WORD ON THE STREET: The success of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau depends on our accessibility to the American public. So from the moment we opened our doors more than a year ago, we have been building a direct relationship with the consumer. We deeply believe that we must hear from Americans about their experiences in the marketplace because, as Mark Twain once observed, ‘The public is the only critic whose opinion is worth anything at all.’
We have pursued our connection with consumers in a number of ways. The ‘Tell Your Story’ function on our website lets people tell us about their personal experiences. Our team is also taking complaints about credit cards, student loans and mortgages, with other products to be added as we move forward. We have hosted hundreds of meetings with consumer, industry and advocacy groups. And we have held meetings with small business review panels to get their feedback on proposed rules.
Every month, we have been holding field hearings and town hall meetings across the country in libraries, museums, and colleges. We have also gone to military bases and senior centers to talk to vulnerable populations. In all of these ways, we are seeking to hear from as many consumers from as many walks of life as possible about their experiences with a broad array of consumer financial products and services.
I am very happy to kick off another key element of our developing relationship with the public – our Consumer Advisory Board. These 25 experts – drawn from outside the federal government, from around the U.S. and from varying backgrounds – will provide advice to me and to the entire bureau leadership. They will be a source of guidance on the issues we are working to address and on trends in the consumer financial marketplace.
They will also help us think about how to engage most effectively with the public. We intend and expect to have candid discussions that draw on their distinct viewpoints. What we hope to foster is a conversation that blends their suggestions and advice in a productive way.
The board members truly represent the interests of the diverse people and communities that we serve. From Hawaii to New York, they cover the breadth of our country and the diverse American population of consumers. They are an eclectic group, comprising bank and credit union executives, consumer advocates and community development experts.
Some have experience with consumer protection issues. Others are experts when it comes to financial markets, financial regulation or consumer financial law. All of them care about consumers and are showing their commitment to public service. We greatly respect and appreciate their willingness to take on this task. So to each new member of the Consumer Advisory Board, we say, ‘Thank you.’
As a brand-new agency, we are able to do things in new ways. We are working to make research and market analytics core to everything that we do. We use data – lots of data – and a team of world-class economists, social scientists and market veterans to figure out what the data means.
But we also value public participation. We intend to remain engaged with the public, sharing with them not only what we are doing but how we are doing it. The Consumer Advisory Board will help us achieve these goals.
A good example of our approach is our ‘Know Before You Owe’ initiatives in mortgages, credit cards and student loans. On the mortgage project, before we began designing the sample forms, we reached out to the public, to industry participants and to market experts to learn which disclosures are helpful to consumers, which are not, and when the consumer is suffering from information overload. We displayed the forms on our website and invited comments from stakeholders, which we received by the tens of thousands. By the time our proposed rule came out in July, we had taken into consideration ten rounds of testing with consumers and industry and public feedback on multiple prototype forms for 18 months.
We are operating this way because we do not believe we have a monopoly on good ideas to help consumers. We welcome new ideas and new perspectives, and we believe the public has much to teach us about the answers to some of the hard problems we must address. And so we are not hesitant to solicit ideas from all comers.
At the CFPB, we are making it our mission to be the people's advocate and the people's champion. The financial crisis happened in part because there was not a strong focus on consumers or their problems. We want the American public to know that we are listening and we are here to stand on your side.
So let me end by reaching out to everyone who may be listening and ask you to take the opportunity to speak directly to us. Go to our website to give us feedback on some of our proposed rules, to comment on our blogs or just to share your story with us.
Richard Cordray is director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This article is adapted and edited from remarks delivered Sept. 27 at the Consumer Advisory Board meeting in St. Louis. The original text is available online.