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Working together to empower consumers

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In my first blog post I wrote that part of our work in the Office of Financial Empowerment is connecting with people and organizations around the country that are building financial stability for low-income and other economically vulnerable Americans.

Last week, over 400 participants joined CFPB Director Richard Cordray, Division of Consumer Education and Engagement Associate Director Gail Hillebrand, and me for a conference call that marked our office’s formal launch. We were thrilled to have participants from a wide range of stakeholders in our work, including financial institutions, community-based organizations, social services, and local governments.

On the call, Director Cordray shared that one of the office’s key goals is to help empower consumers to better understand how different financial choices and products impact their financial lives and how to take control of their financial lives. He emphasized that the office will also work with others across the Bureau to help create protections in the marketplace for the most economically vulnerable consumers.

The Bureau’s resources and focus on consumer protection and empowerment place it in a unique position. We’ll use that position to develop tools for consumers and those who serve them, spotlight innovation and best practices, and engage with consumers who haven’t been well-served by their financial products.

All of this work will be informed by listening to organizations in the field. In fact, that outreach is crucial to the work’s success. We’ve already had conversations and visits with some of you. In those discussions we’ve heard what seem to us to be crucial, sensible lessons for addressing the financial challenges faced by low-income and other economically vulnerable people.

As we continue our outreach, we know that to reach consumers where they are, we need to identify the “touch points” where people are in contact with agencies and programs that deliver services and benefits. And as we find ways to work together, we can connect their clients to tools and resources that help them make the most of their money. Tools and resources to better enable consumers to choose financial products and services that help them reach their goals, not set them back.

As Director Cordray shared on the call, we cannot do this work alone. We approach our tasks with full appreciation and respect for the groundbreaking work organizations and institutions across the country have already done, and continue to do. I hope to work together to bring solutions to low-income and economically vulnerable consumers – solutions that are cost-effective, consumer-friendly, scalable, and sustainable both for consumers and providers. It’s not a small job, but it’s one we can achieve together.

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.