This article is part of a series on CRA best practices from an examiner’s perspective. Although this column focuses on CRA best practices for financial institutions, the content may provide insights to community development organizations working with financial institutions to meet credit and community development needs. As a disclaimer, this series is only meant to represent best practices; financial institutions should consider the information presented in context of the requirements or guidance of their primary regulator and the business need of their financial institution.
Recently the CRA public file has made banking news due to changes in the availability of Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data on the Consumer Financial Protection Agency’s (CFPB) public website (www.consumerfinance.gov/hmda). The change became effective Jan. 1, 2018, and allows HMDA reporting institutions to forego placing physical copies of HMDA disclosure statements in the public file starting with the 2017 reporting year. In place of the physical copy, reporting banks need only include a statement in the file that their HMDA data may be obtained from the CFPB website.1
The announcement of this change is a reminder of the important role the public file plays in communicating a financial institution’s CRA performance to the public. The contents of the public file for covered financial institutions include both point-in-time (CRA evaluations) and ongoing information to help the public understand the bank’s capacity and ability to serve assessment area communities through its lending and, as applicable, community development activities. On an ongoing basis, banks are required to update the file regarding new or changed assessment area delineations;2 retail products and services (including applicable transaction fees); and changes to its branching structure, including deposit-accepting ATMs. Institutions are also to include all written comments received from the public as well as their responses indicating performance in helping to meet community credit needs.3 Additionally, small banks (including intermediate small banks) are required to report quarterly overall loan-to-deposit ratio4 information.
The public file becomes thicker for institutions with assets of $1.252 billion or greater.5 Public files maintained by these institutions require the same information as previously mentioned (with the exception of loan-to-deposit ratio information) as well as specific mandated disclosures. The CRA disclosure statement, which is publicly available on the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) website,6 provides detailed information on the bank’s small-business and small-farm lending. Additionally, this report provides aggregated information regarding the bank’s community development lending. There are additional requirements for institutions that include consumer loans in their evaluations. Annual consumer disclosure statements, which are not prepared by the FFIEC, still must be prepared according to regulation7 and included in the public file. Similar to HMDA disclosures, all CRA disclosures should be reviewed closely to ensure the institution is prepared to answer questions from public viewers regarding lending performance. Although requirements have changed for how the HMDA disclosure is provided in the public file, there have been no changes to requirements for providing CRA disclosure statements.
While information in the public file is required to be reviewed at least annually, many large and/or more complex institutions have found the best practice is to review its contents more frequently to ensure the public has an accurate depiction of the institution. While the regulation still holds separate guidance for public files located at the institution’s main office and branches, there is a growing trend among banks to provide the full format of the public file for viewing on dedicated kiosk computers at each location. The use of dedicated computers relieves the burden of updating several copies of the public file throughout the bank’s branches and provides an easy means to send copies to persons requesting to review the file’s contents.