Federal Reserve Governor Janet Yellen takes the helm as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors after Ben Bernanke led us through the tumultuous financial crisis and fledgling recovery. (Thank you, Mr. Chairman.) A panel of economists at a recent Executive Club of Chicago event predicted that she will have a particularly challenging first year of her term, but that she is up to the challenge. I hope that one of the items on Yellen’s To Do list is reestablishing a Consumer Advisory Council (CAC) that meets regularly with the Governors and Federal Reserve staff to discuss financial services issues. There is a need for a discussion forum with the prudential regulators in addition to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)’s Consumer Advisory Board (CAB).
Former North Carolina Congressman Mel Watt is the newly confirmed Director of the Federal Housing Finance Administration (FHFA), the conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which together guarantee about 60 percent of all home mortgages nationally. With housing finance reform and continuing fallout from the foreclosure crisis on the agenda, housing advocates already are in contact with Watt’s leadership team and looking forward to helping FHFA implement effective policies that help homeowners and aspiring homeowners.
After serving 27 years with the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, including the last 10 years as Director of the Division of Consumer & Community Affairs, Sandra Braunstein will retire in April. When the Federal Reserve had a CAC (I served on the last CAC, which expired in 2010), Sandy and her team played a key role in coordinating the meetings and bringing topics, research, and concerns from the field to the Board for discussion. The Fed should select as her successor someone who has deep knowledge and appreciation of community needs, especially the needs of low-income and low-wealth persons and communities of color, and who supports reestablishing a CAC. I have fond memories of traveling with Sandy to Paris in 2010 to discuss the Community Reinvestment Act with French community advocates, bankers, economists, and others. I wish her the best in her retirement.
The CFPB is losing at least two of its assistant directors in early 2014: Marla Blow (Card & Payment markets) and Cliff Rosenthal (Office of Financial Empowerment). With CFPB expected to issue prepaid rules by May of 2014, the Card position is especially critical. The Empowerment director will have opportunities to advance innovative programs and policies affecting vulnerable consumers.
For my part, I am looking forward to serving as chair of the Card, Payment & Deposit Committee of the CFPB CAB. Feel free to share your suggestions for Committee consideration (but understand that your communications with me in this capacity may be subject to federal Freedom of Information Act requests and disclosures).