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Jo Ann Barefoot explores how to create fair and inclusive consumer financial services through innovative ideas for industry and regulators

Barefoot Innovation Podcast

Filtering by Tag: CFPB


Jo Ann Barefoot

Welcome to today's episode with my very special guest. He is the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Richard Cordray.

We got together in Washington to mark the fifth anniversary of the CFPB's opening its doors, on July 21, 2011.  I had the pleasure of serving on the Bureau's Consumer Advisory Board, or CAB, for its first three years. It's been fascinating to watch the launch of this agency, which is the first in many years to be built from scratch, as opposed to something like, say, Homeland Security, that amalgamated existing agencies. As Director Cordray says in our discussion, the CFPB has actually faced many of the same challenges as private sector startup. There are obvious differences, of course, but they still began with a small team, like founders, and went through the stresses of very rapid growth amid having to deliver against a lot of tough deadlines - and under a bright floodlight of scrutiny.

A unique thing about the CFPB is that it looks at consumer financial services as a holistic marketplace. Most of our financial regulatory system is bank-centric, with numerous agencies closely overseeing bank activities, while nonbank financial companies - while generally subject to the same rules -- don't normally face the constant, close scrutiny that banks do. This has led to a highly uneven marketplace in terms of both de facto regulatory standards and compliance burdens. That unevenness, in turn, produces some unintended consequences. One is uneven protection of consumers based on what financial company they deal with. Another is some distortion of what products banks and nonbanks are willing to offer, based on their assessments of the related regulatory risks. Moving toward a more uniform framework lays groundwork for a system that can potentially be more fair and workable for both consumers and providers.

The CFPB has also been a leader in pioneering regulatory exploration of innovation. Its Project Catalyst was the first initiative in the world, to my knowledge, to create a learning laboratory for looking at regulatory issues in innovative fintech.  In our conversation, Director Cordray mentions that they have special powers to allow trial waivers of disclosure rules for companies that have better ideas. They're open for proposals on this -- it would be great to see some new thinking come out of those tests, to move toward updating our old, low-tech disclosure models.

I think you'll enjoy hearing Director Cordray's thoughts about Project Catalyst; about how the Bureau thinks about innovation and fintech; and about CFPB itself being a startup and how hard it is to do that inside government. You'll also be interested in what we discussed about the agency's priorities as it enters year six, and about what he has learned from the first five years.

Here's more information:

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at age 5!  Enjoy my conversation with Director Richard Cordray.

And a note about our next show....

My guests next time will be the chief compliance officers of two of America's largest banks -Yvette Hollingsworth Clark of Wells Fargo and Kathryn Reimann of Citi, who are leaders in - if you can imagine this phrase - innovating in regulatory compliance.

Insights from Michael Barr

Jo Ann Barefoot

I am absolutely delighted to share today's episode -- my conversation with Michael Barr.

Most of our listeners know Michael as the former Assistant Treasury Secretary for Financial Institutions who shepherded the Obama administration's efforts on the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. Fewer people may know of his role in developing the proposal for, and negotiating the enactment of, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is when I got to know him.  He is now back at the University of Michigan (my own alma mater) as a law professor, and continues to be very active across a wide spectrum of consumer finance and financial regulation activities, and also on lending to small businesses.

Michael has thought hard about the toughest challenges in consumer finance, drawing on both his government experience and his academic activities (among other things, he's a Rhodes Scholar). He also works extensively with innovators and nonprofits.

In our conversation he offers insights on some of the most critical topics facing consumer finance.

Perhaps the most central principle driving his ideas is behavioral economics - coming to grips with the reality that consumers are not perfectly rational, and don't have perfect information, in making financial decisions. "We ought to design both products and policy around the way human beings actually make decisions and behave," Michael tells me. See below for links to his research on this, including his paper "Behaviorally-Informed Regulation."

One result of his behavioral focus is a refreshing readiness to rethink consumer financial education. At one point he says, "just as we couldn't explain how our smartphones operate," financial consumers don't necessarily need to know how financial products are designed, in order to use them effectively. He thinks, as I do, that today's technology can create simple new tools that nearly anyone can use, whether they have a sophisticated financial education, or not.

Another issue he raises is his involvement in developing the "small business borrowers' bill of rights" (see our earlier podcast discussing this with Brian Graham of BancAlliance). There is growing concern that online small business lending is creating borrower risks as well as opportunities, especially as America shifts toward the so-called 1099 economy and more people run small businesses in ways that closely parallel consumer finance.

Michael also explores the challenge of crafting regulation that enables innovation while still blocking harm. He says regulators sometimes allow harmful practices to emerge and grow until they hit a "tipping point," at which point they drive industry standards so low that good companies can't survive without adopting activities they would rather avoid.  I agree with him that this is a key challenge, especially as innovation accelerates.  If regulators intervene too early and aggressively, we'll have the government designing our financial products, instead of the market doing so.  On the other hand, if they are too passive or too late in addressing really harmful practices - especially if they wait until after that tipping point has actually tipped - they will fail to protect large numbers of people from harm, and they may also find it difficult to act.  Once products are widespread, there are strong political forces ready to defend them, as well as practical problems with potential regulatory impacts on businesses and sometimes even the financial system itself.

I asked Michael for his advice about these kinds of challenges, for all the players in this ecosystem. I think you'll find his answers really interesting, including some thoughts he shares about the logic behind the design of the CFPB.

I also asked him whether we might be moving toward a fundamentally new market model, in which technology-driven transparency will require financial companies to compete mostly on winning and keeping people's trust. His answer to that is thought-provoking, too.

Michael was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Institutions from 2009-2010. He previously served as Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin's Special Assistant, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Community Development Policy, as Special Advisor to President Bill Clinton, as Special Advisor and Counselor on the Policy Planning Staff at the State Department, and as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter.  He received his J.D. from Yale Law School, an M. Phil in International Relations from Magdalen College, Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and his B.A., summa cum laude, with Honors in History, from Yale University.

His activities today include serving on the boards of Lending Club (in Episode 5 we interviewed CEO Renaud LaPlanche) and Ripple, as well as ideas42, a behavioral economics research and development lab. He's on the FDIC Advisory Committee on Economic Inclusion and the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. He's on the advisory board of CFSI and has advised its U.S. Financial Diaries Project (see our interview with Jennifer Tescher of CFSI for more). He is also a fellow at the Filene Research Institute.

In his current role as Roy F. and Jean Humphrey Proffitt Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School, Michael teaches courses in domestic and international financial regulation. He's also been instrumental in forming the University of Michigan's Center on Finance, Law and Policy, which integrates finance, law, business, and computer science to work on difficult problems facing the world, including how to make the financial system fairer and safer. I highly encourage you to peruse his faculty website to find more resources.

Below you can find links to works referenced in the episode:

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Please subscribe to the podcast by opening your favorite podcast app and searching for "Jo Ann Barefoot", or in iTunes.    

Steve Carlson, Founder & CEO of Ascend, Winner of the CFSI Financial Solutions Lab Competition

Jo Ann Barefoot

Episode 9 finds us at the 2015 EMERGE conference in Austin with the winners of the first Financial Solutions Lab competition.

The contest is a $30 million, five-year initiative funded by JPMorgan Chase and run by the Center for Financial Services Innovation, or CFSI, the conference sponsor (note -- I serve on CFSI's board). It challenges entrepreneurs to create solutions for the cash flow difficulties facing millions of American middle and lower income-households.

Two hundred ninety-eight innovators applied. Nine were chosen. And  -- drum roll - one was Steve Carlson of Ascend Consumer Finance, our guest for this episode.

Ascend was recognized for its unique approach to broadening credit access and affordability for non-prime borrowers.  The company wants to drive a new generation of lending with its Adaptive Risk Pricing tool, which actively monitors and rewards customers for positive financial actions throughout the span of their loan, sharply cutting interest costs.

I've known Ascend's Co-Founder and CEO Steve Carlson since we both joined the Consumer Advisory Board of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) when it first was formed in 2012. Ascend has benefited - and so does our podcast - from Steve's double background in banking and technology. He has held senior executive roles at HSBC and Washington Mutual and advised global financial services firms as a co-founder of Sung Carlson Associates. He was also the head of marketing and business development at Intuit Financial Services ( and Quicken).

(A side-note on Intuit:  in the recording, Steve  relates its history and I ask if its founder, Scott Cook, got started by making calls from a phone book. Afterwards, I looked up the story and found it in The Lean Startup, by  Eric Ries (pages 88-89). He writes that in 1982 Cook "picked up two phone books: one for Palo Alto, California, where he was living at the time, and the other for Winnetka, Illinois." He randomly called people to gauge interest in his idea, and a company was born. For any listeners who haven't read The Lean Startup, do!)

In our conversation, Steve describes the impetus behind Ascend, their current status (including their partnership with Lending Tree), and why he believes banking should be a value-driven proposition. He thinks both consumers and the industry can benefit by improving the financial health of consumers. The company's pioneering product, RateRewards, enables borrowers to earn up to 50% off their interest expense by making responsible financial choices throughout the life of their loan. With Adaptive Risk Pricing, Ascend is able to offer loans at rates that reflect real-time performance instead of past behavior. This, Steve says, is reinventing "the whole concept of underwriting and risk assessment."

Indeed, many "non-prime borrowers" - a group that actually represents about a third of the U.S. population - are better candidates than their credit scores would indicate. One-time financial shocks and "thin" files can greatly diminish a consumer's chance of getting a reasonable rate on a loan, or even a loan at all at a traditional institution. Ascend is encouraging borrowers to bet on themselves and prove -- through their actions, rather than their credit history -- that they are creditworthy. As Steve says in the episode: "Everyone today [is] going to be in a different stage in terms of their financial health ... I might be in great shape today; tomorrow could be totally different."  Ascend is trying to make the road to financial wellness smoother -- something Steve says he feels good about.

This episode of Barefoot Innovation became a brainstorming session, as Steve and I tried to think through how innovators, banks and regulators can move toward better ideas for financial consumers -- including musings on how innovators should interact with the world of bank charters and regulation.

Enjoy it!  And check out more information on Ascend, and on the Innovation Lab winners.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes HERE or by opening your favorite podcast app and searching for "Jo Ann Barefoot".


Episode 1 - Raj Date

Jo Ann Barefoot

Launching Our Podcasts:  Barefoot Innovation

I’m thrilled today to announce two innovations for my blog – first in what we’re sharing here, and second, in how we share it with you.

Welcome to our brand-new podcast program, Barefoot Innovation, and to our first episode -- a conversation with Raj Date, former Acting Director of the CFPB and now Managing Partner at Fenway Summer LLC.

Raj has given us the ideal launch into our series, because these podcasts are designed to be a search -- for ideas on how to do better for financial consumers.  We’re seeking out better products and practices, smarter regulation, new kinds of business models and cultures, new ways to empower consumers, and above all, new technology, which is suddenly making it both possible, and necessary, to rethink today’s system.

We’re conducting our search through conversations. We’re finding the most fascinating people in the field. That includes, importantly, lots of people who don’t know each other – who barely even know about each other – but who are actually working on the very same challenges from different angles, amidst rapid change. We listen to them, mix their insights, and through the mixing, germinate new ideas.

Finding new ideas is urgent, because consumer financial services is the first industry to face technology-driven disruption while being both essential to everyone, and massively regulated. The changes coming will be both good and bad – which means they will, inevitably, disrupt the regulatory system, too – with all its enormous complexity.

Everyone involved in serving and protecting financial consumers needs new strategies, now, to navigate the years of upheaval ahead. To do that, people must look beyond their niches, at the whole landscape that’s changing around them.

Barefoot Innovation makes that more easy, and more fun.  We've built it for:

  • Industry and regulatory people who want to understand the fintech world
  • Fintech innovators who want to understand the regulatory world
  • Tech companies – ditto, and
  • All the people working toward financial inclusion and fairness

We will talk about it all. Mobile payments, big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, the internet of things, voice technology, behavioral science and manipulation, personal financial management (PFM), online companies and channels, marketplace lending and investment, Bitcoin and crypto-currency, and emerging new business models and cultures. We’ll explore all the related regulatory trends in fairness, fair lending,  inclusiveness, transparency, suitability, privacy, data security, risk-assessment, compliance innovation, banking system access, principles-based regulation, enforcement, and regulatory complexity and cost.

We’ll talk with start-ups, venture capital people, bank executives, non-banks, global tech firms, compliance leaders,  lawyers, regulators, ex-regulators (like me), policymakers, advocates, academics -- the whole spectrum.

Every podcast will provide some practical advice, some long-term insight, and some fun.

(And some will bring you surprises.)

So, for today, please listen in on my conversation with Raj Date as he shares his thinking on technology, competition, regulatory risks, advice for banks and non-banks, and some suggestions for regulators.  Join me for Barefoot Innovation, Episode One.

Here is the URL to subscribe:

You can also find the podcast by opening your favorite podcast provider (iTunes, Overcast, etc.) and searching for Jo Ann Barefoot or by clicking HERE.

Listen and enjoy!

Please note that the views expressed by guests on Barefoot Innovation are their own and do not reflect the opinions of Jo Ann Barefoot or Jo Ann Barefoot Group LLC, nor do we endorse any product, service, or company discussed.