L’agenzia per la protezione del consumatore

E’ una delle ipotesi fondanti la riforma dell’amministrazione Obama nel settore finanziario, ma che secondo me ha ripercussioni più vaste. Purtroppo non trovo mai il tempo di approfondire

10 ott 2009

Riporto, pari pari, mail sul tema che mi è arrivata da The Pogress Repor

The Case For A Consumer Protection Agency

At the White House today, President Obama will “appeal to voters for help in moving forward his proposal to create a new agency to oversee consumer financial products.” The new agency — known as the Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) — is a key part of the administration’s plan for overhauling the nation’s financial regulatory system. “Opponents have attempted to discredit the importance of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency to the millions of Americans who have borne the brunt of the near collapse of the financial industry,” an administration official said. The agency would have oversight over financial products such as mortgages, credit cards, and small-dollar loans (such as payday loans) — inclusive of loans from non-bank lenders — in an effort to rein in the predatory practices that contributed to the subprime bubble and buried American families under a mountain of debt. The agency would also be able to prevent banks from charging exorbitant fees without disclosure. As Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) said, “Banks should make their profits off of their investments, not by abusing customers struggling with the economic recession.” The plan has ignited a firestorm of lobbying by the financial services community, which claims the agency will be “bad for the consumers” and “needlessly rips apart all the existing regulatory agencies.” The Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, has launched a $2 million ad campaign against the agency, calling it an “overly broad, overly sweeping, big government solution.” But the agency is a vitally important part of crafting a regul atory system that doesn’t allow big banks to take advantage of consumers — and destroy the economy in the process.

CONSUMERS A ‘TERTIARY CONCERN’: Currently, a slew of banking regulators — including the Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Office of Thrift Supervision — are responsible for both consumer protection and ensuring that the banks are in good financial shape. However, in the buildup to the financial crisis, regulators focused on the banks, leaving consumer protection, as Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) put it, a “secondary at best and probably tertiary concern.” The Fed was actually granted authority to police predatory lending in 1994, yet failed to act on it. And unfortunately, banks reaped record profits on predatory products, such as high-priced subprime loans or credit cards with exorbitant fees. As The American Prospect’s Tim Fernholz wrote, these products “were premised on the idea that they were risky and consumers didn’t understand them, since that was a better way for banks to make money.” The CFPA bill would strip the existing bank regulators of their consumer protection responsibilities and place them all within the new agency, and CFPA regulators would be empowered to ban predatory products and take enforcement actions against financial institutions. Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren said the agency “will bring complex and sometimes contradictory consumer regulations under one roof and transform them into a coherent set of smarter rules. The CFPA would put someone in Washington — someone with real power — who cares about consumers.”

BANKS AGAIN BEHAVING BADLY: It’s essential that the CFPA have adequate resources and enforcement abilities because, as the financial sector has regained strength and large banks have been paying back their government funds, new financial products that could harm consumers have quickly come back onto the market. McClatchy reported that “an influx of shady loan professionals” have ramped up the sale of reverse mortgages, which the National Consumer Law Center cal ls “subprime revisited.” Many subprime brokers have also returned as “dubious loan fixers,” according to the New York Times, promising mortgage modifications for outrageous fees. Many mortgage lenders, meanwhile, have reintroduced a plethora of “junk fees,” earning record profits despite the current housing slump. “I see a lot of junk fees,” says Realtor Rose L. Harris. “Even for people who have really good credit and qualified down payments…they are being charged a lot of extra fees.” Big banks such as Bank of America, Citigroup, and JPMorgan Chase have also rolled out “newfangled corporate credit lines tied to complicated and volatile derivatives,” while Wells Fargo and U.S. Bancorp are expanding their payday loan businesses and “using their national bank charters to avoid state usury laws.”

RESTRICTING CREDIT?: The banks’ main argument against the new agency is that it will limit access to financial products, and thus restrict credit. The Chamber of Commerce even goes so far as to state that the CFPA credit crunch “would cost a significant number of jobs that would either be lost or not created.” However, Canada created a consumer protection agency in 2001, and even financial services lobbyists there admit that the agency has not hurt bank lending. “I certainly have not seen anything that shows that we are vastly different from the United States in terms of access to credit,” said John Rossi, who heads compliance and enforcement efforts for the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. Republicans, meanwhile, charge that the agency will literally choose which products individual families are allowed to have. “An unelected bureaucrat will now decide for us what mortgages we can have,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX). “They will decide what bank accounts we can open. Th ey may even decide whether or not we can be trusted with a credit card.” However, the agency will merely mandate that financial firms provide clear disclosures and forms, and Frank has already scaled back a provision requiring firms to offer consumers a simple “plain vanilla” product before moving on to more complicated and expensive products. As Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said, the point is to assure that consumers fully understand the financial realities and consequences of financial obligations, credit cards or loans, they are considering before they make commitments. … Once they use that info rmation and make decisions, they will have to live with the consequences.”

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