On January 8, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard discussed the Fed’s approach to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) modernization process, explaining why the agency chose not to join the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPR) issued in December by the OCC and the FDIC. As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, the NPR generally focuses on expanding and delineating the activities that qualify for CRA consideration, providing benchmarks to determine what levels of activity are necessary to obtain a particular CRA rating, establishing additional assessment areas based on the location of a bank’s deposits, and increasing clarity, consistency, and transparency in reporting. The NPR was published in the Federal Register on January 9, with comments due March 9.
According to Brainard, “it is more important to get the reforms done right than to do them quickly.” This includes, Brainard emphasized, “giving external stakeholders sufficient time and analysis to provide meaningful feedback on a range of options for modernizing the regulations.” Specifically, the Fed’s proposed approach for measuring banks’ CRA compliance uses “a set of tailored thresholds that are calibrated for local conditions” through the creation of two tests: (i) a retail test, applicable to all retail banks, that “would assess a bank’s record of providing retail loans and retail banking services in its assessment areas”; and (ii) a community development test, applicable to large banks, wholesale banks, and limited-purpose banks, “that would evaluate a bank’s record of providing community development loans, qualified investments, and services.” Banks would then be provided a dashboard related to its retail lending activity, as well as metrics concerning its community development performance.
Brainard also commented that separating evaluations into two different tests is important because “an approach that combines all activity together runs the risk of encouraging some institutions to meet expectations primarily through a few large community development loans or investments rather than meeting local needs.” She explained that having separate tests would ensure that performance metrics are tailored for banks of different sizes and business models, and would “provide greater scope to calibrate the evaluation metrics to the opportunities available in the market, which can differ for retail lending and community development financing.” Further, Brainard stated that using metrics based on a bank’s retail output on the number of loans rather than the dollar volume would help to measure how well a bank is serving the needs of both low- to moderate-income communities and “avoid inadvertent biases in favor of fewer, higher-dollar value loans.”