Not as Good as I Thought I Was
Recently, I appeared at a conference speaking on matters relating to the oversight of and enforcement against dealers by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). I prepared for the presentations in advance, spent a number of hours reviewing my slides and drafting anecdotes to keep my audiences’ attention. As part of my presentation preparation, I worked on potential questions I could be asked by the audiences, other panelists and the moderators. In one of the four presentations I gave that week, it appears I wasn’t as good as I thought. We all have our good days and our bad days and our good performances and our not-so-great performances; on one presentation (that I know of), I fell short of my best, and based upon varying critics, I might have fallen very short of my best.
This got me thinking. I am a compliance lawyer. I spend my life focusing on compliance. I write articles, give presentations, give copious amounts of legal advice and have even written part of a book. In the 12 years I have been doing this work, I’ve written contracts, addressed regulators and helped make a law or two. And yet, even when I feel like I’m pretty successful at my profession, I get a quick and hard reminder that I am not bulletproof.
I am sure I’m not the only professional in the world to take a quick tumble, but it is important I learn from it and come back better. This was a good lesson for me and is a good lesson to tell my dealer clients. In short, no matter how compliant you think your dealership is and no matter how cleanly you run your operation, don’t rest on your laurels, because you’re not bulletproof.
Compliance is a tough game to play. Laws are constantly changing and plaintiffs’ attorneys try to stay one step ahead of your efforts to comply. For my BHPH friends, you’ve got a new regulator in the CFPB, looking to protect consumers from alleged bad practices. The CFPB is establishing relationships with your local attorneys general and your state regulators. You have an emboldened FTC focused on unfair and deceptive advertising and other dealer practices which it considers unfriendly to consumers. You have federal regulators with an eye not only on your dealership but on the third-party service providers you use for various parts of your operation.
These federal regulators alternate enforcement action press releases with interspersed guidance on federal financial laws including privacy, data security, consumer reporting and military transactions. The CFPB is offering jobs for undercover agents at pay between $90,000 and $149,000 to telephone or enter into a creditor’s business to test compliance. It’s tough to stay on top of all the bad weather blowing your way.
What does this mean to you? It means you’d better not get comfortable in your clean operation. It means that you must be diligent in your compliance efforts. And, take it from me, if you have a bad day—a transaction that goes south—even though you think you’ve given it your typical solid efforts, do your best to apologize, clean up the mess and do better the next time.