M-RCBG Faculty Working Paper No. 2010-09

The Regulation of Consumer Financial Products: An Introductory Essay with Four Case Studies

John Y. Campbell, Howell E. Jackson, Brigitte C. Madrian, and Peter Tufano

July 2010

Abstract

The recent financial crisis has led many to question how well businesses deliver consumer financial services and how well regulatory institutions address problems in consumer financial markets. In response, the Obama administration proposed a new agency to oversee consumer financial services, and the recently enacted Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act embraced the Administration’s proposal by creating the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. Other regulatory reforms have been advanced, and in some cases adopted, in recent years, at both the federal and state level. In this paper, we provide an overview of consumer financial markets, detailing the purposes they serve, the extent to which they suffer from market failures or other deficiencies, and the structure of our current system of regulation. To illustrate our analytical framework, we present case studies on retirement savings, residential mortgages, payday lending, and mutual funds. We conclude with a series of observations on the limits of government intervention, suggestions about how to measure whether government intervention is successful, and potentially fruitful lines of future research and data collection.

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