The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's examination process, enforcement actions and remittance rule all came under heavy fire on Friday as banking industry representatives engaged in an intense but polite panel discussion with a top agency official.
Michael Gordon, senior counselor to the director of the CFPB, listened attentively to some of the complaints aired at the annual meeting of the Clearing House Association in New York, and said the agency is trying to improve its relationships with the industry.
"Going forward, our relationships with consumers, with regulated entities, with our government partners — we continue to invest a lot of energy into that — and that's probably the biggest challenge we have, maintaining and improving that," Gordon said.
The CFPB still has a long way to go, judging by some of the other panelists' comments.
"I've been getting an earful from our members about the exam process," said Steven Zeisel, general counsel for the Consumer Bankers Association.
He expressed particular frustration with the overlap of several federal bank regulatory agencies that now have what he called "a serious coordination issue — I'm even hearing it referred to as the regulatory Olympics."
That comment drew laughs from the panelists, and was jokingly referenced throughout the rest of the discussion. But while some of the panel was more conciliatory, the bank representatives voiced several concerns.
Lynne Barr, chair of the consumer financial services practice at Goodwin Proctor, reiterated a common industry complaint about the CFPB's "adversarial stance" towards the banks it supervises and takes action against.
She referred to the agency's three enforcement actions so far, against Capital One (COF), American Express (AXP) and Discover Financial Services (DFS), and said they are creating trends that are "not particularly comforting to the industry and at least in my opinion they're not terribly constructive.
"Banks are starting to worry that they're not dealing with supervisors — (but) much more with a prosecutor," Barr said.
Capital One had its own representative on the panel. Executive Andy Navarrete moderated the discussion, but declined afterwards to weigh in on his bank's relationship with the agency.
Another hot topic was the CFPB's rule governing remittance transfers, which is due to go into effect in February. Banks are urging the agency to relax certain requirements or at least to extend the compliance deadline, saying they don't have easy access to some of the tax information that they will be required to disclose under the new regulations.
"If you're going to do something, it would be best to do it quickly," Zeisel told Gordon. The CFPB official demurred, telling the panel, "I'm not going to speak for the timeline," and declining to comment further afterward.
But as the discussion wrapped up, Gordon made another effort at conciliation. "Transparency and how we conduct ourselves is a really high [priority] at the bureau," he told the audience of bankers, regulators, lawyers and consultants. "This is not a game of gotcha, this is about improving compliance where needed."