CRC Works to Ensure Tri Counties Bank Doesn’t Cut Corners During Merger

Tri Counties Bank has applied to purchase First National Bank of Northern California. If this merger application is approved, Tri Counties will have over $6 billion in assets and a network of 74 branches in several California counties. The merger is still in the early stages, but CRC would like to see Tri Counties make a strong commitment to California communities.

CRC would also like to see that no shortcuts are taken by the bank or regulators. We were disappointed that Tri Counties sought a waiver from the Federal Reserve so it would not have to apply for permission for the bank holding companies to merge. CRC raised concerns about this waiver. On her last day as Federal Reserve Board Chair, Janet Yellen denied the Tri Counties waiver request, because “a third party” started asking questions.

TrioCo Bancshares.-FNB BC–Waiver Request–FRB Response Ltr 020218

The upshot to this waiver being denied is that the bank will have to follow proper procedures, the merger application will be subject to greater transparency, and the public will have the opportunity to weigh in on whether this merger will provide a public benefit to communities.

The Federal Reserve’s waiver denial letter suggests that the third party may be objecting to the merger, but CRC has not decided whether we will object. We are hopeful that Tri Counties will make a meaningful commitment low-income communities as it enters San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. In the meantime, please let me know if you are interested in tracking this merger and being involved if we object or negotiate.

Through challenges and victories large and small, we press on together to provide regulatory and corporate accountability. We greatly appreciate the advocacy and support of CRC members. It makes a difference!

Be Aware of Phishing Attempts

The California Reinvestment Coalition has been alerted to phishing attempts occurring on Facebook. If someone contacts you on Facebook or elsewhere asking for your EBT card number and PIN in order to receive your benefits, ignore it. Phishers took advantage of a system delay that resulted in benefits being posted late this morning. That issue has been resolved.

CRC Hosts Member and Ally Meetings to Discuss 2018 Priorities

This fall, CRC hosted three regional member and ally meetings in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Sacramento.

Key leaders from member and ally organizations spoke to their work on the four key issue areas we’re addressing in 2018:

  • increasing corporate accountability,
  • resisting economic displacement,
  • protecting immigrant financial and economic resources, and
  • ending predatory fines and fees.

We had robust conversations and great ideas emerge from each of our meetings and we appreciate the time, participation, and perspectives that participants shared.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Congratulations to ACT-LA and Sharon Kinlaw: New Pictures From Celebrate LA Event

CRC was proud to honor ACT-LA last week for their important work on equitable development and ensuring the needs of working families are a priority, including housing that’s affordable and public transit that’s accessible. Sharon Kinlaw, executive director of Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley and CRC board member, was also honored for her role in leading a successful campaign to increase access for people with disabilities who live in affordable housing units. The San Fernando Fair Housing Council, along with Independent Living Center of Southern California (ILCSC), Communities Actively Living Independent and Free (CALIF), and LA resident Mei Ling filed and settled a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles. As a result of this grassroots advocacy, the City of LA promised to ensure that at least 4,000 units will be made accessible for people with disabilities.   A lawsuit against the Redevelopment Agency is still ongoing.

Celebrate Sacramento Reinvestment 2017

Last week, CRC joined with our members, guests and allies to recognize and honor our community heroes, California Human Development, and the California Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition. We had our highest turnout yet for the event and enjoyed the networking, conversations, and speeches by our awardees, presenters, and hosts. Thank you to our sponsors and guests!

The New CFPB Rule is a Testament to the Power of Community Organizing

Seniors were the largest age group of payday loan borrowers in California last year but a new CFPB rule will better protect borrowers.

Dear CRC Supporter:

Yesterday, the CFPB released a new rule that will protect working families from predatory loans and the financial heartaches they create.

This rule is a victory and is a testament to the power of community organizing by CRC, our members and our allies. Borrowers will benefit from new safeguards requiring lenders to better assess their ability to repay a loan and from restrictions preventing lenders from making multiple, unsuccessful attempts to debit their bank accounts, a practice that results in costly overdrafts and closed bank accounts.

As the CFPB began its work to write this rule, CRC members and their clients courageously stepped up to share their experiences. Working with our partners, we organized listening sessions with the CFPB and with our Congressional representatives where Californians talked about how they got caught in the payday loan debt trap- a cycle of costly rollovers that are profitable for the industry, but that extract precious income and assets away from working families.

California Consumer Leadership Academy

In 2015, CRC partnered with CRL-California and California LULAC to organize the first ever California Consumer Leadership Academy.  Eight courageous women participated in this day-long training, shared their experiences, and crafted strategies on how to stop predatory lending practices in our communities.

At the CFPB’s field hearing where it announced its draft proposal of the rule, I shared the story of a Santa Cruz borrower who had worked with a CRC member after getting a payday loan and then being illegally harassed for repayment of it. We applauded the CFPB’s initial proposal, while also highlighting where we thought the safeguards could be stronger.

Once the public comment period opened, we activated consumers, CRC members and allies, and engaged with local, state, and federal elected officials to ensure the rules were as strong as possible. Consumers shared their stories in the media and we helped them to file CFPB complaints. Local mayors voiced their support. As a result of CRC and our member’s organizing efforts, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a unanimous motion in support of strong rules. California state legislators, as well as our two senators and more than half of our congressional delegation (led by Representative Maxine Waters) weighed in with their support.

Over 100 California nonprofits also weighed in with the CFPB and our message was loud and clear: California families need a strong CFPB rule that protects their income and assets from predatory lenders.

We applaud the CFPB for its thoughtful approach to this rule and we want to extend our gratitude to our members and allies who worked tirelessly to organize and to protect our communities from predatory lending. We’re also grateful to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation for their support of this work.

We anticipate the industry will attempt to get this rule overturned- either through the courts or the Congressional Review Act, but rest assured we will continue our advocacy in support of this rule and the other work the CFPB is doing to stand up for Main Street.

My statement on the rules is now available on CRC’s website and you can read a CFPB fact sheet about the rules here.

Thank you for your support.

Paulina Gonzalez

Executive Director

California Reinvestment Coalition Recommendations on Updating the Community Reinvestment Act

Community reinvestment act 2

Fact Sheet: Community Reinvestment Act Recommendations

To truly meet community needs, CRC members believe the CRA should be improved and strengthened. In a recent survey, 100% of members said that the level of CRA activity in their community needed improvement and that there was considerable room for banks to do more.

CRC recommends that CRA be reformed so that:

1. CRA implementation encourages, not discourages, reinvestment in rural areas. California is home to numerous rural reinvestment deserts, where a lack of lending and investment prevents communities from thriving economically. And yet, many of these areas already have bank branches and are included in bank CRA assessment areas. Regulators subject bank CRA activity in these areas to a lower level of scrutiny, as banks are able to denote these areas as subject to only “limited scope” review. For example, Bakersfield, California, has numerous bank branches, and those banks have CRA obligations in the city. However, these same banks are examined for their CRA activity far more closely in other, more urban areas of the state. This creates fierce competition, for example, for housing tax credit deals in urban areas, while rural projects struggle to find financing. Instead, regulators should ensure that the banks with the largest deposits in a given MSA are subject to a full scope review in that MSA.

2. Regulators should encourage banks to develop transparent, multi-year CRA Plans that reflect significant public input and that include measurable goals, such as tying reinvestment activity to a percentage of bank deposits. Banks are supposed to help meet community credit needs. And in many bank merger applications, banks must demonstrate that the merger will provide a community benefit. The public input process is critical to this assessment.

However, community input has been diluted, and is not sufficiently sought and considered under current CRA implementation, as an example, very few mergers will even have public hearings. Mergers most often lead to diminished resources for communities as 1 + 1 rarely equals 2 in terms of reinvestment. That is why a comprehensive review of mergers is so important, complete with strong community input and mitigation of any harm the merger may cause in the form of decreased reinvestment or reduced access to banking services or branches.

Regulators should encourage CRA plans, particularly in the context of mergers that must show a clear public benefit to the community. Strong and meaningful CRA plans reflect community input about community credit needs, motivate banks by setting strong goals for lending, investment and services, and allow communities to work in partnership with banks to ensure that they are treated equitably and fairly by financial institutions. CRA plans are a best practice that have resulted in significant gains for communities in the past few years. Strong CRA plans can help demonstrate that a merger will have a public benefit.

3. Banks should be downgraded for causing, enabling, or financing harm in communities, taking into account discrimination, and equity stripping conduct and transactions that lead to displacement. The CRA calls for an assessment of how well or poorly a bank is meeting community credit needs. This analysis must include an assessment of fair housing and related factors. Regulators should conduct a comprehensive review of a bank’s community impact. Wells Fargo is but the most recent example to demonstrate that simply investing in the community is insufficient- banks must also not cause harm or break the law.

For a regulator to give a bank a passing CRA grade while the bank engages in discriminatory lending would be to endorse discrimination. Further, a high CRA rating for a discriminatory bank could result in consumers being directed to a bank with an inflated CRA rating, only for the bank to potentially overcharge the consumer or deny that person a loan. In this way, regulators would abuse the public’s trust in its ratings.

Bank regulators should consider expensive overdraft programs and excessive reliance on fee revenue generated at the expense of the most economically vulnerable consumers as a basis for downgrading a bank in a CRA service test evaluation. Similarly, banks should be downgraded for financing high cost, predatory lenders, and for contributing to gentrification and displacement. Banks should also suffer CRA rating downgrades as a result of any involvement in the REO to Rental craze, which results in first time homebuyers being outbid by cash investors, tenants being displaced by Wall Street landlords, and neighborhoods losing long term residents as well as racial and income diversity.

4. Encourages banks to open and maintain branches in LMI and rural areas. Bank branches remain a critical part of how banks serve communities, and inequitable distribution of branches must be considered as part of the CRA service test. Critically, regulators cannot allow the industry’s preference for technology to result in fewer branches and shrinking CRA assessment areas, footprints, and obligations in LMI communities. Additionally, many LMI neighborhoods and communities of color not only lack access to bank branches, but also to a wide range of banking products and services, including ATMs.  Regulators should analyze whether banks are meeting the banking needs of all communities in their assessment areas.

Regulators should also consider how banks can better reduce the number of unbanked or underbanked consumers within their assessment areas. Moreover, banks should quantify the extent to which LMI bank customers are able to keep their accounts open and in good standing over time, or if their customers are pushed out of the bank by overdraft fees or other barriers. Low cost bank accounts should be offered and accessible to LMI consumers, including through bank acceptance of municipal identification cards and other accessible forms of ID.

5. Assessment areas should include areas where banks have branches, or where a significant number of their customers and depositors live. Regulation has lagged behind market innovation. Requiring reinvestment only around retail branches makes much less sense today, when internet, credit card, and fintech banks operate nationally but reinvest only in Salt Lake City or another headquarters location.

Assessment areas should be expanded to include areas where a substantial portion of a bank’s depositors and borrowers reside. At the same time, banks should not be allowed to receive additional CRA credit for lending or investing outside of the bank’s CRA assessment area, beyond the accommodation made to banks by regulators during the last CRA Questions and Answers review. This will only lead to a dilution of investment in LMI neighborhoods that are most in need of reinvestment. The primary purpose of the CRA is to serve communities where the bank is doing business, not to encourage reinvestment where it is easiest to do. Banks should not be able to circumvent obligations to serve the communities in their assessment areas. The focus of bank CRA should remain on LMI individuals and communities.

6. CRA examinations should consider and reflect new small business lending data that the CFPB will be overseeing. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy, prime job creators, and bulwarks of the community. Yet small business owners benefit from fewer protections than homeowners. HMDA data has been collected for years, and used to inform CRA examinations, without problem or incident. Small business owners should also benefit from a comprehensive and unified lending data collection system.

CRC members strongly support Congress’ charge in Dodd-Frank that §1071 small business lending data be collected in order to facilitate enforcement of fair lending laws and enable communities, governmental entities, and creditors to identify business and community development needs and opportunities of women-owned, minority-owned, and small businesses. Such data collection and dissemination will surely make affordable credit more accessible to all small businesses, and will inform CRA examinations.

A recent CRC survey of our CDFI, community lender and technical assistance provider member organizations revealed that small business clients still face discrimination; are pushed by banks towards higher priced credit cards; are frequently targeted for nonbank credit products (like Merchant Cash Advances), and are in need of greater access to affordable, safe, and transparent credit.

7. Banks serve all segments of the community, including the immigrant community. Banks can and should serve the immigrant community by directly providing loans and investments to immigrants, and by supporting community lenders and other organizations that serve the immigrant community. Immigrant community members have significant unmet credit needs, whether it is a safe place to save money, a loan to buy a house, purchase a car, start a businesses, or pursue a citizenship application.

Banks should ensure that employees represent the diversity of their service areas, and make translation, interpretation and related language access services available to all potential clients. Banks should make loans and investments accessible to all community members, and invest and support community lenders and other organizations that serve the immigrant community.

8. The bank examination process can be improved so that years do not go by after an examination before the pubic rating is released. The regulators should hire additional examiners and provide enhanced training to ensure that there is consistency in the examination process across agencies and examiners. CRC believes that a primary reason behind the delay in the public release of CRA ratings is the propensity of banks to challenge and appeal initial CRA ratings by regulators. This process should be reformed to limit the circumstances in which a bank can challenge a rating, and the public should be given an opportunity to comment on the appeal when a bank invokes this otherwise opaque process. It is of critical importance that regulators set high standards of review.

To make CRA meaningful, regulators have to end the long history of CRA grade inflation so that poor CRA performance will be reflected in CRA ratings. Streamlining the process while lowering the examination bar will only lead to less investment, more harm to communities, and potentially, to greater risk in the US financial system. We saw this happen in the years leading up the financial crisis, when regulatory agencies competed against each other to attract banks to their charters, fueling a regulatory race to the bottom, and leading ultimately to the failure of several savings and loans and the end of the Office of Thrift Supervision.