WASHINGTON The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has taken a different and more comical approach in getting the word out about its new mortgage rules.
Three days before several key regulations were due to take effect, CFPB Director Richard Cordray made an appearance Wednesday evening on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to discuss the added protections for consumers and the agency's clampdown on bad actors.
The mortgage rules are "pretty back-to-basics stuff," Cordray said when asked about the new ability-to-repay rule. "There should not be debt traps peddled to the American people [which] has happened again and again leading up to the financial crisis; that they shouldn't run into surprises and get the run around when they have a problem. But we saw a lot of that stuff happening and it's time for it to stop."
Given the audience, Cordray's persona was more upbeat than the typical somber appearance he has when fielding questions from bankers who are bearing the brunt of the compliance work. He laughed when Stewart stumbled on the bureau's full name, calling Cordray the "Director of the consumer bureau of commerce and alcohol tobacco and finance." And Cordray joked that he did not know whether the two year delay in getting confirmed by Congress last summer "was fast or slow."
"I can assure you, it's never happened that quickly before," Stewart replied.
Stewart, meanwhile, pressed Cordray on having more severe penalties for the bad actors in finance, asking why regulators don't force companies to admit wrongdoing instead of merely asking for say, a "10%" cut in punitive measures.
"I agree with you and that's going to be our approach," Cordray said. "But I also think companies aren't the only ones who act. There's always officials and people in the company that make the decision so: going after them for money, making them feel at risk, sometimes going after them to take them out of the business for a period of time, or refer them criminally if that's appropriate. That's part of what we're doing."
Stewart approved of Cordray's response, likening him to Eliot Ness, who led enforcement against prohibition in Chicago with a team of agents nicknamed "The Untouchables."
"I see it in you. I see the fire," Stewart said. "I see you with a baseball bat walking around the hall."
Though Stewart mostly asked consumer-related questions, he also questioned Cordray about the pushback from the industry on the new mortgage rules.
"There has been. Look, this is a big change in the status quo and so there's always resistance," Cordray said. "But these are sensible changes. This is really taking mortgage lending back to what community banks and credit unions have done for decades: Checking out the numbers to make sure people can actually succeed in the loan. Not just giving it to them and not caring if they fail."