Who is Richard Cordray? A Look at the CFPB's "New" Director

Early Tuesday, the Senate voted 71-29 to move forward with the nomination of Richard Cordray as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Board (CFPB). By late afternoon, he was confirmed 66-34.

President Obama first nominated Cordray to be director of this watchdog agency established by Dodd-Frank back in July 2011. Republicans have opposed his confirmation until now, but not because his qualifications or performance. The concerns conservatives have expressed again and again lie with the basic design of the CFPB as an agency. In one letter to President Obama signed by 43 Republican senators, they explicitly stated, “We will continue to oppose the consideration of any nominee, regardless of party affiliation, to be the CFPB director until key structural changes are made.”

However, now that the Republicans have reconsidered those objections and confirmed Cordray, we should actually examine his qualifications and determine how he may fare on the job.

In its own words, the CFPB’s mission is to “to make markets for consumer financial products and services work for Americans.” To accomplish this, the agency mainly focuses on three broad objectives: diminish information asymmetry for consumers, ensure financial services providers comply with various laws, and improve understanding of consumer financial markets.

So is Cordray up for the job?

Well, first of all, he’s already been on the job for some time now as a recess-appointed director. Under Cordray’s leadership, CFPB “has refunded some $425 million to consumers ‘who were victim to fraudulent financial practices,’” and has handled approximately 176,700 consumer complaints as of late June. While it isn’t surprising to find Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) singing his praises, it is worth mentioning that even Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has told him, “I think you have done a wonderful job so far in carrying out your duties.” Of course, due to the CFPB’s short history and Cordray being its first director, there’s not enough previous data with which to compare his achievements. So make what you will of these numbers independently.

Perhaps an examination of Cordray’s background will shed more light on his qualifications for this job. Cordray began his political career with a short term in Ohio’s House of Representatives. Shortly after, he was appointed Ohio’s solicitor general, arguing state cases before the Ohio Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of the United States. After a few failed bids for various offices at the federal level, he was elected Franklin County treasurer and then Ohio treasurer. During his tenure, he saved over $9 million by refinancing bonded debt, broke all records for delinquent tax collection, maintained the top county bond rating (AAA) in the state, prioritized consumer finance education programs, and targeted predatory payday lending programs.

After serving as Ohio treasurer, Cordray took on Wall Street as Ohio’s attorney general. In the wake of the financial crisis, Cordray filed lawsuits against “global financial houses, rating agencies, subprime lenders, and foreclosure scammers,” winning more than $2 billion and returning money to “investors, pension funds, schools and cities.”

The trend seems to be clear: Cordray has dedicated his career to fighting for the average consumer and targeting fraudulent or abusive actions. Many of the issues he addressed while serving in the state of Ohio will now be problems within his purview as director, and with his record, I’m optimistic that his leadership will serve CFPB well.

Oh. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s incredibly smart as well. He studied economics as a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University, worked as the editor-in-chief of the University of Chicago Law Review, and is a five-time Jeopardy! champion.