Where Would You Rather Be a Consumer?

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Here are your choices: A world with “a level playing field where the best products at the best prices win,” or in “the Wild West where companies use deception to pick off every consumer they can get in their sights.”

These are the options presented by Elizabeth Warren, recently appointed as head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, who spoke last night to 400 Wall Street executives—and by extension, to the nation’s leaders and the public. The NY Times got hold of the transcript, and here are some more of Warren’s thoughts:

“Where I come from, nobody calls fine print, hidden fees and surprise penalties ‘negotiated contract terms’ or ‘innovations,’ ” she said, in a jab at the language lenders have used to describe complex contractual terms. “On a polite day, my brothers in Oklahoma call that kind of stuff ‘garbage.’ They don’t care if it is there because regulators required it, because the companies’ lawyers were trying to ward off lawsuits, or because it was a good place to hide another new fee. They simply see a world in which the financial institutions they do business with are not on their side.”

Sounds like the world I live in. How about you? I assume that if I’m not vigilant, credit card issuers and banks, along with cable and cell phone providers and the like, will rip me off at every opportunity. I wouldn’t know what to do if I actually thought it was OK to let my guard down. Frankly, I probably won’t let my guard down no matter what.

The Washington Post quoted another part of Warren’s address, when she stated, in plainspoken language:

“Let’s measure our success with simple questions” — Can customers understand a product? Do they know the risks? Can they easily figure out what it really costs?

And also:

“It is now, right here at the beginning, that we have a remarkable chance to put aside misconceptions and preconceptions — whether they are yours or mine. We have a chance to build something better,” she said. “I’m here tonight to ask if we can work together.”

So, um, can we?