On May 5, the Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, and OCC (collectively, “agencies”) issued a joint notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on new regulations implementing the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) to update how CRA activities qualify for consideration, where CRA activities are considered, and how CRA activities are evaluated. According to the NPRM, the “CRA encourages banks to help meet the credit needs of the local communities in which they are chartered, consistent with a bank’s safe and sound operations, by requiring the Federal banking regulatory agencies to examine banks’ records of meeting the credit needs of their entire community, including low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.” The agencies are, among other things, proposing to:

  • Expand access to credit, investment, and banking services in low- and moderate-income (LMI) communities to promote community engagement and financial inclusion. The proposal would also evaluate bank lending to small businesses and farms with gross annual revenues of $250,000 or less to maintain focus on the borrowers with the greatest need;
  • Adapt changes to update CRA assessment areas to include activities associated with online and mobile banking, branchless banking, and hybrid models;
  • Use a retail lending volume screen and metric-based performance ranges to evaluate a bank’s retail lending volumes. CRA evaluations of retail lending and community development financing will include public benchmarks for greater clarity and consistency. The proposal would also clarify eligible CRA activities, such as affordable housing, that are focused on LMI, underserved, and rural communities;
  • Tailor CRA evaluations and data collection to recognize differences in bank size and business models. Smaller banks would continue to be evaluated under the existing CRA framework with the option of being evaluated under aspects of the proposed framework; and
  • Maintain a unified approach across agencies and incorporate stakeholder feedback.

The agencies also released a Fact Sheet describing key elements of the proposal. Acting Comptroller of the Currency, Michael J. Hsu, called the issuance of the joint NPRM an “important milestone” in bringing the three federal banking agencies back together to develop a uniform approach for addressing inequalities in credit access and other financial services. Fed Governor Lael Brainard pointed out that “[t]he last major revisions to the CRA regulations were made in 1995.” “The CRA is one of our most important tools to improve financial inclusion in communities across America, so it is critical to get reform right,” she stressed. CFPB Director Rohit Chopra, who voted in favor of the NPRM as an FDIC board member, said the proposal “better effectuates Congressional directives intended to ensure that the needs of historically underserved individuals and communities are adequately met,” but reminded policymakers that it is also important “to consider whether nonbank mortgage lenders should also be required to better meet the needs of the communities they serve.” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen similarly applauded the release of the NPRM. Comments on the NPRM are due August 5.

A Buckley Special Alert is forthcoming.