Five-time jeopardy champion Richard Cordray made his first public appearance as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director today, saying he was honored to serve as the bureau's first director.
"Consumer financial products can make our lives better and create opportunities to make something of ourselves, but these same financial products can also make life harder," Cordray said as he laid out his vision for the agency and his immediate priorities as director during a speech at the Brookings Institution.
Although Cordray has worked with the bureau since its inception last year, and was officially nominated as director last summer, his appointment became official only on Wednesday. President Obama used his executive authority to appoint Cordray while the Senate was in recess, bypassing Senate Republicans who had delayed Cordray's appointment pending structural changes to the CFPB.
But Cordray now has full authority of the bureau, and plans to make " it clear that there are real consequences for breaking the law," he said.
"Consumers deserve to have someone who will stand on their side, who will protect them against fraud, and who will ensure that they are treated fairly in the financial marketplace," he said. "The new consumer bureau was created to make sure these things are achieved for all Americans."
Cordray emphasized why the CFPB should matter to people across the country. That losing a job or an unexpected injury can happen to anyone, "our mothers and fathers, our sisters and brothers, our sons and daughters."
Referring to his time working as Ohio's treasurer at both the state and local level, Cordray said he "saw good people with good intentions drowning in debts they could not afford" and that "consumer finance had become more complicated and more risky in recent years.
"Consumers need better information about the costs and risks of borrowing, and they need to be able to comparison shop for a good deal," he said. "Consumers also need the peace of mind that comes from knowing the deal they were promised is the deal they are actually getting, not just tomorrow, but next month and next year as well."
In the past six months, Cordray said that the CFPB had received thousands of calls and emails from people across the country, who recounted their own stories and experiences.
"They do not expect any special favors, they just want a fair shake," Cordray said.
CFPB has also launched the Know Before You Owe campaign to help educate consumers before they take out student loans or home loans. In addition, Cordray said the bureau had been fighting for more transparency in the financial services industry and had released a short, plain-language credit card agreement.
During a Q&A session that followed the speech, Cordray said he believed that it was not so much the community banks or credit unions that had brought on the financial crisis but pay-day loan services.
According to Cordray, 20 million U.S. households use pay-day loan type services, and pay roughly $7.4 billion in fees every year. But most of these business escape federal oversight.
ABC's Mary Bruce contributed to this report.