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Posts from May 2012

Honoring service with service

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Each May as we celebrate Memorial Day, our nation takes a moment to remember all of the brave men and women who died in service to our country. Memorial Day was first initiated as a day of remembrance for fallen soldiers during the Civil War but today it serves as a day to honor all servicemembers who lost their lives while serving in America’s conflicts.

While for some it’s just a day to barbeque or enjoy time off from work, for many of us Memorial Day is much more. Many people observe the day by visiting Arlington National Cemetery, going to museums, or participating in hometown parades. Some of us also use this day as an opportunity to connect Americans to our military community.

There are so many ways to get involved and make this day special. Checking in with someone who has a personal connection to a soldier involved in ongoing conflict makes a positive difference in that person’s day. Volunteering for the National Memorial Day Parade helps to build community and bring people from all walks of life together. And saying “thank you” to the men or women you see in uniform lets them know their sacrifice is appreciated.

The United States has been involved in significant conflict for over the last ten years, with two million American’s having served our country both stateside and overseas. Before coming to the Bureau, I had the great honor of serving my country in Iraq. As a former Soldier, I always appreciated (and counted) on the kindness and patriotism of my relatives, friends, and neighbors to care for my family while I was away.

I am proud to have served in the U.S. Armed Forces and I am proud to continue serving this country at the CFPB. It is our goal to connect with consumers while living our core values to Serve, Lead and Innovate. Our Office of Servicemember Affairs seeks to educate and engage with the public about consumer finance as it impacts Servicemembers and their families. At www.ConsumerFinance.gov servicemembers and their families can find information on a host of initiatives including ways in which we seek to combat financial scams targeted at military consumers. You can also find innovative tools, including our Financial Aid Comparison Shopper, complete with military benefits calculator, and student loan complaint system equipped to field concerns from servicemembers, veterans, and their families.

We thank the men and women serving our country, and on this special day we remember those who, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, gave “the last full measure of devotion.” We will always be mindful of their great sacrifice as we continue to serve the American consumer and those who wear, or have worn, the uniform for our country.

Protecting the public’s trust

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We would be hard pressed to ensure that markets for consumer financial products and services are fair, transparent and competitive without the trust of citizens and financial institutions in our work. To build and protect that trust, we are working to establish a strong ethics and compliance program.

As part of this effort we have determined that the existing government ethics laws and regulations, while robust, do not sufficiently address the ethics issues posed by the mission and responsibilities of the Bureau. To address these issues, we published our own ethics regulations that cover all Bureau employees. These CFPB-specific regulations establish:

  • Restrictions on outside employment and business activities ;
  • Prohibitions on the ownership of certain financial interests;
  • Restrictions on seeking, obtaining or renegotiating credit and indebtedness;
  • Prohibitions on recommendations concerning debt and equity interests;
  • Disqualification from participating in certain Bureau matters based on credit or indebtedness;
  • Prohibitions on purchasing certain assets; and
  • Restrictions on participating in particular matters involving outside entities.

We carefully studied the ethics regulations of other financial regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation , the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency when crafting our own rules. In many cases the Bureau’s rules are very similar to the rules imposed by other financial regulatory agencies. For example, the Bureau will require that all employees seek prior approval before engaging in outside employment.

In other cases, however, the new rules are modified to reflect the scope of the Bureau’s supervisory authority over both banks and nonbanks that provide a wide range of consumer finance products. For instance, the Bureau decided to create a list of specific financial holdings that employees may not own rather than a general prohibition on a class of financial holdings. This list is tailored to include only businesses that are subject to examination by the Bureau.

By taking these affirmative steps to ensure the Bureau’s work is not affected by actual or apparent conflict of interest concerns, we seek to build and maintain the trust of consumers and the financial institutions we oversee.

The rules will take effect on June 26, 2012.

We welcome your comments. You may submit comments via email, mail, or hand delivery.

Postal Address:
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Attention: Ethics Office
1700 G Street, NW
Washington, DC 20552

Live from Durham, NC!

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We’re in Durham, NC, today to hold a field hearing on general purpose reloadable prepaid cards, commonly known as prepaid cards. If you’re looking for our livestream, you’ve come to the right place.

Today’s live events have now ended. You can watch the recording below, or read CFPB Director Richard Cordray’s remarks.

If you missed the event, CFPB Director Richard Cordray announced that the Bureau is asking for comments about general purpose reloadable prepaid cards, referred to here simply as “prepaid cards”, through an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR). Before we act, we want your input. Here are some of the things we’re considering:

What steps could the Bureau take to most effectively regulate these products to provide the consumer with transparent, useful, and timely fee disclosures? Should market participants be required to provide disclosure pre-sale, post-sale, or both?

The Bureau intends to extend federal consumer protections to prepaid cards. Should proposed consumer protections be the same as for checking account debit cards? Should there be any modifications to protections as they are extended to prepaid cards?

Currently, most prepaid cards do not offer a savings account associated with the card. The Bureau seeks public input on the costs, and benefits, and consumer protection issues related to savings features offered with prepaid cards.

Additional questions are in the ANPR. Do you have questions or comments of your own to share? We’d love to hear them.

Sign up for our email list and we’ll notify you when the comment period opens.

Here’s the recording of today’s panel and field hearing.

Empowering America’s consumers

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Last week, I joined the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as Assistant Director of the Office of Financial Empowerment, which is part of our Division of Consumer Education and Engagement. We share a common goal with our colleagues across the Bureau: to protect and empower all consumers. The Office of Financial Empowerment has a special focus on lower-income and economically vulnerable consumers – those who face barriers to accessing affordable financial products and services that meet their needs for credit, payments and transactions, and savings.

Our goals at the Office of Financial Empowerment are to:

  • Pursue program and policy initiatives that serve lower-income and traditionally underserved consumers;
  • Address the consumer finance challenges they face to accessing transactional services, savings, and credit;
  • Enable consumer friendly innovations that seek to meet their needs and that also promote financial capability;
  • Research, identify, spotlight, and promote the development of promising and effective practices that empower consumers and positively influence their financial decision-making;
  • Provide consumers with information and opportunities to improve their financial stability and build assets; and,
  • Engage with the public on targeted consumer finance issues as they relate to the underserved.

Millions of Americans continue to face real economic hardship. But we are encouraged by the new and growing initiatives that place access to affordable financial products and services – as well as asset-building – high on their agenda. From my years in the field, I’ve been privileged to know and collaborate with many people and organizations working on practical solutions to these issues.

Our work touches on and will be coordinated with our colleagues across the Bureau. We’ll connect with nonprofit organizations and a wide range of CFPB stakeholders in partnership with the CFPB’s Office of Community Affairs and Office of External Affairs.

Within the Division of Consumer Education and Engagement, we’ll work closely with the Offices of Financial Education and Consumer Engagement, which are already providing information and tools to the consumers and communities we serve. One recent example of their work is Ask CFPB. Ask CFPB is an interactive, user-friendly tool that provides consumers with more of the information they need – in plain language – to answer common financial questions and make sound financial decisions. We’ll also coordinate closely with the Office of Servicemember Affairs, the Office for Students, and the Office for Older Americans. Those Offices’ efforts to meet the needs of the populations they serve will frequently intersect with the work of the Office of Financial Empowerment.

There’s a lot of work to do, and a unique opportunity to make a big difference in the lives of millions of Americans. This is exactly why I joined the CFPB. In fact, this is the only job for which I would have left my previous career as President and CEO of the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, a nonprofit association of financial cooperatives dedicated to serving low-income and minority communities.

I’m proud to bring a broad range of experiences and perspectives to this role. I’ve helped start new credit unions in underserved areas, helped them obtain the technical and financial support they need to grow, and worked to build the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) movement. I’ve also had the privilege of serving on many boards over the years. I was especially excited by my work with New York City’s Office of Financial Empowerment, one of the leaders in establishing a network of such offices nationwide, pursuing promising initiatives to reach the underserved and underbanked.

Our Office has an energized, dedicated team with diverse experience and a strong commitment to our mission – Patty Avery, Desmond Brown, and Sarah Bainton Kahn – and I’m excited to join them. You’ll be hearing from us more soon, but don’t be shy in reaching out to us either. We’re all eager to hear from you.

Cliff Rosenthal is the CFPB’s Assistant Director for Financial Empowerment.

Save the date, Durham, NC!

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We invite you to participate in a field hearing in Durham, North Carolina on prepaid cards.

The field hearing will take place on Wednesday, May 23, 2012, at 12:00 noon in the Junior Ballroom of the Durham Convention Center, 301 West Morgan Street, Durham, NC.

The field hearing will feature remarks from Richard Cordray, CFPB Director as well as testimony from consumer and civil rights groups, industry representatives, and members of the public.

This event is open to the public and requires an RSVP. To RSVP, email your full name and your organizational affiliation (if any) to cfpb.events@cfpb.gov. Feel free to forward this invitation. Also check out our blog on May 23rd for a live stream of the event.

Notice about possible “sweepstakes” scam

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We are receiving inquiries from consumers about phone calls about a sweepstakes offer from the CFPB. The CFPB did not make these calls or direct others to make these phone calls on our behalf.

These phone calls may be malicious. To minimize the risk this type of call may present, we suggest if you receive such a call you do not provide any personal, consumer, or commercial information.

The CFPB continues to investigate this incident and will respond accordingly. We apologize for any inconvenience this incident may have caused you.

Chris Willey is the CFPB’s Chief Information Officer.