Prepared Remarks by Richard Cordray
Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
U.S. Conference of Mayors
January 18, 2012
Thank you so much for having me here today and a special thanks to my own mayor, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, for his invitation. I am especially pleased to be here speaking with you because my own roots are in state and local government. The challenges you face on a daily basis are the same challenges I have faced in Ohio.
As mayors, you see every day how consumer financial markets can affect cities, neighborhoods, and families. I am here because I want to kick off what I hope will be a very long conversation among us. My job at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is to make sure that consumer financial markets work for Americans. We will benefit tremendously from the insights you share with us from the frontlines. We are determined to contribute to your communities in return. We need to do this work together. When honest businesses prosper, your communities flourish. And when communities flourish, America’s economy can thrive in ways that are felt by all of our people.
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Every day you see your constituents using financial products with the goal of achieving prosperity through hard work and sound decisions. Mortgages allow families to invest in a home. Student loans make it possible to finance an education. But, as the past few years have revealed all too clearly, these products possess the potential to wreak havoc on consumers and the wider economy. In Ohio, I served as a Treasurer at both the state and local levels. In that capacity, I saw debts devastate people’s lives. A person gets very sick; a spouse loses a job; a parent gets swindled by a scam. Sometimes the responsibility for a spiraling debt resides with an individual. Sometimes it rests with financial service providers that ensnare their customers in complex products they don’t understand.
Individual financial problems can quickly become community problems. We saw that most starkly with the mortgage crisis. The foreclosure epidemic turned vibrant neighborhoods into desolate ghost towns, a dynamic that I saw firsthand in parts of Ohio. As you know better than anyone, vacant properties become not only eyesores but also magnets for drugs and crime. These properties often become a dead loss and need to be razed. Neighbors watch their own property values decline, and parents worry about their children’s safety. The entire community is harmed, and, as always seems to be the case, cities bear the bottom-line cost of problems created by others. In this manner, predatory lending can assault the foundations of stable communities, with the damage taking years and years to repair.
When I was working at the state and local level, I was frustrated by many consumer problems that transcended boundaries and could not be fully addressed within the scope of our jurisdiction. The stories I heard were both appalling and heart wrenching. And in an economy where budgets are tightening, the resources available for consumer protection are simply not enough. That too was exasperating for me. You feel like David fighting Goliath with a few rocks and not even a sling.
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The good news is that you have an eager partner in the new Consumer Bureau. We know that we cannot always be everywhere that we want to be. By joining forces with you, we hope to develop a frontline alert system so that the same scam is not trending unnoticed in several cities at the same time. I know how valuable your insight is and how vulnerable our communities are if it is ignored. When we saw real estate flipping scams exploding on a mass scale and could not get the attention of federal officials, we knew we were in serious trouble.
One of the notable features of the new Consumer Bureau is that we have the authority to regulate and supervise these practices that have too often proliferated among nonbank financial providers, including mortgage lenders, mortgage servicers and payday lenders. You know better than anyone who the predatory lenders are in your communities and we want to work with you to identify them.
We want to be your partner in promoting responsible behavior by financial institutions and consumers alike. Too often, important credit products such as mortgages, student loans, credit cards, and others are accompanied by impenetrable jargon and dense fine print. Your citizens’ livelihoods have been threatened by such financial traps – and you have taken action. We commend you for the success of your DollarWise campaign. You have awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars to cities across the nation to fund and operate financial education and other programs. Every community needs these types of programs, and we would like to hear your feedback on what works well and what does not.
We want to be a resource to you by producing financial education materials that you can share with your constituents. We have launched a program entitled Know Before You Owe. This effort seeks to clarify the important choices and pitfalls that Americans face when buying a house, making decisions about college, or choosing a credit card.
Another way we can be a resource is through our Consumer Response team. We are already taking complaints about mortgages and credit cards – with more products to come. We contact the financial institutions on behalf of consumers if they have a complaint; and the institutions are expected to resolve and close all but the most complicated complaints within 60 days. But we cannot help unless people bring their complaints to us. So please, use our services at consumerfinance.gov.
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On our website, we have been soliciting stories about people’s experiences with financial services of all kinds. Already, we have heard thousands of stories from across the country, likely the same kinds of stories you hear every day. A family is faced with leaving their home because of a fraudulent mortgage agreement. A single mother takes out a payday loan that eventually forces her to declare bankruptcy. Maybe you have found innovative ways to tackle the problems raised in these kinds of stories. If you have, we want to hear about it and share it with others. Together, we can build a national financial system that actually works for responsible consumers – a marketplace in which they do not have to worry about scores of financial products that are actually designed to scam and exploit them.
Every step we take that gets us closer to that system will have a positive impact on communities by helping honest businesses and consumers make the most of their opportunities. With you as an active partner, we can work together to improve people’s financial lives. By working every day to protect consumers, we will do our part to help fashion a more resilient economy and a stronger country. Thank you.
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