Elizabeth Warren, the presumed head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ("CFPB"), addressed some of the nation's largest players in the financial industry last night at the annual meeting of the Financial Services Roundtable. In her prepared speech, Ms. Warren acknowledged, "Some of you may have noticed that I have not kept my opinions to myself about where I think the financial industry has gone wrong. And I notice that some of you have not kept your opinions to yourself about me." Nonetheless, she invited the industry to "set aside misconceptions and preconceptions" and work with her.
Ms. Warren noted that, since her appointment, she has spoken with representatives from financial institutions, trade associations, and consumer groups and members of Congress and promised to keep her door open. She recognized the changes industry is already implementing to protect consumers. When explaining her view of "good regulation," she stated, "A free market is one where consumers have the ability to make well-informed choices, where the choices are visible and the terms are clear, and where there are cops on the beat to make sure that everyone plays by the same rules."
Focusing on "the fine print" used in credit agreements, Ms. Warren stated, "Every surprise hidden in the fine print is a bad surprise." Instead of using increasingly complex disclosures, she advocated short, understandable agreements with certain basic information such as interest rate, penalty terms, conditions of any free gifts or rewards that come with the card.
Certainly removing the "surprises" from the fine print will be a top priority. As industry members continue to learn about Ms. Warren's road map for the CFPB, they should consider how other agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission ("FTC") have defined clear and conspicuous disclosure and deceptive trade practices and should take advantage of the opportunity to knock on Ms. Warren's open door.