Consumer Groups Say CFPB Sandbox ‘Dangerous as Sahara Desert’

WASHINGTON—Calling it a “dangerous Sahara desert,” consumer advocates are criticizing an announcement by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that it has finalized policies to give banks, fintech companies and other corporations no-action letters and approvals that will protect companies from enforcement and deem potentially risky new products and services to be in compliance with the law.


“The new ‘compliance assurance sandbox’ could be a dangerous Sahara desert parched of consumer protection if the CFPB approves risky products that evade the law and endanger consumers,” said Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center, in a statement.“We strongly disagree with the CFPB’s claim that a single Bureau employee can ‘approve’ an evasive means of skirting the law and thereby give companies a safe harbor that stops consumers and states from enforcing consumer protection laws.”

Other Responses

Also weighing in against the CFPB plan:

  • Linda Jun, senior policy counsel at Americans for Financial Reform: The CFPB's mission is to protect consumers, but the Bureau's no-action letter policy and compliance assurance sandbox does the opposite. By approving products and services without seeking public input or getting information along the way about how the product is helping or hurting consumers, the CFPB's innovation policies provide companies with cover instead of accountability for unanticipated harms or dangers that their innovative products may cause.”
  • Will Corbett, litigation director with the Center for Responsible Lending: “Innovation isn’t advanced by handing out individual grants of immunity from law enforcement, and certainly not by companies lobbying Bureau staff for deregulation-by-letter. Instead, the Bureau should focus equally on consumer risk and benefits and should develop policy in a transparent manner.”

First No-Action Letter Under Kraninger

The groups issued their statements at the same time the CFPB has also issued its first no-action letter under Director Kathy Kraninger. The letter seeks to create a mechanism to allow mortgage lenders to pay for housing counseling at agencies that refer business to them.

“While there may be valid reasons to facilitate funding for housing counseling, changes in anti-kickback rules should be made after public notice and comment to prevent evasions, not through a secretive, one-sided no-action letter process,” said Odette Williamson, staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center.

Added Bart Naylor, financial policy advocate at Public Citizen, “With Americans shouldering record debt, we don’t need our own finance cops to help Wall Street devise ways to add more weight.”

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Copyright Year: 2019
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