I am the most boring person in the world
A few nights ago I went to a CFPB Town Hall Meeting after work. The discussion in the kitchen that morning went something like this:
me: “I’m going to be late tonight, guys, because I’m going to a CFPB Town Hall meeting… I’m really excited about it!”
my husband: “What the hell is CFPB?”
me: “Oh, it stands for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. You know, the thing that Elizabeth Warren started but then didn’t get to be in charge of? I need to go see if this guy Cordray is going to be pushy enough to lead an effective government agency. Today the issues at the meeting are things like checking accounts and debit cards and overdraft policies. I totally need to go, can you guys eat leftovers?”
my husband: “You are the most boring person in the world”
my three sons, simultaneously: “Yeah mom, he’s right. You are the most boring person in the world.”
Whatever. I guess they’re right, but I went anyway. After lots of incredibly congratulatory introductions, including a 5 minutes speech from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, there were a bunch of questions from the audience.
There were lots of community groups represented, as well as individuals. Two themes emerged through the questions that seem like particularly egregious consumer issues affecting poor people.
First was the issue of pre-paid debit cards and the corresponding fees. This guy stood up at the microphone and described his friend who get a debit card for child support, court-ordered. But this debit card extracts enormous fees every time she takes money out, including things like $5 just to check the balance. The guy was saying, you know my friend needs that money for her children, and it’s not fair that so much of it goes to fees- it’s abusive. I was totally crying. I mean, I’m an easy cry, but still. That wasn’t the only story about such debit cards where there was no choice in the matter but the fees were extortionist.
Second the issue of Walmart issuing its pay to people in debit card form came up time after time as well. So it seems that Walmart is not only a retailer, but also a financial institution of the crappiest kind now. It issues debit cards as payment to people who don’t accept direct deposit or don’t have checking accounts, and again it seems that the money on the cards is somehow deeply tied to a fee structure. I need to look into this more (as does the CFPB) but I’m wondering off the top of my head whether people can just demand to be paid in cash instead. It’s like these people are being paid really badly, with very few benefits, and even when they get paid they’re being nickeled and dimed every step of the way. It’s like it’s not really their money even then.
So in other words, debit cards are the new check cashers, but maybe worse since their fee structure doesn’t seem to be as transparent.
Of course, I took the opportunity to ask a question too, since I am not shy. And I was told not to ask a question but rather to tell a story, but whatever, I decided to phrase is as “making three suggestions.” After introducing myself as coming from the Alternative Banking group, I mentioned the following:
- The CFPB should use its powers to bring together mortgage investors and homeowners to the same table, in order to align their interests and bypass the banks as servicers, since the banks are only endlessly delaying the process in order to extract fees.
- I mentioned that our group is working on a “find a credit union app” but that the CFPB should really be doing that with us, to help underbanked people find alternatives to crappy banking solutions (like debit cards).
- I mentioned that we had submitted a public comment letter demanding that the credit score models be open sourced, since there was no legitimate reason for such models, which directly affect consumers in their daily lives, to be kept proprietary.
Akshat was there too, from Occupy the SEC, and he asked about the Volcker Rule.
Condray took notes. I mean, what’s he going to say.
Well actually sometimes he did say stuff, like to Akshat, and for the most part it was something along the lines of, “that is not in our jurisdiction”, although there was one exception when he talked about how Walmart, being a retailer, is not in his jurisdiction but since it’s acting as a banking institution it actually is.
Overall I’m a bit disappointed. Although I did certainly like the fact that he held a town hall meeting at all, I am worried that he’s just too nice, and that he’s going to try to please everyone and be kind of wishy-washy. I would have loved to see him manage to sustain disgust at the abuses he was hearing about, but instead he sounded more concerned than angry, and I would put my money on angry any day. I want the CFPB to be led by a son-of-a-bitch that pisses people off and constantly tried to enlarge his jurisdiction rather than keeping well inside the lines. Time will tell.