CFPB Orders Citi to Pay $25.9 Million for Intentional, Illegal Discrimination Against Armenian Americans
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) ordered Citi to pay $25.9 million in fines and consumer redress for intentionally and illegally discriminating against credit card applicants the bank identified as Armenian American. From 2015 through 2021, Citi singled out for discrimination applicants for certain credit card products, based on their surnames, whom it suspected of being of Armenian descent. Citi supervisors conspired to hide the discrimination by instructing employees not to discuss the discriminatory practices in writing or on recorded phone lines. Citi employees also lied about the basis of denial, providing false reasons to denied applicants. Under today’s order, Citi will pay $1.4 million to harmed consumers along with a $24.5 million penalty.
Citi treated Armenian Americans as criminals who were likely to commit fraud. From at least 2015 through 2021, Citi targeted retail services credit card applicants with surnames that Citi employees associated with Armenian national origin as well as applicants in or around Glendale, California. The bank specifically targeted surnames ending in “-ian” and “-yan.” Nicknamed “Little Armenia,” Glendale is home to approximately 15% of the Armenian American population in the U.S.Intentionally denying credit to entire groups of people based on national origin is unlawful. Citi’s actions violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Citi managers trained and directed employees to take part in the bank’s plan to single out Armenian Americans applying for retail services credit cards because of stereotypes Citi projected onto an entire nationality. Specifically, Citi harmed consumers by:
Denying credit applications because of borrowers’ ancestry:
Citi’s supervisors taught employees how to discriminate against people of perceived Armenian descent. A primary tool for identifying who to discriminate against was surname suffixes. When Citi identified credit card applicants as potentially being of Armenian national origin, the bank applied more stringent criteria to their applications, including denying them outright and requiring additional information or placing a block on the account. Employees were instructed to avoid discussing the illegal discriminatory practice in writing or on recorded phone lines.
Giving borrowers fake reasons for credit denials:
When Citi denied credit applications because of applicants’ perceived Armenian national origin, Citi employees lied about the specific reasons for the adverse actions. At one point, a Citi employee explained it had been a while since they had denied an application because of a consumer’s Armenian surname, and wanted a suggestion on how to cover up the discrimination. The response was to decline the credit card application due to suspected credit abuse, which essentially blamed the applicant for the denial. Read more
CFPB Proposes New Federal Oversight of Big Tech Companies and Other Providers of Digital Wallets and Payment Apps
PUBLISHED NOV 07, 2023
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is proposing to supervise larger nonbank companies that offer services like digital wallets and payment apps. Driven largely by Big Tech and other large technology firms, digital payment apps and wallets continue to grow in popularity, but many of the companies are not subject to CFPB supervisory examinations. The rule proposed today would ensure that these nonbank financial companies – specifically those larger companies handling more than 5 million transactions per year – adhere to the same rules as large banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions already supervised by the CFPB.
Big Tech and other companies operating in consumer finance markets blur the traditional lines that have separated banking and payments from commercial activities. The CFPB has found that this blurring can put consumers at risk, especially when the same traditional banking safeguards, like deposit insurance, may not apply. Despite their impact on consumer finance, Big Tech and other nonbank companies operating in the payments sphere do not receive the same regulatory scrutiny and oversight as banks and credit unions. While the CFPB has enforcement authority over these companies, the CFPB has not previously had, inside many of these firms, examiners carefully scrutinizing their activities to ensure they are following the law and monitoring their executives.
The proposed rule would subject larger nonbank digital consumer payment companies to the CFPB’s authority to conduct examinations, helping to ensure consistent application of federal consumer financial laws across the marketplace. Specifically, the proposed rule would help ensure these large nonbank companies:Adhere to applicable funds transfer, privacy, and other consumer protection laws: The CFPB would be able to supervise larger participants for compliance with applicable federal consumer financial protection laws, which includes applicable protections against unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices, rights of consumers transferring money, and privacy rights.
Play by the same rules as banks and credit unions: The CFPB’s supervision of these large companies can foster a level playing field with depository institutions. Greater supervision of nonbanks in this market would ensure federal consumer financial protection law is enforced consistently between non-depository and depository institutions in order to promote fair competition. Read more