Avoid Getting Swept Away in the Flood of Enforcement Actions

By: William J. Showalter, CRCM, CRP, Senior Consultant

We seem to be in a bit of a lull in flood insurance rule enforcement by the financial institution regulators. There were only 15 enforcement actions with civil money penalties (CMP) totaling $523,961 in 2018. So far this year, we have had only two such enforcement actions, with total CMPs of $10,550. But, we probably should not expect this trend to continue, especially with all the flooding events we have seen recently, including our unfortunate neighbors along the Missouri River. These events tend to get the attention of Congress and the supervisory agencies.

Keep in mind that enforcement of many rules, including those involving flood insurance, seem to run in cycles. After another apparent lull in flood insurance enforcement actions a couple years ago, the Federal Reserve Board (FRB) issued an Order for a Civil Money Penalty in late May 2017 against SunTrust Bank for $1,501,000 to enforce requirements of the regulations implementing the National Flood Insurance Act. This is thought to be the largest CMP for flood insurance shortcomings. Coupled with 11 other much smaller enforcement actions by the FRB, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the total civil money penalties assessed for flood insurance rule violations by mid-year 2017 totaled nearly $1.8 million – and by the end of that year, we had seen 29 enforcement actions with a total of nearly $2.8 million in CMPs.

Background
The original National Flood Insurance Act was passed in 1968, and established the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1974 (FDPA) was enacted to strengthen the NFIP by involving lending institutions in the insurance process.

The NFIP was developed as a way to reduce federal expenditures related to disasters caused by flooding. The program consists of floodplain management plans that affected communities must implement and a flood insurance program to protect properties in flood hazard areas. The intent of the NFIP is to reduce federal outlays for disaster assistance by making those who choose to develop properties in flood-prone areas bear some cost to protect against the flood risks involved, rather than allowing them to rely solely on federal aid.

Part of the NFIP is a system of requirements and restrictions on federal assistance of all kinds to flood-prone areas. This assistance ranges from direct federal lending to loan guarantees, to insurance for deposit accounts. The latter is the connection for many mortgage lenders with the NFIP.

The National Flood Insurance Reform Act of 1994 (NFIRA) comprehensively revised the two federal flood statutes – the NFIA and FDPA – and required federal supervisory agencies to revise their flood insurance regulations. The objective of the changes was to increase compliance with flood insurance requirements and participation in the NFIP, and to decrease the financial burden on the federal government, taxpayers, and flood victims.

The NFIRA authorizes the regulators to impose civil money penalties when a pattern or practice of violations under the NFIA is found. The act requires that civil money penalties be imposed of up to $350 for each violation in such cases. The civil money penalty cap was increased significantly by the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, enacted July 6, 2012. The former $350 per violation maximum was raised to $2,000 per violation. Lenders should remember that there can be multiple violations for each covered loan.

Consent Orders
The regulators charged that the financial institutions targeted by the 15 enforcement actions last year were engaged in patterns or practices of violations of various provisions of the flood insurance regulations. Most of the orders give us at least some picture of the violations found by regulatory personnel. These violations of flood insurance rules include failures to:

  • Provide notice about availability of and requirement for flood insurance
  • Provide timely notice about availability of and requirement for flood insurance
  • Require flood insurance coverage
  • Require adequate flood insurance coverage
  • Maintain flood insurance (allowing it to lapse)
  • Escrow premiums (when other property costs are escrowed)
  • Comply with force placement requirements
  • Provide notice regarding lapse and force-placed coverage
  • Provide timely notice regarding lapse and force-placed coverage
  • Obtain force-placed coverage

Avoiding Problems
What can you do to keep your bank or thrift off the ever-growing list of financial institutions being hit with flood insurance enforcement actions? One important way is to establish an effective flood insurance compliance program and make sure that lending staff follows it. Hold them accountable for failures.

At a minimum, your flood insurance compliance program should:

  • Ensure that there is an effective process in place for determining the flood hazard status for improved real property or mobile homes securing any loans, both consumer and commercial, whether the process be one of in-house readings of up-to-date flood maps or outsourced determinations by a professional firm that guarantees its results.
  • Ensure that your institution has performed appropriate due diligence in selecting its flood hazard determination vendor and monitors its performance, and that the vendor guarantees its results and uses the current Special Flood Hazard Determination Forms (SFHDF) to document its determinations.
  • Order or perform flood determinations early in the loan process. This can be done soon after the lender decides to approve the loan.
    Ensure that loan files contain complete and current SFHDF and acknowledged customer flood notices, where applicable.
  • Ensure that collateral properties are insured in the proper amount before loan closing, including appropriate coverage for any senior mortgagees.
  • Remain current on flood map and hazard determination changes, and stay insured throughout the life of the loan.
  • Ensure that coverage is maintained for subsequent financings (increase, extension, renewal, refinancing) of the subject properties.
  • Train all affected staff in their responsibilities under the bank’s flood insurance compliance program, assign appropriate accountability, and enforce staff responsibilities.

This last point is especially important. Training is the foundation for implementing and maintaining a strong flood program. Ensure that all appropriate staff is trained in the requirements of the flood insurance laws and rules that impact their jobs and provide them with refreshers periodically.

Establishing and maintaining a strong flood insurance compliance program can help your bank or thrift stay afloat during any flood of enforcement actions. For more information on this article and/or how Young & Associates, Inc. can assist you in this area, contact Bill Showalter at 330.678.0524 or wshowalter@younginc.com.