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CFPB Proposes to Ban Arbitration Clauses

October 9, 2015 – On Wednesday the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced a proposal to publish rules that would “ban consumer financial companies from using ‘free pass’ arbitration clauses to block consumers from suing in groups to obtain relief," according to their website. What this means, in short, is that banks, credit card companies, lenders, and broker dealers will not be able to force consumers to sign away their legal rights to take part in class-action lawsuits.

Typically, these clauses are added to contracts to shield companies from lawsuits and lower their legal costs, as signers would not be able to file claims in federal courts and instead would hav to resolve disputes individually through privately appointed arbitrators.

According to NBC News, arbitration clauses have “long been a target of consumer advocacy groups which say they curb legal rights,” while Wall Street banks and similar advocates have historically opposed efforts to curb these sorts of contracts.

These clauses have often been misrepresented as protecting consumers from the necessity of going to court to settle disputes, which is why the CFPB is strongly considering taking action against the kinds of contracts that allow companies to avoid accountability to their customers and consumers.

At a hearing for the bureau in Denver, Colorado, CFPB Director Richard Cordray said, “The essence of the proposals we have under consideration is that they would get rid of this free pass that prevents consumers from holding their financial providers directly accountable for the harm they cause when they violate the law.”

Consumer advocacy groups and legislators have urged the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to write a similar rule, although it has not done so yet, despite the powers bequeathed upon it and the CFPB to restrict or ban arbitration clauses in light of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform (Dodd-Frank) Act.

The proposals that the Bureau is considering come after a March study which found that “few consumers actually seek individual relief through arbitrations” even though millions are eligible for group settlements.

The benefits of the proposals would include a day in court for consumers, deterrent effects, and increased transparency, to name a few.

An outline of the proposals under consideration is available at the CFPB's website.

Source

Lynch, Sarah. “U.S. consumer watchdog wants partial ban on arbitration clauses.” Reuters. Reuters, 7 October 2015. Web. 8 October 2015.

Cuban Assets Control Regulations Updated

September 28, 2015 – Back in January of this year, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the U.S. Department of Commerce amended the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) and the Export Administration Regulations (EAR)related to Cuba. These changes were intended to further “engage and empower the Cuban people by easing sanctions related to travel, telecommunications, and internet-based services, business operations in Cuba, and remittances.” The Amendments were finally published last Monday (September 21, 2015).

What does this mean for the Cuban people?

For the past fifty or so years, the CACR and the EAR has served as the principal mechanism through which the United States embargo against Cuba has been enforced. With the relaxation (although not the lifting) of these regulations, Cuba will hopefully benefit from the increased ease with which U.S. citizens may enter the country.

Moreover, American businesses are now permitted to export telephones, computers, and Internet technology to Cuba and to send supplies to private Cuban firms, which will hopefully result in drastically improved technological services in the country.

The opening of the American embassy in Havana is yet another step for the countries to normalize relations, which many believe will push the Cuban government to adopt policies that will help the Cuban people.

Sources

“Major Changes to Cuban Assets Control and Export Regulations Create New Opportunities for Trade.” Blank Rome LLP. Blank Rome LLP, 21 January 2015. Web. 28 September 2015.

Scism, Chelsea. “US to Open Embassy in Cuba. What That Means.” The Daily Signal. The Daily Signal, 1 July 2015. Web. 28 September 2015.

 

IRA Rollovers and the One-Per-Year Rule

September 16, 2015 – Under federal law, you can only conduct one IRA-to-IRA rollover per year. If you try to exceed this limit, it is considered a distribution, which is subject to significant taxes and penalties. In the past, this has meant that taxpayers cannot roll over the same IRA within a year, but the IRS allows a 60-day rollover once a year from separate IRAs. Essentially, if someone has four different IRAs, that person could initiate four rollovers in the same year.

However, the U.S. Tax Court recently ruled that this is wrong, and that the one-year-period rule applies to a person’s aggregate IRAs. The IRS said it would begin enforcing this interpretation of the rule January of this year, and only for roll-overs made in 2015 and thereafter.

The one year period is not a calendar year it is once every 365 days. If you took money from another IRA this year and paid it back within 60 days you cannot do another 60-day rollover until 12 months have passed since the distribution.

One way to circumvent this issue is to move funds with a direct trustee-to-trustee transfer. As long as funds are moved directly to a second institution rather than paid to the consumer first, the disbursement is not considered a rollover.

Sources

Nicholson, Holly. “Money matters: Understanding changes to the 60-day rollover rule for IRAs.” The News & Observer. NewsObserver.com, 22 August 2015. Web. 11 September 2015.

UK Bank Announces Bitcoin Acceptance

September 15, 2015 – When many people hear the term “Bitcoin,” the mind immediately conjures images of the dark underbelly of the Internet, rife with drug dealers, hackers, smugglers, and money launderers.

But, as a New York Times article points out, the “innovations that helped turn Bitcoin into the most popular virtual currency are now being viewed as a potentially enormous disruptive force” for many industries.

The flame of interest around Bitcoin flared up late last month when Barclays, one of Britain’s largest high-street banks, announced that it would help charities accept Bitcoin payments. This would make the bank the first to support the currency, setting a precedent for banks and other financial institutions to follow.

For some time, banks have been exploring the uses of Bitcoin, trying to determine the possibilities behind digital currency and its underlying blockchain technology. Many financial institutions are discussing how Bitcoin can be used to change foreign currency trading, speed up and lower the cost of consumer payments, and more.

Opponents of the blockchain, a technology that validates transactions made in Bitcoin, believe that Bitcoin could potentially strip financial institutions of their control over the flow of money. 

Meanwhile, the cryptocurrency seems to be gaining steam in parts of the world where users don’t often have bank accounts but typically have smartphones and want to shop online, such as developing nations including India, Russia, Brazil, and Indonesia.

It remains to be seen if Bitcoins can become a viable global digital currency trusted by the mainstream financial communities and industries. This first foray by a serious player perhaps signals the “beginning of the beginning” of that transition.

Sources

Popper, Nathaniel. “Bitcoin Technology Piques Interest on Wall St.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 28 August 2015. Web. 9 September 2015.

Cloud Strategies Showing Upward Trend Even While Encryption Still a Risk

September 14, 2015 –Cybersecurity is a hot topic in today’s intricately interconnected virtual world, especially in the financial sector where the risk of information and identity theft is still high and can be dangerous.

A CNN writer noted that while state and federal laws are meant to act in the interest of public safety, an emerging technology poses a “serious threat” – that is to say, newer and more advanced methods of encryption protect user privacy in such a way that law enforcement is prevented from accessing the content, even in times of extreme need for the good of the individual, company, or nation at large.

The technology industry and many Americans have an absolute right to absolute privacy, but many argue that if technology firms build encryption systems where only they retain access, law enforcement should also be able to follow the appropriate legal process to obtain the suspected “bad actors’ records.”

Even though encryption is still spoken of as a risky business, the cloud strategies of financial firms appear to be rapidly maturing, according to a new report published by CipherCloud in July. The report states that financial firms have an increased confidence in cloud technologies, showing that 100% of respondents said they put certain personally identifiable information (PII) in the cloud, while 40% of organizations polled say that for the most sensitive information, they use tokenization and strong encryption. Tokenization typically uses randomly-generated codebooks to encode the data. These strategies demonstrate a clear trend to improve security as the sensitivity of data increases.

With more and more organizations using the cloud to store sensitive information, one of the main issues they face is data security compliance, as the risks of non-compliance are well-known: CipherCloud points out that analysts estimate total cloud spending will reach $28 billion in 2018, making cloud service providers a prime target for hackers.

Edcomm Group Banker’s Academy helps financial institutions and other organizations to navigate the ins and outs of cybersecurity news and trends. We offer popular and expansive course offerings on related topics and subjects such as risk management, common fraud schemes, information security, and cybersecurity.

Sources

Bourne, James. “New report shows finance sector becoming more comfortable with cloud adoption.” CloudTech. TechForge, 30 July 2015. Web. 31 August 2015.

Rogers, Mike. “Encryption a growing threat to security.” CNN. Cable News Network, 1 August 2015. Web. 31 August 2015.

Wheatley, Mike. “Financial firms’ cloud strategies ‘rapidly maturing.’” SiliconAngle. SiliconAngle, 4 August 2015. Web. 31 August 2015.

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