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CFPB chief focuses on Big Tech influence, competition


(Reuters) — The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will promote competition and scrutinize the outsized influence Big Tech companies have in the marketplace, its director told the Senate Banking Committee during a hearing Tuesday.

Rohit Chopra, who was sworn in as CFPB director in October, fended off attacks from Republicans over his role in a regulatory spat.

He is planning initiatives that will identify ways to lower barriers to entry and expand the pool of companies competing for customers based on quality, price and service, he said.

"We are especially interested in ways that small financial institutions can leverage technology and systems ... to capture market share while still preserving their relationship banking model,” Mr. Chopra told lawmakers.

In October, just a few weeks into the job, Mr. Chopra made his mark by ordering Inc., Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc. to hand over information about how they gather and use consumer payment data, citing that there were many places where regulators should be promoting competition and innovation to benefit small businesses and families — not just the companies.

 On Tuesday, he provided the first update on what his scrutiny will yield. He also committed to proposing a rule on open banking and small-business lending data, which will be issued in a “timely fashion.” Open banking allows third-party internet-based applications to compete with big banks by accessing a customer's accounts to make payments, among other services.

Republican members of the panel rebuked Mr. Chopra for his agency's enforcement activity around repeat offenders as well as broad requests for information on new financial technology companies, arguing such moves can stifle innovation and burden companies.

After a public spat in December, Republicans scolded Mr. Chopra for his “hostile takeover” of banking watchdog, the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation — of which Chopra is a board member — in which the board's new Democratic majority moved to advance agenda items over the objections of its Republican chairman, Jelena McWilliams.

The CFPB has been a political lightning rod since its creation following the 2009 financial crisis. Democrats believe the agency is critical to protecting consumers and bolstering Mr. Biden's agenda to address racial inequity and wealth inequality issues, while Republicans say the agency is too powerful and unaccountable.