As consumers of financial products and services, you deserve a Bureau designed to serve and listen to you, the American people. Last week I met with staff from the Division of Consumer Education and External Affairs (CEEA). During the meeting, I listened to CEEA leadership and staff suggest how CEEA could most effectively implement my policy priorities. Today, I shared with CEEA what I am asking of them.
The directions I provided today will ensure consumer voices are heard throughout, and at every level, of the Bureau. From rulemaking to COVID education to increasing racial equities to punishing bad actors, CEEA will seek out, listen to, and integrate consumer voices into all Bureau priorities. I encourage you to read the full text below:
I want to convey my broad vision for the Division of Consumer Education and External Affairs (CEEA) in the coming months, as I recently did for RMR and SEFL.
As you know, my policy priorities for the CFPB are (1) relief for consumers facing hardship due to COVID-19 and the related economic crisis and (2) racial equity. So, I’d like to provide clear guidance on how CEEA’s work can immediately advance the CFPB’s priorities at this crucial moment.
Protecting economically vulnerable consumers is core to the mission of the CFPB and one of the reasons the agency was created. We know that the pandemic has hit certain populations especially hard. The National Guard and Reserve activations for pandemic response have been critical to our communities, but costly to those servicemembers and their families. Current college students and recent graduates are facing a mountain of student debt during very uncertain economic times. The death toll and economic stress for those in elder care and nursing homes has been unimaginable. Persistent and pernicious racial inequality continues to compound these problems exponentially for Black and Brown people.
Moving forward CEEA should redouble its efforts to ensure the Bureau engages all consumers who are economically suffering. As I said before, a change in strategic direction is not a reflection on the quality of the work performed by Bureau staff over the past several years. I know that the dedicated staff in CEEA has consistently championed vulnerable populations and advocated for engaging directly with the people we serve. I eagerly anticipate this agency doing exactly that.
One of my top priorities is making sure that consumers who submit complaints to us get the response and the relief they deserve. Consumer complaints are our lifeblood; our direct connection to consumers in distress, and they are at an all-time high right now. I understand that some companies have been lax in meeting their obligation to respond to complaints. It is the Bureau’s expectation that companies provide substantive responses that address the issues consumers describe in their complaints. I also understand that consumer advocates have found disparities in some companies’ responses to Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. This is unacceptable. I have asked Consumer Response to prepare a report highlighting the companies with a poor track record on these issues. We will be publishing this analysis and the senior leadership of these companies can expect to be hearing from me.
Given the urgency of engaging consumers about their rights amidst the ongoing pandemic, the Bureau must move swiftly to reach those whose financial lives are most precarious in this moment. To help consumers navigate the housing protections for those affected by COVID, I have asked CEEA to:
- Target Bureau resources to reach and help struggling homeowners in delinquency or at risk of foreclosure and renters at risk of eviction to ensure they know their rights.
- Ramp up our coordination efforts with other agencies to provide help and information to at-risk homeowners and renters.
- Collaborate with coalitions of stakeholders, including consumer advocates, civil rights groups, grassroots, community-based organizations, and individual consumers to get these messages to homeowners in languages and terminology they understand.
- Help ensure homeowners and renters can access HUD-approved housing counseling organizations to help them manage the challenges they face due to financial hardships brought on by COVID.
In order to re-orient our work squarely on consumers, I have also directed CEEA to:
- Lead a refresh of our website's look-and-feel so it is more user friendly, focused on consumers rights, and signals that in no uncertain terms, we are on their side. And expand our social media presence so that we hear directly from the people we serve. To reach consumers where they are, we must keep up with how people access information regardless of device or form.
- Aggressively rebuild and repair our relationships with consumer, civil rights, racial justice, and tribal and Indigenous rights groups. We cannot execute on these bold ideas unless we robustly engage with external stakeholders who support economically vulnerable consumers.
Elevating the voices of those consumers who are suffering due to the pandemic and from racial inequity is the most important way to ensure that the CFPB is doing the best we can for those who need our help the most at this moment in history. The Bureau must transition from treating consumer input as mere anecdotes or stories to a world in which the experience of our neighbors, our families, and our communities serve as crucial data that drives our policymaking. I rely on CEEA to spearhead these efforts and have great confidence that they will deliver.
Acting Director Uejio