Among the various areas of regulatory compliance, one area—compliance with flood insurance regulations—seems to cause an out-sized level of anxiety, and for good reason. Over the past several years, field examiners have been diligent in identifying and citing violations of the flood regulations, and many of these violations have resulted in imposition of civil money penalties (CMPs) against the violating banks. During 2013 and 2014, nearly 100 flood-related CMPs were imposed on banks, ranging in amount from $1,000 to well over $100,000. Paying penalties is never enjoyable, but is even less so in this era of tight margins and strained profitability.
Last year, President Obama signed into law the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act (HFIAA) as a way to dial back some of the increased costs associated with 2012 Flood Insurance Reform Act. The HFIAA will bring about a number of new and modified obligations on banks, which will become effective at various times during 2015 and 2016. Changes are coming in the areas of forced placement of insurance, acceptance of private flood insurance, escrowing of premiums, and exemptions to the mandatory purchase of flood insurance.
The ultimate responsibility for ensuring compliance with consumer protection laws and regulations, including flood insurance laws and regulations, rests with the board and senior management. How do you keep your head above the changing waters?
- Policies and Procedures. Any change in law or regulation in a compliance area should trigger a review of the bank’s existing policies and procedures in the affected areas. The review should be done with an eye toward necessary or appropriate changes to the policies and procedures. Management also should use this review process to determine to whom the revised policies and procedures need to be communicated to ensure an effective flood insurance compliance program. Certain of the changes may affect personnel outside of the lending and compliance functions at the bank. Once identified, all appropriate personnel should be trained on the new policies and procedures.
- Education. The compliance officer’s and real estate loan origination staff’s knowledge and understanding of the changes in the law/regulations are critical to ensuring compliance. The board and senior management have to be willing to expend the necessary resources to educate these folks who are on the front lines of the flood insurance process. Additionally, directors and senior managers also should receive training on the basics of flood insurance regulations so that they can appropriately oversee the compliance function and manage the attendant risk. The regulatory agencies, industry trade associations, and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) are good sources of training materials.
- Customer Communication. Your bank already may be receiving inquiries from customers regarding the impending changes to the flood insurance rules. If not, expect that you will. The changes relating to escrowing premiums, exemptions from mandatory coverage, and private flood insurance are fertile ground for customer questions. Now is the time to review your existing customer communication procedures to be sure that appropriate personnel and/or departments are tasked with handling inquiries, and that all personnel, especially customer-facing personnel, know to whom they should direct customer inquiries regarding flood insurance.
- Monitoring and Audit. As previously mentioned, the board and management have ultimate responsibility for ensuring compliance with flood insurance regulations. An effective compliance monitoring/audit function is paramount in carrying out this responsibility. The coming changes in the regulations will require management and the board to revisit certain aspects, if not all, of the flood insurance compliance program. Despite your training and planning efforts to implement perfectly the changes to your flood insurance processes and procedures, mistakes will be made. The wise bank will test the new processes early and frequently to head off any systemic issues. Better you find any problems and fix them, than to have them discovered by the examiners at your next compliance exam.
Changes are coming, and it is safe to say these will not be the last. Getting out ahead of the changes and planning for them is the key to successfully navigating the changing flood waters.