The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fired all 25 members of the agency’s Consumer Advisory Board during a conference call Wednesday, saying it wanted to bring in more diverse views.
Anthony Welcher, a political appointee and the CFPB’s policy advisory for external affairs, told consumer advisory members during a brief call that the agency would be modifying how the board works.
"We’ve decided we’re going to start the advisory groups with new membership, to bring in these new perspectives and new dialogue," Welcher said, according to a recording of the call obtained by American Banker. "We want more diverse voices and we want to bring people in from larger-scale organizations, larger-scale opportunities in the communities to hear about processes we may be going through."
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The CFPB sent an email to the consumer board members stating that it would continue to convene a consumer advisory board, which is mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act, but would reconstitute the group with "new, smaller memberships."
"Smaller memberships will ensure streamlined discussions about the Bureau’s policy priorities and needs in a productive manner," the email stated.
The CFPB said the board’s members and those of two other agency boards, the Community Bank Advisory Board and the Credit Union Advisory Board, were terminated and that they were not allowed to re-apply.
Ann Badour, the Consumer Advisory Board’s current chair, said in a press release that Mulvaney was shutting out the views of consumer advocates.
“Firing the current CAB members is another move indicating Acting Director Mick Mulvaney is only interested in obtaining views from his inner circle, and has no interest in hearing the perspectives of those who work with struggling American families,” Baddour said.
Members of the CFPB’s consumer board had served for three year terms with one-third of board changing hands every year. Welcher said the CFPB had amended the board’s charter so every member serves a single year.
Welcher answered questions from consumer advisory board members on a 33-minute call and cast the firings of the board as a cost-savings move.
"A major consideration was the savings that we will achieve by, we save multi-hundred thousand-dollar- a year savings for the bureau by not having the meetings the way that we’ve been structuring them," he said.
The move comes just a few days after some members of the board voiced concerns about Mulvaney’s plans in an article by American Banker. They noted that he had already scapped two planned meetings with the group and appeared disinterested in working with its current membership.
"We continue to hold out hope that the acting director will start following the law, and be open to input from a body that has provided valuable input and engagement for many years," Chi Chi Wu, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, and a member of the CFPB’s consumer advisory board told American Banker.
Asked how holding town halls and roundtables could replace the deep expertise of the consumer advisory board, Welcher responded that members could still weigh in on the issues, just not on the CFPB’s dime.
"We’re not necessarily going to be paying for your travel to have that conversation," he said.
CFPB spokesman John Czwartacki said in an emailed statement that "the bureau has not fired anyone."
"The outspoken members of the Consumer Advisory Board seem more concerned about protecting their taxpayer funded junkets to Washington, DC and being wined and dined by the Bureau than protecting consumers," Czwartacki said in an emailed statement.
"The Bureau will continue to meet its statutory obligation to convene the Consumer Advisory Board meetings as well as enhanced forms of public outreach and engagement."
On the conference call Wednesday, members of two other groups, the Community Bank Advisory Council and the Credit Union Advisory Council, said they were willing to pay their own way for meetings, but the CFPB said that was not being considered.
Karl Frisch, executive director of Allied Progress, said Mulvaney is meeting with banks and credit card companies that contributed to his congressional campaigns and has met with banking trade groups, but he has not met with the Consumer Advisory Board.
"Every move he makes is calculated to give industry more power in the process — end of story," Frisch said.
Members of the community bank and credit union advisory councils said they would have been willing to pay for their own travel expenses but the CFPB did not take that into consideration when it chose to disband all three boards.
Steven Swiontek, the chairman and CEO of the $2.1 billion-asset Gate City Bank, in Fargo, N.D., said he was surprised that Mulvaney did not meet with 19 members of the Community Bank Advisory Council.
"The bureau dictates what the agenda should be, so I guess I’m disappointed that the bureau did not have this group come in for one time to get a feel and appreciation as far as what community bankers are," Swiontek said conference call.
Josh Zinner, the CEO of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, said the CFPB owed the volunteer board members an explanation.
"I’m not hearing here much transparency," Zinner said. "You’ve talked about cost savings but nobody ever asked us if we were willing to cover our own costs, and you talked about town halls, but none of that gives us any clue why you saw fit to terminate these boards."
Kate Berry covers the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for American Banker.
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