The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has published its long anticipated 377-page proposed rule to bar banks and regulated financial institutions from including class action waivers in mandatory arbitration provisions in consumer contracts.
Mandatory arbitration clauses, and class action waivers, are pervasive in financial contracts. According to a study by the CFPB in 2015 arbitration clauses are used by 53% of credit card contracts, 44% of checking account agreements, 92% of prepaid card agreements, and 84% of storefront payday loan agreements.
The proposed rule would prohibit covered institutions from “using a pre-dispute arbitration agreement to block consumer class actions in court and would require providers to insert language into their arbitration agreements reflecting this limitation.” The rule would apply to a range of financial products, including credit cards, checking and deposit accounts, prepaid cards, money transfer services, certain auto and title loans, payday and installment loans, and student loans. Under the proposal, institutions would also be required to submit records of arbitral proceedings to the CFPB. According to the Bureau, it “intends to use the information it collects to continue monitoring arbitral proceedings to determine whether there are developments that raise consumer protection concerns that may warrant further Bureau action.”
The proposed rule does not go so far as to outright ban mandatory arbitration clauses in full. But if implemented, the rule would likely have the practical effect of ending most consumer arbitrations because financial institutions will be reluctant to incur costs defending class actions while paying for arbitration.
The proposed rule will be open to public comment for ninety days, and a final rule is anticipated possibly by mid-2017. The CFPB has stated that the rule would have an effective date 30 days after publication of the final rule.
The CFPB’s proposal is consistent with regulators general pushback against arbitration. The CFPB already prohibits mandatory arbitration of disputes related to most mortgage loans and home equity agreements. Mandatory arbitration provisions are also barred from payday loans, vehicle-title loans and similar transactions involving members of the military. In the brokerage industry, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority bars firms from prohibiting participation in class actions. The Labor Department’s newly published fiduciary-duty rule for financial advisers will permit only arbitration clauses that do not include a class waiver. The Department of Education and The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are likewise considering restrictions on arbitration.