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Federal Trade Commission, CFPB should police markets together, official says

The Federal Trade Commission may look to collaborate with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to protect consumers and police markets, an FTC official said.

The two agencies already have regular planning meetings, and Andrew Smith, director of consumer protection at the FTC, said he would like there to be "more of a formal strategic planning process." Although he is unsure if the agencies can make the collaborative process work, Smith does not believe "it's for lack of trying on either side."

"It requires a sustained personal commitment by both agencies to do that," Smith told reporters at the Electronic Transactions Association's fintech policy forum. For example, it would be difficult to have one agency take on debt collection and the other tackle criminal reporting, Smith said. But there might be "sensible divisions of labor on an ad hoc basis" that would enable both agencies to focus their resources, he added.

The FTC will soon be back to full strength, following the Senate's confirmation of all five of President Donald Trump's nominees in April. The agency had been operating with only two commissioners for about a year.

"By Sept. 26, we will have all five commissioners who have less than six months experience at the commission," Smith said at the policy forum, calling the situation unprecedented. "We're all feeling our way along here, and the commissioners are figuring out what they think is important."

Even with a soon-to-be full commission, the agency faces constraints.

"We're a relatively small agency with a big mandate, so we're always resource-constrained," Smith told reporters. Working more formally with the CFPB is a step that both agencies might benefit from, he said.

Smith said financial services is "always a focus," even though the FTC looks to bring cases in industries across the board.

"Finance will be a steady part of our diet," Smith said, adding that financial technology in particular will be a focus because that is "where the action is."