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New watchdog agency stirs scorn

Bankers rip oversight as slow, costly

– Bankers and financial industry leaders are criticizing the early efforts of the government’s new consumer finance watchdog, saying a slow and inefficient oversight process has slowed lending and made it more difficult for them to do business.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s team that examines banks is understaffed, inexperienced and takes months to tell banks how they scored on routine audits, Consumer Bankers Association CEO Richard Hunt said Tuesday. For some bank examiners, it is their first job out of college, he said.

Hunt said that new agency Director Richard Cordray is aware of the problems with the examination program and hopes to do better in the agency’s second year.

“He knows that in the first year, it’s not acceptable to him that the process is taking too long, and he doesn’t have enough examiners,” Hunt said. “In the second year he hopes to make it better, where examiners would be more experienced and the banks would not have to wait as long as they do this year.”

Agency spokeswoman Jennifer Howard said Hunt had mischaracterized the conversation.

“While we are still working to build out and refine our supervision program, we are pleased with the progress being made and the work being done,” Howard said. “Director Cordray has great confidence in the supervision team and its leadership,” she said.

The leaders of the bank oversight team have extensive experience, officials noted. As of this month, nearly half of the agency’s 240 examiners had significant experience working for other financial regulators, and nearly 100 had high-level certifications from those regulators. Others on the team have industry experience.

The agency, created as part of the 2010 overhaul of financial rules, is tasked with protecting consumers from excessive fees, unsafe loans and other unfair practices.

It sends examiners out for routine examinations of certain types of financial firms, including big banks, mortgage companies, payday lenders, credit bureaus and debt collectors.

A core industry complaint relates to delays in receiving formal, written reports that summarize bank examiners’ findings and identify problems that banks must address. These reports are taking nine months or more to process, Hunt and others in the industry said.

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