In August of 2014, I was appointed to the then-called CFPB’s Consumer Advisory Board (CAB). I would be the first to admit that this was a fluke. I was a litigator and regulatory attorney that represented the financial services industry, mostly in the debt collection space. I also at the time was the President of the National Creditors Bar Association, the largest bar association of creditors’ rights attorneys. Despite this resume, I was far from a passionate consumer advocate, an established executive or even a well-versed academic. Nonetheless the Bureau, as it is now known, thought my input would be valuable and selected me for the CAB.
Upon my arrival to the CAB, I was impressed by the camaraderie of the existing members and an even warmer welcome from the group. Current members, whether in support of the Bureau’s mission or skeptical of the Bureau’s authority, all took their duties and responsibilities very seriously. All were appointed advisors to a fairly new federal agency and their job was to provide much needed feedback from outside the beltway on the Bureau’s current and possibly future activities.
Clearly, I was a minority member of the CAB. I had significant disagreements with many of the Bureau’s activities and in my opinion their significant overreach especially in the debt collection marketplace. However all of the Bureau’s activities were discussed and there was healthy and robust debate on a wide range of topics. I did not believe that my membership on the CAB would in any way change the Bureau’s agenda, rather I was there to express my point of view and maybe find common ground with those I would normally not have an opportunity to engage. Indeed I held vast philosophical differences in thinking about the role of the Bureau and how financial institutions should be regulated, but my membership on the CAB enlightened me to alternative viewpoints that I might not have considered and, more importantly, exposed my colleagues to my perspective as well.
CAB meetings were jammed packed days of information, presentations and discussions. At every meeting there was a dinner to wind down and get to know fellow board members. Those discussions were always about our kids and our families. Personally, I never brought CAB discussions to dinner. Instead, I learned about recent trips and adventures or was provided with great recommendations for books and movies. I learned about board members’ well-established careers, projects they were working on and new opportunities that lie ahead. In turn there was sincere curiosity about my job and my career path. Ultimately we all had the same stresses and struggles managing family and work, suffering from the same lack of sleep but nonetheless liked what we did and felt strongly about our beliefs. Over a meal and a glass of wine, those differences did not seem to matter. The CAB members were officially my colleagues and whether I agreed with them on every issue on any given day was simply irrelevant.
At my last CAB meeting in June of 2017, retiring members were asked to say a few words about their experiences. I thanked the Bureau staff who were an incredible team of dedicated public servants that had the daunting task of “schlepping” board members from one meeting to the next and coordinating travel schedules and logistics; all with a smile and with impeccable precision. I thanked Director Cordray and complimented him on his leadership of the Bureau. Despite our well-documented differences, he did his job very well. Finally, I thanked my fellow board members. Prior to my membership on the CAB, I had never spent any time with consumer advocates. I told them that my experience made me realize we have a lot more in common than we have differences and that it was truly an honor and a privilege to serve with them.
I still keep in contact with many CAB members. If I am in the same city where one may live, I make it a point to grab coffee. While on vacation last summer, a fellow colleague reached out and we got together for dinner with our respective families.
I was disappointed to learn this week that Acting Director Mulvaney has “fired” not only the current CAB but the current Advisory Boards for Community Banks and Credit Unions. As the Acting Director and under the current structure of the Bureau, terminating these board members seems to be within his authority, but it was not the right thing to do. The Bureau’s press release, issued shortly after members were informed that they were relieved of their services, suggested that the Acting Director wanted to “transform the way the Bureau engages.” I support that decision but a lack of engagement was certainly not a characteristic of the current and past CAB members and certainly not a basis to terminate them. If anything CAB members looked forward to and always desired an open dialogue with the Bureau.
In the past 6 months, many CAB members had disagreements with certain Bureau activities much like I did during my tenure, but I was never asked to leave. Advisory boards cannot and should not be a rubber stamp; if they were, they would serve no purpose. Could the activities of the CAB and their engagement with the Bureau have been improved? Of course. But start with the existing group that understands how to make the process better. Furthermore, the Bureau was accepting applications for new CAB members for the coming year to replace those members who were set to roll off the board. If a change in focus is something the Acting Director desires, then bring in members more aligned with that vision, but keep the tenured members who had the knowledge and experience of serving on the CAB.
Problems do not get solved by one-sided viewpoints. The fear of compromise serves only to further divide us. I wish my CAB colleagues well and hope that we can one day again meet in the middle.