CFPB Turns Two with a Bang – What Now?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB or the Bureau) hit its second birthday this week in grand style. Has it really been just two years? I don’t believe I would be in minority in feeling CFPB has been around much longer given all the Dodd-Frank rules it has cranked out and all the press it has received over the controversial recess appointment of Rich Cordray in January 2012. But, who’s counting, right?

Speaking of Rich Cordray, his recent formal Senate confirmation was perhaps the biggest birthday present of all to the Bureau. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had to threaten the Senate with the “nuclear option” (a change of Senate rules to allow “majority” rule) over several stalled Obama nominees to key administration positions.  The Senate was close to DEFCON 1 before a handful of Republicans told Harry to take his finger off the button because they would allow votes on the nominees. Cordray was the first nominee to get confirmed. House and Senate republicans have been pressing for structural changes to CFPB pretty much after the ink was dry on the Dodd-Frank Act. Senate Republicans were united in 2012 and 2013 that no CFPB Director nominee would be confirmed unless the CFPB became a commission (like the FTC or FCC) and received its appropriations from Congress and not the Federal Reserve. Two federal courts even called into the question the “recess” appointment of Cordray as they ruled that President Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board were unconstitutional. The Supreme Court even agreed to hear the case in October. All this legal uncertainty is fairly moot given the Senate’s confirmation (and the Supreme Court’s recent proclivity to threading the needle on touchy constitutional issues).

But, enough about history. What does the future hold for the Bureau? I don’t buy quite into the hype by some that the Bureau is coming out swinging against banks now that Cordray has lost his “recess” tag. I expect the Bureau will be sensitive and responsive to the concerns from Capitol Hill. It will certainly be responsive to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) as it begins to examine its data collection practices. As requested by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, GAO will review identity, account and transaction data the Bureau collects during its supervision of banks or through other direct request. The Bureau claims that the transaction data is de-linked with any personally-identifiable information. We’ll see what GAO comes up with (presumably in 2014).

The Bureau also released its updated regulatory agenda through the end of the year. Expect to see a notice of proposed rule-making on extending Reg E protections to general-reloadable prepaid cards in addition to new proposed rules on debt collection and payday loans. I suspect CFPB will continue to tinker with the Dodd-Frank mortgage rules to take effect in January 2014. It certainly doesn’t want to be tagged with tanking the housing market if no one can get a loan. If you really want to peer into CFPB’s future, follow its consumer complaint portal progress reports. CFPB has stated that the trends it sees through the complaint portals will drive its enforcement and regulatory agenda.

Industry and CFPB need to work together more than ever to ensure balance is struck between consumer protection and a healthy financial services industry. Consumers are hurt if the pendulum swings too hard one way. Keep checking with this blog for progress reports.