Consumer Reports CEO: We all have a stake in the future of the CFPB

Consumer Reports CEO: We all have a stake in the future of the CFPB
© Camille Fine

If you hadn’t heard of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) before last week, you’re probably not alone. The small government agency, created in response to the 2008 financial crisis, may be famous on Wall Street and in the alphabet soup world of Washington politics.

Many Americans, however, remain unfamiliar with the CFPB’s purpose, its track record or even the fact of its existence. That could change as a clash over who exactly is in charge at the CFPB — Deputy Director Leandra English and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyThe Memo: Ayers decision casts harsh light on Trump Meadows looks to make his move Yankees president downplays interest in White House chief of staff job MORE have both laid claim to the title of acting director — plays out in the courts and in the media.

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The drama that has surrounded the CFPB since Director Richard CordrayRichard Adams CordrayPut 'regulation by enforcement' where it belongs: The trash Exclusive: Consumer bureau name change could cost firms 0 million Kasich to return to New Hampshire for post-midterms visit MORE formally stepped down last week — highlighted by doughnut-themed photo-ops and dueling all-staff e-mails — has put the agency in the news and provided plenty of fodder for pundits and legal scholars. But while the question of who will run the agency in the near term is a critical one, the last thing that American consumers need right now is for the very notion of financial malpractice protection to become yet another staging ground for partisan gamesmanship.

 

Families preyed upon by fraudulent schemes, predatory lenders, and the endless paper cuts of hidden banking fees have more important things to worry about. For them, it’s the achievements of the CFPB, rather than the politics, that really matter.

Perhaps that’s why polls consistently show that the CFPB is that rarest form of regulatory agency: one that — after Americans learn more about it — is supported by broad majorities of people belonging to both parties (80 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of Republicans, according to joint polling conducted this summer by bipartisan survey firms). 

That’s no surprise when you consider that the agency has forced big banks, credit card companies and lenders to return more than $12 billion back into the pockets of nearly 30 million Americans they’ve wronged over the last six years.

Those families know that the agency isn’t about left versus right — it’s about real people versus financial institutions that attempt to cheat them out of their money. It’s also about building a better marketplace: by creating a transparent, searchable database of consumer complaints. The CFPB provides vital information to help people steer clear of predatory companies, reward good ones and make better choices when it comes to the financial products and services we use.

And the CFPB doesn’t just shine a light on those complaints — it has successfully resolved more than a million of them, too. They’ve also cracked down on mortgage companies that lie to homeowners in order to foreclose on them more quickly. They’ve taken on for-profit college scams that take advantage of people’s aspirations. And they’ve exposed the underhanded practices of lenders who deceive veterans, target vulnerable senior citizens and discriminate against communities of color.

When Wells Fargo defrauded millions of customers last year, creating fake accounts in their names and incurring fees on innocent families, Americans didn’t care about politics. We cared that there was a cop on the beat — a dedicated, independent agency with the power to hold the company accountable to the tune of more than $100 million in restitution. Whatever your politics, that’s the sort of outcome we can all agree on: if you get caught fleecing consumers, you’re going to have to make it right.

Whoever is running the CFPB in the days and years ahead, consumers deserve to know that our government will have our backs when companies overcharge us, withhold important information or ignore our complaints. That isn’t a partisan demand — just a human one. Because whether we realize it or not, every one of us has a stake in this agency’s future. We all make use of the credit cards, banks, mortgages, and so much else that the CFPB has had its eye on for the last six years.

As the debate rages on inside the beltway, families across the country know that there is no debating the critical importance of an agency that stands up for us against fraudsters and predators in the financial sector — even if we don’t always know that agency’s name.

Marta Tellado is the president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit consumer organization Consumer Reports.