By Danielle Beavers
Hold onto your wallets, America. Members of Congress wants to kill vital protections that help keep you from being ripped off. Some lawmakers have long had their knives out for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
Now, with a seemingly sympathetic president about to be inaugurated, they’ve stepped up the attacks. Some critics—not previously known as leaders on diversity or civil rights—claim that the CFPB has become “a breeding ground” for discrimination that devalues employees of color and women.
As an advocate for diversity—and specifically as an advocate for communities of color—I have to call this out as the nonsense it is.
First, remember that predatory lending targeting communities of color played a huge role in creating the 2008 financial crisis. Congress created the CFPB—over the objections of banking industry lobbyists—precisely to keep such abuse from tanking the economy again.
And it’s working. The Greenlining Institute and other advocates for communities of color remain strong supporters of the CFPB because of its unwavering commitment to issues that most impact diverse communities.
Since its founding, the CFPB has secured more than $11 billion in relief for consumers from lawbreakers, including $1.8 billion in settlements with Citibank, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo for illegal credit card practices.
In addition, the bureau has created a searchable public complaint system and database to help consumers get answers from companies and usable information to protect themselves. It’s taken on industries and issues other regulators long dodged, like auto lending, to battle racial discrimination and disparate impact.
It has also conducted a series of national roundtables to hear directly from consumers and communities of color about their most pressing needs and how the CFPB can help.
Such a strong record is tough to attack, so those who want to kill or weaken the CFPB grasp at straws to paint the agency and its director, Richard Cordray, as racist and unfit to serve America’s diverse consumers, dredging up old incidents to make their case.
Like any institution, the CFPB has had diversity challenges. In 2014, incomplete employee performance evaluations and satisfaction surveys published by American Banker revealed racial disparities among staff. These findings gave real cause for concern, but critics fail to mention that the bureau stepped up, acknowledged its failings and took significant steps to rectify the problems.
The CFPB worked with the independent Office of Inspector General to investigate the workplace environment and conducted a series of employee townhalls to solicit feedback from its workers. CFPB also elevated its Office of Minority and Women Inclusion to report directly to Director Cordray.
Bureau leadership has met with Greenlining, the NAACP and the National Urban League to solicit feedback, adopted new policies to eliminate a dysfunctional employee performance management system, and issued Diversity and Inclusion Strategic plans to ensure that agency culture reflects America’s diverse consumers.
In a letter this month, a group of Democratic members led by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif) cited these successful efforts and praised the CFPB’s efforts, writing, “It’s clear to us that Director Cordray has made significant strides in upholding our nation’s consumer protection laws and managing the complicated issues of diversity and inclusion at his agency.”
Racial justice advocates know that no agency is ever “perfectly inclusive.” We also know that how agencies deal with diversity—especially when problems crop up or concerns get raised—is the most important measure of their commitment to people of color.
The CFPB had issues in this area and took strong steps to address them. As a result, when we analyzed racial diversity in eight financial agencies that have Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion, CFPB ranked third of eight. The bureau still has work to do, but it’s on the right track.
Complaints about diversity at the CFPB represent a smokescreen designed to distract from the real issue. The CFPB provides vital, long-overdue protection for consumers who used to be at the mercy of manipulation and deceit from financial businesses.
All consumers—especially communities of color who’ve often been most blatantly victimized—need the CFPB to remain strong and independent. Congress must reject attempts to destroy this vital agency.