One year ago, Congress passed and President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which created this new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (the CFPB). This law establishes a single point of accountability to assure that markets for consumer financial products work for American consumers and for responsible providers of those products. On July 21, the CFPB starts this work, and it will be a cop on the beat to enforce the laws on credit cards, mortgages, student loans, prepaid cards, and other kinds of financial products and services. The purpose of is to summarize in one place what we’ve been up to.
The consumer bureau’s statutory obligations are designed to make markets for consumer financial products and services work in a fair, transparent, and competitive manner. This means, in part, creating a level playing field where all providers of consumer financial products and services are subject to meaningful oversight to ensure that they play by the rules. It also means creating a level playing field where both parties to the transaction – the customer and the lender – can understand the terms of the deal, where the price and the risk of products are made clear, and where direct comparisons can be made from one product to another.
Americans aren’t looking for a free ride. They expect to be held responsible for their debts and purchases. And they understand that there are consequences to not keeping up with payments. When consumers are presented with a choice between two financial products, and they know the true costs, the actual benefits, and the real risks of those products, they will be better able to make good decisions for themselves and their families. A level playing field encourages personal responsibility and smart decision-making.
Americans are looking for an honest marketplace. They want to know the costs up-front, so that they’re not blindsided by hidden fees, interest rate changes, or payment shocks. A properly functioning market relies on consumers’ getting the information necessary to make the best decision for themselves and their families. Consumers have the power to drive markets, but only if they’re provided with the basic information that lets them choose products that meet their needs and reject those that do not.
Across the country, there are responsible financial institutions offering products and services that provide real value to their customers. But finding those products in a sea of fine print and complex terms can overwhelm even the most diligent consumers.
If there is a lesson from the past five years, it’s this: We all lose when consumers cannot readily determine whether they can afford to pay back their loans. We all lose when lenders routinely sell credit in ways that hide the risks and costs. We all lose when a broken consumer credit system magnifies risks throughout the economy. We can do better.
At the consumer bureau, we will do better. Over the past year, we have built a strong foundation, and, in the years ahead, the CFPB will work hard for consumers across the country.
Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury on the CFPB