Today, he is the chief enforcement officer for the fledgling watchdog. When the bureau officially opens this summer, Cordray will head a federal team with wide authority to write and enforce rules that will govern many of the firms that he butted heads with as a state official.
“It offered a possibility to continue to do some of the most important work I felt I was doing as a state attorney general,” Cordray said in a recent interview in his new office in Washington, “and in many respects, on a better footing, from a better foundation, with better tools, better authority and on a 50-state basis.”
Many state attorneys general, who have complained that their efforts to enforce stricter consumer protections have been stymied by federal regulators over the years, have echoed consumer advocates in cheering Cordray’s appointment.
“He’s got a gold-plated resume and a wealth of experience. . . . He’s very reasonable, he’s very smart, he’s very fair,” said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. “He understands the financial, the economic, the fiscal things, as well as the law enforcement side of it. . . . To me, that’s the type of person you want in that position.”
Representatives of the banking industry have reacted with far less enthusiasm, saying they fear that Cordray will overreach in his new role and burden them with unnecessary new oversight.
“Richard Cordray was known as sort of a regulatory zealot in Ohio and generally was pretty tough on the financial services industry within his state,” said Camden Fine, head of the Independent Community Bankers of America, echoing others in the financial industry who were reluctant to speak publicly. “We have concerns about how he will handle enforcement of CFPB regulations and the new rules that the CFPB will be pumping out. . . . The jury is still out.”
The 51-year-old Ohio native took a circuitous, and in many ways accidental, path on his way to becoming a Washington regulator, including a law degree from the University of Chicago, a stint as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and a five-day run as a “Jeopardy” champion in the late 1980s.
After losing races for the U.S. House and Senate, Cordray won a special election in 2008 to replace Attorney General Marc Dann, who left during the middle of his term after a sexual harassment scandal. Well before the “robo-signing” issue triggered a national furor last fall, Cordray aggressively went after financial firms for what he perceived as fraudulent and shoddy mortgage servicing and foreclosure practices.