On March 16, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report identifying incentives to encourage financial institutions to provide banking services and small-dollar consumer loans in lower- and middle-income (LMI) communities. The report—issued in response to concerns raised by a 2015 FDIC survey, which found that “unbanked” or “underbanked” households tended to be located in LMI communities—assessed services provided by financial institutions in these areas, reviewed how regulators performed Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) evaluations, and solicited input from stakeholders such as consumer advocacy groups and financial industry members.

Currently, CRA evaluation procedures do not consistently require an assessment of banks’ provision of retail banking services or small-dollar, non-mortgage consumer lending. Rather, banks are evaluated for these criteria typically only “if consumer lending is a substantial majority of the lending or a major product of the institution, which generally is not the case across all institution types.” According to GAO’s report, a June 2017 Treasury report (previously covered in a Buckley Sandler Special Alert), indicated that the CRA should be modernized to better target statutory and regulatory responses to financial risks faced by U.S. consumers. Treasury announced plans to review the CRA, but a timeline is yet to be released. Meanwhile, GAO recommended—and Treasury concurred—that Treasury should consider the findings in this report when conducting its review. GAO also proposed several incentives for financial institutions, including the following:

  • modifying lending and service tests conducted as part of the CRA examination process to focus more on how institutions are offering basic banking services and small-dollar, non-mortgage loans;
  • expanding the scope of areas and entities assessed as part of the CRA examinations to capture more types of institutions, including all bank affiliates and nonbanks; and
  • providing clarifying guidance about the examination process.