Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

October 5, 2017

Evolution of the CFPB?

By David Reiss

image by Vector Open Stock

The Mortgage Bankers Association has issued a white paper, CFPB 2.0: Advancing Consumer Protection. The Executive Summary reads, in part,

In its first years, the Bureau’s regulatory expertise was largely consumed by the need to meet deadlines on specific rules required under the Dodd-Frank Act, and its supervision program took time to stand up. In its first years, the Bureau spent relatively little time providing guidance to industry on its expectations.

The combination of aggressive enforcement and the absence of regulatory guidance evolved into a regime of “regulation by enforcement.” Director Richard Cordray has argued that the Bureau’s enforcement regime provides “detailed guidance for compliance officers” and that it “would be ‘compliance malpractice’ for the industry not to take careful bearings from [consent] orders about how to comply with the law.” Unfortunately, the reality is that the Bureau’s enforcement program offers only fragmentary glimpses of how the Bureau interprets the laws and regulations it enforces.

This paper explains why authoritative guidance is still needed. Rather than seeking to provide the equivalent of “detailed guidance” through enforcement, the Bureau should simply provide detailed guidance. Such guidance can be provided in a host of forms, including advisory opinions, bulletins, no-action letters, statements of policy, and answers to frequently asked questions. In contrast to enforcement orders, such guidance can be proactive, efficient, clear and comprehensive, and can allow for stakeholder input and revision when facts and circumstances warrant. (v)

It is hard to argue with the MBA that it is better to regulate by supervision than by enforcement as that allows regulated companies to design policies that meet with their regulatory requirements. As the CFPB matures, I would expect that this would happen naturally. Indeed, the white paper acknowledges the challenges of standing up the CFPB in its first few years of existence that led to the early emphasis on enforcement.

I wonder a bit about the timing of this report. The MBA describes the CFPB as being at a “crossroads.” (19) That crossroads may refer to the Republican control of Congress and the Executive Branch, it may refer to the soon-to-be ending term of Director Cordray, or it may refer to both of those developments. So I wonder if this report is meant to provide some intellectual cover to bigger changes that would reduce the CFPB’s role as America’s consumer protection sheriff. Let’s see where the MBA comes down on those bigger changes once their floated in the coming months. Are they advocating tweaks to the way the CFPB does business or are they looking for some kind of revolution in the regulation of consumer protection?


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