Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Richard Cordray appeared before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Tuesday morning to give the Semi-Annual Report of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. At the hearing, a myriad of topics were discussed, including mortgages, student loans, as well as proposed data collection efforts for the National Mortgage Database.
The opening remarks from Senator Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota) were largely positive, praising Cordray and the CFPB as having "proven itself up to the task that Congress set out for it, which is to protect consumers." Senator Johnson further reiterated that the ability for consumers to have access to affordable mortgage credit is critical.
However, the praise was short-lived, as Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) launched into what would be the overarching message of his time in the hearing, citing concerns over privacy issues related to the acquisition (by the CFPB) of new data for the National Mortgage Database. Specifically egregious to the Senator from Idaho was the collection of fields such as religion, social security numbers, and "major life events." Senator Crapo called the collection of this data as "intrusive, unnecessary, and contrary to CFPB's public statements to not collecting identifiable data."
Cordray parried, noting that data collection and subsequent analysis gleaned from said information was a critical part of their Congressionally-mandated purpose. He attempted to assuage the Senator's fears by noting that data, before being used by anyone at the CFPB, is scrubbed thoroughly to remove any personally identifiable information. Sen. Crapo seemed skeptical of his explanation, and continued to hammer Cordray on the importance of privacy rights and concerns over the ability to re-engineer data to its original form. The two swapped questions and answers, eventually agreeing to continue discussing the matter as more information became available.
The CFPB Director then offered his prepared statement, where he said, “[w]e have aided in efforts to refund more than $3.8 billion to consumers who fell victim to various violations of consumer financial protection laws. We have also fined wrongdoers more than $141 million, all of which has gone into our Civil Penalty Fund and can be used to compensate wronged consumers and, to the extent compensating consumers is not practicable, to pay for consumer education and financial literacy programs."
Cordray noted that he was particularly pleased with self-reported violations that have resulted in more than $70 million in remediation for 775,000 consumers. He went on to advise consumers to utilize the bureau's AskCFPB section on their website, and commented that as of June 1, 2014, the CFPB has received nearly 375,000 consumer complaints on a wide variety of financial problems.
In the question and answer section, Cordray noted that the biggest challenge faced by the CFPB is building an agency from scratch, commenting that the CFPB is currently working through some growing pains. He noted other significant milestones, including mortgage rules, as well as enforcement activities that are "making sure people are treated fairly," and letting organizations know that "money will go back to people's pockets when they are treated unfairly."
He further commented that the qualified mortgage (QM) rule has been one of the most significant protections for the mortgage market. He conceded that a proposal for rural areas was not initially calibrated correctly and will be revisited, as well as issues surrounding points and fees for lenders.
Cordray touched on growing issues and problems related to student loans when questioned by many members of the committee. He remarked that current student loan servicing is having the same problems as mortgage servicing, mainly issues that stem from poor customer service, problems with transfer, and a lack of information. He called the connection between student loans as having an “eerie consistency” to problems faced by the mortgage industry.