October 14, 2019

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Marketplace Lender Seeking Fair Lending Guidance Receives CFPB’s First No-Action Letter

The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently issued its first no-action letter, pursuant to a policy designed to encourage innovation in the fintech marketplace by creating a testing ground for new technologies. If received, a no-action letter simply indicates that the CFPB “has no present intention to recommend initiation of an enforcement or supervisory action” against the applicant with respect to the specific product and regulatory concerns at issue.

The CFPB issued its first no-action letter to Upstart Network, a marketplace lender that, in addition to traditional sources, uses alternative data, such as a borrower’s education and employment background, to underwrite consumer loans. While federal regulators have encouraged the development of consumer lending technologies, they have also warned that new technologies “carry the risk of disparate impact in credit outcomes and the potential for fair lending violations,” particularly where they have not been tested in unfavorable credit conditions.  Upstart requested and received a no-action letter with respect to its alternative underwriting criteria in the context of compliance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), which prohibits credit discrimination.

While issuance of the first no-action letter may justify some cautious optimism that the CFPB will meaningfully foster innovation, no-action letters have their limits. As is now clear from the Upstart letter, the CFPB is not providing any hall passes for fintech companies. Coupled with being narrowly limited to ECOA compliance for Upstart’s underwriting model, Upstart’s no-action letter reserves the CFPB’s right to seek penalties and fines on those matters in the future (even if it has no “present intention” to do so), and is expressly conditioned on Upstart sharing its lending data with the CFPB.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the no-action letter can be revoked or modified for any reason at the sole discretion of CFPB staff.

Copyright 2019 K & L Gates

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About this Author

David Christensen, KL Gates, Financial Law and Commercial Litigation Attorney
Partner

David Christensen is a partner in the Boston office of K&L Gates and has extensive experience in complex commercial litigation. Mr. Christensen concentrates his practice in consumer finance litigation matters and is a member of the firm’s Financial Institution and Services Litigation group and the Class Action Litigation Defense group. Mr. Christensen has experience representing mortgage lenders and servicers, banks, and other financial institutions in suits involving claims under various federal and state consumer statutes, including the Truth in Lending Act, the...

617-951-9077
Jennifer Nagle, KL Gates Law Firm, Financial Services Litigation Attorney
Partner

Ms. Nagle is a partner in the litigation department of the firm's Boston office. She concentrates her practice in complex commercial litigation, with emphases in financial institutions and services litigation and class action litigation defense. Ms. Nagle has also counseled clients on compliance with various consumer financial services laws, and in connection with government inquiries into various servicing practices.

617-951-9197
Brandon R. Dillman, KL Gates, Civil Litigation Lawyer, Summer Associate
Associate

Brandon R. Dillman is an associate in the firm’s Boston office.

Professional Background

Prior to joining the firm, Mr. Dillman was a summer associate in the firm’s Boston office in 2015. In addition, he was a civil litigation paralegal at a Boston law firm.

Additional Information

In 2013, Mr. Dillman received the Best Brief Award in his first-year legal writing course. In 2016, he received the Best Brief Award and was a finalist in the Tom C. Clark...

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