Elizabeth Warren, the top Obama administration official in charge of setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, made it clear late Wednesday that she intends to target financial disclosures as one of her top priorities.
In a speech to the Financial Services Roundtable, Warren emphasized that she wants to work with the lending industry to create principles-based disclosures that are simple for consumers to understand and is not seeking to add more layers of fine print.
"If all we do is … to continue writing 'thou shalt not' regulations and layering on more disclosures, then we will have missed a real opportunity," she said, according to a copy of her prepared remarks. "And if all those resources are used just to force an entire industry, begrudgingly or worse, to accept marginal changes in a few forms, we will have missed a real opportunity. On the other hand, if we use this moment to rethink our approach to regulating financial services, then we can seize the opportunity to do something unexpected — and exceptional."
Warren said the goal should be the proliferation of simple, easy-to-understand products and disclosures. In particular, she cited credit card disclosures as an area needing improvement. Instead of blaming the industry, she said that lawmakers and regulators had made disclosures too complicated by requiring vast amounts of information to be included. As a result, lawyers have told companies to use legalistic language in an effort to ward off lawsuits.
In crafting a new disclosure regime, Warren said new requirements would go the opposite direction.
"What should we drive toward? Short agreements that can be read in very little time with very high levels of understanding," she said. "Certain basic information would have to be made available, and each lender would set the terms of its deal: the interest rate, the penalty terms, the free gifts or rewards that come with the card and any other terms."
Warren said creating clear disclosures would help both consumers and lenders.
"For consumers, this would mean products that are easy to understand and easy to compare," she said. "For lenders, this means regulatory compliance costs could be reduced. Competition would flourish but in ways that consumers can see — better customer service, lower prices or cool new iPhone apps."