Less than one month into the new year, New York’s Department of Financial Services (DFS) has taken strong measures to make good on its proclamation that “2020 must be the year of the consumer” by: (1) unveiling a 12-member Consumer Protection Task Force to help implement an extensive consumer protection agenda; and (2) adding former CFPB Deputy Director Leandra English as a special policy advisor to the Superintendent.
The Consumer Protection Task Force
On January 9, Superintendent Lacewell announced the roll-out of a 12-member Consumer Protection Task Force to “further DFS’ mission to protect consumer as the federal government rolls back important consumer protections.” In his annual State of the State, Governor Cuomo expressed his belief that with the current Administration’s “rolling back of consumer protections and regulations, Americans are more exposed to predatory and abusive practices than at any time since the 2008 financial crisis.” The DFS press release noted that one of the task force’s immediate focuses will be to help bring to fruition “the extensive consumer protections proposals included in Governor Cuomo’s 2020 State of the State agenda” which includes such initiatives as: (1) licensing and regulating debt collection companies; (2) the codification of a Federal Trade Commission rule banning confessions of judgment; (3) strengthening the state’s consumer protection laws to protect against unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices; (4) cracking down on elder financial abuse; and (5) increasing access to affordable banking services.
According to the DFS, task force members will “provide formal input on the [DFS’] consumer engagement, policy development and research” in order to “ensure that consumer’s always come first as the [DFS] develops policies and regulates the financial services industry.” The 12-member committee consists of: (1) Chuck Bell, Programs Director for the advocacy division of Consumer Reports; (2) Elisabeth Benjamin, Esq., Vice President of Health Initiatives at the Community Service Society; (3) Carolyn Coffee, Esq., Director of Litigation for Economic Justice at Mobilization for Justice; (4) Beth Finkel, State Director for the New York State Office of the AARP; (5) Jay Inwald, Esq., Director of Foreclosure Prevention at Legal Services NYC; (6) Paul Kantwill, Esq., Distinguished Professor in Residence and Executive Director, Rule of Law Program at Loyola University Chicago School of Law; (7) Neha Karambelkar, Esq., Staff Attorney at Western New York Law Center; (8) Kristen Keefe, Esq., Senior Staff Attorney with the Consumer Finance and Housing Unit at Empire Justice Center; (9) Peter Kochenburger, Esq., Executive Director of the Insurance LLM Program and Deputy Director of the Insurance Law Center at the University of Connecticut Law School; (10) Sarah Ludwig, Esq., Co-Director of New Economy Project; (11) Frankie Miranda, Executive Director at the Hispanic Federation; and (12) Cy Richardson, Senior Vice President at the National Urban League.
Superintendent Lacewell noted that, as the federal government, in her words, “dismantles consumer protections across the board, New York has intensified its commitment” to “further solidify New York’s reputation as the consumer protection capital of America.” Lacewell added that, “[w]ith the federal government stepping down and refusing to enforce critical consumer protection law, we must make 2020 the Year of the Consumer.”
NY DFS Adds Former CFPB Deputy Director Leandra English
On January 14, 2020 the DFS announced that former CFPB Deputy Director Leandra English would be joining the DFS as a special policy advisor reporting directly to Linda Lacewell. According to the press release, Ms. English will “help develop policy initiatives and manage DFS’ consumer protection agenda” and her appointment “strengthens the mission of the [DFS] to protect and empower New York consumers as Washington continues to roll back on consumer protections.” Ms. English is well known for leaving the CFPB after having been appointed acting director by departing director Richard Cordray only to see the President’s administration issue a dual appointment, naming Mick Mulvaney as acting director. The ensuing legal dispute reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit before Ms. English ultimately resigned.
Ms. English’s most recent work was as Director of Financial Services Advocacy for the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), a “national nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education.” One of Ms. English’s initiatives in that role was to support the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal Act (H.R. 1423), known as the “FAIR” Act, which would eliminate compulsory arbitration in consumer contracts and was passed by the House of Representatives in the Fall by a 225-186 vote. Upon the bills passage, Ms. English commented that, “Americans deserve their day in court, but when companies force consumers into signing away their rights, the chances of a fair outcome diminish drastically. We thank the House for taking this important step in eliminating these clauses from contracts for products consumers use every day including credit cards and checking accounts. We now need the Senate to act to protect consumers.”
As the DFS continues its push to strengthen protections for New York consumers in 2020, it will be interesting to watch how such initiatives impact the DFS’ investigative and enforcement priorities. Moreover, as New York is a bellwether state, it will be interesting to see whether other states follow suit.