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Standing Up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Elizabeth Warren writes about the conversations she's having to make sure it gets done right.

A few weeks ago, President Obama asked me to get to work starting the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  He was clear about his goal:  Level the playing field for American families and fix the broken consumer credit market—and do it as quickly and effectively as possible. 

Today, I’m in California to continue conversations with families, financial industry leaders, consumer advocates, and others about the challenges and opportunities of setting up the new agency.  Over the past month, I have listened more than I have talked, and I have learned a great deal about the need for change and the places where change should come first. 

While I am in California, a new layer in the conversations will begin.  This morning, I will meet in Silicon Valley with technology industry leaders to solicit advice about building a state-of-the-art, 21st century agency that harnesses some new tools that exist in our hyper-connected and digital world.  Tonight, I will deliver a speech at the University of California, Berkeley exploring key ways that information technology might be used to propel the consumer agency forward. 

I think the tools that can be at the new agency's disposal will have at least three kinds of implications.  First, information technology can help ensure that the new agency remains a steady and reliable voice for American families. The kinds of monitoring and transparency that technology make possible can help this agency ward off industry capture.

Second, technology can be used to help the agency become an effective, high-performance institution that is able to update information, spot trends, and deliver government services twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  If we set it up right from the beginning, the agency can collect and analyze data faster and get on top of problems as they occur, not years later.  Think about how much sooner attention could have turned to foreclosure documentation (robo-signers and fake notaries) if, back in 2007 and 2008, the consumer agency had been in place to gather information and to act before the problem became a national scandal.

And third, technology can be used to expand publicly available data so that more people can analyze information, spot problems, and craft solutions.  When these data are made available – while also, of course, protecting consumer privacy, shielding personal information and protecting proprietary business information – a shared opportunity arises between the agency and people outside government to have a hand in shaping the consumer credit world. 

I never forget the central mission of the new consumer agency: to level the playing field for American families in the marketplace for consumer financial products and services.  The agency will have rule making authority and supervision powers, and it plans to use them.  But I want to explore every tool that might repair the broken consumer credit market, and technology can play a key role in creating a more resilient agency and empowering consumers to engage in their own enforcement of market norms. 

As with anything truly new, we will have to take some risks.  But building this new agency gives us a chance to create a voice for families in Washington and to change the way Americans interact with government and their expectations of what government can do for them. 

I look forward to more conversations.