The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) officially commented on a proposal that will take direct action against No-Action Letters. The policy is designed to go after new financial products or financial services that promise to bring substantial benefits to consumers, but that are still a bit uncertain how regulatory or statutory provisions will be applied in the near future. The documents on this proposed policy are set to be released to the public on December 15, 2014.

Bringing up No-Action Letters reminds some of the SEC No-Action Letters which usually involve scenarios where the requester is not sure whether or not a particular financial service or product is in violation of existing federal security laws. In the letters that were released, SEC employees agreed not to ask for a legal action to be taken against the requester because of the facts that were presented. An alternative that exists is for SEC staff to draft a letter to bring clarity about a specific regulation or rule.

The CFPB No-Action Letters bare similarities to the SEC Letters. These letters would inform the business requesters that their staff is not going to recommend enforcement action due to specific aspects of a known legal requirement or policy. However, the CFPB No-Action Letters Policy is different from the SEC’s in that it only applies to financial products that are offered to the general consumer market, or for financial services which have no existing legal uncertainty.

By limiting the CFPB No-Action Letter Policy to only consumer-related products and services, the Bureau is able to remain consistent with how it interprets that Title X of the famous Dodd-Frank Consumer Protection Act of 2010, which provides governance for the CFPB, is intended to be helpful to consumers and to provide all consumers with access to transparent, fair, innovative financial markets. Additionally, the CFPB is bound to a statutory mandate that promises to promote and facilitate innovation and access in the market for consumer financial services and products.

To meet this goal, the CFPB created an innovative project called “Project Catalyst” in the fall of 2012. This project will support financial innovators that create consumer friendly financial products and services. The No-Action Letter Policy is quite simply the most recent module of Project Catalyst to be put into action.

Consumer friendly financial products and services can get assistance from the CFPB No-Action Letters. Recent consumer spending in the U.S. led to recent financial difficulties, although more complex financial institutions and high dollar deals greatly increased the financial woes of recent years. Quite a bit of effort has been put in to deal with more sophisticated financial businesses during the financial recovery that has been underway for the past few years. And while all of this has been underway, less attention has been focused on underbanked, unbanked and very low income communities around the country; not to mention consumers who may currently use traditional bank accounts but also use non-traditional payment methods too.

Not too long ago, the CFPB began to take steps to bring these sectors to the attention of the rest of the country when it began in inquiry into mobile financial solutions. The Bureau found that nearly 90 percent of United States consumers own cell phones and that this growing trend has led to a whole plethora of new mobile payment solutions that allow unbanked and underbanked households to take more control of their individual finances. We will all have to keep our eyes open to see whether or not these new mobile payment solutions continue to warrant scrutiny from the CFPB and to see how the No-Action Letters pan out for new financial services that are launched in the months and years to come.

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