Read the latest on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
- Consumer-Bureau Nominee on Hot Seat
Wall Street Journal 06 Sep 2011
President Barack Obama's nominee, Richard Cordray, to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will testify at a U.S. Senate confirmation hearing on Sept. 6. He is expected to allay lawmakers fears that as head of the agency he would be quick to use litigation as an enforcement tool. In a prepared statement, Cordray noted, "I know from my own experience that lawsuits can be a very slow, wasteful, and needlessly acrimonious way to resolve a problem." Rather than discuss Cordray's background during the hearing, some expect lawmakers to focus primarily on the structure of the agency, which Republicans say has too much unchecked power. Forty-four Senate Republicans signed a pledge that said they would oppose any nominee to the CFPB unless the administration agreed to modify its structure. A U.S. Senate Banking Committee Senior Republican Richard Shelby (Ala.) spokesperson says, "Opposition to or support of Mr. Cordray's nomination will become relevant as soon as the president agrees to make the structural changes we've requested." Democrats have said they would oppose any changes to the CFPB, which should be politically independent. Cordray, meanwhile, has received some support from the business community, with letters of support issued by executives and leaders of the Ohio Bankers League, American Electric Power, and Limited Brands. The White House hopes to drum up support for the nominee through a series of meetings between Cordray and all 22 members of the Senate committee.
- Payday Lenders Prey on the Poor, Costing Americans Billions. Will Washington Act?
Christian Science Monitor 06 Sep 2011
The Senate Banking Committee gathered on Sept. 6 to discuss the confirmation of Richard Cordray, nominated to become the first head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). But as President Barack Obama prepares to address the nation on the job crisis, officials at the CFPB are urged to make regulating the payday loan industry a priority. The $30-billion-a-year industry is subject to minimal regulation and commands high interest from the most vulnerable consumers. In today's economically turbulent times, many Americans find themselves paying interest rates of up to 572 percent, as they seek small loans to help them make ends meet on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis. The payday lending industry's lobbying arm, the Community Financial Services Association, boasts that "more than 19 million American households count a payday loan among their choices of short-term credit products." But while the industry has customers of all races, backgrounds, and ages, a February 2011 National People's Action report found that the industry disproportionately affects low-income and minority communities. Overall, the Center for Responsible Lending estimates that predatory payday lending robs Americans of $4.2 billion annually -- largely from those who can least afford it. In recognition of the fact that a loan to cover a small expense should not be a first step down a road to financial ruin for anyone, 17 states -- including Cordray's home state of Ohio -- currently ban or severely limit the practice. Others are considering similar legislation.
- Congress Will Again Take Up Business Lending, Consumer Bureau, and Deficits
Credit Union Times 31 Aug 2011
Immediately after Congress returns from recess after Labor Day, lawmakers will consider the nomination of Richard Cordray, whom President Obama picked to be director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The Senate Banking Committee has scheduled a hearing on Sept. 6 on Cordray. The House Financial Services Committee will also reportedly hold a hearing on legislation to raise the cap on credit union member business loans.
- New U.S. Consumer Hotline Not Routing Some Complaints to Banks
Bloomberg 30 Aug 2011
Technical problems in a new system created by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have led to some consumer credit card complaints not reaching banks that issued the cards. The complaint response system has failed to properly route all inquiries, a problem the bureau says will be resolved within a matter of weeks. The system, mandated by Dodd-Frank, was launched on July 21. Its website invites consumers to file complaints about credit cards and will eventually cover other financial services. Some banks found that their volume of complaints dropped following its launch, says Richard Hunt, head of the Consumer Bankers Association. The banks were concerned they might be blamed for unanswered queries, he adds.
- CFPB Launches Foreclosure Prevention Campaign
ReverseMortgageDaily 29 Aug 2011
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which gained authority on July 21, has launched a foreclosure prevention campaign as it seeks to assist consumers. The campaign's new Web site provides step-by-step guidance to homeowners at risk of losing their property, lists Department of Housing and Urban Development-approved counseling agencies, and links reverse mortgage borrowers to counselors through the HOPE hotline. The effort also involves encouraging homeowners to call the CFPB if they need assistance or using the HUD's online list of foreclosure prevention resources. The bureau additionally is advocating for vigilance when it comes to foreclosure scams -- particularly those involving older Americans, who are the targets in 41 percent of foreclosure rescue schemes.
- Banks Declare Peace With Consumer Bureau Over Regulating Nonbanks
American Banker 25 Aug 2011
In an unexpected move, the financial services industry is coming to the defense of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. While still wary of the agency's initiatives, banks are solidly on its side in terms of regulating the competition. In comment letters on the new regulator's options for supervising nonbanks -- including payday loan providers and nonbank mortgage lenders -- banking trade groups uncharacteristically urge the bureau to be relentless with its nonbank supervision program and laud CFPB for starting the program early. The American Bankers Association "fully supports the bureau's preliminary efforts to define its nondepository supervisory scope as it prepares for the future exercise of that supervision authority," Virginia O'Neill, senior counsel for the ABA's Center for Regulatory Compliance, wrote in an Aug. 15 letter. "This approach has been a model effort to seek broad, careful, and thoughtful input in the important early stages of developing a rule proposal."
- Consumer Bureau Getting Cozy with State AGs
American Banker 19 Aug 2011
The new U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is working closely with state attorneys general to ensure the enforcement of consumer banking laws, as the Dodd-Frank Act opened the door for information sharing and consultation between state and federal regulators. The CFPB and state attorneys general released a joint statement about their coordinated efforts to protect consumers from abusive practices by banks and nonbanks, which was effectively underscored by the nomination of Former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray as the CFPB's first director. Many experts expect the agency to work more closely with state attorneys general in an effort to engage in a more nationwide impact on top priorities. White House Advisor Elizabeth Warren already laid the groundwork for the cooperative arrangement, noting, "While the value of shared law enforcement goals between federal and state officials is obvious to many of us in this room, we also know that federal banking regulators often have acted at cross-purposes with the attorneys general and state regulators in the past. Moving forward, consistent and effective enforcement of consumer financial laws will require our sustained collaboration." Cordray was considered one of he most aggressive state attorney generals in the recent past, with his efforts against large mortgage services for their foreclosure practices. "I think that on a number of levels," Cordray's nomination "sends a pretty important message . . . that it's going to be a meaningful partnership," says Kevin Petrasic, a partner with Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker LLP. Meanwhile, questions of federal preemption must be decided through negotiations between the CFPB and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency under Dodd-Frank. Moreover, the law enables state attorneys general to bring enforcement actions in the name of the state in federal district court to enforce consumer protections in Dodd-Frank and any of the CFPB's new regulations. The attorneys general and the CFPB plan to develop joint training programs and regularly consult with one another to identify mutual enforcement priorities and conduct joint or coordinated investigations and enforcement actions.
- New Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Should Regulate Online Advertising of Financial Products
Huffington Post 16 Aug 2011
One of the first priorities for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which opened its doors this summer, is writing rules for regulating the activities of "non-banks" that still potentially affect the financial well-being of consumers. The CFPB's goals include creating a single regulator to define and guarantee basic consumer protections across a wide range of financial institutions -- and even many institutions that are not usually considered financial institutions but that play a key role in the U.S. financial system nonetheless. Under the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB can regulate larger non-bank "participants" in the financial system; and the agency has been seeking comments on what financial markets to cover, how to define a "large" participant, and what kinds of data it should be collecting to protect consumers. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and other online intermediaries are playing an increasingly integral role in the financial world; and the CFPB must first collect more data to measure what their impact is on consumers and, secondly, write rules to protect those consumers.
- New Oversight for Nonbanks
Philadelphia Inquirer 14 Aug 2011
Financial woes resulting from the practices of nonbank financial institutions have long plagued consumers but have been out of the reach of most federal and state regulatory agencies. There is good news for consumers who once saw their only course of action as contacting lawyer; it comes in the form of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The agency has begun implementing various parts of the Dodd-Frank financial legislation and is considering whether to begin supervising credit reporting, debt collection, the prepaid-card industry, loan servicers, check cashers, debt-relief services, money transmitters, and other nonbank financial services. Many of these nonbank entities shouldered much of the blame for the housing bubble and the 2008 financial crisis it spurred, necessitating new oversight. To prevent a repeat of the events that lead to the Great Recession, Congress created the bureau and instructed it to extend the kind of oversight already directed at banks to nonbanks -- specifically to payday lenders, mortgage lenders, and private education lenders, but also to other "larger participants" in the financial markets. The bureau is hoping to level the playing field, and it will work to address the various pitfalls that plague the financial system. The key to its power is the authority it has to supervise and examine a nonbank financial institution, which will make the bureau much better suited to understand how the institution functions and determine what kind of consumer protection is needed. The CFPB has promised to make consumer protection a priority.
- Don't Forget About the Under-Banked Consumer
The Hill 10 Aug 2011
Drew Edwards, CEO and founder of Chexar Networks, Inc., says in this blog posting that banks historically have been unwilling to change their product offerings to meet the legitimate needs of the underbanked -- a massive consumer group -- by adding services such as check cashing, money transfers, walk-up bill payments, and prepaid Visa/MasterCard debit cards. Now, banks are growing more and more focused on redefining their product set to meet the needs of these consumers by offering them the services they are purchasing today at the corner check casher or store. This change in mentality has been driven by recent legislative changes in Washington that will significantly lower the fee income these banks generate from deposit accounts, debit cards, and credit cards. Forced to re-examine their fee income models, banks have spent the past year performing internal analysis that has helped them to realize that as much as 25 percent of their current deposit account holders are actually going outside the bank to procure these services.
- The $169 Billion Hidden Market: People Without Banks
Strategy+Business 05 Aug 2011
According to FDIC data, an estimated $169 billion in income never flows through a bank or credit union. For years, banks have experimented with winning over "bottom of the pyramid" consumers in the U.S., and many have concluded that the effort was too risky and not lucrative enough. However, researchers from the University of Virginia Darden School of Business spent a year studying the issue and conclude that some different approaches could prove more successful in attracting deposits from the millions of households that have no relationship with a bank or credit union. The rapidly growing Latino population is particularly underserved, the researchers say. Several factors make the Latino population particularly attractive. Many Latino households feature more than one adult generating income, and the group's workforce participation is high. While some unbanked Latinos are undocumented aliens who would have trouble opening an account without a Social Security number, many others are just put off by deposit requirements and language barriers, and turn instead to check-cashing stores and payday lenders that cost more to use. Banks and credit unions could hire more employees who speak Spanish, educate staff members on cultural issues, and help customers with paperwork. Banks could also offer incentives to employers to bring staff members to the bank, or hold "sign-up" days in workplaces during which the benefits of banking — especially the absence of check-cashing fees — are promoted. Finally, the researchers argue that bank managers should get out the message that bringing large numbers of unbanked households into the system lowers the risk of crime. Because unbanked consumers carry cash or keep it at home, they are often the victims of violent robberies.
- House Republicans Block Recess Appointments by Obama
Los Angeles Times 04 Aug 2011
The Senate adjourned for more than a month without going into a formal recess, after congressional Republicans used procedural moves to block President Barack Obama from temporarily appointing heads to the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and other agencies through so-called recess appointments. The Senate cannot go on a formal recess without approval from the House, and the GOP majority there again has blocked one. In addition to the vacant director slot at the consumer agency, Obama would like to install nominees to head the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and numerous department and federal judicial posts. The most high-profile position Obama would like to fill is director of the CFPB -- the position for which he nominated former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, who faces strong resistance from nearly all Senate Republicans. They vowed to block any nominee to head the agency unless Obama agrees to dilute its power. Until the consumer agency has a Senate-confirmed director or one put in place by a recess appointment, it cannot use some of the authority granted to it by last year's financial reform law. Those delayed powers include regulation of mortgage brokers, payday lenders, and other financial institutions outside the banking system. The Treasury Department is running the agency until it has a director.
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: We Won't Hurt Small Business
Knoxville News-Sentinel 01 Aug 2011
As part of their ongoing efforts to limit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's power, Republicans in Congress are warning that the agency could hurt small businesses. Last week, a congressional subcommittee grilled Dan Sokolov, deputy director of the bureau's research department, on whether the new agency will hurt the ability of small businesses to offer consumers credit and obtain credit themselves. Sokolov said the Dodd-Frank financial reform act specifically limits the new agency to regulating only large banks, as well as the largest companies in non-bank financial sectors like payday lenders and prepaid debit cards. The law specifically bars the CFPB from writing rules concerning small companies like car dealers; and while the bureau's rules will apply to community banks, it is not allowed to bring enforcement actions against them. The bureau is focused "on financial products and services for consumers," Sokolov testified. "The [CFPB] does not have jurisdiction over small business credit except in limited cases where Congress has explicitly and affirmatively granted the Bureau such jurisdiction."
- Senate Banking Panel to Hold CFPB Nominee Hearing
Reuters 28 Jul 2011
The Senate Banking Committee will convene a hearing on Aug. 4 on the nomination of Richard Cordray to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Earlier in July, President Obama nominated Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general, to be the first director of the agency. Republicans, however, have vowed to block Cordray from being confirmed unless revisions -- which Democrats oppose -- are made to the bureau's structure. Republicans want the CFPB's leadership to be changed to a board rather than a sole director, the budget to be subject to congressional approval, and other financial regulators to be given a bigger voice in the CFPB's oversight of banks. Until the agency has a director in place, it cannot police non-bank entities such as payday lenders.
- US Watchdog Report: Treasury Not Doing Enough to Punish Poorly-Performing Mortgage Firms
Fox Business 28 Jul 2011
In a quarterly report, an independent federal watchdog challenged whether the Obama administration has done enough to punish mortgage firms for poor performance in its Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). The Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program said it supported the Treasury Department's decision to punish mortgage companies for poor performance under the initiative, but questioned whether enough companies had been punished. The office has long been critical of how the administration has run the program, which fell short of initial expectations. In June, the Treasury decided to withhold millions of dollar in fees from Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and JPMorgan Chase. However, the inspector general's report pointed out that other companies had also fared poorly with HAMP. The program was announced in 2009 with a goal of assisting 3 million to 4 million homeowners in saving their homes and obtaining permanent loan modifications. However, as of May 2011, it has only helped 633,500 borrowers.
- Consumer Bureau Plans Enforcement Based on FTC's 'Stable' Model
Bloomberg 28 Jul 2011
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau plans to follow enforcement procedures "based largely on the existing, stable model" used by the Federal Trade Commission, according to a document on the bureau’s Web site outlining how it will seek documents, conduct hearings, and deal with witnesses. The rules track what the FTC already does, so "they present an existing, stable model of investigatory procedures that should not impose new compliance costs," the bureau says in the document. The posted rules by themselves give little insight into how forceful the CFPB will be in dealing with lenders, according to Howard Beales, a former FTC official who is now professor at George Washington University in Washington. "This says what the framework for enforcement is," Beales explains. "It says nothing about the mix between supervision and enforcement." Peggy Twohig, the bureau’s assistant director for non-bank supervision, and Steve Antonakes, the assistant director for large-bank supervision, have hinted that the agency may rely heavily on supervision. The bureau also posted rules similar to those used by prudential regulators governing how it will conduct reviews in which firms can contest administrative penalties.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.