Financial inclusion-oriented policies, and the integration of technology into financial services and products through financial technology companies (fintechs) have brought consumer protection into the spotlight.
Increasing the public's access to essential financial services2 and, more generally, improving the levels of financial inclusion, became a driver for financial policies and programmes in the recent administrations and remains a priority despite the political turmoil Brazil has experienced.
Consumer protection standards play an important role in these discussions, since the federal government and regulatory agencies aim not only to increase the financial inclusion indexes by accessing a larger part of the population, but are also aiming to improve the quality of financial education of the individuals already participating in the banking system.
In the wake of such government programmes and policies on financial inclusion, new products and services arising from the fintech movement such as online lending, peer-to-peer lending, online and mobile payment solutions, and digital checking accounts, among others, have also contributed to the increasingly prominent role of consumer protection standards given the high penetration of such products and services in the market.
As a result, the legal and regulatory framework that is applicable not only to consumer financing but also to all financial products and services offered to consumers has been subject to constant changes and improvements in recent years, resulting in clearer standards and an increasingly favourable regulatory environment for consumer financing practices in Brazil.
In recent years, the federal government and Central Bank have been implementing public policies and actions to foster consumer financing activities as one way to increase financial inclusion and financial citizenship in Brazil.
The Central Bank undertook a series of financial inclusion and consumer empowerment and protection commitments. In 2011, the Central Bank became a signatory of the Maya Declaration and undertook a series of commitments for short, medium and long-term implementation to develop financial inclusion, financial citizenship, financial education, consumer empowerment and consumer protection initiatives in Brazil.3
By extension, consumer empowerment and market conduct, consumer protection, dispute resolution involving consumers, and the relationship between the regulatory authorities (specially the Central Bank), financial institutions and the consumers have received increasing attention from the federal government and the regulatory agencies.
From 2009 to 2014, the forums organised by the Central Bank have addressed the financial inclusion, and more recently, the consumer empowerment and consumer protection guidelines. In 2015, the Central Bank along with the Brazilian Micro-enterprises and Small Businesses Support Service (SEBRAE) organised the first Forum on Financial Citizenship in Brazil. This forum focused the discussions on four main topics: financial inclusion in small businesses, the relationship between citizens and the financial system, financial well-being, and citizenship and financial vulnerability.4
Throughout 2016 and 2017, the Central Bank continued to prioritise financial inclusion, and organised debates and forums to discuss with scholars and industry players measures intended to develop Brazil's levels of financial citizenship and financial inclusion.5
In December 2016, in accordance with pronouncements from the federal government, the Central Bank launched a tentative agenda of actions and points of interest for the upcoming years (the Agenda BC+). The Agenda BC+ offers a glimpse of the short, medium and long-term actions that may be expected from the regulators and is structured around four main pillars:
- more financial citizenship;
- more modern laws;
- a more efficient financial system; and
- cheaper credit.6
Each pillar is based on a central point of interest and contemplates both internal and external measures to be taken by the Central Bank in the upcoming years. Central Bank implemented several measures listed in Agenda BC+ throughout 2017.
In 2018, the Central Bank published a review of the pros and cons of the implementation of Agenda BC+ in the preceding years, and the results of analysis reinforced commitment to its pillars. As such, the Central Bank continues to guide its actions and measures around those pillars. There has been a wave of reviews and updates to the regulations, including to foreign exchange principles, the payments system and data ownership.
II LEGislative AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
Consumer financing activities are highly regulated in Brazil, being subject to both banking and consumer laws and regulations.
i Banking legal and regulatory framework
Brazil has a sophisticated and solid banking system, though subject to a relatively pro-consumer regulatory framework.
The Brazilian financial system in its current format was established in 1964 by Federal Law 4595/64 (the Banking Law), which sets forth the ground rules for its infrastructure and regulatory framework. The Banking Law assigned to the Monetary Council (CMN),7 the Brazilian Central Bank (the Central Bank)8 and the Securities Exchange Commission (CVM)9 the authority to regulate and oversee local financial institutions as well as to define regulatory policy. The Banking Law sets the basis for the Central Bank's role as the primary regulatory authority governing the financial system, which was later confirmed and expanded by the Brazilian Constitution of 1988.10
Despite the several legislative enactments that followed the Federal Constitution, the Banking Law remains the most significant law in the regulatory structure of the Brazilian financial system. Among the significant laws integrating the regulatory framework of the Brazilian financial system are:
- the Capital Markets Law (Law 4728/65);
- the Securities Law (Law 6385/76);
- the White Collar Crime Law (Law 7492/86);
- the Anti-Money Laundering Law (Law 9613/98);
- the Liquidation Law (Law 6024/74);
- the RAET Law (Decree-Law 2321/87);
- the Joint-Liability Law (Law 9447/97); and
- the Administrative Procedures Law (Law 13506/17).
In addition to the aforementioned legal framework, the Brazilian banking system is also bound to implementing resolutions issued by the CMN in its role as regulatory authority, and supplementary regulations issued by the Central Bank in its role as regulatory and supervising authority. While the CMN resolutions set the policies and guidelines for the financial system, the Central Bank regulations serve to establish the technical details for implementation of the CMN resolutions.11
Performance of consumer financing activities
The Banking Law and ancillary legal and regulatory framework do not provide a legal definition of the word 'bank'. The individuals or legal entities (either private or public) that have as their primary or ancillary activity the raising, intermediation or investment, or custody of their own or third-party funds are regarded as 'financial institutions'. The performance of such activities is exclusive to financial institutions and subject to prior and express authorisation by the Central Bank on a case-by-case basis.
As a result, banks are defined in terms of their permissible functions. The Brazilian banking legal and regulatory framework recognises four categories of banks:
- commercial banks;
- multiservice banks;
- investment banks; and
- development banks.
Consumer financing activities are generally performed by commercial banks, or multiservice banks with a commercial bank licence. The activities of commercial banks (which also apply to multiservice banks with a commercial bank licence) are generally in line with the functions of such banks worldwide and include granting of rural credits and personal loans (including consumer financing), receipt of deposits, offering checking accounts, providing short-term lending, collection of trade acceptance bills and other credit documents, and accepting and processing utility bill payments.
Consumer credit companies are also extensively engaged in consumer financing. Consumer credit companies, although not regarded as banks, are deemed financial institutions under Brazilian law and, therefore, are subject to the CMN's and the Central Bank's regulatory authority. Such entities have the primary purpose of financing working capital and the acquisition of goods and services and, consequently, are often formed with the specific purpose of engaging in consumer financing practices.
The other entities that may occasionally engage in consumer financing or similar activities are credit unions and leasing companies, both also deemed as financial institutions albeit not classified as banks. Credit unions are financial institutions organised as not-for-profit autonomous associations of persons (individuals or legal entities) for the main purpose of extending credit and providing services to their members. Leasing companies primarily engage in the leasing of movable assets and real estate.
Additionally, in 2018, the Central Bank issued the first fintech regulatory framework in Brazil, pursuant to which it created two new types of financial institutions designed to grant credit through online channels: the direct credit companies (SCDs) and the credit-among-individuals companies (SEPs). The main difference between the entities is that SCDs operate in the credit market using their own capital, while the SEPs operate as peer-to-peer platforms linking lenders and borrowers. None of these financial institutions are authorised to receive deposits from the public.
The high levels of acceptance of this new regulatory framework resulted in the Central Bank taking additional steps towards discussing, reviewing and updating financial services regulatory frameworks affected by new technologies. The Central Bank has submitted to the public proposed regulations aiming at implementing an instant payments system that will use technology to effect and clear payment transactions 24/7. The proposed regulations also concern:
- open banking principles and regulatory guidelines and obligations intended to empower customers in respect of their financial data, and to allow sharing of customer data between institutions upon the customer's request; and
- a regulatory sandbox infrastructure that will work as an experimental environment for innovative models using technology that may require regulatory waivers for appropriate testing.
Consumer protection-oriented banking regulation
From 2001 to 2009, a CMN resolution establishing procedures for entering into financial transactions and provision of services to the public became known in the Brazilian banking industry as the Banking Consumer Code. This resolution was revoked in 2009 and replaced with CMN Resolution 3694/09, which remains in force.
The new Resolution ended up not inheriting the nickname of its predecessor but it is the banking rule currently in force that contains the most comprehensive set of guidelines to be followed when providing financial services and entering into financial transactions.
CMN Resolution 3694/09 is structured in the form of mandatory provisions aimed to prevent risks to financial institutions, but ultimately accords greater protection to customers, for example, by establishing that the financial institution shall ensure the adequacy of products and services for customers' needs, interests and objectives, as well as the integrity, reliability, security and confidentiality of transactions, services and products.
Additionally, in late 2016, CMN enacted Resolution 4539/16, which provides guidelines and principles for the creation of internal policy and procedures by financial institutions in respect of their relationship with clients and the users of their products and services.
In this sense, the Central Bank has been working towards an open banking regulatory framework and guidelines, with the objective of empowering the customers in respect of the ownership, use and transfer of their data. This regulation follows the enactment of the Brazilian General Data Privacy Act in 2018.
ii Consumer legal and regulatory framework
As a general rule, consumer relations in Brazil are ruled by Law No. 8078/90, known as the Consumer Protection Code. The rules of the Consumer Protection Code apply only to instances where there is a supplier, on the one hand, supplying a product or providing a service under a contract, and an end user, on the other hand. Unlike other jurisdictions, in Brazil the law does not provide a clear definition of the term 'consumer'.
Currently, there are two different schools of thought regarding the concept of end user, as adopted by the Consumer Protection Code. The first, known as the maximalist school, advocates that the concept of end user refers to a practical perspective, meaning that if an entity or person acquires a product or service and is not going to resell it to a third party, that entity or person should be considered an end user of the product or service for legal purposes.
That is to say that, even if a person or entity acquires the product or service as input for further use in the manufacturing process, it should be regarded as the end user of the supplies. Thus, the Consumer Protection Code and its relevant provisions would govern the relationship between the end user and the supplier of the goods or service.
The second school, the finalist school, holds that the concept of end user has an economic nature. To that extent, if the person or entity acquires inputs for further use in the manufacturing process, it should not be treated as the end user of the supplies.
According to this second school, this relationship should be considered as being of a commercial nature, thus ruled by the Civil Code.
This is the position adopted by most Brazilian scholars.12
After a number of conflicting decisions on the matter, the Superior Court of Justice reached the conclusion that, as a rule, the individual that acquires goods or services to be used in its manufacturing chain in a for-profit activity is not a consumer in the legal sense of the word.
Notwithstanding this, the Court accepts exceptions to this rule, for instance, in cases where the end user is vulnerable compared with the supplier (i.e., a taxi driver who acquires a car to use as his or her own taxi), the unbalanced relationship should trigger the protective rule set forth in the Consumer Protection Code.
Specifically concerning financial products, after extensive debates the Brazilian courts held that such products and services are subject to the Consumer Protection Code, as long as the counterparty to the agreement is regarded as an end user, as described above.
On 15 March 2013, the federal government enacted Decree No. 7962, providing general guidance for e-commerce in Brazil. Similarly to the Consumer Protection Code, Decree No. 7962/13 sets out very broad and high-level rules applicable to any kind of product or service sold over the internet.
According to Decree No. 7962/13, if a consumer-financing product is offered through electronic means, the financial institution will also be required to make available an electronic channel to handle any requests or complaints relating to such product. In addition, the financial institution will be required to grant a statutory trial period of seven days, during which the consumer will be able to forfeit the agreement without any cost or charge.
Ombudsman, complaints and dispute resolution
Consumers have a set of channels in case of complaints against financial services and products, both in the regulatory and consumer spheres. The primary and more direct channels are the financial institution's Customer Service Attendance channel (SAC) and the ombudsman department.
Financial institutions engaging in consumer financing activities are required by Decree-Law 6523/08 (the SAC Law) to maintain a call centre service (the SAC) to receive and handle requests from consumers in respect of information, questions, complaints, suspension, or cancellation of the products or services. The SAC Law sets out general rules to be observed by SACs, including minimum service levels offered by the channel, availability of services, disclosure of SAC contact information, handling of requests and quality of services.
In addition to the SAC, financial institutions engaging in consumer financing activities are required under Brazilian banking regulations to maintain an ombudsman department. The current regulation was updated in 2015 (CMN Resolution 4433/15) aiming to establish a more effective and transparent ombudsman service that is capable of providing better assistance to the institution's customers.
Additionally, the aforementioned new regulation harmonises the scope of the ombudsman's activity with the SAC activities under the SAC Law. In this context the ombudsman department has the following responsibilities:
- to provide assistance as final recourse to answer customers' demands, after such demands have been analysed by other customer service channels (including banking correspondents and the SAC);
- to serve as interface between the institution and its customers, including for dispute mediation; and
- to report on its activities to the institution's management.
Despite the treatment of any consumer complaint by the financial institution's aforementioned internal channels, the consumer may also register a complaint with the Central Bank's specific channel. This channel is not the Central Bank's ombudsman (which only deals with complaints against the regulator itself) but rather a channel made available only for submission of customer complaints. Any complaint filed through such channel will not result in an effective action of the Central Bank in respect of the individual's case but only improve the Central Bank's ability to properly supervise the entity concerned.
Any breach of a consumer's rights should also be subject to a complaint brought before consumer protection agencies known as PROCONs. PROCONs have the authority to oversee consumer relations and to set conciliatory hearings to try to foster a settlement for disputes between consumers and suppliers.
If PROCON understands that a supplier is adopting a commercial practice that is against the Law, it may file an administrative proceeding to investigate the practice. After the supplier presents its defence, an administrative penalty may be imposed if PROCON decides that a breach was committed. The most common penalty is a fine. The amount of the fine varies depending on the seriousness of the infraction, the economic status of the supplier and the advantage obtained by the latter, and shall not exceed 9 million reais.
Consumers may also file individual lawsuits against suppliers. For claims that do not exceed 40 minimum wages,13 consumers may bring the lawsuit before the small claims courts. Small claims courts offer a simplified and expedited proceeding.
If the claim exceeds 40 minimum wages, then consumers should bring the lawsuit before a state court, which follows a more time-consuming proceeding.
The legal currency in Brazil is the real and, as a rule, all obligations enforceable in Brazil must be denominated in local currency. The real as hard currency is accepted in all establishments and for the fulfilment of all cash obligations enforceable in Brazil.14
Payments in Brazil, although denominated in local currency, may be executed by a few methods:
- Wire transfers: all wire transfers between bank accounts are operated by the financial institutions of the transferor and the transferee. Brazil has a sound and secure payments system – the Brazilian Payments System (SPB) – which includes all entities, systems and procedures for processing and settlement of transactions involving transfer of funds, foreign currency, financial assets, or securities. Wire transfers may be processed in real time or within two days, depending on the volume of funds being transferred and the transfer system selected by the transferor.
- Debit, credit and stored value cards: payment instruments are increasingly the most accepted and used payment instrument in Brazil. Refer to Section III.ii for further information on the payment instruments' industry.
- Cheques: cheques are instruments of credit similar to promissory notes and governed by a specific legal regime. Given the level of fraud that occurred with cheques in the 1990s their acceptance is now very restricted.
- Direct debits: a very popular payment method in Brazil. By granting specific and express authorisation to the financial institution, the consumer may allow the automatic debit of the amounts due to a certain third party from its account.
- Boletos: a second very popular payment method in Brazil. Such instruments – issued by banks or other institutions accredited to provide such services – allow the payment to third parties by individuals that do not have access to essential financial services or, in other words, do not have bank or payment accounts.
The Brazilian payments structure is currently under review by the Central Bank. The regulatory agency has submitted to public consultation the general principles and guidelines for a reform of the Brazilian payments system and implementation of an instant payments system that will enable payments and transfers to be completed and cleared 24/7.
ii Recent developments
The payments industry has an important role in the Brazilian economy as the acceptance of payment instruments in the wholesale market increased significantly over the last decade. In view of the growing volume of transactions using payment instruments and given their importance as tools for financial inclusion, in 2013 the federal government enacted Law 12,685 (the e-Payments Law).
The e-Payments Law provides the legal framework for 'payment arrangements' (i.e., the set of rules governing a payment scheme, such as credit or debit card transactions) and 'payment agents' (i.e., any agent that issues a payment instrument or acquirers a merchant for payment acceptance), which became part of the SPB and subject to oversight by the Central Bank. In spite of being regulated by the Central Bank, payment agents are not deemed to be financial institutions and are prohibited from engaging in activities that are exclusive to financial institutions. The e-Payments Law brought within the scope of the CMN and the Central Bank supervision the entire market of credit, debt and pre-paid cards that were not previously regulated by them (unless issued by a financial institution) until then.
Following the sway of the e-Payments Law, the CMN and the Central Bank enacted a set of rules on payment arrangements and payment agents, which became effective in May 2014.
This set of rules encompasses, among others:
- consumer protection and anti-money laundering compliance and loss prevention rules that should be followed by all entities supervised by the Central Bank when acting as payment agents and payment arrangers;
- the procedures for incorporation, organisation, authorisation and operation of payment agents, as well as for the transfer of control, subject to the Central Bank's prior approval;
- definition of arrangements excluded from the SPB;
- payment accounts, which are broken down into prepaid and post-paid accounts; and
- a liquidity requirement for prepaid accounts by which their balance must be allocated to a special account at the Central Bank or else invested in government bonds, starting at a lower rate and rising gradually to the total account balance (according to a specific timeline).
Following discussions with market players and industry representatives, the Central Bank has been adjusting and improving the regulations over time mainly to include operational and non-discriminatory tools to foster competition in the payments market. The most recent update to the regulation is dated January 2017.15
IV DEPOSIT ACCOUNTS AND OVERDRAFTs
The maintenance of deposit accounts is the exclusive activity of financial institutions. The CMN resolution on opening and closing deposit accounts dates back to 199316 and, although updated in 2000 and 2002, it was structured considering only personal transactions. As a result, certain provisions of this rule became a source of debate especially in light of the evolution of branchless banking and remote access to financial services and products.
As a result, banking correspondents (or banking agents as they are more commonly known outside Brazil) were created in 1999 to promote the access of the Brazilian population to banking services. To the extent the costs of setting up branch offices and placing automated teller machines in scarcely populated or poor areas was prohibitive, the CMN and the Central Bank created the banking correspondent concept, which allowed financial institutions to engage non-financial entities to render financial services on their behalf using the infrastructure already in place.
This model has been widely adopted by the industry since its inception and banking correspondents can now carry out a wide range of services, including receipt and forwarding of credit product and account opening proposals on behalf of the financial institution.17
The banking correspondent, however, is merely a representative of the financial institution before its customers and, therefore, is subject to a comprehensive set of rules intended to allow the consumer to properly identify the terms of the service or product offered as well as the financial institution that he or she is effectively contracting with.
The Brazilian legal and regulatory framework also establishes that in the event of intervention, extrajudicial liquidation or liquidation of a financial institution in a bankruptcy proceeding, the Fundo Garantidor de Crédito (FGC), a deposit insurance system, guarantees a maximum amount of 250,000 reais for certain deposits (such as the amounts kept in a deposit account) and credit instruments held by an individual, a company or other legal entity with a financial institution.
Overdrafts are not subject to specific regulation. They rely on credit facilities taken out by consumers with the financial institution at the time a bank account is opened (or at any time afterwards). Overdraft protection is subject to applicable fees and to interest18 accruing on overdrawn amounts.
The long-term establishment of this practice resulted in a movement towards the adoption of public policies and actions led by the Central Bank to reduce the cost of credit to the public, especially in terms of consumer financing. These actions are dealt with in the cheaper credit pillar of the Agenda BC+ referred to in Section I, that mostly comprises actions aiming to reduce the cost of credit and banking spread.
ii Recent developments
The growing use of electronic channels in the Brazilian banking industry, coupled with an increasing presence of fintech in the development of new financial products and services since 2015 resulted in the enactment of a number of new rules.
Among such new rules, the CMN issued Resolution 4480/16 that expressly authorises the opening and closing of bank deposit accounts by Brazilian residents using exclusive electronic means and sets forth the terms and conditions applicable thereto.
CMN Resolution 4480/16 addresses the main challenges faced and discussed by the banking and fintech industries in offering financial products by electronic means such as use of electronic signatures and standards for verification of a customer's identity in know-your-customer processes. The issuance of the aforementioned occurred in a moment when several discussions on the matter were being held by the market and the Central Bank announced its more open and market-oriented approach regarding the integration of technology innovations into the financial system.
At the same time CMN also enacted Resolution 4479/16, which reflects the impacts of electronic transactions in the Brazilian banking system by creating specific treatment under CMN Resolution 3694/09 referred to in Section II, to consumer relations carried out exclusively by electronic means.
Concurrently, with the above-mentioned measures and following the e-Payments Law regulatory framework, stored value cards (which are the payment instruments used to operate the prepaid payment accounts referred to in Section III.ii)19 have become one of the most dynamic and fast-growing products for consumers of financial services in Brazil.
Stored value cards allow consumers to store funds in a secure structure and to meet their financial transactions needs (such as paying bills, withdrawing monies through automated teller machines, transferring funds to other accounts) without having to turn to the traditional banking system. They have become especially popular among unbanked individuals (that is, those without deposit accounts) or those with a bad credit history that may face difficulties in opening a conventional deposit account.
V FINANCING TRANSACTIONS: REVOLVING Credit AND INSTALMENT CREDIT
Financing transactions in Brazil are subject to the lending regime set out in the Brazilian Civil Code (Law 10406/02) supplemented by specific banking and consumer regulation. The main difference between the general lending regime and the banking lending regime is loans granted by financial institutions are financial transactions, which are not subject to Usury Law limitations on accrual of compensatory interest.
Such transactions, however, are subject to a range of regulatory and consumer-protection requirements at all stages of the loan cycle, which include disclosure of the agreement terms and applicable charges,20 APR disclosure obligations,21 credit rating22 and credit analysis,23 formalisation of the credit instrument, limitation on fees,24 treatment of past-due debts,25 early payments26 and credit collection practices.27
Lines of credit, as well as personal and student loans are essentially governed by the same legal and regulatory framework as described above, regardless of whether repayment is set in one or more instalments.
Revolving credits usually convey the same treatment of lines of credit, as both have the same nature. Revolving credit in credit card financings has been under extensive discussions in Brazil in recent months, especially on account of the high interest rates involved. In December 2016, the federal government and the Central Bank announced they would take measures to enhance the regulations to promote competition and lead the industry to lower the interest rates charged in credit card financings. The regulation resulting from said measures was issued by the CMN in late January 2017, by which revolving credit in credit card financings became subject to certain regulatory requirements and limitations.
Real-estate financing is, for its part, subject to special regulatory regimes given the specific characteristics and guarantees involved.
ii Recent developments
Financing transactions directed to consumers are the principal market of fintech companies targeting the Brazilian banking market. Since 2012 online lending and peer-to-peer solutions have proliferated in Brazil, particularly between 2015 and 2016.
The integration of cutting-edge technologies such as big data and blockchain/DLT along with a more relaxed approach by the regulatory authorities has allowed fintech to blossom. This approach taken by the Central Bank towards fintech is part of the more efficient financial system pillar of the Agenda BC+. The regulator has demonstrated much interest in the benefits and efficiencies that fintech may bring to the banking industry and to its financial inclusion strategies.
The regulatory framework tends to evolve accordingly. In this sense, the structures in Brazil are based on a partnership between a regular financial institution and the fintech, given the regulatory constraints on financing activities. As a result, Brazilian fintech companies are striving to create technological solutions that would plug the gaps arising from traditional inefficiencies in the banking system. The results of this synergy from a regulatory and an industry perspective are yet to be seen.
VI UNFAIR PRACTICES
The Brazilian market is heavily regulated, and consists of several different players, with different levels of compliance.
Amid main unfair practices, one could refer to origination of the loans, when certain players failed to properly disclose to borrowers the actual terms and conditions of an offered loan, its applicable fees, repayment terms and so on.
In the past, it was also common for lenders to ask borrowers to execute loan agreements in blank, providing no information on the actual interest rate, number of instalments and applicable fees.
Currently, over-indebtedness is a matter of great concern. As Brazil has not yet enacted specific laws protecting consumers against over-indebtedness, there have been several cases brought before the courts in which borrowers claim that lenders overlooked a general duty of good faith by extending credit facilities clearly beyond a borrower's ability to pay.
But the main matter of concern still relates to interest rates. As Brazilian law does not set limits to interest rates that financing companies may charge, and the Brazilian interest rates are among the highest in the world, there are thousands of lawsuits challenging the interest rate established in loan agreements.
As a rule, however, the courts only review interest rates when it is evidenced the rate charged is above the average adopted for the same period and type of loan for unjustified reasons (say, a higher default risk).
VII RECENT CASES
i Disputes before the regulator
The Central Bank currently does not process disputes between consumers and financial institutions. As referred to in Section II, the Central Bank only receives and processes complaints against financial institutions for the purposes of improving its supervisory activities.
The Central Bank announced in December 2016 its intention to take steps28 to adopt mediation as an alternative method for resolution of conflicts between consumers and financial institutions. This action is part of the more financial citizenship pillar of the Agenda BC+ we referred to in Section I.
Recently, two of the leading credit bureaus in Brazil faced mass litigation due to a new credit scoring system they implemented. Consumers claimed that such credit scoring could be equated with a consumer database and, as such, depended on consumer's prior authorisation. Based on this reasoning, consumers flooded the courts with individual lawsuits for redress of moral damages (i.e., pain and suffering), on grounds that credit bureaus had not sought consumers' prior approval before running their new credit scoring system.
In November 2014, the Superior Court of Justice held that the credit scoring system should not be equated with a consumer database, thus not requiring a consumer's prior authorisation.29 Nevertheless, consumers have the right to know the information used to build the credit score and the servicer providing the score is liable for any inaccurate or outdated information.
Another relevant case refers to a lawsuit filed by a leading bank against a fintech. Based on access to a consumer's bank accounts and investments, this fintech offers analyses and suggestions about allocation of funds and investment strategy to consumers. To provide this service, the fintech requires the consumer's prior authorisation to access his or her banking information, including a log-in and password for online access to the bank accounts.
The plaintiff bank claims that the consumer's authorisation for online access to his or her bank accounts is void as it violates banking secrecy rules. The lower court denied an injunction sought by the bank to immediately suspend the fintech's access to consumers' banking information, however. The case is pending a final decision.
Although use of banking services has increased steadily in recent years, the current recession and political uncertainty Brazil has been through may result in a slowdown in the increase of financial inclusion in the country.
On the other hand, the global fintech movement struck Brazil in late 2014 and has since become central to discussions involving financial inclusion. The fintech movement has brought new colours to the discussions on access to financial services, customer relations and consumer protection in a digital environment.
Within this context, the government and regulatory agencies are likely to continue pushing for the development and implementation of policies, programmes and institutional actions to promote financial inclusion and financial citizenship and, by extension, consumer protection standards will continue to play an increasingly important role in the recent development of Brazilian financial products and services.
In addition, the user experience has taken a central role in the discussions on consumer financing products and services. The successful offer of financial products and services can no longer rely only on the product economics but also on customer evaluations and opinions shared on social media, as well as the institution's role in consumer-related rankings and complaint centres.
The client was recognised as the effective user and final beneficiary of a range of financial products and services in an environment where the opinions and experience of each customer may be largely shared and, consequently, matters greatly in terms of branding and market share consolidation.
1 Pedro Paulo Barradas Barata is a partner and Alessandra Carolina Rossi Martins is an associate at Pinheiro Neto Advogados.
2 The concept of 'essential financial services' generally includes, at least, checking accounts, debit cards to operate the account, withdrawals and at least a monthly statement, according to Brazilian regulatory standards.
3 Celebrating Five Years of Advancing Global Financial Inclusion: 2016 Maya Declaration Progress Report.
4 I Fórum de Cidadania Financeira: 4 and 5 November 2015.
5 II Fórum de Cidadania Financeira: 21 and 22 November 2016. III Fórum de Cidadania Financeira: 7 and 8 November 2017.
6 Presentation of the President of the Central Bank Ilan Goldfajn – Agenda BC+: 20 December 2016.
7 The Monetary Council (CMN) is the highest authority responsible for establishing monetary and financial policies in Brazil, in charge of overall supervision of Brazilian monetary, credit, budgetary, fiscal and public debt policies. It is also responsible, among other things, for regulating the criteria for organisation, operation and inspection of financial institutions.
8 The Central Bank is responsible for implementing the policies established by the CMN and issuing regulations in accordance with such policies. It is responsible, among others, for authorising the operations and supervising financial institutions' activities in Brazil.
9 The Securities Exchange Commission(CVM) is responsible for regulating, overseeing and inspecting the Brazilian securities market and its participants. It is also responsible, among other things, for overseeing the exchange and organised over-the-counter markets. The CVM regulatory authority also extends to banks engaged in investment banking and securities activities as well as to other participants in the securities market.
10 Article 192 of the Federal Constitution of 1988, as amended.
11 Likewise, the CVM issues rulings and opinions that are binding on banks engaged in investment banking and securities activities and on other securities market players.
12 Cláudia Lima Marques, 'Contratos no Código de Defesa do Consumidor', São Paulo: Revista dos Tribunais, 1992, p.66.
13 Currently, the minimum wage amounts to 937 reais.
14 Decree-Law 857/69.
15 Carta-Circular 3802/17.
16 CMN Resolution 2025/93.
17 CMN Resolution 3954/11.
18 As a general rule, collection of compensatory interest is subject to the limitations set forth by Decree-Law 22,626 of 1933 (the Usury Law). However, court precedents have unanimously established that the Usury Law limitations are not applicable to financial institutions.
19 Stored value cards include gift cards, reloadable general spending cards and meal vouchers, among others.
20 CMN Resolution 3694/09.
21 CMN Resolution 3517/07; CMN Resolution 3909/10; CMN Resolution 4197/13; and Carta-Circular BACEN 3593/13.
22 Law 12414/11; Decree 7829/12; CMN Resolution 4172/12.
23 Federal Constitution, Consumer Protection Code.
24 CMN Resolution 3919/10.
25 CMN Resolution 2682/99.
26 Consumer Protection Code.
27 Consumer Protection Code.
28 For this purpose, the Central Bank indicated its intention to implement technical cooperation with the National Council of Justice – part of the Ministry of Justice.
29 Special Appeals Nos. 1.457.199 and 1.419.697.