News broke last week of a major reorganization at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB or Bureau), with headlines focusing on how the shakeup will hamper investigations and limit the Office of Enforcement’s autonomy. To better understand what happened, it’s helpful to have a little bit of perspective on the CFPB’s authorities and organization. While it’s too soon to know how the reorganization will impact the agency’s enforcement docket, it is not at all clear that it will have the limiting impact that some expect.
The CFPB was created as a somewhat unique regulator, combining the traditional tools of prudential regulators like the Federal Reserve or Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (supervision and examination) and those of law enforcement agencies like the Federal Trade Commission (investigation and litigation). While the prudential regulators also have enforcement authority, that authority is generally limited to entities over which the agency has supervisory authority (and related individuals and service providers). And that enforcement authority is exercised only after an examination by supervisory personnel; that is, it is the culmination of the supervisory process, not an independent process. By contrast, the CFPB’s enforcement jurisdiction is much broader than the defined set of covered persons over whom it has supervisory jurisdiction, extending to any company or individual that is subject to one of eighteen different statutes or who offers or provides a consumer financial product or service. While some CFPB enforcement actions arise out of examinations, the vast majority to date have been outgrowths of organic enforcement investigations that were not tied to examinations.
At bottom, these two tools—supervision and enforcement—are just different legal authorities by which the agency can gather information from institutions subject to its jurisdiction to determine if legal violations occurred. For a brand new agency, that raises a difficult question – which of these tools do you use in any given circumstance to determine if a particular institution is violating the law? Do you send in examiners or enforcement attorneys?
That question wasn’t answered immediately at the agency’s creation. Instead, the offices of Supervision and Enforcement each focused on hiring staff and building out processes for the exercise of their respective functions. Continue Reading Unpacking the Enforcement Shakeup at the CFPB – A (Former) Insider’s View