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We want to hear from you: Consumer Education and Engagement at the CFPB

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I’ve just joined the CFPB as the Associate Director for Consumer Education and Engagement. I come from outside Washington, D.C., and from outside government. I moved across the country to do this job because, like my colleagues, I believe in the mission of the CFPB. That mission is to promote a fair, transparent, and competitive financial marketplace in which consumers can easily compare financial products and have the information they need to make the best choices for themselves and their families. As I get started, I want to tell you a bit about our work and ask for your thoughts.

My team and I will focus on two big tasks: financial education and consumer engagement. Consumers with financial knowledge and tools are an essential part of a fair, transparent, and competitive market. Consumer engagement refers to our work sharing ideas and information with consumers and listening to the experiences and views of consumers. Together, these initiatives will enhance the other work the CFPB will do for consumers: handling consumer complaints; understanding markets; making or amending rules where necessary; and ensuring compliance with applicable rules through supervision and enforcement.

The Consumer Education and Engagement team will work to reach you, the American consumer, wherever you are. We will focus on what is helpful and usable. We recognize that we will need to provide a variety of tools and approaches to respond to the different types of financial choices you face.

Our primary focus in financial education is simple: We will promote what works. We will identify proven, effective forms of education that help consumers make their own sound financial choices. We will work with a variety of experts: educators, consumer organizations, economists, researchers, and community leaders. We will focus on how to help consumers understand the financial choices they need to make. Our goal is to help consumers understand the costs, risks, and benefits of financial products as they decide whether to buy those products.

Financial products change so fast that our work may focus more on the types of questions to ask and things to consider than on the details of each and every complicated product. At the same time, throughout the CFPB, we will work to make the costs, risks, and benefits of financial products more transparent. We will also talk about the value of savings. Even a small emergency fund can protect you and your family. When you have a financial emergency, that fund gives you a choice you wouldn’t otherwise have: between borrowing and using those savings.

The CFPB is focused on consumers, and we want to learn from you. We have an obligation to understand all types of consumers, including those who face unique types of financial markets or financial challenges. The Consumer Education and Engagement team has four offices dedicated to this task. We will talk to and listen to servicemembers, students, older Americans, and groups who have traditionally been underserved in the financial system. In response to those conversations, we will develop ways the CFPB can help address problems faced by those groups.

You may already know about the work of Holly Petraeus, who leads the Office of Servicemember Affairs. She has been visiting military bases and units across the country since January, talking about the financial challenges facing American men and women in uniform. Zixta Martinez leads our Community Affairs office and is reaching out to consumer groups, civil rights groups, community organizations, and others. Soon we will hire leaders in the fields of student financial issues and the special financial issues facing older Americans.

We want to hear from you and work with you. Please share your ideas with us. If there is a topic you think we should offer resources about, let us know. If you like what you see from us, consider reposting it, tweeting it, or sharing it with your friends both online and offline. If you have ideas about new tools that could make it easier to compare financial products, please share them. You can start by sharing this post with others, by commenting on this post, or by sending us an email.

  • Jason Zavala

    Ms. Hillebrand, a majority (not all) of consumer educational frameworks have been sorely lacking in content (incomplete and yet full of minutiae, informative coupled with a side of painfully dry, and much of it presumed a failing in intellect or capacity of the reader). It experienced vast market omissions – made and placed for the industry not the variants of consumer; interesting and yet digestible by too few end users. There has been a dearth of applicable behavioral modification tools and uptake trigger opportunities that we are so much more aware of now, so this is a must. And we need interface compatibility – I assume the intent is inherent in your post, but hope to see education that connects where the consumer is in 2015 not 1995, technologically speaking. I am hopeful to think that CFPB can avoid another uninteresting read for the sake of preserving the grey of government. I anticipate that you can serve a myriad of markets all a little better. Please point infrequently to anything built prior to 2008. Given a choice between watching Wheel of Fortune and learning how not to harm ourselves, we need help righting the ship of acting vacantly when engaged financially, so I hope your division can edu-tain us.

  • http://www.facebook.com/doug.loera Doug Loera

    My biggest concern as of late with the financial market has been the complexity of the situation. People convince you of their trust on a personal level, yet in reality they are representing false realities. Though we would all enjoy a rather trusting handshake to settle a deal, our contemporary notion of financial situations have become impersonal and extremely complex. Business standards have fallen far beyond sub-par, and this needs to be fixed on so many levels. Most of us don’t have all the time in the world to consider the varying notions that are portrayed to us. As a 23 year old college student who is overwhelmed by classes and work, I can’t truly figure out all of the details presented to me by smooth-talking individuals representing large credit card companies. We need to become more educated as both a society, and as individuals. Yet, our current system seems to misrepresent, and even lie at times, the matters by which we settle. I can’t actually go to a singular person and truthfully find out what is going on. Even if I can get a lawsuit against some large company, I’d be crushed by their money and influence. We need a greater emphasis on consumer protection, along with education for the middle and working classes. The top few percent have been riding on the backs of the poor for far too long.

  • Mark Bryant

    One of the major problems with purchasing financial products is the fine print of the contract that takes a team of legal experts to understand. I would like to see a rule where a team of legal experts must be supplied to you by the seller of these financial products to protect the buyers interest(s) and explain the risks associated with the product (especially insurance products) if the buyer cannot easily understand and comprehend the financial product.

  • Peter

    The fact that congress will, if allowed, slow, marginalize and cripple the CFPB should come as no surprise. Unfortunately,
    the lobbyists of the financial services industry have long known how to effectively shape and influence Washington policy. What we must help the CFPB to do is focus the taxpayers righteous indignation. Then with that bright spotlight; force
    the back room deals to become too costly for politicians who must look to newly awakened voters for reelection.Voters who
    are not only paying attention but keeping score.

    • Carole

      We, tax payers, need to wake up and pay attention. We need to hold our politicians accountable. It is time to do this – NOW. Thanks for your comments.

  • Matt

    I would like to echo Mark Bryant’s comment.

    I am a law student at a top 10 U.S. law school. I have studied banking and securities regulation extensively. I recently purchased a new laptop using a promotional offer from a Barclay’s credit card. I figured, heck, I know how to read these things better than anyone. I read the credit agreement; I found that the entire contract hinged on paying your “minimum payments” on time in order to qualify for their promotion. The problem is that the contract neither defines “minimum payment” nor tells you how you can calculate it.

    I was careful. I called Barclay’s. I asked for explanations. I asked them hypothetical questions. In short, I put in 90 minutes of time before executing the agreement. I’m satisfied that I did what I did, but I couldn’t help but think how screwed the average American consumer would be who signs up for this agreement, which purports to be a 0% good-as-cash financing offer, but nestles the words “must pay minimum payments” in fine print and then fails to define what those minimum payments are.

    Completely unrelated, I think this is an EXCELLENT website. It is not complicated. It is easy to read and navigate. And most importantly, it makes clear that the employees of the CFPB are working hard to help bring transparency to our financial markets. I genuinely hope Congress doesn’t defang this agency before some serious and good work is done. Kudos to you.

  • Mike

    Put measures in place so that down the road others who may follow in your footsteps won’t creep in and make null the bureau’s mandate. And keep it fighting trim too to avoid the pitfalls of other bureaucratic agencies.

  • Tim Horner

    I am so thrilled to be able to raise my kids in a country that has something that my generation never had growing up in the 80s: a voice. We have been conditioned to believe that anything less than an unfettered free market is socialism and dooms us to mediocrity. What a lie. The free market is based on game theory which is based on the assumption that we should do whatever is legal to get what you can from whomever you can. Defection and betrayal are the odds on favorite because we have been told that if we don’t do it first it will be done to us. That is pure market capitalism. What it wrongly assumes is that we are all equal. Nash’s Nobel winning equilibrium equation assumes that the selfish actions of the powerful are equal to the selfish actions of the weak. That is the lie, that is why the game is fixed to favor those who already have. If we do not have some kind of equalizing force that gives voice to th voiceless and power to the powerless, then the system will implode on its own false assumptive, which it did in early 2008. Regulation is not socialism, its not a threat to capitalism, it is the way to make capitalism work better. We also learned that wealth is not generated from nothing. We live in a world of limited resources, so I am glad to see that we may have figured out how to make our society more fair, more egalitarian, and a better version of capitalism that was sold to us by a few people who did not really understand human nature very well.

  • Carole Percifield

    I just watched Elizabeth Warren on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I have to write and say THANK YOU! I am so glad you are on this team. You were so passionate and inspirational. Again THANK YOU!

    • Howard

      Ditto!

  • http://www.facebook.com/keith.wilson2 Keith Wilson

    We are just finding out how the banks took billions (or was it trillions) in low interest loans intended to be used to free up the credit market and instead invested in higher interest treasury bonds, making as much as 3% on the spread. Will there be anything that this bureau can do in the future to prevent banks from misusing taxpayer funds in this or other ways, denying consumers and small businesses the financial credit that they may need?

  • Bob

    I really hope this institution is allowed to succeed. Keep up the good fight Ms. Warren!!!

  • Cander

    I’ve got a suggestion: How about letting the bankers and auto companies, which the middle class bailed out, use their bonus money to pay off the national debt. From the reports I’ve seen, this would only take one-year or less.

    Or how about this suggestion: Because the middle class are paying for the bail outs of the banks and auto companies, how about a redistribution of bonus money to the middle class. I mean we are owners of the companies, shouldn’t we get a share holder dividend?

    How long are the middle class going to sit around and get beat up and bullied by big business? This has been the story of America for too long. If not obvious before, it is obvious now that the congress is on the side of big business. The middle class bailed out the countries bankrupt businesses, the same businesses which we paid for our houses and cars, and are now being asked to pay even more in taxes. NO! MAKE BIG BUSINESS PAY FOR ONCE! The middle class has done their share.

    Please continue your fight for us and keep up the publicity work. We need everyone to realize what is happening. Please tell us exactly how we can help you. Provide us with email addresses, petitions, whatever it is that will help you stay alive and represent the real America.

  • Garyakendall

    Greetings, I just saw Elizabeth on Jon Stewart’s Comedy Central and she points out that while the debate was out in the public, the truth could be told. Now its behind closed doors, in committes run by people who want to stop this potection agency from helping people, in effect gutting it. How can we keep informed about what this committee is doing? thanks, Gary Kendall.

  • Josh McCormick

    Perhaps I may be picking nits, but I’d like to see more transparency in the companies such as Visa, PayPal, etc, which offer ‘buyer protection’ guarantees. I’ve been screwed over a few times in a transaction, and when I go to PayPal or Visa, I run into some random reason why their guarantee didn’t apply.

    One vendor didn’t believe they double charged my credit card. They asked for proof when the statement came in the mail. I sent them the statement. They said they’d process a refund. They didn’t. When I contacted Visa, they had me document everything, and then told me they couldn’t do a chargeback because it was over 60 days.

    PayPal has victimized me a few times as well. The latest one was when someone shipped broken products to me. Apparently, because the seller has ‘proof they shipped’, that was enough for PayPal to cancel its purchase guarantee.

    These companies need more light on them so that I actually know what they protect me from (and more often, what they do not).

    Of course, PayPal just needs more light in general, IMHO. But I’ll let you Google for the angry customers.

  • Abigail Covington

    Elizabeth Warren I love you and stand behind the work that you are doing. We NEED someone like you. WE NEED this bureau. If there is a way I can protest (politely) against the Republicans trying to derail you I will do so. Thank you so much for being compassionate and concerned.

  • Erick_15_h

    Take down the FTC. They claim to be this nation’s cosumer protection agency, but use ancient Roman techniques of “regulating anti-competitive conduct,” a euphemism for maintaining rigged markets.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UP3UY5XXFWJW647ZV3DJZSX5II C. Simmons

    I’d like for the Bureau to help educate us about FICO scores and to help make the factors that are considered in creating those more transparent. Apparently our financial life lives and dies by those scores, but I have no idea how those numbers are created or how they came to be so crucial to consumers. Same with the credit bureaus. Who are these people? And how do we as consumers insure that our credit reports are fair and honest assessments of our credit worthiness.

  • Ussmex

    I support this agency, but I need a place to support it more loudly. Where can I sign my name to a petition of support? I don’t want this agency getting “knifed in a back alley”. I want Elizabeth Warren, and more pragmatists like her, to have a larger role in my government.

    Is my only option to follow or “like” on social media. I don’t really do social media. Is there another way I can raise my voice?

  • Patte Lanus

    Thank you, Elizabeth Warren and everyone else, for taking up the challenge! The goal for the past 30 years has been to keep the populace both poor and ignorant; destroying the foundation of public schools by teaching each successive generation material to pass tests, but not how to critically and analytically think about anything. Each generation has been less and less prepared to make individual decisions based on facts, especially financial reality. This will help so many, but it must also be the beginning of changing our society to be less dependent on “experts” in any realm and more prepared to question. The time to bring the discussion back into the public forum is now–instead of focusing on nonsensical items, the media must be forced to report important issues. Helping the public understand financial matters is critical for survival, it must be brought back into the forefront of dicussion. Again, thank you for rising to the challenge!

  • Molly Mague

    Which bills are currently pending in either House or Senate that would pose any detrimental effects upon this agency and how can we follow them in order to lend public support through our state representatives to ensure that this agency will not be deterred in any way from representing and achieving the goals set forth- including funding and oversight? Having the direct links to the bills pending (as mentioned by Mrs. Warren on The Daily Show) would make access through this site to those various legislation attempts much easier. Thank You.

  • Charlie

    wanted you to know that when I searched for consumerfinance.gov the google page was populated with .org instead of your site?

  • Rmani888

    In another 3 months .. the 2012 election season will begin to take the country’s attention away from every other important thing such as CFPB. Although, it could also be a window of opportunity to get some things done.

  • Jay Ottawa

    You know, I know, and a lot of posters here know, but vast swaths of Americans don’t know that the CFPB — sound as it is in purpose — is not yet standing on solid ground. Elizabeth Warren is only a temporary director, and the CFPB’s authorizing legislation is already under threat. We hear that the usual suspects on Wall Street and in the corporate board rooms are lobbying hard right now to enfeeble your agency. We take note of limp-wristed support from within the administration, right up to the top. Well, you’re not their watchdog, you’re our watchdog. We can’t afford to see this agency muzzled and starved. Specifically, just for starters, how can supportive citizens insure (1) that Elizabeth Warren, passionate advocate that she is, will be THE NOMINEE of the White House for Director, then approved by the Senate, to lead the CFPB; and (2) that your authorizing legislation is not amended to the point that this watchdog agency ends up with no true dog whisperer and no teeth.

  • Paula Freston

    As a community college instructor who’s taught personal finance for 15 years, I have often been appalled at the financial ignorance of my students (who range in age from 18 – +50). I realize there are numerous groups working to improve financial literacy, but until your agency…or someone…serves as the national guide to bring all these disparate programs together under one umbrella, little will be accomplished. Only 15 states require personal finance education; why can’t it be integrated with the general learning outcomes of all math courses of students in K-12? Financial education and intervention cannot wait until the consumer reaches adulthood!

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