WASHINGTON — Although the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau began breaking in new headquarters last week, the agency's architect, Elizabeth Warren, told reporters she does not intend to stay chained to her downtown Washington office.
At a background briefing Friday in one of the office's bright new conference rooms, Warren said the bureau was already looking for other locations to expand to, and her job constructing the new agency will entail extensive travel to meet with institutions of all stripes.
In addition to large-bank executives, Warren has made a point of meeting with community bankers, private-equity investors who have a big stake in financial services providers, and technology firms "to talk about ideas for the best way to build a 21st-century agency."
"I am committed to two things: Getting outside Washington and meeting with community bankers every time I do," said Warren, a Harvard law professor who was the first to devise the idea for a separate financial consumer regulator and was appointed by President Obama to guide the agency's design.
Before last week, the budding agency's 54 employees set up shop inside the Treasury Department, where Warren will still occupy an office. The new 30,000-square-foot location in a building on L Street Northwest, which has housed other entities that came out of the financial crisis, including the Troubled Asset Relief Program, gives the CFPB space to double its staff.
But Warren said the process to expand further has also begun. About 1,000 employees are expected to be on board within a year, Treasury officials said. The agency is already reviewing some 1,500 resumes from interested applicants. Among potential hires are university academics and specialists from existing banking agencies, officials said. "Not surprisingly … given our growth trajectory we're already looking for additional space," Warren said.
Yet in addition to forming the internal structure of the agency, Warren has spent significant time seeking outside help from various parties to provide input, including a broad swath of the financial services industry.
She said her meetings with investors — including private-equity players and hedge funds — were revealing, not only for their surprise at being sought out, but for their surprise at Warren's early approaches to regulation.
In the agency's infancy, she has touted simpler credit card disclosures as a central public policy goal. Some in the industry have welcomed a conversation about disclosures rather than one about tough rules on practices, such as those enacted in the recent Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure law.
"They were surprised that I was not taking the approach they had anticipated," Warren said. "Many of them expected that this agency would do CARD 2.0, 3.0 and 4.0 over the near term. I talked with them about a very different approach."
In addition, Warren has planned meetings with leaders in the information technology field, in part to help with how the agency will communicate with consumers. She said the meetings, including some this week with firms in San Francisco, are intended "to talk about how we can engage as many Americans as possible in the business of the bureau."