On June 25, the CFPB held its “Abusive Acts or Practices Symposium,” the first event in a symposia series covering a range of consumer financial services topics. The event had two panels of experts discussing unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts and practices (UDAAP)—the first was a policy discussion, moderated by Tom Pahl, CFPB’s Policy Associate Director, Research, Markets and Regulation; and the second, examined how the “abusive” standard has been used in practice in the field and was moderated by David Bleicken, CFPB Deputy Associate Director, Supervision, Enforcement and Fair Lending. Director Kraninger began the symposium noting that it will help to “inform the Bureau’s thinking as to whether the Bureau should use its rulemaking or other tools to provide clarity about the general meaning of abusiveness—and, if so, which principles should be applied to determine the scope of abusiveness.”

The policy panel focused on whether consumer harm was required for a practice to be considered abusive. One panelist noted that while the Dodd-Frank Act statutory definition of abusive does not specifically require proof of consumer harm, it would be surprising if consumer harm wasn’t a priority in weighing enforcement claims. As for what principles the Bureau should apply in determining the scope of abusive acts and practices, one panelist identified three: “fidelity, autonomy, and modesty,” meaning the Bureau should follow the statutory language, protect autonomy of consumer decision-making, and be careful not to tie its hands prematurely based on current market information.

The practitioners’ panel focused on whether there was even a need to clarify the abusive standard, as it is already statutorily defined. Most panelists agreed that a guidance document or policy statement would be an important first step for the Bureau in providing clarity to the industry. Specifically, the panelists noted that the industry has struggled with examples of how abusiveness is different from unfairness or deception, arguing the Bureau has been “inconsistent at times” in the application of the abusive standard. One panelist explained that the Bureau often brings abusive claims in connection with a claim of deception or unfairness, stating “while this may work for the Bureau’s litigation strategy the market looks to enforcement for guidance on the policy. Standalone abusiveness claims that show how abusiveness is different from deception and unfairness would provide direction to staff and industry.” Because the standard is unclear to industry, a panelist argued that many companies choose to limit products or offerings to avoid unknown compliance risks.

An archived copy of the webcast will be available on the Bureau’s website.