New CFPB Chief Rohit Chopra Confirmed by Senate and Takes Immediate Action Against Big Tech Firms

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A&B Abstract:

On September 30, 2021, the Senate confirmed Rohit Chopra to serve as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in a 50-48 vote along party lines. He had been serving as a member of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) where he had been a vocal critic of big tech companies and advocated for increased restitution for consumers. He previously served as the CFPB’s private education loan ombudsman under former CFPB Director Richard Cordray. Prior to that, he had worked closely with Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the CFPB’s establishment. Consistent with his past practices, Chopra’s CFPB has now ordered six Big Tech companies to turn over information regarding their payment platforms.

Expectations for Chopra’s CFPB

President-elect Biden announced Chopra as his choice to lead the CFPB before Inauguration Day, and the Biden Administration subsequently referred his nomination to the Senate in February. Chopra succeeds Kathy Kraninger, who became Director in December 2018 after having served as a senior official at the Office of Management and Budget. She led the CFPB for two years before the incoming Biden Administration demanded her resignation on January 20. It is expected that Chopra will aggressively lead the CFPB and unleash an industry crack down. The October 21, 2021 order issued to Big Tech regarding payment products appears to be the first step in that plan. Additionally, credit reporting companies, small-dollar lenders, debt collectors, fintech companies, the student loan industry, and mortgage servicers are among the financial institutions expected to face scrutiny from Chopra’s CFPB. Prior to the Big Tech inquiry, the CFPB, under interim leadership, had already taken initial steps to implement pandemic-era regulations and to advance the Biden administration’s priorities. It is also expected that the enforcement practices under former-Director Cordray will be revived under a Chopra-led CFPB.

After his confirmation, Chopra stated an intent to focus on safeguarding household financial stability, echoing prior statements regarding his commitment to ensuring those under foreclosure or eviction protections during the pandemic are able to regain housing security. He has also declared an intent to closely scrutinize the ways that banks use online advertising, as well as take a hard look at data-collection practices at banks. In his remarks related to the market-monitoring order issued to Big Tech, Chopra was critical of the way companies may collect data and his concern that it may be used to “profit from behavioral targeting, particularly around advertising and e-commerce.”

Just one week later, Chopra delivered remarks in his first congressional hearing as Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director. In his prepared statements before both the House Committee on Financial Services and the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, he cited mortgage and rent payments, small business continuity, auto debt, and upcoming CARES Act forbearance expirations as problems he plans to address. He also stated an intent to closely monitor the mortgage market and scrutinize foreclosure activity. And, echoing his action from a week earlier, Chopra reiterated an intent to closely look at Big Tech and emerging payment processing trends. Chopra also noted a lack of competition in the mortgage refinance market and stated an intent to promote competition within the market.

Although appointed to a five year term, the CFPB director serves at the pleasure of the president after a landmark decision last year from the Supreme Court.

Takeaway

Industry participants, including credit reporting companies, small-dollar lenders, debt collectors, fintech companies, the student loan industry, and mortgage lenders and servicers can anticipate additional scrutiny in the coming months and years from the CFPB. As Chopra gets settled into his new role, we will be keenly watching where he turns his attention to next.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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