Elizabeth Warren isn’t sure of the security of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, given the expected assaults on regulation of any kind with an emboldened Republican caucus after the elections. Nevertheless, she has begun to ramp up the agency, with the expectation of having it ready for action in less than a year’s time.
On a conference call, Warren outlined the new developments at the bureau, which last week moved into new offices in Northwest Washington. Warren expects the staff to quickly outgrow the 30,000 square feet of office space there, and have to transition to a more permanent office location. Previously, consumer protection regulators were spread across multiple agencies and never housed under the same roof.
Over 50 employees staff the embryonic CFPB at this point, with that number expected to double over the next two months. “We have already received more than 1,500 resumes,” Warren said. Many of the current staff members are detailees from agencies which previously had consumer protection responsibilities. Total employees should reach into four digits by the time the agency is fully functioning. It will transfer into the Federal Reserve by July 21, 2011.
Prior to that time, Warren has engaged in a notable amount of outreach, speaking with consumer advocates, minority groups, labor, credit counselors, investors, community bankers and even CEOs and trade association leaders (“I have spoken directly with 14 CEOs of major banks and eight heads of major Washington trade associations,” she said on the call). These listening and outreach sessions are designed to understand the biggest challenges in consumer financial protection, and also to advance a number of ideas that Warren has advocated since becoming the de facto head of the proto-agency in September. For instance, Warren told the Financial Services Roundtable about her preference for principles-based approach, with short credit agreements that would allow consumers to easily comparison shop, instead of drawn-out agreements that comply with a raft of disclosure regulations.
Warren was in Ohio for one of these listening sessions with consumer advocates two weeks ago, and this week she’s scheduled to give an address at Berkeley about the role of information technology in helping to “propel the agency forward.” Warren has made no secret of her desire to use data as a way to get consumers maximum, easy-to-compare information when making a decision on a mortgage or a credit card.
The agency will be robust and ready to go, then, next July, provided it can fend off political attacks. And Warren’s conception, and significant outreach to all aspects of the financial world, insulate the agency in some manner from those attacks.