The Washington Post recently published a long examination of the obstacles facing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in its effort to rein in payday lenders which prey on low-income families. The leading companies in the industry have managed to block various investigations of their practices.
The agency’s difficulties mainly stem from a lawsuit brought by financial industry groups challenging the way in which the CFPB is funded. It is based on disingenuous arguments about the separation of power between the executive branch and Congress. The case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments last month but has not yet issued a ruling.
The good news is that the CFPB, which is no stranger to opposition from powerful corporate and Congressional foes, is not backing down. While the payday lending cases may be stalled, the agency is aggressively targeting other bad actors.
Last month, the CFPB fined the credit reporting giant TransUnion $23 million for violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act by failing to ensure the accuracy of the information it supplies to landlords for screening of tenant applications. Last week, the agency fined Citibank over $25 million for intentionally discriminating against Armenian Americans in reviewing credit card applications and then lying to those applicants about the reason for the denial.
In its latest action, the CFPB goes after the online lender Enova International Inc. for what the agency calls “widespread illegal conduct including withdrawing funds from customers’ bank accounts without their permission, making deceptive statements about loans, and cancelling loan extensions.”
This is not the first time the CFPB has targeted Enova. In 2019 it fined the company $3.2 million for many of the same practices. That penalty apparently did not get Enova to change its ways. The CFPB found that more than 100,000 customers have been subjected to abuses during the past four years.
To its credit, the CFPB is not just issuing another cease-and-desist order and imposing a larger fine ($15 million) this time around. It is also restricting some of Enova’s business and putting a crimp in the wallets of the company’s top managers.
Specifically, the CFPB is banning Enova for a period of seven years from offering or providing closed-end consumer loans that must be substantially repaid within 45 days. It is also requiring the company to reform its executive pay practices so that compensation is determined in part by compliance with federal consumer financial law.
This approach of restricting a rogue corporation’s business is potentially more effective than simply upping the fine. The same goes for making top executives personally feel some financial pain as a result of their failure to end the misconduct.
In its dozen years of existence, the CFPB has an impressive track record of policing misconduct in the financial services sector. As shown in Violation Tracker, it has imposed more than $17 billion in penalties against miscreants large and small. Let’s hope it is able to go on performing this essential mission.