A fully independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency is vital

Wall Street firms have become disconnected from our Main Street communities and from the good old-fashioned American values and work ethic that made America the greatest economic force in the world. 

America’s small businesses have been crippled by an unbridled financial system led by Wall Street gamblers who don’t care who they hurt or how they contort our economy just as long as their bonuses and bailouts keep their own pockets fat with cash.

Small businesses are the very fabric of our communities. From retail shops and restaurants to construction firms and professional service providers, we understand how important it is to protect the interests of our customers – because our customers are part of our own communities. We know the great American entrepreneurial spirit is linked to serving the needs of our families and communities – not jeopardizing our future through the sale of deceptive products, ruthless looting of American earnings and savings, and scurrilous rigged betting on investment failures costing people their homes, businesses, jobs and retirements.

We call upon Congress to enact comprehensive financial reform that will stop shadow banking, stop unscrupulous betting against American families and businesses, stop institutions from becoming so intertwined and large that they are privileged as “too big to fail,” stop CEO bonus-ridden bailouts, and stop undue influence within our governmental oversight by the very firms we seek to oversee.

Included in financial reform must be the establishment of a strong, fully independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency – not just an internal bureau of the heavily Wall Street influenced Federal Reserve. This independent agency must serve with authority over all financial products, whether bought at a bank or a non-bank. It must not be hamstrung by influence exerted by Wall Street insiders whose feckless gambling turned our homes, businesses and retirements into gambling chips.

The U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce disagrees with the U.S. Chamber’s big business scare tactics regarding the benefits of a strong, independent Consumer Federal Protection Agency.  The U.S. Chamber would have small businesses believe that protecting the rights of bank and non-bank lenders to deceive, manipulate and bet against small businesses is good for the economy and good for our future – all evidence to the contrary. 

According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, about two-thirds of Americans support stricter regulations on the way banks and other institutions conduct their business.  The area with the highest levels of cross-party support is on more robust federal oversight of the way banks and other financial companies make consumer loans, such as auto loans, credit cards and mortgages. 

The U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce stands squarely behind the needs of America's job creating Main Street small businesses in asking Congress to represent our interests through bringing strong transparency, oversight and accountability to Wall Street.

The creation of a strong, independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency will benefit businesses, especially small businesses, which create most of the nation's new jobs. It's too often forgotten that small-business owners frequently rely on personal credit – such as personal credit cards and home equity loans – to start, run and expand their businesses.

Predatory lending targeted at women especially hurts women business owners and consumers. Millions of women business owners, who used their home equity to secure small-business loans, are at risk of losing both their homes and businesses.  Many women, who were already at a higher risk for retirement insecurity, are now terrified about what the future will hold.

It is vitally important to the financial well-being of America’s Main Street small businesses that the Senate strengthens the S. 3217: Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 by establishing the independence of the agency established to protect consumers and preventing any lenders to be exempt from full oversight by the agency. The Senate should resist the efforts of Wall Street to water down the Consumer Financial Protection Agency through further amendments to remove power from states and attorneys general to enforce or enact consumer protection laws and oppose amendments to carve out special exemptions for certain types of businesses.  All lending – bank or non-bank should be monitored for unscrupulous and deceptive activities.

Business owners and consumers need the security of knowing that the costs and risks of financial products, services and lending are fully and fairly disclosed. We need a strong Consumer Financial Protection Agency with independent rule-making authority and enforcement powers -- not subject to veto by the very bank regulators who failed to protect consumers and small business owners from the predatory lending at the heart of the economic meltdown.

The stakes are high for small business owners.  We cannot let Wall Street executives – whose risky, deceptive practices destroyed so many jobs and small businesses – kill the reforms that are needed to prevent the next calamity.

It is time for our Congressional leaders to act.  Members of Congress -- America’s Main Street needs you to act on our behalf today.  Pass strong, comprehensive financial reform, and create a truly independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

Margot Dorfman is CEO of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce.