CFPB fights to end financial discrimination. We must fight for it.
In the aftermath of a financial crisis that devastated millions of American families, members of Congress, working with the Obama administration, created the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) with the goal of making markets for consumer financial products fairer, more transparent, and more competitive.
As an expert on student lending and other financial issues facing young people, I witnessed the devastating impacts of predatory student lending and helped lead the campaign to include student loans and issues concerning young consumers under the CFPB’s authority.
Just a few months after the new consumer agency opened for business, I joined as one of its earliest employees.
As a black, queer woman, I’m not your typical financial regulator. I was new to government and wasn’t so sure that I would be able to make sure that Americans who are marginalized and invisible would be kept front and center.
But, at every step of the way, I saw how the new consumer agency was standing up to discrimination in the financial sector, rather than siding with big money interests.
The CFPB has worked hard to fight discrimination in everything from auto lending to mortgages. Just last year, the CFPB made it clear that anti-LGBTQ credit discrimination is illegal.
The declaration followed an inquiry from the advocacy group Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), seeking clarity on whether the Equal Credit Opportunity Act’s (ECOA) sex discrimination ban also covers sexual orientation & gender identity.
The CFPB responded that ECOA does indeed ban LGBTQ credit discrimination and anyone experiencing credit discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity can file a complaint with the Bureau.
When discriminatory banks get caught, they are held accountable. The CFPB has recouped over $400 million in payments and credits to over 500,000 consumers who experienced discrimination.
When Hudson City Bank was caught illegally redlining black and Hispanic neighborhoods, it faced big fines. The CFPB has taken action against Honda, Toyota, and Ally for discriminatory auto lending.
The agency also challenged lenders to improve their monitoring of lending practices that might lead to discrimination against minorities.
Under the leadership of Director Richard Cordray, the CFPB has worked diligently to make sure that our financial markets don’t just work better, but operate in a more fair and transparent way.
In my experience, that commitment to fairness and transparency extended to the bureau’s internal accountability processes.
When issues of discrimination arose, the CFPB initiated a process to examine the issues and address them at the individual and institutional level — just as we should expect big financial institutions to do.
When it comes to racial and gender bias in the federal government, the CFPB’s challenges are hardly unique. What is unique is the lengths to which Director Cordray and the CFPB team have gone to understand and address those challenges.
The CFPB is not perfect; no organization with a big mission is. Director Cordray would be the first to admit that.
However, the agency’s leadership in addressing discrimination in the financial sector and its contribution to improving the lives of everyday consumers cannot be overlooked.
In just five years, the CFPB has recovered almost $12 billion in relief for more than 29 million consumers, issued rules to prohibit the types of toxic mortgages that caused the 2008 crisis, worked to protect students and veterans from unfair lending practices and proposed rules to restrict abusive payday lending and forced arbitration.
Whether it’s fighting to improve student loan disclosures, or taking on reverse mortgages that target the elderly, the CFPB has earned the reputation as a champion for the most vulnerable among us.
If Republicans, like Log Cabin Republican President Gregory Angelo, are so concerned about the treatment of women, LGBTQ folks, and people of color, they should take a lesson from Director Cordray’s leadership, instead of using us for disingenuous efforts to undermine this important work.
Angela Peoples is the director of GetEQUAL, a national network of LGBTQ people and allies fighting for liberation. She has spent the last three years working at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
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