CFPB chief’s equal-opportunity calendar

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In her first four and a half months on the job, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Kathy Kraninger was no stranger to Capitol Hill, holding in-person meetings with lawmakers more than twice as often as her predecessor did during a similar time frame.

Kraninger, who has been at the helm of the agency since December, met in person with 16 members of the House or Senate from Dec. 11 through the end of April, most of them in the lawmaker's office. The meetings, posted as part of her public schedule that is available on the CFPB website, were held with 10 Republicans and six Democrats.

Yet her schedule, part of a planned "listening tour" to hear from various stakeholders, suggests a concerted effort to meet with members from both parties, as well as a diverse array of consumer advocates, bankers and trade group representatives.

Kraninger has had direct contact with the Democratic and Republican leaders of both the Senate Banking and House Financial Services committees, as well as former Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and former Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the two primary authors of the Dodd-Frank Act.

Still, observers say Kraninger's one-on-one meetings with members of Congress are notable for the head of an agency that is supposedly nonpartisan. During an equivalent time frame in 2012, former CFPB Director Richard Cordray, appointed under President Barack Obama, met face-to-face with only seven lawmakers. Yet his slate of meetings was less bipartisan since all seven were with Democrats.

Meanwhile, Kraninger met with 13 individual bankers, five more than Cordray during a similar time frame. Kraninger's meetings with bank executives included one on April 16 with interim Wells Fargo CEO C. Allen Parker. She has also held several meetings with trade group CEOs and staffs.

“An hour meeting with one senator or one banker means they’re getting much more attention,” said Dory Rand, president of Woodstock Institute, a Chicago-based advocacy group, who met with Kraninger both in person and as part of two larger group meetings on Feb. 5.

Yet Rand was just one of dozens of consumer advocates with whom Kraninger met.

While it is unclear whether such “meet and greet” sessions result in any changes to policy, it is informative to know who has had the CFPB director's ear.

Kraninger “has a deliberative manner and that is on display in the breadth of the meetings she’s held, but it has not altered the bureau’s priorities,” said Isaac Boltansky, an analyst at Compass Point Research & Trading. “She will be orchestrating what will be a regulatory rollback, a curtailment of enforcement activities and a shift in supervisory mandates.”

Calls to Dodd and Frank, discussions about financial literacy efforts

Kraninger's Capitol Hill visits included a December meeting with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, the ranking member on the Senate Banking Committee. In January, she met with House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the House panel's ranking member.

On April 3, Kraninger met with Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, to discuss financial literacy initiatives, according to Beatty spokesman Dominic Manecke. The congresswoman chairs the House Financial Services Services subcommittee on diversity and inclusion.

"Director Kraninger said since coming aboard at the CFPB she was surprised by the amount of materials, documents and resources surrounding financial literacy and this was an interest of hers to be more active in the financial literacy space," said Manecke.

By comparison, Cordray met in person with seven lawmakers, all Democrats, including former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Cordray also met one on one with 16 consumer advocates and held 20 roundtable discussions in his first four and a half months as CFPB director in 2012. Cordray also reported meetings with high-level officials in the Obama White House, including then-senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

Kraninger also made 25 phone calls with sitting and former members of Congress during the December-to-April time frame, including 12 calls with Democrats and 13 with Republicans. They included a Feb. 6 call with Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, a Feb. 8 call with Frank and a Feb. 13 call with Dodd.

'No Democratic roads or Republican highways'

Although it is common for agency heads to meet with members of Congress leading up to their confirmation hearings, some observers are perplexed by Kraninger’s outreach to lawmakers given that the CFPB was created as an independent agency.

“We were careful and intentional about who we met with,” said Previn Warren, partner at the law firm Jenner & Block and a former senior adviser to Cordray. “It was important to us that we didn’t project partisanship. It was not a partisan institution even though it was obviously set up under" the Obama administration. "Protecting consumers from predatory practices is not a partisan issue.”

Boltanksky suggested that Kraninger may have an affinity for Congress because she was a Republican clerk for the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security and a staff member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“She may have a higher comfort interacting with Congress especially compared with getting chastised by consumer groups,” Boltansky said. “It’s inherently more difficult to drive home a point in a group setting.”

Lawmakers said that Kraninger typically reached out to them. Many of the meetings were with the heads of banking subcommittees, according to congressional staffers.

Kraninger herself has suggested a willingness to listen to both sides of the aisle.

On her six-month anniversary at the CFPB last week, Kraninger described her public service career and quoted Norman Mineta, a former Democratic secretary of Transportation, for whom she had worked.

“He liked to say there were no Democratic roads or Republican highways,” Kraninger said.

Meetings with traditional and nontraditional financial institutions

Besides a meeting with Parker of Wells Fargo, the bank executives Kraninger met with included U.S. Bank CEO Andy Cecere on Feb. 21, American Express CEO Stephen Squeri on Feb. 27, TD Bank USA CEO Gregory Baca on March 1 and PNC Financial Services Group CEO Bill Demchak.

She also met with the heads of consumer banking at JPMorgan Chase and “senior staff” at Bank of America. Her industry meetings also included contact with fintech firms and other nonbank financial institutions. Kraninger has toured the headquarters of the software startup Plaid in San Francisco, and met with PayPal co-founder Max Levchin (now CEO of the online lender Affirm).

Kraninger also held phone or in-person meetings with over a dozen current and former regulators, both at the state and federal level. They have included multiple working meals with both Comptroller Joseph Otting and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Jelena McWilliams, as well as contact with Cordray; Sheila Bair, a former FDIC chair; and Martin Gruenberg, another former head of the FDIC who still sits on the agency's board.

CFPB advisory board, faith groups, consumer and housing advocates

Kraninger has met with dozens of advocates as well. Her calendar shows group listening sessions with current and former members of the CFPB's consumer advisory board, faith groups, consumer and housing advocates, and “financial education stakeholders.”

On Jan. 18, she made a site visit to EARN, a financial inclusion nonprofit based in San Francisco, the same day she met with consumer advocates. In April she held meetings with, among others, the Jump$tart Coalition, which promotes financial literacy for students, and Bet Tzedek, which offers a free legal service for low-income individuals. On Feb. 6, she held a phone call with Mike Calhoun, president of the Center for Responsible Lending, and on March 4 she spoke by phone with John Rao of the National Consumer Law Center.

From December 2018 to April 2019, Kraninger met with over 130 individuals affiliated with consumer, nonprofit and community organizations.

According to an agency spokesperson, Kraninger's listening tour was meant "to ensure the bureau benefited from hearing a variety of views before developing policy and rulemaking."

"Director Kraninger is committed to continuing this engagement to ensure that all viewpoints are heard,” the spokesperson said.

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Regulatory reform Regulatory relief Financial literacy Kathy Kraninger Richard Cordray Mick Mulvaney CFPB Senate Banking Committee House Financial Services Committee Women in Banking