Critical Questions to Ask When Under CFPB Scrutiny

There hasn't been a government agency in recent memory to harness the power of a headline quite like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). When they come calling, it's safe to assume that sooner or later your company will face public scrutiny on the issue or issues in question. That means the clock is ticking for you to position your business as well as possible for the uncertain and hazardous road to come.

It's important to note that there's no substitute for doing the hard work of preparation when it comes to the CFPB. Just as you wouldn't throw your legal strategy together at the last second and hope for the best, you need to make sure your communications strategy takes into consideration the full range of scenarios and is in place well before the issue comes to light publicly.

Here are some critical questions to consider as part of developing a CFPB communications strategy...

What are all of the possible outcomes?

Typically, there is more than one potential result when it comes to dealing with the CFPB. For example, you may hope to settle the matter but litigation could also be on the table. It is essential to plan for every possibility so your team can be ready at a moment’s notice. That means not only planning what you’re going to do strategically but mapping out very clearly who has key responsibilities for executing the strategy. With the speed of today’s news cycle and the CFPB holding many cards that can be played at a moment’s notice, seconds matter, and your ability to impact the narrative with key audiences when it matters most depends on your internal team knowing what to do at the flip of a switch.

Who needs to hear from you?

There are a lot of people who are going to be concerned about any interactions with the CFPB. Certainly your customers, investors and employees will need to hear from you, but there could be others, too. Think about important suppliers that it might impact and what risk that could have to your business and theirs. Consider international subsidiaries you might have and what uncertainty a salacious headline could mean for them and their home country customers and regulators. Identify whether you have any acquisitions or other business deals in the pipeline that it could impact. How will other regulators important to your business react to hearing news from another government agency? There are a variety of audiences to consider, and careful thought should be given to how and when you interact with all of them.

What are you doing to communicate stability to current and prospective customers?

The mere mention of regulatory action can have a profound impact on the market value of your business and its growth prospects. Whether it’s current customers slowing their business with you, prospects looking in another direction or your stock price taking a hit, you need to communicate stability before, during and after the regulatory event. This means creating messaging that is not only easy to understand but also comprehensive enough to address broad concerns and technical issues. And don’t underestimate the importance of timing – it can be a significant advantage or your worst nightmare.

What’s your strategy for engaging media?

When the CFPB makes an announcement regarding your company, it will undoubtedly receive attention. You need to identify the group of national, trade and investor media that likely will cover the issue, as well as any local media that may show interest. How and when to engage reporters should be determined in advance, and if internal people are serving as spokespersons, they need to be trained and drilled on the messages and tough questions. CFPB matters are often highly complex and require extensive study to be able to speak with authority.

Of course, these aren’t all the questions you’ll need to ask, but they will get you started with planning for various scenarios, identifying key audiences for communications, creating strong messaging and handling media scrutiny. It’s a lot of work to tackle, but ultimately, the typical length of CFPB investigations gives you the opportunity to prepare thoroughly. Take advantage of the time you have to protect your company’s reputation and minimize the risk generated by this emerging and still uncertain regulatory field.

Key Take-Aways

  1. When it comes to the CFPB, it is essential to plan for every possibility so your team can be ready at a moment’s notice. 
  2. There are a variety of audiences to consider, and careful thought should be given to how and when you interact with them regarding any regulatory event.
  3. It is important to convey stability to current and prospective customers before, during and after the regulatory event. 
  4. It is also important to identify media that will likely cover the issue and determine in advance how and when to engage reporters.