Timothy Tran ’15, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Timothy-TranThis year’s CFPB Princeternship was organized a little differently than traditional Princeternships. The reasons for this were that the CFPB has only been in existence since July of 2011, and this is the first time the CFPB has hosted a Princeternship. The Princeternship consisted of 15 students – 3 from Princeton, 3 from Harvard, 2 from Carlton, and the remainder from the University of Maryland. Rather than shadowing a single Princeton alumnus throughout the three days, we met with a whirlwind of people from all over the organization, and had the opportunity to learn about their specific role within the CFPB.

Day 1 – Monday, March 18th, 2013
The first day of the Princeternship was spent listening to speakers from around the organization to obtain a high-level understanding of the CFPB’s mission and structure. We attended talks with staff members from the Operations Division, the Consumer Response Center, CFPB Talent Acquisition, the Project Management Office, the CFO’s Office, External Affairs, and the Director’s Financial Analyst program. Each talk lasted between 20 and 40 minutes, started with an overview of the department, and left about 10 minutes for questions at the end.

The talks were incredibly diverse, and ranged from discussing the logistics of how to inform consumers about financial products to the thrill of shaping the CFPB during its infancy. A key theme that emerged throughout the day was that the CFPB looks like a government agency, but is currently run with an entrepreneurial feel. At 1100 members strong, the CFPB employs a remarkably flat organizational structure, rather than the stereotypical layers of bureaucracy for which DC agencies are well-known. Because the CFPB recently rose to power in July of 2011, much of the current staff members’ time is devoted to developing processes that will govern the agency’s actions for decades to come.

We took an hour for lunch at the nearby Café Asia, which gave us the opportunity to meet the other students, as well as speak with Bruce Arthur (the coordinator of the event) in a more informal setting.

Day 2 – Tuesday, March 19th, 2013
Day 2 was spent with the Research, Market, and Regulation Division (RMR) of the CFPB. We attended talks about Residential Real Estate Transactions and Fair Lending. The bulk of the day was spent performing an analysis of public comments made in response to a proposed rule consolidating the Truth in Lending Act and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act. From working on the project with the other students, I gained an enhanced understanding of the mortgage underwriting process and how the CFPB regulates mortgage underwriting standards.

Overall, Day 2 involved less listening and more doing, which was a welcome change. I learned a lot about the CFPB’s challenge in crafting rules that do not adversely impact too many businesses, remaining in compliance with the legislation governing the CFPB’s existence, and effectively regulating the consumer finance industry.

For lunch, the group split by university and met up with respective alumni working at the CFPB. It was great to get to know Chuck, Ling Ling, and Andrew over lunch at Blackfinn restaurant, and to see how they made their way from Princeton to the CFPB.

Day 3 – Wednesday, March 20th, 2013
The last day of the Princeternship consisted of talks regarding Transparency and FOIA at CFPB, a DC Jobs Panel, interacting with the Director’s Financial Analysts (DFA), and a hands-on Supervision activity.

The DFA program was created to attract undergraduates that might otherwise work at well-known Wall Street banks, and to harness their data analysis skills for the strengthening of the CFPB’s policies. I had a great time speaking with the current DFAs, listening to their past experiences and future plans, and learning about how they influence the CFPB on a daily basis.

During the DC Jobs Panel, a former consultant, Tran 1a former Congressional staffer, and a former executive branch employee, all of whom were now working for the CFPB, discussed their careers and offered advice about working in Washington, DC. This was one of my favorite sessions of the Princeternship, because it gave us the chance to explore why people from all kinds of careers decide to join the CFPB.
Through this Princeternship, I learned more about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in three days than I ever would have imagined possible. It was a great opportunity to meet people from all kinds of academic backgrounds – private vs. public, MBA vs. JD vs. MPA, consulting vs. banking – and to learn about why they chose the career paths they chose. It was also a great opportunity to meet students from other universities with similar academic interests.

Shout-out to Chuck Brown ’02 and Bruce Arthur for making this Princeternship a great success!