November 8, 2013
WASHINGTON — Former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray said yesterday that he has “completely set aside” all political aspirations as he focuses on his job as the head of a new consumer watchdog agency.
“It’s not a political job,” said Cordray, once thought to be a possible opponent to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, at a morning event sponsored by Washington newspaper Politico. “It’s a job being done in a political context, but it’s a federal regulatory and law-enforcement job, and that’s how I see it.”
Cordray, who was confirmed as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in July after more than a year of political wrangling over the new agency, said he had high hopes that his fledgling agency would improve everything from mortgage to credit-card markets for the consumers who use them.
Now that his job has been confirmed by the Senate, he can serve as head of the agency for five years.
The bureau was created in the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown and was one of the results of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform. Even after that agency was created, Republicans balked, saying it had too much power and too little oversight.
Even though he finally was confirmed this year, Cordray continues to face tough scrutiny from Republicans. He said he appreciates the oversight, saying it’s helped to influence the agency’s work.
“You always hope your friends will tell you when you have food in your teeth,” he said, adding that the agency “needs to hear” the complaints in order “to be very attentive to people’s concerns."
Among their main complaints are worries about the agency’s data collection. Cordray said he understands the need to justify that effort.
“It’s a topic that requires the closest attention from us,” he said. “It’s not sufficient for us to just say we need this information to do our work.”
He said the agency isn’t monitoring consumer habits, but rather, monitoring what kinds of rates, fees and pricing mechanisms companies are putting on consumers.
“If we’re going to monitor some of the largest and most-powerful financial institutions in the world, we have to be able to keep up with understanding what they’re doing to consumers,” he said.
Cordray said before he leaves the agency, he’d like to help improve the nation’s financial literacy, giving consumers better information on how to handle their finances. Cordray called it a “ scandal and a shame” that the nation hasn’t given people the best information to make strong financial decisions that they “can live with and not end up regretting.”
“We’ve neglected that point and it makes everything harder for people,” he said, adding that if the bureau doesn’t do that, “I will be disappointed in myself and the bureau.”
He said he hopes the agency under his leadership will be remembered for taking broad input to help make markets better and rooting out bad practices that hurt or otherwise exploit consumers.