New Consumer Bureau Wants To Be Your Friend

CFPBThe Consumer Financial Protection Bureau launched its website last week, and already it has 1,288 Facebook friends. There are videos of bureau employees responding to comments posted by consumers on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube.

In short, this is not your grandfather’s federal agency.

“For the first time in many years we have the opportunity to create a brand-new consumer agency from the ground up,” Elizabeth Warren, a former Harvard professor who is leading the effort to start the new agency, says in a video on the site. “We want to make sure that you are with us all the way while we build it.”

[Resource: Do-It-Yourself Debt Reduction]

She’s doing a good job so far. Take a minute to compare the bureau’s new site with the older website of its closest cousin, the FTC’s Consumer Protection Bureau. Like most websites for federal agencies, the Consumer Protection Bureau’s site is really ugly, with buttons and links layered on top of one anther, giving consumers no intuitive place to go once they arrive.

The CFPB’s new site, on the other hand, is very Web 3.0. Lots of white space. A simple bar across the top with navigation options.

And then there’s the much-balyhooed links to social media. Warren has said she wants the first consumer agency of the 21st Century to actually operate like it’s of this century, which means supplementing the cumbersome old complaint process (“Write us a letter, wait two years and maybe we’ll get back to you”) with a streamlined approach that relies on Twitter and Facebook to learn of new financial scams as they’re developing.

“We wanted to start the website for one very important reason,” Warren says in the site’s first video, “to start a conversation with you.”

As one might expect, so far that conversation is all over the map. A single thread on the bureau’s Facebook page contains a suggestion for a federal usury law, a request for help in finding a trustworthy financial advisor, and a complaint that “Banking institutions have become wilder than the outlaws of the old west.”

Of course, there may be an ulterior motive for the agency to work so hard at building an online community. Large banks and leading Republicans have made no secret of their wish to gut the new bureau’s power, either by cutting its budget rewriting parts of the Dodd-Frank reform law that created it. The bureau needs friends, fast, and it’s unlikely to find many on Wall Street.

Luckily for the bureau, it added three new Facebook friends in the time it took me to write this post. Its total as of right now: 1,291.

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