CFPB: An Asset for the Field

The asset-building field has long anticipated the creation and launch of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The protection and preservation of assets is as essential to building wealth as the mechanisms and infrastructure for helping Americans save.

As the fledgling agency hits its stride, the opportunities for partnership between the CFPB and the asset-building movement are becoming increasingly apparent. "We want a two-way relationship with the public," says CFPB Associate Director Gail Hillebrand.

Hillebrand was speaking at the ALC session, "What Can the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau do for – and in Partnership with – the Asset-Building Field?" The session was moderated by Prosperity Now's Katherine Lucas-Smith and also featured David Rothstein of Policy Matters Ohio and Prosperity Now's Jeremie Greer.

The takeaway: CFPB promises to be a different, dynamic breed of regulator. Far from being removed and remote from the products and marketplaces it seeks to regulate, CFPB will be an active participant in the communities it aims to protect and one that is deeply attuned to changes in the consumer financial products marketplace. Moreover, CFPB isn't seeking to be primarily a "prescriptive" regulator of financial products; its mission also includes arming consumers with the knowledge and capability they need to make the right decisions for themselves.

For nonprofits on the ground, this means the agency will be a ready ear and willing partner. In particular, speakers focused on these specific strategies for how organizations can engage and leverage the CFPB in their work:

  • Hosting field hearings. Policy Matters Ohio has hosted field hearings for the CFPB in its "listening tours" around the country about consumer protection issues such as payday lending. Organizations can provide a valuable platform and conduit for CFPB to interact with the community.
  • Bringing emerging consumer protection issues into the spotlight. To carry out its broad mandate, the CFPB will need to leverage the "eyes and ears" of organizations around the country that are working with consumers and that have firsthand knowledge of the problems they are confronting. Asset-building organizations are on the front lines of change in the financial services marketplace and can be a valuable source of information for regulators. As Rothstein said, organizations can "identify and refer bad actors" to the CFPB.
  • Providing feedback on proposed agency actions. Prosperity Now's Jeremie Greer spoke especially about how networks of organizations (such as the Assets & Opportunity Network can provide a powerful source of advocacy and information to the CFPB. The A&O Network, for example, will be one of several organizations providing comments to the CFPB on its call for research on financial education. And as Greer discussed, the feedback of organizations in the field can be vital for helping the agency design "safe and affordable" mortgage products that don't also crowd out borrowing opportunities for low- and moderate-income families.

The collective advice of organizations can be a powerful influence on the direction of CFPB's actions and approach. While the CFPB is still in its youth is an ideal time for organizations to weigh in with their opinions and ideas.

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