Treasury officer touts Consumer Financial Protection Agency in N.C.

The Treasury Department's No. 2 officer came to North Carolina on Tuesday to talk about regulatory reform, pushing for the creation of an agency focused on consumer rights.

Neal Wolin said in a phone interview that a consumer-focused agency is necessary for protecting borrowers. Under the current system, multiple regulators oversee consumer protection, which results in "a complicated hodgepodge" that lets banks "pick and choose between whichever agency will be most lenient," Wolin said.

The Obama administration has been pushing for a shake-up of banking regulation, with a proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency as part of the overhaul. Wolin, an Obama administration appointee, said a consumer agency is necessary for regulating non-bank lenders. Also, he said that the other regulatory agencies are focused primarily on safety and soundness of the banking industry, instead of consumer protection.

"We think the financial crisis was caused by a lack of consumer protection — people getting products they didn't understand," said Wolin, who was in Greensboro for a regulatory roundtable hosted by U.S. Rep. Brad Miller, a Raleigh Democrat. The meeting was closed to media members and the general public.

The Consumer Financial Protection Agency would oversee a vast range of financial products, including credit cards and mortgages, with a mission of protecting consumers from unfair practices. A bill of rights for credit card users, signed by President Obama in May, gives a glimpse of what kind of actions the proposed agency might take: That new law will ban banks from raising interest rates for the first year after a card is issued and forbids "late-fee traps" such as minimum-payment due dates that change each month, among other provisions.

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