Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Consumer Advisory Board Meeting
Los Angeles, CA
May 15, 2013
Thank you, Zixta. We are excited to be hosting this Consumer Advisory Board meeting on the West Coast. And we are especially pleased to be here in the “City of Our Lady Queen of the Angels,” in its abbreviated Spanish version, fittingly enough for our topic today. Apparently Denzel Washington once said, “In Los Angeles, everyone is a star.” So we have come here seeking some of that stardust for the people we serve. At the very least, every one of you who took time to be here today is a consumer finance star. And your input is integral to our mission of improving how markets work for consumers in this country.
When I spoke to the Board earlier this year, I laid out some of the problems and dynamics we have been seeing on multiple fronts. With your help, we have been working diligently to address these issues. Today, I will focus on our crucial task of connecting with consumers, which we must do well in order to help them properly. In particular, it is important that we connect with those who may be new to the American economy and in need of sensible protections.
When I served in state and local office in Ohio, I began to take part in naturalization ceremonies, which I found to be as moving and inspiring as anything I have encountered in our government. To me, these festive occasions fully embody what Walt Whitman called these United States: a “Nation of nations.” People still are coming from all over the world, through fascinating personal journeys, with a deep determination to become our fellow citizens.
Just think of that! Think about turning your whole world upside-down because you have the courage and the optimism to stake your life on trying something entirely new. And for people to want to do that by coming to America – that is the single highest compliment they could pay to this country. People overcome the obstacles to make a new home among us because they share our ideals. They believe in this nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all are created equal. At these events, I am deeply humbled to hear the fascinating stories of how our newest compatriots have managed to make their way here, self-consciously choosing to earn for themselves the same freedoms and future prospects that I have simply and happily known because of the accident of my birthplace.
For many of those who come to this country, the American Dream offers an opportunity to work hard – not only to support themselves and their immediate families, but also to help support the loved ones they left behind and may never see again. International money transfers, known as remittances, from the United States to Latin America are estimated by researchers to total billions or even tens of billions of dollars every year.
Just last month, we finalized our remittance rule that will bring new protections to those who send money abroad. Before now, little or no protection existed for those sending remittance transfers. Many have lacked confidence in this marketplace, and may have chosen instead to risk the hazards of sending money internationally by mail or to bear the inconvenience of waiting to entrust it to someone who could carry it for them to the intended destination. In the wake of our finalizing the new remittance rule, we are hearing that other countries are watching closely to see how the new process works out and are considering the adoption of similar provisions to govern remittance transfers by their citizens as well.
As is the case in all financial markets, a better and sounder process will build consumer confidence and attract consumer demand over time. New disclosures mean that all consumers will now be better aware of fees and exchange rates before they send money. When they can know and understand the terms ahead of time, they will be better able to shop around for the best deal. New protections against errors should also bolster confidence that this mechanism for transferring funds is worthy of trust and confidence. The rule will take effect in the fall, and we are working closely with industry to make sure they understand these provisions and can implement them effectively. And the Consumer Bureau will be in a position to ensure that the law is enforced in an evenhanded manner, so that all competitors will be playing by the same new requirements.
At the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, we earnestly believe in the fundamental principles of openness and fairness. We know that financial products and services represent much more than mere transactions or forms; they actually define the ways and means of our everyday lives. Consumers deserve to have the clear information they need to make good choices, choices that enhance their lives and empower them to succeed. We see financial literacy and financial capability as essential components of citizenship. It is important to learn not only how to participate in our democracy, but also how to play an independent role in the free market economy that is so foundational to the arrangement of our society. And so we are now making a strong push for making more personal finance education available to everyone in this country. Our efforts range from methods of instruction for students enrolled in our K-12 schools to a new “Money Smart” curriculum we are currently developing with the FDIC that will be made available to older Americans.
Like many consumers, immigrant communities may struggle to understand consumer financial products and services. Their struggles are compounded by cultural adjustments and language barriers, which can make them prime targets for exploitation. Recognizing these challenges, we wanted to provide our Spanish-speaking audience with access to clear, unbiased information about financial products and services. Therefore, today we are unveiling “CFPB en Español.” More than 50 million Latinos are living in the United States today. They represent one out of six Americans, and that proportion is rising. Notably, among those Latinos who are online, nearly two-thirds of them tend to access the Internet from a mobile device.
CFPB en Español represents our first foray into mobile technology. The members of the Board saw a demonstration of it earlier today. We started with “AskCFPB,” which is our interactive, user-friendly database to help answer consumers’ questions in plain language. It is an objective information resource for consumers. We took 250 of the AskCFPB questions and answers, and we now have published them in Spanish. We also optimized the content so that it can be easily viewed on both a computer and a mobile device. At the same time, we have been translating a number of our informational brochures into Spanish also. We hope to use today’s discussion to build on this work. We want to expand our website to include more Spanish resources and then to build more tools in other languages so that we can reach as many consumers as effectively as possible.
We also are mindful of our responsibility to make sure that the costs, risks, and terms of financial products and services are understandable for consumers. We believe that foreign language disclosures and customer service communications are critical parts of this broader responsibility. As Congress sensibly directed, the remittance rule requires that where companies advertise in a foreign language, they must be able to provide mandatory disclosures in that same language. We are also testing Spanish-language forms as part of our project to integrate and streamline federal mortgage disclosures. As we learn from these initial projects, we intend to engage in a broader dialogue about how providers of consumer financial products and services can address foreign language issues and the Bureau’s role in improving communications. In situations where certain providers are deliberately using language barriers as a means of exploitation, such as “bait and switch” tactics in different languages, we will be particularly concerned that this approach is not being used to trip up consumers.
In all of our efforts, hearing from the public is critical to help us assess how best to use our tools to improve the workings of consumer financial markets. We encourage consumers to tell us their personal stories on our website, at www.consumerfinance.gov. And people can submit consumer complaints about mortgages, credit cards, auto loans, student loans, bank accounts, credit reporting, and remittances. We also take complaints over the telephone in more than 180 languages, including Spanish, at (855) 411-CFPB. We want all consumers, including those newest to our country, to know that they have a place to turn when they have a problem with a consumer financial product or service. The customer may not always be right, but the customer certainly deserves to have someone who will take the time to listen and, where justified and appropriate, try to do something about it.
At the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, our mission is to make consumer financial markets work for consumers and to protect people against predatory practices. Engaging with and educating consumers is essential to that mission. Today, we have unveiled new ways to connect with Spanish-speaking consumers that complement our existing consumer tools. We will continue to build up our capacity to reach consumers, particularly those who are new to this country and who may be struggling to overcome language and cultural barriers to finding the opportunity that attracted them to America in the first place.
Some of us are first-generation Americans, some are second-generation, and others have forebears who have been here longer. But we are all the same when it comes to expecting and deserving a fair shake. We are all the same in deserving finally to have someone who stands on our side, protects us against fraud, and sees to it that we are treated fairly in the financial marketplace. That is what drives our work at the Consumer Bureau, and that is what we are determined to do for this country.
I look forward to our discussions today and to hearing your thoughts on these topics. Thank you.