Regulators Crack Down on Urban Trust Bank's Oversight of Prepaid Cards

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Regulators have cracked down on a community bank in Florida whose prepaid debit cards have provided a platform for payday lenders.

Urban Trust Bank of Lake Mary, Fla., has agreed to analyze its card program in writing and to adopt a plan for its business that covers the next three years, as part of an agreement released Friday by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

The OCC found the $589-million asset bank, which has all but one of its 20 branches inside Wal-Mart stores, engaged in "unsafe and unsound banking practices relating to vendor management practices and failure to implement an approved business plan, specifically concerning existing and new products and services," according to the agreement.

As part of the agreement, which Urban Trust signed in July, the bank promises to strengthen supervision of vendors that sell its prepaid debit cards and to assess the risks involved in the program. The bank also agreed set goals for its risk profile, financial performance, off-balance sheet activities, liability structure, capital adequacy and troubled loans, as part of an effort to remedy what the OCC termed "violations of laws and regulations" by the company.

Officials from Urban Trust, which was established in 2006 by Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson, were not immediately available for comment.

In May, consumer groups charged the bank with helping CheckSmart, a payday lender that operates in 14 states, evade laws in Arizona and Ohio that cap interest on consumer debt by failing to supervise the lender's loading loans at higher rates of interest than the law allows onto debit cards from Urban Trust.

Payday lenders, which have faced allegations of targeting the most vulnerable consumers with high interest rates and deceptive practices, have been banned in at least 10 states and the District of Columbia. In April the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau began an investigation of CheckSmart, according to a regulatory filing by the company, which did immediately respond to a request for comment.

The agreement between the OCC and Urban Trust comes as some consumers turn to prepaid debit cards as a substitute for checking accounts, which carry higher service monthly service fees than at any time in the past 15 years, according to a survey released Monday by

Though prepaid cards can cost less than checking accounts, varying fee schedules and disclosures for prepaid cards can frustrate consumers who try to compare them, according to an analysis of 52 prepaid cards published.

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