The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been a thorn in the side of the banking industry since its creation by the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. The bureau’s authority to rewrite consumer regulations impacts even those banks below the $10 billion asset threshold it doesn’t supervise directly, so we imagine that many bankers are cheering on Interim Director Mick Mulvaney while his hawkish style bears fruit, or doesn’t, depending on your perspective.
But here’s the rub: These changes are occurring in a highly charged political atmosphere in Washington, D.C. So it was in 2010, and so it is today. The CFPB (and Dodd-Frank generally) was and remains a politically divisive issue in Washington.
Mulvaney is a former Republican congressman from South Carolina, and while he may truly believe that the changes he has wrought at the bureau are in the banking industry’s best interests, it’s hard not to see them as hawkish political cannon fodder boosting up an agenda that has drawn mixed reviews. So what happens if the White House flips to the Democrats in 2020? Will a new director reverse course and undo what Mulvaney has undone? In a couple years, will we rinse and repeat this all again?
Or, considering Mulvaney is still technically in an interim role, how much would his style and decisions shift if a different, less boisterous leader were put in place?
Bankers might not like regulation—and certainly the industry is obsessively regulated—but generally they accept the rules that are in place so long as they know what they are and have confidence they don’t dramatically change overnight.
Bankers generally favor less regulation for very good reasons—it costs a lot of time and money, which could arguably be better spent improving their products, performance, or the experience for their customers and shareholders. So a bipartisan review of the CFPB’s mission and methods would probably be a good thing.
But banks also function best in stable, predictable environments. And when a regulatory body is the target of political promises and potentially sweeping reform every two years, it creates uncertainty. And uncertainty doesn’t serve this industry well.
It’s impossible to know completely what the political landscape will look like a year, two or four down the road, but banks will remain, and regulators will remain, and the relationship between the two will remain. It only makes sense to keep those relationships stable.