Singularity of Purpose: Is Looking Out for Consumers Too Narrow a Mission?

By: Melanie Hibbs Brody, Stephanie C. Robinson

No one doubts that consumers have been hurt by the global financial crisis and a better federal and state regulatory regime could lessen the likelihood of future harm in the consumer credit arena. The question is how best to accomplish that objective? Is it simply a matter of better funding of the enforcement of existing laws? Is it prudent to impose new substantive obligations on providers of consumer financial products and services? Do we need to shuffle the boxes out of which regulators operate to ensure a better-coordinated approach to government regulation and enforcement?

At a press conference on June 17, 2009, President Obama laid much of the blame for the financial crisis on gaps in financial regulation. To fill in those gaps, the President unveiled his proposed financial regulatory reform package—a white paper entitled A New Foundation: Rebuilding Financial Supervision and Regulation. Among many recommendations for significant change, the reform package recommends the creation of a new federal agency with the singular job of, in the words of Mr. Obama, “looking out for consumers.” The new Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) would be designed to protect consumers in the financial products and services markets, and would be the primary federal consumer protection supervisor.

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