On July 10, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued its long-awaited final Rule banning class action waivers in arbitration provisions for covered entities, as well as requiring the covered entities to provide information to the CFPB regarding any efforts to compel arbitration.  This Rule is of significance to any financial services company that utilizes consumer contracts containing arbitration provisions. The Rule is scheduled to take effect on March 19, 2018 and will govern contracts executed after that time.

The Substance of the Rule

The Rule contains requirements that apply to a provider’s use of a “pre-dispute arbitration agreement” that is entered into on or after the compliance date.  The Rule defines “pre-dispute arbitration agreement” as an agreement that (1) is between a covered person and a consumer, and (2) provides for arbitration of any future dispute concerning a covered consumer financial product or service.  The form or structure of the agreement is not determinative; an agreement can be a pre-dispute arbitration agreement under the Rule regardless of whether it is a standalone agreement, an agreement or provision that is incorporated into, annexed to, or otherwise made a part of a larger contract, is in some other form, or has some other structure.

The Rule prohibits a provider from relying on a pre-dispute arbitration agreement entered into after the compliance date with respect to any aspect of a class action that concerns any covered consumer financial product or service.  That prohibition may apply to a provider with respect to a pre-dispute arbitration agreement initially entered into between a consumer or a covered person other than the initial provider, such as debt collectors seeking to collect on the contract or assignees of the contract.  The CFPB also specifically stated that the Rule applies to “indirect automobile lenders,” using them as an example of covered entities.

The Rule requires that, upon entering into a pre-dispute arbitration agreement, a provider must ensure that certain language set forth in the Rule is included in the agreement.  Generally, the required language informs consumers that the agreement may not be used to block class actions.

The Rule also requires providers that use pre-dispute arbitration agreements to submit to the CFPB certain records relating to arbitral and court proceedings.  The requirement to submit these records applies to: (1) specified records filed in any arbitration or court proceedings in which a party relies on a pre-dispute arbitration agreement; (2) communications the provider receives from an arbitrator pertaining to a determination that a pre-dispute arbitration agreement does not comply with due process or fairness standards; and (3) communications the provider receives from an arbitrator regarding a dismissal of or refusal to administer a claim due to the provider’s failure to pay required filing or administrative fees.

The CFPB will use information it collects to continue monitoring arbitral and court proceedings to determine whether there are consumer protection concerns that may warrant further Bureau action.  The CFPB is also finalizing provisions that will require it to publish on its website the materials it collects, with appropriate redactions as warranted, to provide greater transparency into the arbitration of consumer disputes.

Small Business Compliance Guide

In late September, the CFPB issued a small entity compliance guide designed to assist small businesses providing covered financial products and services with compliance with the Rule.  The guide provides an additional, succinct summary of the requirements of the Rule, and it sets forth a number of illustrations as to when the Rule does and does not apply.

Due to this additional interpretative guidance, along with the strict potential penalties for non-compliance with the Rule, all companies offering consumer products and services and utilizing arbitration provisions should be familiar with the guide and consult counsel on further compliance issues, as necessary.

Troutman Sanders LLP will continue to monitor developments with the CFPB’s arbitration Rule, including challenges to its implementation.