Perhaps reflecting a process as difficult as getting vehicle financing finalized for a customer with too little monthly income and too much debt burden and negative equity, the nearly six-month, politically divided slog to confirm Kathy Kraninger as the next director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reached a highly partisan finale on Thursday.
The Senate with its slight Republican majority voted 50-49 to install Kraninger as CFPB director for the next five years, triggering waves of applause from industry associations along with sharply worded disappointments from consumer advocates and Democrat lawmakers.
Kraninger arrived as the nominee back in June with then acting director Mick Mulvaney saying, “I have never worked with a more qualified individual than Kathy. Her commitment to the law, to protecting consumers and to defending what works in our vibrant financial services sector, all while respecting hard-working taxpayers who pay their bills and play by the rules ensures that the Bureau will be in good hands throughout her term.”
A week ago, the Senate barely approved invoking cloture to end debate about Kraninger’s nomination. And with the Capitol getting back to regular business following ceremonies and remembrances associated with the passing of President George H.W. Bush, a nearly identical composition of lawmakers voting in favor and opposition of cloture repeated the process for Kraninger’s confirmation.
SubPrime Auto Finance News collected and received an array of reactions to a permanent director now being in place at the bureau, beginning with the American Financial Services Association.
“The American Financial Services Association supports Kathy Kraninger as the next director of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (BCFP),” said Bill Himpler, president-elect of AFSA. “We believe that Ms. Kraninger is the right choice to lead the Bureau as someone with a sense of fairness and empathy toward the needs of consumers and credit providers. We hope that she’ll continue to provide more accountability and transparency to an agency that has operated in a cloak and dagger fashion in the past.”
American Bankers Association president and chief executive officer Rob Nichols began by congratulating Kraninger.
Nichols continued by stating ABA looks “forward to working with her to ensure consumers have access to and can make independent and informed choices among a wide variety of responsible financial products and services. We learned during her nomination hearing that she believes in promoting competition and appropriately tailoring regulations by taking into account both costs and benefits. We share those views, and believe those principles will benefit consumers while allowing banks to better serve their customers and innovate.
“We also appreciate the bureau’s reforms and outreach efforts under acting director Mick Mulvaney, particularly his work to gather input from stakeholders across the spectrum to make sure that rules and regulations are protecting consumers and promoting choice in the financial marketplace,” Nichols went on to say.
“Kraninger's management experience, her years of work on Capitol Hill and leadership roles in the executive branch will help her run the Bureau efficiently and hold it accountable to the American people. We wish her well in this important role,” Nichols added.
Meanwhile, Consumer Bankers Association president and chief executive Richard Hunt also praised Kraninger while touching on how deeply divided processes like her path to be confirmed isn’t necessarily the most prudent approach to regulation.
“CBA would like to congratulate Ms. Kraninger on her confirmation to this important position, one where she has the final say over virtually every financial institution in the country as well as almost every financial decision Americans make. We would also like to thank Mr. Mulvaney for his service over the last year as acting director,” Hunt said.
“We look forward to working with Ms. Kraninger on common-sense regulations that protect consumers while also allowing our well-regulated banking system to serve families and small businesses,” Hunt continued.
“CBA continues to support the shared mission of depoliticizing the Bureau and making it a gold standard regulator. In order to achieve these goals, the bureau needs a bipartisan commission to ensure a variety of voices and views are at the table during the rulemaking process,” Hunt went on to say.
Strong opposition from advocates and lawmakers
While AFSA, ABA and the CBA all saw Kraninger’s confirmation as a positive development for the financial system, organizations such as the Center for Responsible Lending and Allied Progress Center for Responsible Lending senior legislative counsel Yana Miles used a variety of negative descriptions to summarize that organization’s view.
“Mulvaney’s tenure at the CFPB wasn’t public service — it was service to predatory lenders,” Miles said. “The administration’s pattern of nominating unqualified, political candidates to important independent agencies, like the CFPB, is dangerous, misguided and will cause irreparable harm to families across the country.
“Kathy Kraninger’s inexperience and endorsement of Mulvaney’s destructive policies are gifts to bad financial actors who are hell-bent on using their predatory business model to rip off vulnerable consumers, especially consumers of color,” Miles continued.
Karl Frisch, executive director of Allied Progress, included a quick Q&A in his reaction to Thursday’s confirmation.
“Why did Republican Senators prioritize Kathy Kraninger’s confirmation during this lame-duck session of Congress when there are still so many unanswered questions about her qualifications and record? Political payback, plain and simple,” Frisch said.
“These Senators have taken millions in campaign cash from the very industries regulated by the CFPB, and they trust Kraninger’s commitment to continue Mick Mulvaney’s anti-consumer agenda,” Frisch continued.
“More than anything, they do not want someone leading the CFPB who will aggressively protect the interests of consumers from the likes of Wells Fargo, Equifax, payday lenders and other financial bad actors,” he went on to say.
Although the Senate had the task of evaluating and confirming Kraninger as CFPB director, two leaders in the U.S. House that’s now controlled by Democrats have their sights set on watching Kraninger’s actions closely.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who is projected to return as Speaker of the House, said, “As the new director of the Consumer Bureau, Kathy Kraninger has an important responsibility to fulfill the bureau’s critical mandate to protect hard-working families, veterans and seniors against abusive, deceptive and predatory practices.
“Mick Mulvaney’s disastrous tenure as acting director of the Consumer Bureau had a devastating impact on the financial security and economic stability of millions of Americans,” Pelosi continued. Instead of working to protect consumers against financial marketplace abuses, director Mulvaney doubled down on the administration’s cynical big bank and big corporate donor-first agenda.
“Director Kraninger must abandon the Administration’s shameful campaign to destroy this vital consumer watchdog,” Pelosi went on to say. “Before director Mulvaney, the Consumer Bureau produced extraordinary results for all Americans, returning nearly $12 billion to more than 29 million consumers who had been cheated by dishonest financial marketplace players.
“The American people deserve a strong, independent cop on the beat at the Consumer Bureau, free from the harmful anti-consumer policies imposed by director Mulvaney and the Trump Administration,” Pelosi added. “Democrats will hold big banks and financial institutions accountable for abusive practices, and we will continue to fight to strengthen critical consumer protections that ensure hard-working families can succeed.”
Another California House member is taking a similar stance. Rep. Maxine Waters currently is the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee and is likely to take the chair role with Democrats holding the new majority.
“The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was specifically designed by Congress to be an independent watchdog for America’s consumers, and I am committed to ensuring its statutorily mandated mission is not undermined,” Waters said.
“Mick Mulvaney took a series of actions to weaken the agency’s ability to carry out its important mission, while benefitting the predatory actors the agency is designed to police,” Waters continued. “He has done everything in his power to roll back consumer protections, strip the agency of its resources and compromise its independence.
“Now that Mulvaney is no longer at the helm, I call on director Kraninger to put consumers first by rolling back the anti-consumer actions taken by her predecessor and allowing the Consumer Bureau to resume its work of protecting hardworking Americans from unfair, deceptive or abusive practices,” Waters went on to say.
A state view of the CFPB
Of course, the CFPB is a federal agency, but regulators who work at the state level took a keen interest in Kraninger’s confirmation. One example is the Conference of State Bank Supervisors where John Ryan is president and chief executive officer.
“State financial regulators look forward to continuing our relationship with the bureau under director Kraninger’s leadership. State regulators have a vital role in enforcing consumer protections and work closely with the bureau on behalf of the consumers in every state and U.S. territory,” Ryan said.
With lawmakers and consumer advocates uneasy about the CFPB’s path with Kraninger in place, regulatory experts see states taking an expanded role in finance industry oversight.
The Public Interest Research Group Education Fund (U.S. PIRG), which describes itself as an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest, generated a report about this potential trend.
“Kathy Kraninger has no consumer protection or financial regulation experience. We expect her to simply follow Mick Mulvaney’s playbook,” said Ethan Lutz, U.S. PIRG’s consumer fellow. “While the CFPB’s current leadership has abandoned its mission, we’re grateful that several states are taking action to make sure companies don’t take advantage of consumers.”
The report titled, Positioned to Protect: How State and Local Authorities Can Fill the CFPB Void, included the following assertions:
• Several states, notably New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia, have added resources to their state attorney general offices or have even established “mini-CFPBs,” while Maryland established its own Financial Consumer Protection Commission to provide policy recommendations to its state legislature and Attorney General.
• State authorities unilaterally have protected their constituents and prosecuted acts that run afoul of federal unfair, deceptive or abusive acts and practices (UDAP) statutes.
• States including California, Connecticut, Illinois, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia have enacted student loan servicer regulations and established student loan ombudsman positions.
• A bipartisan coalition of attorneys general from numerous states have banded together to fill the enforcement void. Its tactics include expanding attorney general consumer protection divisions, writing letters urging for stronger enforcement, and implementing student loan borrower protections
• The private group Cities for Financial Empowerment (CFE) has helped establish consumer financial education programs in more than 20 cities and has begun to establish city-level consumer protection enforcement in Denver, Nashville, Tenn., and Salt Lake City.
“Until we get a strong CFPB back doing its only job, protecting consumers, we need to find other ways to police the financial marketplace,” said Mike Litt, consumer campaign director for U.S. PIRG. “The work of states and cities is critical, and we encourage other state and local governments to study these policies and use them as a template for future action.”