Read the latest on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
- Delay in U.S. Consumer Bureau Authority Spares Non-Bank Lenders
Reuters 21 Jul 2011
A deadlock between Republicans and the White House over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's structure and director nominee are preventing the agency from regulating payday and other non-bank lenders. Republicans have said they will block any CFPB director nominee until the bureau is modified and, without a director, the watchdog is unable to regulate non-bank lenders. Such firms insist that they have a other regulations to keep them in check, including the Truth in Lending Act and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, and that they are shoring up their disclosure standards. But Jean Fox of the Consumer Federation of America says she sees no evidence that payday lending products are being modified ahead of potential CFPB action. She concedes that tougher state regulations have prompted the industry to make some changes but says lenders recovered the cost of lost revenues and profits through fees. "The net effect has been zero," according to Fox.
- New Consumer Bureau Wants Your Credit Card Complaints
New York Times 21 Jul 2011
The new federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is officially open and fielding consumers' credit card grievances. The CFPB Web site has an easy-to-use interface where consumers enter their names, contact information, and the nature of the problem. The site offers a place for users to type in their complaint as well as pull-down menus. Complaints are forwarded to the credit card company once received. Additionally, the site has an online chat feature, for those who require assistance from a bureau employee. While the agency says consumers do not have to enter their credit card numbers, it also says that providing that information is the most expedient way of completing the complaint and "moving forward." Once a claim is submitted, an investigator with the CFPB will contact the consumer and explain the process going forward.
- House Votes to Overhaul Consumer Agency
Washington Post 21 Jul 2011
The U.S. House approved legislation in a vote of 241-to-173 that would strengthen the veto power of the Financial Stability Oversight Council over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) decisions, install a five-member commission to replace the single director as the head of the bureau, and delay the transfer of powers from other federal agencies. The measure also calls for the bureau to be subject to congressional appropriations. However, the legislation is unlikely to pass the U.S. Senate. The CFPB opened for business on July 21 without a director, though the Obama Administration has nominated former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray. Senate Republicans have said they will continue to block any nominee until the agency's structure is modified. Without a director, CFPB cannot write many new rules and it lacks the authority to oversee payday lenders and check cashers. The agency is expected to consolidate the consumer protection powers of seven government agencies and to focus on transparency, disclosures, and protection against unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices. CFPB is currently accepting complaints from consumers about credit cards, and the agency is prepared to begin work, says White House Advisor Elizabeth Warren. Moreover, a recent study reveals that 63 percent of voters favor greater oversight of financial firms and nearly 75 percent of respondents favor a single agency tasked with consumer protection.
- White House Threatens Veto of GOP Bill Curbing Consumer Bureau Powers
The Hill 20 Jul 2011
On July 20, the White House announced that it would veto Republican attempts to curb the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), saying those attempts would "expose American consumers and the nation's economy to the same risks that led to the 2008 financial crisis." The CFPB, set to begin work on July 21, remains a target of Republican criticism, with charges that it is too powerful and subject to too little oversight. U.S. House Republicans will put forward a bill that would make three significant changes to the bureau's operation: establish a five-person commission at the top of the CFPB; prevent the CFPB from assuming transferred powers from other regulators without a confirmed director in place; and make it easier for the Financial Stability Oversight Council to overturn CFPB rules.
- New Poll Demonstrates Broad Support for Financial Reform
Sacramento Bee 19 Jul 2011
Regardless of political party affiliation, the vast majority of Americans support strong, reasonable oversight of the financial services industry -- including an independent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau with teeth -- finds a new poll. By a margin of 3-1, Americans want financial companies held accountable and financial reforms to take effect as soon as possible. And they want the CFPB to be up and operating as planned, not watered down by industry's current attempts to weaken its funding and setup. The poll -- carried out by Lake Research Partners and sponsored by AARP, the Center for Responsible Lending, and Americans for Financial Reform -- found that voters across party lines solidly favor the Wall Street reform law; favor a single U.S. agency with the sole mission of safeguarding the public from unscrupulous financial practices and predatory products; and believe safeguards will help restore the economy and not hinder it, as some on Wall Street claim. CRL President Mike Calhoun said, "Everyday Americans know what's good for their pocketbooks, their families, and our economy -- that's why a large, bipartisan majority is calling for financial reforms to take effect. Let's hope policymakers hear them loud and clear."
- Consumer Watchdog on a Shorter Leash
Chicago Tribune 19 Jul 2011
As a result of political gridlock and partisan battles, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will launch on July 21 without an appointed director, meaning it will not be quite as aggressive as promised. Absent a director, the agency will not be able to crack down on mortgage brokers, nor will it have authority over payday lenders and remittance companies. President Barack Obama has nominated former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to head the agency, but Republicans say they will oppose any nominee until key changes are made in the planned structure of the agency. The leaderless agency initially will be denied broad authority to prohibit "unfair, deceptive or abusive acts or practices" or to issue rules requiring better disclosures of the terms of financial products. However, the bureau will immediately take over the authority to enforce 18 existing consumer protection laws. Nearly every Republican in Congress and banks across the nation opposed the creation of the CFPB, arguing it would restrict access to credit. Meanwhile, the idea was quickly embraced by Obama and consumer advocates. The bureau likely will be able to run for a short time without an appointed director, but that will slow it from addressing long-standing problems, according to Travis Plunkett, legislative director for the Consumer Federation of America.
- GOP Blocks Cordray, Limits CFPB
Roll Call 19 Jul 2011
On July 18, U.S. Senate Republicans rejected President Barack Obama's nomination of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and their efforts to block the nomination could hamper the authority of the new agency. Some had hoped that Cordray would have received a warmer reception from Republicans that White House Advisor Elizabeth Warren would have, but Republicans continue to insist that any nominee will be blocked until changes are made to the structure of the agency. U.S. Senate Banking Committee Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said, "For months he has ignored Republican concerns about the lack of accountability at the [CFPB] and its potential adverse effect on the economy. Until President Obama addresses our concerns by supporting a few reasonable structural changes, we will not confirm anyone to lead it. No accountability, no confirmation." Republicans contend that the agency has too much "unchecked" power, and blocking nominees to lead the agency effectively ties the hands of the agency, ensuring it is unable to regulate non-banking firms like payday lenders and student loan providers. The Obama Administration has not reached out to Shelby or other Republicans blocking the nomination, and it is unclear if the administration is considering a recess appointment to sidestep the Senate confirmation process. Democrats and the administration could try to break through the Republican blockade on the nomination by pushing U.S. Sen. Rob Portman to support confirmation for his fellow Ohioan Richard Cordray.
- Bank Challenger Picked to Run Consumer Agency
Wall Street Journal 18 Jul 2011
President Barack Obama indicated on July 17 that he would nominate former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). As Ohio attorney general, Cordray challenged banks over mortgage foreclosure practices, but his nomination is likely to be opposed by U.S. Senate Republicans and the financial services industry. Currently, Cordray is the top enforcement officer at the CFPB. The administration concluded that Harvard Law Professor and current White House Special Advisor to the CFPB Elizabeth Warren would not win confirmation from the Senate, but Senate Republicans already have said they would block any CFPB nominee unless the agency's structure is changed. "Until President Obama addresses our concerns by supporting a few reasonable structural changes, we will not confirm anyone to lead it. No accountability, no confirmation," said U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). The administration said it would be willing to consider some changes to the bureau, but it would not support the replacement of the directorship with a five-member commission. Meanwhile, Warren applauded the nomination, "Rich has always had my strong support because he is tough and he is smart -- and that's exactly the combination this new agency needs." If Cordray is confirmed, he will likely take a strong stance against fraudulent and abusive practices among financial firms. U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) says of Cordray, "While I am disappointed that Elizabeth Warren won't be at the top of the agency she envisioned, Cordray was one of her first hires as its director of enforcement, and was by all accounts a smart and tough attorney general in Ohio."
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Please Ban These Four Products!
CBS MoneyWatch 17 Jul 2011
MoneyWatch columnist Marlys Harris was disappointed by Elizabeth Warren's recent statement that the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would not seek to ban products. Instead, Warren called an outright ban "a tool in the toolbox" and stressed that "that's where it should stay." Harris assumes Warren is making attempts to appease CFPB opponents; but Harris argues that limiting consumer choice is not always a negative course of action, because there are some toxic items that should never be on the market. She likens taking these products off the market to the government's regulation of rotten meat, calling out rotten products such as payday loans, negative amortization mortgages, credit card debt protection programs, and negative option marketing. Payday loans, according to the Center for Responsible Lending, create spirals of debt for many consumer who cannot repay a loan after two weeks and are forced to renew. Repeated rollovers and exorbitant interest rates make payday loans unproductive and toxic. Negative amortization mortgages -- popular during the housing boom -- do not cover the amount of principal and interest due, which means a homeowner's mortgage balance rises over the years even as their equity decreases. These loans do not make sense for borrowers or lenders. Another toxic product resulting in high fees is a credit card debt protection program, which supposedly promises to cancel a credit card balance or suspend the minimum monthly payment and waive interest should a consumer die, become disabled, or lose their job. Harris says the last of the four toxic products -- negative option marketing, whereby a vendor fraudulently signs customers up and bills them for a subscription or membership club, after obtaining their credit card number from a valid phone or online purchase -- is essentially fraud.
- Warren: No Plans for Bans
Wall Street Journal 15 Jul 2011
Speaking before the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, White House adviser Elizabeth Warren said that the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will not seek out bans for certain financial products, though the agency does have the ability to do so. "We don't have any present plans [to use that tool,]" she said. GOP lawmakers continued to press Warren on how the agency would regulate financial products, including whether it would ban payday loans and cap interest rates or oversee auto loans and insurance products. Warren indicated that the CFPB has "limited" power over business credit cards, and according to Dodd-Frank, the agency cannot cap interest rates. On July 21, the agency will inherit the consumer protection authority of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Federal Trade Commission, and other agencies, and the agency will be allowed to write new consumer protection laws and supervise financial firms to ensure products they offer do not harm consumers.
- Fed's Raskin: Consumer Protection to Remain Vital Role for Fed
iMarketNews.com 29 Jun 2011
Federal Reserve Gov. Sarah Bloom-Raskin on June 29 said that consumer protection will always play an instrumental part in the central bank's assessment of how the U.S. economy is progressing. According to her, consumer protection is essential to a growing and flourishing economy. Raskin also noted that traditional banking services no longer meet the needs of many Americans, which has created a space for non-conventional financial firms. Links between consumer spending, consumer finance, and consumer protection to the economy "are of critical importance and will always have to be at the forefront of what the Federal Reserve always thinks about," she explained. Raskin added that it is important to foster innovation within the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau while also making sure that financial products have a "sufficiently robust" regulatory structure around them. She said the goal is to have a regulatory system that does not choke off financial innovation but encourages those features that will benefit consumers. Many of the traditional banking services are not working for a large number of Americans, leaving large gaps in which products can be developed. "And as they evolve, we obviously want to give them space to evolve but we want to keep an eye on them," she added. The idea is not to impede the emergence of new strategies but to harness their positive aspects and "prohibit, limit or regulate" the more risky side.