Not long ago, I was at a McDonald’s when a man came over, held out his hand and said he had been having trouble with a fee his bank had charged. It wasn’t huge, but he said the bank should not have charged him. He called and argued, talked with customer relations, asked to speak to a manager — and he got a big, fat zero.
Then he said he remembered about the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and told the bank he would file a complaint. They put him on hold and then came back and said they would reverse the fee. The agency worked.
Today is the fourth anniversary of Dodd-Frank, the law that established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — and the third anniversary of the date the CFPB became an independent agency. And in those three years, the agency has done a lot to help level the playing field:
- The CFPB has forced big financial companies to return more than $4 billion dollars to consumers they cheated.
- The CFPB has put in place rules to protect consumers from a whole host of dangerous financial products and to make sure that companies can’t issue the kinds of deceptive mortgages that contributed to millions of foreclosures.
- The CFPB has helped tens of thousands of consumers resolve complaints against financial institutions that cheated them.
Sure, there is a lot of financial reform work left undone. The big banks today are dramatically bigger than they were in 2008 and they are taking on new risks, and I think that means we need a 21st Century Glass-Steagall law to break them up. But I celebrate the progress we’ve had so far: When big banks have to listen to their customers a little more, the playing field starts to level out just a little bit more.
The big banks spent more than a million dollars a day lobbying against financial reforms, and top lobbyists said that killing off the consumer agency was their number one priority. Even now, the Republicans continue the attack, introducing bills that would take the legs out from under the agency.
We didn’t have the lobbying muscle or the money that the big banks had. But we got that agency because we fought for it. We joined forces online and through groups, and we made our voices heard. And now, after three years, it’s starting to work.
I smiled at the guy who said he got his money back. I smiled because I love to hear how the CFPB works. But mostly I smiled because it reminded me of what we can do when we fight.