President Obama nominated Richard Cordray, the former attorney general of Ohio, to officially have your back. If and when Cordray is confirmed, he’ll run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency created last summer to defend consumers against abusive practices by banks and other financial institutions. Who is this Cordray fella? And why is he, of all people, poised to hold such an important position? To help you get a handle on Cordray, here are ten key quotes to better understand him.
1. “Strong ally of Elizabeth Warren’s”
First and foremost, the biggest bit of news here is not who’s been nominated by President Obama to lead the bureau, but who isn’t being nominated. That’d be Elizabeth Warren. A Harvard Law School professor who came up with the idea for creating the CFPB, Warren was appointed by Obama last year to get the agency up and running. Before and after then, she’s said and done many things to get under the skin of business interests, like last fall, while speaking to a few hundred Wall Street executives, when she described the world she feared most as a “Wild West where companies use deception to pick off every consumer they can get in their sights.”
Even before Warren’s appointment, it had been speculated/assumed that at some point she’d be nominated to run the bureau officially. Over the past year, she’s remained fairly low-key and kept the provocative statements to a minimum. Instead of ambitious over-regulating, the bureau has spent its time setting up systems for gathering complaints from consumers and creating simplified mortgage disclosure forms to make it easier for consumers to shop around, compare, and just plain understand the terms of any mortgage.
Nonetheless, Warren is viewed as someone who is unconfirmable because of her track record of (how dare she!) advocating for consumers even if it means banks look bad and make less money. If a confirmation hearing for Warren ever took place, there would be no shortage of Warren’s own words being used against her, like when she said “the big banks just keep slinging out uglier and uglier products.”
So instead of Warren, we get Cordray. Warren wooed him to join the CFPB, and to many consumer advocacy groups, that seems like enough to make him worthy of support:
“With her track record of standing up to Wall Street and fighting for consumers, Elizabeth Warren was the best qualified to lead this bureau that she conceived — and we imagine Richard Cordray would agree,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. The committee collected more than 350,000 petition signatures supporting Warren. “That said, Rich Cordray has been a strong ally of Elizabeth Warren’s and we hope he will continue her legacy of holding Wall Street accountable.”
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2. “Easier to get approved”
If a Warren confirmation is impossible, the next best thing would be to get someone handpicked by Warren, who would do pretty much the same things but wouldn’t get conservatives and business interests up in arms to the same extent. Observers tell Reuters that’s what we’re getting in Cordray:
“He’s from the same mold as Elizabeth Warren but he is easier to get approved,” said Matt McCormick, portfolio manager at Bahl & Gaynor Investment Counsel Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio.
3. “Bank challenger”
Cordray is the former attorney general of Ohio, a graduate of Oxford University and the University of Chicago Law School, and current top enforcement officer for the CFPB. He’s also been spoken of as a potential future governor of Ohio and was a five-time champion on “Jeopardy!” in the ’80s (perhaps now he’ll be the answer to some future “Jeopardy!” question as well). But how does the Wall Street Journal describe Cordray in its headline announcing his nomination? As a “Bank Challenger.” As Ohio’s attorney general, Cordray launched several high-profile lawsuits against banks and lenders on the behalf of misled investors, and it’s his “anti-business” agenda that we’ll be hearing about again and again in the weeks to come.
Or, perhaps, Republican senators will stick to their guns (figuratively speaking) and refuse to discuss the possibility of any individual running the CFPB. Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby reiterated their position — transforming the bureau into a five-person commission — yesterday:
“Until President Obama addresses our concerns by supporting a few reasonable structural changes, we will not confirm anyone to lead it,” Mr. Shelby said. “No accountability, no confirmation.”
4. “Warren without the charm”
It’s hard to imagine a competent, diligent CFPB leader that the banks would be happy with. The agency’s mission is consumer protection — the words are in the name — and that’s often at odds with a bank’s mission, which is more like profit protection. But the banks seem to really not like Cordray. By most accounts, Cordray is an intelligent, quiet, wonky guy who’d fit in well in an academic setting. One bank lobbyist describes him this way:
“… all the hard edge and ambition of Warren without the charm.”
5. “Regulatory zealot”
Here’s another perspective on Cordray from bankers’ point of view:
“Richard Cordray was known as sort of a regulatory zealot in Ohio and generally was pretty tough on the financial services industry within his state,” said Camden Fine, head of the Independent Community Bankers of America, echoing others in the financial industry who were reluctant to speak publicly. “We have concerns about how he will handle enforcement of CFPB regulations and the new rules that the CFPB will be pumping out. … The jury is still out.”
6. “Does not come off as a zealot”
Consumer groups, interestingly enough, are making a point to portray Cordray as anything but a zealot:
“He’s been a national leader,” said Travis Plunkett, legislative director for the Consumer Federation of America, an advocacy group. “He does not come off as a zealot … but he’s been very vigorous in trying to better protect consumers from financial abuses.”
7. “Fixed casino”
The Warren-like phrase spoken by Cordray that’ll surely surface again in the weeks to come is this one. Cordray didn’t describe Wall Street this way, not exactly anyway. But Wall Street and the banks will surely make the case that Cordray is out to get them, even if that means the economy as a whole will suffer. For the record, here’s what Cordray said last fall, before he left Ohio to join the CFPB:
“There’s a belief here that Wall Street is a fixed casino and it’s back in business, and we’re left holding the bag,” said Mr. Cordray, whose office overlooks East Broad. “It’s important for us to show we’ll go after a company that does wrong.”
8. “Weeds out the bad actors”
In his first interview after joining the agency in early 2011, Cordray made his own case that the CFPB’s mission is worthwhile, and that financial institutions that do the right thing should be welcoming the bureau with open arms:
He said companies that opposed setting up the new agency should want even-handed regulation that “weeds out the bad actors” that compete unfairly against other firms.
“Good, solid financial businesses have nothing to fear and maybe much to gain,” he said. The agency also wants to forge a “strong, cooperative relationship” with state attorneys general, and the Dodd-Frank law should make it easier for various state and U.S. agencies to combine forces, Mr. Cordray added.
9. “Gold-plated resume”
So far, it looks like Cordray’s qualifications and background are impeccable, which is why opponents of Cordray and the CFPB itself may resort to more name calling and distractions than usual. Here’s one description of Cordray when he joined the CFPB as chief enforcer:
“He’s got a gold-plated resume and a wealth of experience. … He’s very reasonable, he’s very smart, he’s very fair,” said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. “He understands the financial, the economic, the fiscal things, as well as the law enforcement side of it. … To me, that’s the type of person you want in that position.”
10. “Looking out for ordinary people”
In his announcement yesterday, President Obama thanked Elizabeth Warren for doing such a great job over the past year, without explaining why she wasn’t going to get to keep the job as head of the bureau. Instead, he focused on Cordray’s history of service:
“Richard Cordray has spent his career advocating for middle-class families, from his tenure as Ohio’s attorney general to his most recent role as heading up the enforcement division at the C.F.P.B. and looking out for ordinary people in our financial system,” Mr. Obama said in a written statement.