Regulatory Reality

Dec 19 2012   1:51PM GMT

CFPB: Dodd-Frank at its best.

David Schneier David Schneier Profile: David Schneier

The campaign season that ended with last month’s presidential elections generated more debate and rhetoric than any other in my lifetime.  As I’m an outspoken person who has never shied away from a good argument I routinely found myself engaged in exchanges with a remarkably broad range of people from middle schooler’s to octogenarians (and that was just within my own family) that delved into an even broader range of issues.  I was amazed by how much misinformation was being spread about both candidates, what their platforms were, what their agendas were (both published and hidden) and how voting for one or the other was guaranteeing the downfall of our great nation.  Generally I took most of what I heard with a grain of salt and tried to work patiently through things to get as close to the truth as possible.  On a few occasion’s though I was presented with an assertion or opinion that required a little less patience and a bit more slapping upside the head.

Right after one of the debates I found myself knee deep in a debate about Dodd-Frank.  A close personal friend of mine, a very bright bulb who I’ve never found a reason to disagree with brought up Dodd-Frank as an example of horrible legislation that’s crippling banks and contributing to our horrible economic conditions.  Whoa, whoa, whoa…. rail against taxes, complain about government spending, assail the current administration for the dramatic escalation of our national debt.  But leave Dodd-Frank out of it because that’s not one of our bigger problems.  I can offer a five thousand word defense of the best parts of Dodd-Frank without even pausing to organize my thoughts but I don’t need to go that far.  I can sell it’s virtues in a single, simple sentence:  Any legislation that created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is instantly more effective than anything that’s come before it in my lifetime.

No, seriously… in my lifetime.

I’ve already screamed from the rooftops about how much I like the CFPB.  In my own geeky, nerdy way I’m proud to admit that I look forward to getting their regular updates and announcements because they always seem either ridiculously relevent or illuminate how they’re hot on the heels of yet another predatory business practice.  In barely a years time they’ve pushed deeper into the heart of the issues that crashed Wall Street in 2008 than anyone could have hoped (that’s my opinion but one I’m willing to defend).  And their examiners appear to be freaky efficient.  I’ve been hearing from our banking clients that they’re drilling in on details and covering more territory than was expected and that they’re discussing issues much closer to protecting customers (and members).   Our practice recently issued a bulletin to our clients alerting them to the fact that CFPB examiners are expecting related oversight to be pushed down to external business parters and vendors.  This is not a new consideration, it’s exactly the same as what’s supposed to happen with regards to GLBA (and one of the reasons we developed our related software and services for same) but still, we anticipated this would take several exam cycles to surface.  CFPB cut right to that chase in a heartbeat, which is stunning for such things.  It’s almost like someone told them where to look and what to look for which to a certain extent is true.

The CFPB didn’t start as most new agencies do.  They didn’t recruit green examiners and place them under the management of a few practiced hands.  What they apparently have done is to hire well seasoned examiners from related regulatory agencies (e.g. FDIC, FRB, OCC) have them contribute to creating the necessary procedures and then send them out to bring it all to life.  So on Day One they already know where the bodies are likely to be buried and what to do about it.  It’s brilliant, it’s efficient and it’s the very best example of  your government doing its job.

Here are some snippets from my in-box:

  • Regarding the three main credit reporting agencies, the CFPB released a report that said “Among the key takeaways in the report, which is one of the most comprehensive studies of credit reporting to date, are that credit card history dominates the information in credit reports and that debt collection items  generate the highest rate of disputes”.  This becomes important for consumers who are trying to either establish or repair respectable credit ratings.  The news release further explained about the report that it “will help educate regulators and consumers about how this important industry works,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “If consumers know how these companies handle their credit histories, they can make better decisions on how to handle their financial lives.”
  • This was another headline “CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU HALTS ALLEGED NATIONWIDE MORTGAGE LOAN MODIFICATION SCAMS”.  The news release explained that the CFPB is  “taking on schemes that prey on consumers who are struggling to pay their mortgages or facing foreclosure,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “We are especially concerned with those who misrepresent government programs or websites to divert distressed homeowners from needed assistance.”
  • And even still, another headline “CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU PROPOSES ALLOWING COMPANIES TO RUN TRIAL DISCLOSURE PROGRAMS”.  And while this may seem dry to so many not close to the related issue this is signficant because right now most of us ignore all the small print.  The CFPB is trying to figure out better ways to present disclousre information so that us consumers both think to read it and, more importantly, understand what it’s telling us.  Rather than try and stuff a once-sized-fits-all solution down the industries throat they’re opening it up and authorizing institutions and lenders to explore different approaches.

And the kicker about these three items?  This was all issued this month (December 2012) and we’re not even quite halfway through it.

 

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