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The CFPB and the Religious Community


Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau implementation team will hold a roundtable at the White House with key leaders from the religious community.

At the new consumer bureau, we spend a lot of time listening. We know that when Americans feel overwhelmed by financial problems, many of them turn to their ministers or other spiritual leaders for support. These leaders witness—up close and personal—the devastation that a financial crisis leaves in its wake. We are particularly interested in hearing from these community leaders about what they are seeing on the ground—what financial issues their congregations are confronting and what people of faith are doing to help.

We also know that religious leaders across the country are wrestling with the moral dimensions of the financial crisis of 2008. The crisis revealed how the financial system permitted lenders to hide the true costs and risks of mortgages and to steer those who trusted them into products they did not understand. While some people profited from this business model, across the country, millions more suffered through foreclosures, crippling debt, or bankruptcy. Personal gain for a few came at the expense of all, as risky and complicated mortgage products brought the entire economy to its knees.

My many conversations with community banks have also reminded me that many lenders offered their products in a fair and transparent manner, only to find themselves in competition with other lenders that were willing to misrepresent the price or hide risks, all in an effort to boost their own profits or market share.

Nor were the problems confined to lenders. The system also permitted some borrowers to take risks that not only hurt themselves, but also hurt their neighbors by driving the value of property higher and then pushing it off a cliff when those borrowers defaulted on their loans. Recklessness hurt us all.

Ultimately, the financial crisis harmed both our pockets and our principles. The moral dimensions of the crisis run deep. No one should forget that, for many centuries, consumer protection laws have been deeply rooted in religious and moral traditions. The laws have changed, but the basic notion that lending should not be used as an instrument of advantage-taking is deeply embedded in our collective consciousness.

Many people of faith and conscience fought diligently for the consumer bureau because they saw that the attitudes and practices that caused the financial crisis did not reflect our common values. Enacting the new CFPB was a David-versus-Goliath fight, but, in the end, American families triumphed.

With this new consumer bureau, we have an opportunity to provide a direct line of support to American families. We will start by working to ensure that consumers get the information they need to make the financial decisions they believe are best for themselves and their families—that prices are clear up front, that risks are visible, and that important terms are not buried in fine print.

By requiring increased transparency, the new consumer bureau can add both to the economic security of American families and to the overall strength of our economy. It can also provide a level playing field in which all lenders will be required to follow the rules. But we know that without values, our rules will be hollow. That is why the success of this moment also depends upon individuals exercising their responsibility toward one another and acting in a way that reaffirms our common values and shared humanity.

Here at the consumer bureau, we understand that economic security is not just about numbers on a balance sheet; it is about families trying to care for themselves and others, to secure all they hold dear. It needs to be valued as such. I’m looking forward to today’s conversation.

  • anonymous

    I would like it made clear that the CFPB should not meet with any particular religious representative unless it is clear that those who purposefully choose no religion are also represented equally.

    • DL Atkinson

      Can we seriously stay on task here? Is this blog and website about atheism and atheist “rights” or about financial protection for consumers? Since most people in the US are religious and practically no one is an atheist I think “equal representation” of atheist’s would be to include one in a discussion every five years.

      • Dr. J. Kelly

        I am sorry, but I am one of those people that you don’t believe exists, and has no right of speech, since I don’t ascribe to your dogma. Our Constitution was built on the right of everyone, not just those that are “socially correct”. It is called separation of Church and State and when the state starts leaning on input from the religious community, rather on the input of individuals, you start to disregard the rights of others. As so many religions say, “If you don’t believe in MY RELIGION then your opinion doesn’t matter.” Yes, we must stay on task and that is to listen to all input not just those that are “Religious” – Today we can see the results of the Religious in the response of the radical Muslim’s, in response to the radical christians and their holy war called the Crusades!

        • Lee

          Your implication is that the religious community is not made up of individuals who have the same right to be heard that you are seeking. It makes sense that information gathering is more efficient when speaking to a small number of people (religious leaders) who represent a greater number of individuals and can provide information regarding overall trends. As an atheist, you may want to look at how you are represented and who the leaders are which could be polled to determine trends in another segment of society. I did not get the impression that they were seeking only input from the religious community, but more a means to interact with those who would be consulted by a large number of individuals in the event of financial hardship.

      • Charlie Jensen, Florida

        I often run into people who are surprised to discover that I and several others in our own circle are non-theists. Religious people don’t understand that non-theists will virtually never try to push their lack of belief on another. They only bother to identify themselves when some religious agenda is being followed that not just offends them but most often infringes on their rights.
        The complaint in this issue of a White House conference with only religious leaders is not that they meet, but the fear that the evangelical right will monopolize whatever effort comes out of the meetings.

  • Business Plan Template

    Great article. Bank lending has been dicey at best in recent years. Many people whose jobs have disappeared and not come back have looked into starting their own businesses. For many of these people it’s really about “starting a job.” A too-often-unused source of funding is available for these situations. It’s called the SBA Microloan. Unlike traditional SBA loans, SBA Microloans are actually made by the government (not just by a bank and guaranteed by the government). The cap is $35,000–enough to help most people tool themselves with what they need to become gainfully self-employed. Those who liked this article will be happy to hear that “character” is one of the factors considered in whether an SBA microloan should be granted.

  • Jere Douglas

    I believe this is about transparency in every aspect of the process and totally inclusive of everyone. I applaud these efforts,all of them and I do believe the responsibility for education and teaching responsibility lies more with the parents than the shools.

  • Sweetwc

    There are more than a few greedy charletons. To level the playing field so ethically responsible institution banks and mortgage companies can compete sounds great. Our local banks have to look at the bottom line too and need to keep the investors satisfied.

    We need some judges that understand the intent and spirit of the CPA is to encourage and slap the hands of persons, executives, and businesse that are clearly set up to take advantage. The letter of the law does not always cover the intent of the law.

  • Ozzie Mandias

    This blog was the subject of an op-ed piece on the mortgage banking site

  • Jennifer

    Separation of church and state is not a new concept. Why would the newly formed CFPB need to reach out to the religious community to help out the consumer economic position of the United States? Here’s a thought…start making the churches pay taxes, then we can discuss the economic condition with religious communities.

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