CFPB 2.0: Prepaid Cards, Earned Wage Access, and Financial Inclusion

With a Democratic administration only weeks away from taking office, some are wondering about the prospects for a revitalized Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Created during the last Democratic administration – and largely sidelined during the now-ending Trump administration – the CFPB has found itself back in the fintech headlines in recent days.

PayPal Takes On CFPB Over Card Rules

A federal judge brought resolution to a lawsuit PayPal filed against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in December 2019. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon agreed with PayPal that the CFPB had overstepped its authority in its effort to regulate prepaid cards and digital wallets. PayPal had asserted that in forcing them to include “short form” fee disclosures that included categories that were not relevant, the CFPB’s rule was confusing customers. What’s worse, customers were being led to believe, PayPal claimed, that they were exposed to a wide variety of potential fees – which was not the case.

The situation seems almost to be one of mistaken identity. The rules being applied by the CFPB with regard to expenses like ATM balance inquiries make sense for providers of reloadable prepaid cards, but not for PayPal, which does not subject its customers to these fees. That said, it was the CFPB’s rule-making authority itself that was the target of what Reuters described as a judicial “decision studded with exclamation points.”

PayActiv Wins Earned Wages Access Approval

Meanwhile, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s aim seems to be more true in the case of of earned wage access. PayActiv, Finovate alum and innovator in the earned wage access space, announced last week that its program is exempt from Federal lending laws per new regulations established by the CFPB.

The key issue was whether or not PayActiv’s Earned Wages Access (EWA) program, which enables workers to get access to their already-earned wages in advance of scheduled paydays, involves credit. If it did, the program would be subject to the Federal Truth in Lending Act, as well as Regulation Z.

Fortunately, the CFPB ruled that “the accrued cash value of an employee’s earned but unpaid wages is the employee’s own money” and, as such, does not create a debt obligation. PayActiv added that the approval was both the first of its kind from the CFPB and specific to PayActiv’s EWA program. The CFPB added that the company’s initiative was an “innovative mechanism for allowing consumers to bridge the gap between paychecks (and) differs in kind from products the Bureau would generally consider to be credit.”

PayActiv co-founder and CEO Safwan Shah called the approval a “watershed moment” for his company. “We are very proud that the CFPB has recognized this important innovation and validated PayActiv’s pioneering work in creating low or no-cost employer-sponsored access to earned wages. Employers can take comfort in knowing that PayActiv continues to be the leader in responsible EWA for employees.”

Synchrony Gets Nod for Secured/Unsecured Credit Card

The new dual feature credit cards (DFCC) from Synchrony Bank are designed to provide financing opportunities for consumers who do not have strong credit profiles. Cardholders provide a security deposit in order to use the credit cards in their secured mode and, if certain eligibility criteria are met after a minimum of one year, the cardholder becomes eligible to use the card in its unsecured mode. And last week, the CFPB gave the wholly-owned subsidiary of Synchrony Financial the green light to go forward with its DFCC solution.

In large part, the CFPB’s ruling for Synchrony represented a broader embrace of bringing financing to consumers with lower credit scores. The Bureau referred to these efforts as “represent(ing) a potentially significant point of access to credit for certain consumers” and favorably compared Synchrony’s dual feature card to other secured card offerings.

Critically, Synchrony will provide complete transparency with regard to the cost differences between the secured and unsecured features, including the lower rate on the secured card. Cardholders that graduate to the unsecured Synchrony credit card are not eligible to return to the secured card.

Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova from Pexels