Elizabeth Warren, Chair of Congressional Oversight for TARP, writes about why we need a financial consumer protection agency :
The Financial Product Safety Commission
Clearly, it is time for a new model of financial regulation, one focused primarily on consumer safety rather than corporate profitability. Financial products should be subject to the same routine safety screening that now governs the sale of every toaster, washing machine, and child’s car seat sold on the American market.
The model for such safety regulation is the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), an independent health and safety regulatory agency founded in 1972 by the Nixon Administration. The CPSC’s mission is to protect the American public from risks of injury and death from products used in the home, school, and recreation. The agency has the authority to develop uniform safety standards, order the recall of unsafe products, and ban products that pose unreasonable risks. In establishing the Commission, Congress recognized that “the complexities of consumer products and the diverse nature and abilities of consumers using them frequently result in an inability of users to anticipate risks and to safeguard themselves adequately.”
The evidence clearly shows that CPSC is a cost-effective agency. Since it was established, product-related death and injury rates in the United States have decreased substantially. The CPSC estimates that just three safety standards for three products alone–cigarette lighters, cribs, and baby walkers–save more than $2 billion annually. The annual estimated savings is more than CPSC’s total cumulative budget since its inception.
So why not create a Financial Product Safety Commission (FPSC)? Like its counterpart for ordinary consumer products, this agency would be charged with responsibility to establish guidelines for consumer disclosure, collect and report data about the uses of different financial products, review new financial products for safety, and require modification of dangerous products before they can be marketed to the public. The agency could review mortgages, credit cards, car loans, and a number of other financial products, such as life insurance and annuity contracts. In effect, the FPSC would evaluate these products to eliminate the hidden tricks and traps that make some of them far more dangerous than others.
An FPSC would promote the benefits of free markets by assuring that consumers can enter credit markets with confidence that the products they purchase meet minimum safety standards. No one expects every customer to become an engineer to buy a toaster that doesn’t burst into flames, or analyze complex diagrams to buy an infant car seat that doesn’t collapse on impact. By the same reasoning, no customer should be forced to read the fine print in 30-plus-page credit card contracts to determine whether the company claims it can seize property paid for with the credit card or raise the interest rate by more than 20 points if the customer gets into a dispute with the water company…….
A Well-Regulated Market
When markets work, they produce value for both buyers and sellers, both borrowers and lenders. But the basic premise of any free market is full information. When a lender can bury a sentence at the bottom of 47 lines of text saying it can change any term at any time for any reason, the market is broken……..
Personal responsibility will always play a critical role in dealing with credit cards, just as personal responsibility remains a central feature in the safe use of any other product. But a Financial Product Safety Commission could eliminate some of the most egregious tricks and traps in the credit industry. And for every family who avoids a trap or doesn’t get caught by a trick, that’s regulation that works.