WASHINGTON The Federal Reserve Board fired another round of questions at Citigroup Inc. last week over the lending practices of its subprime subsidiaries.
The questions were billed as additional information requests in connection with the financial services companys application to buy European American Bank from ABN Amro Holding NV. They center on Citis review of allegations that employees in a consumer lending subsidiary used deceptive practices to sell unnecessary insurance coverage to minority, elderly, and uneducated home equity borrowers.
An affidavit filed last month by the Federal Trade Commission in U.S. District Court in Atlanta quoted Gail Kubiniec, a former assistant manager of a CitiFinancial branch in Tonawanda, N.Y., as saying that identifying vulnerable borrowers, adding insurance coverage to loans without their knowledge, and harassing and intimidating borrowers delinquent on their payments were common practices in her branch.
As soon as we learned of her allegations, we commenced a thorough review that has reassured us that these alleged practices are in no way characteristic of how CitiFinancial employees treat their customers or offer and sell products, a company spokeswoman told American Banker on June 15.
Three days later the Fed asked Citigroup to describe the methodology and results of its thorough review of CitiFinancials practices. The regulator also asked nine detailed questions, including whether Citigroup spoke to customers, whether the questions were answered under oath, and the number of branches and extent of loan files reviewed.
The queries were received from the Fed by the consumer advocate group Inner City Press/Community on the Move, which gave them to American Banker.
A Citigroup spokeswoman said the company answered the Feds questions on June 20 and any decision to release [the answers] lies with them. A Fed spokesman said the answers are not yet available to the public.
The questions are the latest in a series prompted by Citigroups application to buy European American.
For example, on June 14 the Fed asked Citi how frequently it audits loan data reported to the government by such subsidiaries as Citibank NA, CitiMortgage, and CitiFinancial. Another question was about its refinancing policies for balloon loans originated by the subprime lender Associates First Capital Corp. Citigroup, which bought Associates last year, is being sued by the FTC for alleged predatory lending at Associates.
The Feds questions have delayed a ruling on Citis deal to buy European American, and Fed watchers have speculated that the queries could slow down the deal for Citi to buy the Mexican company Grupo Financiero Banamex-Accival, which it announced last month.
Oliver Ireland, a former Fed lawyer who is now of counsel at the Washington firm of Morrison & Foerster, and a Fed spokesman each said that requests for additional information are common during the acquisition application process.
As a practical matter, if a bank gets that kind of publicity, the Fed has got to look at it, run it down, and see if there is anything there, Mr. Ireland said.