overdraft programs (issued by NCUA in Letter to Credit Unions 05-CU-03) and is consistent with good risk management practices and oversight over third-party vendors. Bank examiners would use this guidance to evaluate the adequacy of a bank’s overdraft program. The FDIC is accepting comments until Sept. 27 on its proposed guidance. “Although this is being proposed by the FDIC, new requirements and additional restrictions on overdraft programs could very well eventually also apply to credit unions,” noted Kathy Thompson, CUNA’s senior vice president for compliance. “Many of the staff at the FDIC who are handling consumer protection issues are expected to be transferred to the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And the Office of Thrift Supervision in April issued its own proposed ‘supplemental guidance’ to the 2005 joint agency guidance--and under the new regulatory reform law, OTS is being disbanded, so it’s very likely that the authors of the OTS overdraft guidance will end up at the CFPB,” Thompson said. “Many credit unions already address points raised in the FDIC’s proposal by educating members on alternatives, addressing over usage, and honoring opt-out requests,” she said. “However, having these standards subject to examiner scrutiny may result in rigid tests, a concern that has already been raised by the banking industry about the FDIC proposal. Thompson added, “Bankers have also expressed concern that while the FDIC says it is only targeting automated overdraft programs, there is nothing that really keeps examiners from also evaluating, for instance, whether banks that make case-by-case decisions are tracking how often the same customer is allowed to overdraft an account during the year. “And the FDIC didn’t just pull the ‘six-overdraft-fees-a-year’ limit out of thin air,”Thompson said. “This is a provision that appears in recent overdraft bills in Congress, as well as limits on daily overdraft fees and the order transactions are processed.” In a related development, earlier this week Wells Fargo Bank was ordered to repay $203 million in overdraft fees it assessed between 2005 and 2007 for processing transactions from “high to low,” meaning the largest dollar amounts were first handled. While financial institutions, including Wells Fargo, argue that processing the biggest payments first, which are often for mortgage and car loan payments, benefits consumers. a federal court in California found that the bank did this in order to generate more overdraft fees and failed to provide meaningful disclosure of how it processes transactions, and ruled that this violated California consumer protection laws. While the bank plans to appeal and there are other lawsuits pending on this same issue, federal regulatory pressure is already having financial institutions re-evaluate their processing practices.

Administration launches housing reform examination

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WASHINGTON (8/13/10)--U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan will discuss issues central to housing finance reform at an Aug. 17 panel discussion. The panel discussion, which will take place between 9:00 A.M. and 1:30 P.M. (ET), will be broadcast live on the Treasury’s homepage (www.treasury.gov). Treasury Domestic Finance Undersecretary Jeffrey Goldstein said in a release that the conference is an opportunity for regulators and legislators to broaden their perspectives “on a number of key issues in a transparent way to make certain that all of the best ideas are on the table." The Obama administration is planning to provide its housing finance reform proposal to Congress in early 2011. Bank of America home loan president Barbara Desoer, National Urban League President/CEO Marc Morial, American Enterprise Institute fellow Alex Pollock, and other academics and industry insiders will take part in the panel discussions. Panel discussions on housing finance reform and its impact on the financial markets and housing policy will follow opening remarks, with assorted breakout sessions on the role of the private sector, access and affordability, securitization, and other topics to follow. Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Paul Kanjorski (D-Penn.) late last month announced a slate of housing finance hearings set for September. Frank chairs the House Financial Services Committee, while Kanjorski leads the House subcommittee on capital markets, insurance and government-sponsored enterprises. Last month, Kanjorski said that the hearings would examine policies related to calculating guarantee fees and would allow legislators to consider “innovative ideas for recovering the costs resulting from the decision to place Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship." Both Fannie and Freddie were placed under government conservatorship in 2008.

Inside Washington (08/12/2010)

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* WASHINGTON (8/13/10)--The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) is looking into whether life insurers misled consumers about retained death benefits. It urged companies to disclose that the funds are not guaranteed by the government (Bloomberg Aug. 12). Chairman Sheila Bair said the FDIC suspects consumers may believe the accounts are FDIC-insured. Life insurers need to tell consumers that the accounts are not insured. This information needs to be given to policyholders and their beneficiaries. Last month, Bloomberg Markets magazine reported that more than 100 carriers profit by holding and investing $20 billion owed to life insurance beneficiaries. The accounts are guaranteed by insurer guaranty associations, which insurers should disclose, Bair said in a letter to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners ...

NCUA announces public board meeting video archive

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In a move that National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) Chairman Debbie Matz said will "enhance the agency’s transparency,” the NCUA on Thursday announced that it will make all open board meetings available for online viewing, starting with its July 2010 meeting. In a Thursday release, Matz said that posting the videos online “will enhance the agency’s transparency.” “Our intent is to provide the credit union community and other interested stakeholders with opportunities to watch the NCUA Board in action. We believe it will be informative for stakeholders who cannot attend our meetings in person to see and hear the deliberations that result in NCUA Board actions,” Matz added. The video of the open portions of the NCUA meetings, which will be captioned, will be available online within weeks of the meeting, and will remain online for several of the following months. To view the NCUA’s most recent meeting, use the resource link.

Matz notes CUs reduced loan losses operating expenses in 1Q 2010

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. (8/13/10)—The general financial condition of credit unions nationwide remained “sound” during the first quarter of 2010, enabling credit unions to reduce their provisions for loan losses, lower their costs of funds, and cut operating expenses during that time period, National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) Chairman Debbie Matz said in a recent letter to federally insured credit unions. The letter noted that a 29 basis point reduction in provisions for loan losses led to an increase in earnings of the same amount during the quarter. Matz also noted that for the first time in five years, operating expenses were lower than credit unions' net interest margin. "Federally insured credit unions reported improved earnings performance and overall declining loan delinquency," Matz pointed out. However, Matz said that the NCUA is closely monitoring credit and interest rate risks faced by credit unions, adding that credit unions are specifically facing increasing real estate and business loan delinquencies as economic uncertainties persist. "The NCUA expects credit unions to implement plans to mitigate these risks,” Matz said. “Proactive sructuring and proper control over loan concentrations and share products will be fundamental to the future viability of credit unions,” she added. “While some short-term numbers are moving in the right direction,” Matz said that “credit unions still have a long way to go before overcoming all the effects of the economic downturn,” adding that the NCUA will work with credit unions “to take proactive steps to protect the safety and soundness of the credit union industry.” For the NCUA letter, use the resource link.