Personal Finance

Here's who Biden would likely pick as the top financial watchdog for consumers

Key Points
  • Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president, would likely pick a new director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau if elected in November.
  • The CFPB has become more lax in regulating Wall Street during the Trump administration, according to consumer advocates.
  • Many top candidates include current and former CFPB staffers and have ties to Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a voter mobilization event at the Michigan State Fairgrounds in Novi, Michigan, October 16, 2020.
Tom Brenner | Reuters

Consumers are likely to get a new financial watchdog if Joe Biden wins the presidential election next month.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has languished during the Trump administration, making it likely that Biden, if elected, would make leadership changes, according to consumer advocates.

The agency protects consumers from financial abuse and predatory practices in common financial services like credit cards, mortgages and loans.

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The agency — an artifact of the Obama administration, when Biden served as vice president — was established in 2011, in the wake of the Great Recession, by the Dodd-Frank financial-reform law.

"It's not that everything at the CFPB is broken," said Richard Cordray, former director of the agency and an Obama appointee. "[But] they've retreated on being aggressive on enforcement and given the green light to financial companies to walk into the gray areas.

"That's very unfortunate, very counter to what we were doing."

President Donald Trump appointed the current director, Kathy Kraninger, at the end of 2018. She replaced acting director Mick Mulvaney, who at one time called the bureau a "joke" in "a sick, sad kind of way."

Kathy Kraninger, former president Donald Trump's appointee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A recent Supreme Court ruling paves the way for Biden to install someone new, allowing the president to fire the CFPB head at will.

The CFPB didn't comment on the likelihood that Kraninger would be replaced if Biden wins.

However, a spokeswoman defended Kraninger's tenure. Total consumer redress and relief in 2019 was the third-highest in bureau history and the number of new enforcement actions in 2020 are on pace to be the highest in five years, she said.

Those numbers are inflated, according to consumer advocates. In many cases, financial firms didn't have to pay penalties because the agency ultimately suspended or forgave them, advocates said. Consumer relief was also largely driven by a single case, involving an Equifax data-breach, an investigation that pre-dated Kraninger's tenure, said advocates.

They also point to the rollback of certain Obama-era rules, like one around payday loans, as evidence of a more lax watchdog.   

Here is how President Trump's and Joe Biden's tax plans differ
Here is how President Trump's and Joe Biden's tax plans differ

The short list

Biden and vice presidential running mate Kamala Harris aren't making any personnel decisions pre-election, according to a spokesperson for their transition team.

But here's who is believed to be on a short list of possible directors to helm the consumer agency, according to CFPB experts and insiders, some of whom are privy to deliberations among the transition team. They requested anonymity to be able to speak openly about potential candidates.

Richard Cordray

Cordray, the first director of the CFPB, is thought to be a logical choice given his experience and knowledge of the bureau's inner workings.

As director, Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general, was generally thought to be aggressive in rulemakings and enforcement against Wall Street firms, lauded by Democrats and rankling some Republican lawmakers.

Richard Cordray
Kirk Irwin | Getty Images News | Getty Images

His roughly six-year tenure featured some blockbuster actions, including a $100 million fine imposed against Wells Fargo in 2016 for its scandal involving fake bank accounts set up for customers without their knowledge.

He stepped down from his post in 2017 before the end of his term the following year, to run for governor of Ohio. (The Democrat ultimately lost the race to Republican Mike DeWine in 2018.)

Cordray declined comment on a potential appointment.

Rohit Chopra

Rohit Chopra is a commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission and formerly served as assistant director at the CFPB until 2015.

Chopra joined the Treasury Department after the passage of Dodd-Frank to help launch the CFPB, where he oversaw the agency's student loan agenda and became its student loan ombudsman.  

Rohit Chopra
Alex Edelman/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Chopra, who was confirmed to the FTC in 2018, later served as a special advisor to the Education Secretary to help in efforts around student loans.

"If there's a real short list, Rohit's name is always on it," according to one financial expert and former CFPB official.

Patrice Ficklin

Patrice Ficklin is the founding director of the CFPB's Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity.

Ficklin, a holdover from the early days of the agency, has served in her current role since 2011 and oversees nondiscriminatory access to credit for consumers.

She is a former attorney at Relman, Dane & Colfax, a civil rights law firm, and was previously associate general counsel at Fannie Mae.

Rep. Katie Porter

Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., sits on the Financial Services Committee in the House of Representatives.

Porter, who has served in Congress since 2019, has gained a reputation for her aggressive questioning of congressional witnesses and for her use of whiteboards to grill executives like JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon.

Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., during a House Oversight Committee hearing on Mar. 12.
Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Porter is a former law student of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who was integral to the CFPB's formation. She was appointed by Kamala Harris, then the California attorney general, to be an independent monitor of banks in the state, and is on leave from a professorship at the University of California, Irvine School of Law.

Adam Levitin

Adam Levitin is a law professor at Georgetown University, where he specializes in bankruptcy, commercial law and financial regulation.

Levitin, also a former Warren student, has written extensively on consumer financial protection issues. He was formerly on the CFPB's Consumer Advisory Board and served as special counsel to the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

"He's very progressive and very sophisticated about how financial markets work," according to one official who previously held a senior position at the CFPB.

Bharat Ramamurti

Bharat Ramamurti was an economic advisor to Sen. Warren during her recent bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, and was previously Warren's senior counsel on banking and economic policy.

In April, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, appointed Ramamurti to the Congressional Oversight Commission, a five-member panel meant to oversee the implementation of economic relief provisions enacted during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some observers question whether Ramamurti might be better-suited for a higher office in a Biden administration, such as a position at the Treasury.

"Part of the reality of this is, there's some musical chairs to it," according to one financial expert who was familiar with conversations among the Biden transition team. "A lot of people are interested in serving somewhere."