Fiscal year 2013 has begun for the U.S. government, and nowhere is that more important than for the young agency the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). In 2013, the CFPB's enforcement budget alone (Supervision, Enforcement and Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity) has grown to $261 million, a 22 percent increase from its 2012 budget. Moreover, it expects to hire an additional 238 FTE (full-time equivalent) employees, a whopping 37 percent increase in enforcement personnel. This young agency is growing up fast.
So what does CFPB's enforcement group plan to do with all of this new blood? First on its list is new hiring for field examinations. That is where the CFPB inspects consumer financial services companies by collecting documents, reviewing available information and ultimately going onsite to conduct interviews, collect more documents and determine if there have been potential violations of law. They will look specifically for violations concerning unfair, deceptive or abusive acts or practices, or discrimination. The CFPB's examinations are conducted in accordance with its recently updated Supervision and Examination Manual, which now runs 924 pages.
The CFPB has its strategic satellite offices located in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. It has ramped up its lawyer personnel in the New York regional office by adding several lawyers where there were none in January, and with 238 more personnel coming in, we expect that office and the other regional offices to grow quickly. The agency is still finding its footing, but its early enforcement actions make clear that it will not shy away from big fights. In September, it announced a joint order with the FDIC requiring Discover Bank to refund approximately $200 million and pay an additional civil penalty, stemming from deceptive telemarketing and sales tactics. In October, it announced an order requiring American Express to refund $85 million, in addition to $27.5 million in various agency fines, as a result of a host of deceptive practices and unlawfully charged late fees. Just last week, it issued warning letters to approximately a dozen mortgage lenders and brokers suspected of deceptive advertising and announced investigations of six companies. There is little question that the controversial agency intends fully to realize its statutory mandate to protect consumers of financial products and services, and may one day rival the Securities and Exchange Commission in terms of its scope and breadth of civil investigations.