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Did the dissection of the CFPB by the American Banker go too far?

Unusual embargo times are not so unusual

April 1, 2014
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It’s been a big year for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. For one, the notable Qualified Mortgage rule officially went in effect. But regulation aside, the industry also cracked down on its scrutiny of the new agency.

In mid-March, the head of the House Financial Services Committee called on CFPB director Richard Cordray to open up its four advisory council meetings to the public and press.

“Instead of operating behind closed doors, it’s time for the CFPB to live up to its oft-stated commitment to transparency and openness. In the interest of true, genuine transparency and open government, Director Cordray can and should use ‘Sunshine Week’ to take immediate steps that bring the CFPB into the sunlight,” U.S. Rep. and HFSC Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, said in a written and video statement.

However, a recent article in the American Banker presents a different spin on the regulators issues…its embargoes.

The article centers on a recent forum the CFPB held last year, where it paid an audience member to attend and speak in the question and answer session. That is definitely a credit, a real scoop for the storied publication for finding something fishy:

It is common for agencies to pay for members of advisory boards and even witnesses to attend sponsored events, but funding the travel arrangements of audience members is not the policy of other regulators or the CFPB itself.

And the twist is that Harry Douglas Lane, former auto dealer turned fierce consumer advocate, didn’t give CFPB exactly what they were looking for.

When it came time for Q&A this is what Lane asked (2:08:50)

"I just want to know from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Is this really going to have teeth, are you really going to protect the retail automotive consumer?" he asked. "Or is this just going to be a happy talk thing?"

The article noted the CFPB responding to the story saying:

"To my knowledge, we have not paid travel expenses for audience members to attend any of our other public forums," according to Jennifer Howard, a spokeswoman for the CFPB. "We do not plant people in the audience and have no reason to do so. Our events, both in the field and in Washington, attract a wide range of stakeholder perspectives and we welcome that. We work hard to make sure that all sides have a chance to be heard, including and especially those who disagree with the approach the bureau is taking on a particular issue."

This goes far enough. Or should I say, would have gone?

The article mentions that one of the biggest differences between the CFPB and other banking regulators is its frequent use of midnight information embargoes.

Embargoes allow reporters to receive information before the industry in order to have ample time to write it up.          

However, since the CFPB is regulating the industry why should it not adopt these practices?

The article said that midnight embargoes are extremely rare among banking regulators. But, it is common among the very entities it is overseeing.

Mortgage Bankers Association, RealtyTrac and Clear Capital, to name a few, all do longer extended embargoes. Many at midnight.

But in the end, does it really make that significant of a difference to the consumer?

An embargo, after all, is something the consumer will never see. 

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