New Consumer Bureau director will launch ‘listening tour’; vows to use enforcement powers

The newly installed director of the federal consumer financial protection agency will launch a three-month “listening tour” and will work on finding the balance between career and political staff at the agency, she told reporters Tuesday.

In a press conference, Kathleen (“Kathy”) Kraninger, the new director of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (BCFP, formerly known as CFPB), said she is planning the listening tour along with visiting field offices of the agency and meeting with stakeholders.

Kraninger was sworn into office Monday evening; she was confirmed by the Senate Thursday on a vote of 50-49.

In other comments, Kraninger said there is a role for both political and career members of the staff and that she will work on finding out what is the balance among them. As director, she inherits a senior staff of political appointees that was mostly selected by former Acting Director John (“Mick”) Mulvaney.

[In the photo, BCFP Director Kathleen (“Kathy”) Kraninger responds to questions from the press on her first day on the job.]

Kraninger would not talk about specific staff members. Asked about Eric Blakenstein, head of the supervision, enforcement and fair lending division at the agency, who was recently criticized for past racial slurs posted online and attributed to him, Kraninger said she would not make personnel decisions here first day on the job. She said personnel matters should be private.

She also told the reporters that the agency’s efforts around data security and data privacy will be “a big focal point” during her tenure “in terms of what the bureau collects, how it’s used, how long it’s stored.” She indicated the bureau’s aggressive data collection efforts have necessitated the focus.

Regarding enforcement, she said she would use the agency’s “full enforcement powers when warranted.” “Enforcements are fundamental to the agency’s mission, and we will use them,” she said. “I think, by and large, the regulated industry wants to comply; I do believe that’s true.” But she said the bureau should be providing the entities that it regulates with the information that they need to comply.

Kraninger also said during the 30-minute press availability:

  • She hopes to speak with incoming House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) later Tuesday and that she wants to have a productive relationship with Congress. 
  • Regarding the “no-action letter” proposal issued by the agency, she said privacy, security, innovation, and consumer protection can be balanced. “We absolutely will put consumers first in the decisions I make,” she said.
  • She hasn’t made a decision about the name of the agency (which Mulvaney referred to as BCFP). “I am definitely going to be briefed on the name… I care more about what the agency does than what it is called,” she said. She also acknowledged awareness of recent reports of the estimated up to $300 million cost of changing the name (to regulated entities), and up to $19 million (for the agency).

Kraninger has already begun reaching out to stakeholders — at least one trade group executive (in a tweet) reported speaking to the new consumer bureau director Wednesday, reporting that Kraninger is “clearly focused” on protecting consumers from bad actors.